Why Being Barbra Streisand Can Be a Drag

Jewish Female Impersonators Discover Comedy in Their Heritage

Berle-Esque: The Kinsey Sicks label themselves as a ‘Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet.’
Courtesy of the Kinsey Sicks
Berle-Esque: The Kinsey Sicks label themselves as a ‘Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet.’

By Simi Horwitz

Published January 31, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Steven Brinberg does not want to be called Ms. Streisand, Barbra or Babs before he steps onto the stage fully transformed into the singing icon. Until that moment, address him as Steven, please.

Indeed, it takes 90 minutes for the metamorphosis to be completed, starting with layers of makeup, followed by dress and wig. The last bit of costuming is the long nails. “The nails really make me feel very Barbra!” he said.

Brinberg is undoubtedly the premier Streisand impersonator. “It’s Barbra at prices you can afford,” he quipped during an interview with the Forward. “I always had an affinity for Barbra. She’s our leader. Now she’s played Israel.”

Along with performing on the cabaret circuit and trendy hot spots across the country, Brinberg frequently does his shtick at temple and Jewish Community Center events. Being Jewish shapes his humor while at the same time forces him to avoid Jewish caricatures that might be construed as anti-Semitic. And as a gay man, he is able to view Streisand from the outside, but identify with her in a way that a straight man could not. “I’m once removed,” he said.

Female impersonators — though some prefer to think of themselves as actors — may be playing real life divas, while others inhabit fictional creations. They may not reference their ethnicity at all, or they may lightly incorporate it into their stage personas or make it their act’s centerpiece. The most notable example is Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross, who was a motivational speaker and life coach and used biblical stories as object lessons. The act has now been retired.

Jewish cross-dressing goes back to medieval performances; early Purim shpiels routinely featured men playing all the female roles, including Queen Esther, says David Shneer, author of “Queer Jews,” and the Louis P. Singer chair in Jewish history at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In the 1950s, Milton Berle was legendary for his drag performances. “Though I can’t help thinking of it as burlesque, more than drag,” said Shneer, suggesting that cross-dressing straight men emerge from a somewhat different sensibility than their gay counterparts.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.