Adam Eli, an author of “The New Queer Conscience” and a longtime community organizer, was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch (formerly 36 Under 36). This distinction honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community. “The New Queer Conscience,” a manifesto about the intersection of Judaism, queerness and activism, was named a 2021 Sydney Taylor Notable Book in the Young Adult category. Eli lives in Greenwich Village.
For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.
New York Jewish Week: Tell us a little bit about the work you do.
Eli: I do my best to bring to the Jewish idea of “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” or “All Jews are responsible for each other,” to the queer community. My Instagram profile, life motto and the thesis of my book is “Queer People Anywhere Are Responsible for Queer People Anywhere.” I feel most energized, validated and moved when student-run organizations invite me to their schools to speak. Being invited to speak by a community leader, teacher or rabbi is cool, don’t get me wrong! I love it. But there is something so special about an event that is organized and facilitated by students. These young folks are so impressive! It is truly an honor to speak with young people about the intersection of queerness and Judaism.
Who is your New York Jewish hero?
My New York Jewish hero is absolutely Abby Chava Stein. She is a transgender rabbi, educator, author, speaker and activist. To me, she embodies the future of the Jewish community — what we should strive for and what we can be. Abby has been known to say “tolerance is for lactose and nuts, not people.” A friend of Abby’s once said that she “is creating an environment where people are starting to expect more. Queer or intermarried, bi-racial or Jews of color, people are starting to feel that mere acceptance is no longer enough. They want full membership and participation, not despite who they are, but because of who they are.”
Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?
I learned from my mother the link between Judaism, empathy and social justice. Growing up, we spoke often about her role in the Soviet Jewry movement and the importance of showing up for Jews all over the world. When she founded Mosaic of Westchester, an organization rooted in the idea that queer inclusion enriches our entire community, she taught me, and the world, the power of leading through patience and collaboration. I have not yet perfected the lesson on patience.
Do you have a favorite inspiring quote?
god is gay.
Want to keep up with stories of other innovative Jewish New Yorkers? Click here to subscribe to the Jewish Week’s free email newsletters.