- The Family Flamboyant: Race Politics, Queer Families, Jewish Lives
In the year 2000, Marla Brettschneider, a Political Science professor at the University of New Hampshire and long time Jewish activist, and her life partner, Rabbi Dawn Rose, already a queer family, became The Family Flamboyant, a "transracial family formed through adoption" (p. 67). Placing the story of the adoption of their African American daughters, Paris Mayan and Toni Louise, at the core of this wide ranging work, Brettschneider engages a series of questions that this experience brought into focus for her. If you read The Family Flamboyant, and I recommend that you do, you will be challenged to consider provocative questions about how the contemporary Jewish community deals [End Page 128] with the volatile issues of racial identity, adoptive families, and monogamous marriage.
Bridges has been in the forefront of raising the profile of Jewish multiculturalism and the related issue of white Ashkenazi privilege in the United States, and Brettschneider, who herself identifies as a "stereotypical Euro-Ashkenazi," has also written on these issues before. What this work brings is a focused snapshot of how odd it is that Jews are thought to be white in American culture, and how much that view is unique to our current time and place.
The first chapter of this book tells the story of Jewish racial identity keeping this perspective in mind. The chapter's main points are encompassed in the closing section which tells the story of the ad campaign for Levy's Rye Bread ("You Don't Have to be Jewish to Love Levy's") that was to be found everywhere in my New York world in the 1960s. Brettschneider aptly portrays how she and I as Ashkenazi Jews understood that ad; we took it for granted that a portrait of a black man enjoying Jewish rye (with seeds, of course) meant that non-Jews could be welcomed into our ethnic world. It shouldn't have surprised Marla (or me) that Dawn, who was raised Baptist on a farm in California, would never have seen the ad and wouldn't find it a meaningful cultural reference. But what were we to make of the interpretation of Toni Eisendorf, a young black girl who was not raised Jewish and knew that she wanted to be, who saw the ads and thought to herself "that you don't have to be White to be Jewish," so there's a place for me? (Brettschneider found this story in an interview Eisendorf did with Reena Bernards in Bridges in 2001.) What Brettschneider concludes is that the different viewpoints we bring to this story should remind us that we must do all we can to "deconstruct the 'logic' of an illogical racist system" (p. 43). Her experience with transracial adoption gave her a place to do that work.
The heart of this book is the adoption story, told in the next two chapters. Those of us who have not ourselves been involved in the adoption world gain a vast amount of knowledge about this process from the tales that Brettschneider tells of the incredible obstacles of bigotry and bureaucracy she and Dawn had to overcome to create their adoptive family. The reader is compelled to confront some hard realities and to question some things we take for granted. While it is not surprising that it's difficult (and even impossible in many states) for queer families to adopt children, it comes as a shock that Jews are not favored as adoptive parents by many Christian families (especially in rural areas) who would prefer that the children they are giving up be raised in the religion of their birth. Of course, this should not surprise us, as traditionally religious Christians do believe that all of us unbaptised will never get to heaven and they don't want that fate for their offspring. Jews are just as concerned that our children will be raised as Jews, even if for different reasons. The story Brettschneider tells is a stark reminder of that religious divide. [End...