Kvelling Over First LGBT-Inclusive Jewish Children’s Book

As a Jewish lesbian with hopes and dreams of one day becoming a mom, I feel that it is my duty to tell you that the very first LGBT-inclusive Jewish children’s book in English finally exists! The Purim Superhero, written by Elisabeth Kushner and illustrated by Mike Byrne, was released at the beginning of February and also happens to be a story about Purim, which is exciting because FYI in case your grandma didn’t call to remind you, Purim just happened on Sunday!

So what’s this book all about? It’s a cute tale about a little boy who wants to dress up as an alien for Purim but feels pressured to dress up as a superhero because one of his friends tells him that all the boys in their class are gonna be superheros (what a jerk). His dads are supportive and encourage him to be whatever he wants to be, and eventually he comes up with a solution that not only is adorable but also wins him a prize at his synagogue Purim party. I’m not gonna tell you exactly what he does or what he wins because I don’t wanna ruin the book for you, but I will back up to the part where I said “his dads” because yes! How cool is this! There are gay men featured in this book but the fact that they are gay is not an issue! Queerness is not the conflict! Nope, nothing to see here, just two gay Jewish dads running a perfectly normal and awesome household with well adjusted cute kids who celebrate Purim every year. So casual!

just a jewish family with two dads and two kids celebrating purim, nothing to see here!

just a jewish family with two dads and two kids celebrating purim, nothing to see here!

I guess it’s annoying that this is so groundbreaking — seriously, how is it 2013 and we are only just getting a children’s book that fits all this criteria at once? — but on the other hand, I can stop being a cynic for ten seconds to acknowledge that it is really cool that this now exists and yes, it is groundbreaking.

This book had the opportunity to get born because Keshet, a national grassroots organization that works for the full equality and inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life, hosted a national writing contest specifically asking people to write an educational Jewish book for kids that featured LGBT humans in the cast of characters but did not necessarily make the fact that those characters were members of the LGBT community the conflict of the story. The point was to create visibility.

Author Elisabeth Kushner reading her book, The Purim Superhero, at a launch party at Afikomen Judaica in the Bay Area via Keshet

Author Elisabeth Kushner reading her book, The Purim Superhero, at a launch party at Afikomen Judaica in the Bay Area
via Keshet

The author and winner of Keshet’s contest, Elisabeth Kushner, spent nine years as a librarian at a Jewish Day School so she was well-prepared to write her own Jewish story for kids. Kushner released a statement explaining her motivation behind writing the story and what she hopes readers (kids and grownups alike) will take away from The Purim Superhero, and as someone who feels very attached to both my Jewish identity and my queer identity but sometimes has trouble navigating the relationship between the two, it gave me All The Feelings:

I’m very excited that this is a picture book about a kid with same-sex parents where his family structure is not the problem, but is still an important part of the story. I think that kids like my daughter and her friends, and like many of the kids I knew at the Jewish Day School, who’ve been lucky enough to grow up in inclusive and accepting communities, will recognize children like themselves and their friends in this story. And I hope that kids with any kind of family and any religious background who feel weird and self-conscious because they like different things than their friends or classmates—and I think that’s all kids, at some point—will find inspiration and sustenance in Nate’s story.

I can only hope that by the time I’m ready to be a mom, there will be many more children’s books on the market like this one. Who knows, maybe we can even write some ourselves.

Vanessa is a queer feminist writer and photographer currently based in New York. She really misses Portland. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 286 articles for us.

35 Comments

  1. I think this is wonderful! Children from LGBT families or who are themselves gay or lesbian need and deserve all the support they can get! We also especially love the children’s books written by family therapist Dr. Dianna Grayer http://www.diannagrayer.com/?page_id=4, which stress self-acceptance of children, self-affirmation and self-esteem. Kudos to Ms. Kushner and to Vanessa, the author of this article!

  2. AHH! You now have given meeeee All The Feelings!

    I love this and I love that the storyline isn’t about the fact that there are two dads!

    Also, how cool is Keshet? The little I know seems to prove that they are the most cool.

