The word “feygele” has always bothered me. I remember it as a term that my parents and their friends used to refer to gay men. I had not heard it for a very long time and then once when in a t-shirt shop, I saw a shirt with “feygele” written out in rainbow colors. I realized that I could make it a positive statement if I dared to wear it to temple which I did. I now regard that shirt as my way of saying that I am out and happy.
Taub’s collection of poems uses the same tradition for the word “feygele” by giving us poetry that comes from contemporary gay culture and Jewish tradition. The speakers are those who are not at home in either world but search for a place where they can live, a place where pleasure and responsibility exist side by side and where sexuality is not something to cause shame. Taub hits us hard with bold words that are both strong and beautiful and the poet moves us with his comforting sincerity and alarms us as he tells us what to do. As a gay Jew, I know just what he is writing about and for me, at times, the poetry is somewhat painful because it says so much about the way I have felt. (I must classify that by saying that the pain I felt was cathartic and that makes it fine).
Taub’s poetry is in your face and very “now” especially for those of us who live in more than one world. He equally writes about history and loss, memory and lamentation, melancholia and story. Many of us think too much while others do not think at all. Some of us have lost our sense of humor when we lost our foreskins. Taub brings that back to us and while his humor may be cutting, it is real– very, very real.
Taub brings the two separate worlds of Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality together by showing the struggles of both worlds. The Diaspora of the Jews gave us the Yiddish language just as the gay world has developed its own speech. As the Jews have seen dispersion, revolution and Eros so the gays have found “ghettoism”, liberation and promiscuity. Both worlds come together in modern times in that they both have had to bury impulses to survive; whether they be the dietary laws or being out in society. Many of us have or have had an uncle “Feygele” who was whispered about even when he sat at our table; he was the “other” who was there yet not there. We heard him only when he spoke through his nieces and nephews but we really did not listen—he was the fairy. We loved him in a way that we did not love others and though we thought we knew him, we did not and knew that we didn’t. Taub assumes the role of the nephew here and he speaks for all of our Uncle Feygeles.
Taub vacillates between English and Yiddish and as he does he brings the worlds together but not as opposing forces. We can live together and we can gloss over the differences that are there but that is not the answer. No, toleration is not the answer.To me toleration is much different than acceptance. There are many things that I tolerate but do not accept. In fact, the more I think about it, the word tolerate is one of the most misused and misunderstood words in the English language—Uncle Feygele was tolerated (because he was family) but he was not accepted.
One of the things that Taub does here is to honor the “unnamed and unremembered”, the uncles and those in our past that we never bothered to notice and whose lives went by for them as if they were not even here. He also writes about Rosa Luxemburg as a social democrat and others and exalts them. However, for me, at least, it is much more important to remember those who touched our lives and then faded into obscurity because they did not fit and were not “tolerated”—the “feygeles”, the little birds who flew into and out of our lives. Taub gives voice to gay Orthodox Jews as both insiders and outsiders, living completely in neither world but with a foot in each. His poems are writings infused with beauty and longing and we watch Uncle “Feygele” become a person who shares what others share—desire, love, belonging, history—he is a bent straight man who is not oppressed but who is who he is. And we are he and he is us.