Purim wants gay Atlanta to unleash its ‘Wild’ side

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The Jewish holiday Purim brings with it one of the spring’s rowdier, most eclectic and accepting LGBT events, SOJOURN’s Purim Off Ponce. It’s a night that combines fun, frivolity and costumes – and it's happening on Saturday. 

Better yet, the event – celebrating its 10th year – is the biggest fundraiser of the year for SOJOURN, the LGBT Jewish education and outreach organization. Before it unfolds on Saturday, we caught up with Rebecca-Stapel Wax, the organization’s long time executive director, to dish with us about the event, its costumes and why LGBT party-goers should buy a ticket.

What sort of work does SOJOURN do?

SOJOURN is the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, formerly the Rainbow Center. We are advancing empowerment and affirmation for people in the South and we are doing that by building inclusive communities, from a Jewish and universal values perspective. To reach that goal we do a lot of education and training. Last year we got to speak to 2,905 people in all of our workshops, half of whom were young people. We know that when people know other people that they can respect and understand their stories, and are exposed to, it normalizes the experience and dispels the fear of the unknown. Living in the South, that message is so frequently heard, and it is critical for us to make this community a part of the fabric of every community. We get to go into rural communities. Sometimes we are the only Jewish people they’ve ever met as well as people who will talk about sexual orientation and gender identity. Once we leave, they are able to have a conversation and perpetuate the information. 

Purim Off Ponce is an event that seems to bring out a wild diversity in folks. 

People will arrive and ask each other, “What are you doing here?” They know each other from different parts of their lives. What is exciting is that folks who are not Jewish come, and folks who are not LGBT come. Purim really embodies that, as a metaphor, where people are collected together and are celebrating our humanity. It’s from ages 21 to 86. Generations show up together. The crowd is always lively and spirited in a way that there is no discomfort, because people are dressed up, from jeans and a sports coat to full drag. 

What can attendees expect? 

There is frolicking and aerialists. Because of our theme this year, “Wild,” we are having 20 West African drummers as our main attraction. We have dancing and the best food on the planet from a caterer who comes all the way from Cincinnati. There is also an auction item for a safari in South Africa. We will also have a team that we guided this year that will tell their story, including a young woman who had come to a youth convention and felt like she could come out at home. And finally – there is also plenty of eye candy!

We love a good costume. What will we see on Saturday?

They do and some years we’ve had a costume contest. There is spectacular gawking. It brings people to have conversations with each other that might not happen in an average cocktail party. I have so many favorites over the years. Sometimes it can be simple where someone puts a face on the back of their head and says they are a two-face bitch. We also had, the year we had our “Wizard of Oz” theme, a two-person lion who was nine feet long and seven feet high.  

Tell us about honoring Georgia Equality's Jeff Graham with the Michael Jay Kinsler Rainmaker Award.

We have always given awards and this year we get to honor Jeff Graham. In the midst of this legislative session in Georgia, it is a great example of why we are honoring him. He is leading the fight in order to preserve the rights of LGBT people in addition to all Georgians from discrimination. There are (a lot of) bills being proposed on religious freedom to allow for discrimination. His efforts are really protecting us. 

What can party-goers expect from the venue?

Le Fais do-do is a warehouse that has many rooms. We are able to have different settings. Our design guru, Shane Garner, is a magician. He is creating vibrant and spectacular decorations that inspire an experience. One room is based on David Bowie’s “Labyrinth.” 

Why should LGBT Atlanta come out and support this?

Not only is it one of the greatest times you’ll have in your nightlife, but the work that SOJOURN does really saves lives. I think from what we are hearing about in our government and the risks that are still present, we need to support local organizations that will pick up the cause and protect us as we face discrimination.

Purim Off Ponce is scheduled for Saturday, March 5.

Photos by Sher Pruitt

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