    • i’d read that book

      also full-disclosure my gf and i wanted to enter this contest

      but it happened while we were abroad in israel and we got busy falling in love and stuff so we never finished our awesome tale

      one day we will finish it and you will write about kimberly and the world will be a special place filled with acceptance and kids who know random yiddush phrases and also know that it’s okay to be gay

      • Did you by any chance do a Birthright trip that was specifically LGBT? I heard there’s a Rainbow trip. I’m thinking about doing it, but I’m not sure if I should do that one or just go with the young professionals trip. Haha, sorry to be random!

          • I wanted to do the Rainbow trip, too! I couldn’t register this year… I wonder if they will offer it over the winter this year? That would be awesome!!

          • Why couldn’t you register? Do they not let everyone go or something? I just submitted the application and deposit for the Rainbow Trip. I’d love to just go this summer, because why not? I wonder if they don’t always let people go or it gets filled or something. I don’t know how this all works, just wondering.

          • birthright as a whole is super popular and gets filled up super fast — i assume that’s what jenna meant? or maybe this year just isn’t a good time for her to go because she has other commitments. but yeah, to answer your question, all birthright trips get full quickly, but i think if you register and don’t get on this year they bump you to the front of the line next time you apply. that’s how it worked in 2008 when i went. hope this helps — feel free to message or email me with any additional birthright/israel questions you may have!

        • no that’s okay, not random at all! i did not to rainbow birthright, i did regular ol’ birthright back in 2008, but i wish i’d done the lgbt trip. alas, at the time i didn’t know i was gay! but! the program i met my girlfriend on is actually a 10 month fellowship/volunteer situation in israel called OTZMA, and it was incredible. if anyone has interest in spending an extended period of time in israel and wants to do social justice-y type work, feel free to send me a msg or email me (vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com) and i can tell you more about it. you can also check out the website http://www.otzma.org/index.aspx, they’re currently recruiting for next season!

          • I can’t even tell you how many people I know who have met their significant other while going on Birthright or Otzma or something. Why is that? I’ll never know. But they were all straight couples. I keep saying, ok maybe that happens for straight people but there’s no way I’d meet someone! But since I’ve discovered that there’s a rainbow trip… Lol. Honestly I’ve thought about Otzma too. Right now I’m in a rut with job searching and I think it’d be cool to escape the “real world” in favor or social justice work in Israel. Do something meaningful. Maybe I’ll do it, or Rainbow Birthright. Definitely one of the too! …This has been a ramble.

          • i know i just replied above, but if you have otzma/israel questions please feel free to ask me about those too! (email is best — vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com.) i’m happy to chat about any/all israel stuff!

    • awwww, i love the idea of all of us sitting around a plate of hamentaschen, reading this book to our future babes. we’ll need to write a bunch more, of course, so we can also read relevant books around the hannukiah, and around the seder table, and around the challah every friday…

      and yes i did meet my gf in israel! i went on a 10 month volunteer program there when i graduated college with the intent of being super single and finding myself and all that jazz, and promptly fell in love about 3 weeks in. oops. best mistake ever. lucky for me she was also from the tri-state area and i got to bring her home at the end of our program! (i used to joke that i brought home a souvenir but she didn’t love that…waiting for her to pop in here at any moment and yell at me…)

        • haha aw, thank you. i am pretty lucky.

          if you have any questions about hebrew u or studying in israel or volunteering/working in israel, feel free to message me on here or email me or tweet me or whatever. i have a lot of israel feelings and can connect you with a lot of different young people doing different things there.

        • Hey Sophie, samsies here – studied at Hebrew U and lived in Israel for 5 years, so holler at your girl if you have any questions!
          also OMG didn’t know there were so many fellow members of the tribe on here, whaddup Jewish queerssssss xoxoxoxoxo

    • sam i have also thought about this a lot, and have struggled with it, though i ultimately end up viewing my judaism and my queerness through separate spheres and just letting them overlap when they do and trying to be gentle with myself. it’s a thing that is on my mind, though. i actually went to my girlfriend’s synagogue a year ago to speak to their oldest hebrew school students (middle schoolers) about being a queer jew (the rabbi invited me to speak, i didn’t just like show up, haha), and i was really heartened by their interest in the subject and their respectful questions. one girl even took my email address at the end and we corresponded for a while because she is bisexual and was trying to come to terms with that. after that discussion i realized that because i’m confident in both my judaism and my queerness, they’re allowed to exist together in my body, just because i say so. i worry about it less now, but it’s still always affirming to see a project like this one that proves other people are comfortable with it, too.

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