Photo Credit: Tom Morris/Wikimedia Commons
“I see a lot of young Jewish gay people today who are very confident about being out. I see them on Old Compton Street wearing their Star of David like it was just a piece of jewelry. They think it’s fun,” Russell Vandyk says. “But they have to be aware that things weren’t always so easy. The danger is that people get too relaxed and comfortable. Actually, it’s a serious matter and one needs to be on guard, because at any time the wheel could turn.”
Vandyk, who was immersed in the struggles of the 1970s and ‘80s and was a key part of London’s Jewish Gay Group, is one of several individuals who recorded their stories for “Rainbow Jews.” This oral history project, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, seeks to capture and preserve the testimonies of LGBT British Jews, encompassing the range of experience from the 1950s until the present.
The persons interviewed for the project include Lionel Blue, the first British rabbi to declare his homosexuality publicly, Abi Jay, the only known Jewish intersex person in the U.K., and Sheila Shulman and Elli Tikvah Sarah, the first openly lesbian rabbinical students. “We were putting together what it meant for us to a lesbian, to be a Jew,” Tikvah Sarah says. “We could see strong similarities because in both cases [we had] minority marginal identities.”
Their experiences and their voices form the basis for a new exhibition at the London School of Economics, also named “Rainbow Jews,” staged to coincide with LGBT History Month in the U.K. Tikvah Sarah and Shulman are among those who feature in the two movies that make up part of the exhibit: “Now and Then,” an intergenerational conversation with eight Jewish people sharing stories about LGBT lives in Britain, and “Rainbow Jews: Pioneers and Milestones,” a historical narrative interlaced with taped interviews.