In bright pink paint, the words “Life is Beautiful” are splashed in graffiti on a wall in New York’s High Line, next to a young 30-year-old woman named Faigy Mayer brandishing a paint roller with a mischievous grin. The cover photo which illustrated countless tabloid news articles on Mayer’s death Tuesday, topped a Facebook timeline that was everything a busy young New York millennial from the world of start-ups and apps would post to social media – silly videos, a rainbow striped photo celebrating the gay marriage decision, pictures of nerdy fun at hackathons, the parade for the victorious U.S. women’s soccer team. On Twitter, Mayer described herself as a “Former hasid who codes in iOS. Love coding, beacons, bacon, the appleWatch and life!”
Tisha B’Av traditionally commemorates the destructions of the first (586 BCE) and second temples (69 CE) as well as a host of other tragic historical events. The first time I went to synagogue on Tisha B’Av at 20-years-old, I found the experience isolating: we are supposed to come together in community and sit silently, low to the floor and chant the evocative melody of Megillat Eicha [the Scroll of Lamentations], which gives an account of the destruction of the first temple. Despite the communal element, we are specifically instructed not to greet one another. Although this practice was part of my initial experience of separation, the even greater divide was the text itself.
On April 23, 2012, in the midst of the Arab Spring, Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born journalist, published an article in Foreign Policy magazine called “Why do they hate us? The real war on women is in the Middle East.” That article is now the first chapter of Eltahawy’s book, “Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution,” a relentless catalog and documentation of the institutional misogyny, abuse and inequality that burden women (and men) in much of the Arab world.
I have often thought that my story could only exist in America. I have a German Catholic birth mother, a birth father who is the descendent of African slaves, and I was raised by Jews with Eastern European ancestry. As a person of color, a biracial woman, and a transracial adoptee, it is a particularly painful and confusing time to be black in America. And so I need to talk about it.
I recently participated in a panel on Judaism and Sexuality where I spoke about the potential of healing and transformation in sexuality. Where once there was only hurt, we can have corrective experiences around our vulnerability that allow us to access pleasure and joy in sexuality. In my experience this has required my willingness to confront my pain, to communicate, to take risks and to trust that I can be met and received in my authenticity. When I spoke on the panel I noticed that it was much easier for me to speak about my own pain and victimhood, than about reclaiming my sexuality and sharing my experience of deep pleasure through the dissolving of boundaries in intimate sex.