Joseph “Joe” Levin-Manning is a 29-year-old graduate student at Georgetown, studying human resource management. A self-proclaimed 10/10 on the extrovert scale, Levin-Manning, since discovering his Jewish heritage, has worked at Hillel, lead 10 Birthright trips and started a group of LGBTQ Jews in Washington.
How did you discover your Jewish heritage?
I am adopted but I was adopted by a non-Jewish family. My birth family is Jewish, I’m Jewish by birth, but I was raised in a fairly Christian household. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I did some research about my birth family and that was how I found out my birth my family was Jewish.
And that was at a point in my life where Christianity didn’t feel like me, didn’t feel right. And I then went to college, got introduced to Hillel and I got introduced to the idea of Jew-ish, which I really loved because I wasn’t raised in a Jewish household. So I didn’t know much about Jewish anything and I appreciated the fact that I could be someone who wanted to learn about Judaism in a space and not be judged for my lack of knowledge. And truthfully that was the first of a long-long journey.
I got involved with a Jewish a capella group, I eventually started leading services, I went on Birthright, I did an alternative winter break trip with them and then I worked with them for several years afterward. I’ve a number of great Jewish moments in that regard.
[Hillel] helped connect me to a program out in California called the Brandeis Collegiate Institute and I spent a month there. While I was there, I got so in touch, it’s a hard to describe the experience. I learned to read Hebrew there and I had my bar mitzvah.
At the same time, I got to go to a mikvah. I got to do a lot of the Jewish rituals that you generally don’t get to do as an adult if you’re coming to Judaism. So for me that was such a wonderful experience.
Tell me about the Jewish LGBTQ group that you run.
The name is Capital Qvellers. We’re a group that kind of started a few months ago to meet for Shabbat dinners, and we just realized how many LGBTQ Jews in the area were looking for a space but couldn’t find one that was inclusive of all identities.
We’re just now beginning to grow out of our one-Shabbat-a-month phase, so in June we’re going to do a brunch for the Pride Parade and we’re planning a retreat for August.
Why did you start the Capital Qvellers?
It’s super exciting. I’ve always wanted to help create space in communities for people. It’s why I worked for Hillel for so many years. I wanted Jews of color to realize that they’re not alone and I also wanted white Jews to realize there is a population of the Jewish community who come from different backgrounds, ethnically. I wanted LGBTQ students to know that you can still have a career in Judaism if that’s something you’re passionate about. And that’s what led me to do some of the Birthright trips I did.
Tell me about that.
I led a lot of them for my job for Hillel. Then I heard about LGBTQ Birthright trips and as soon as I learned about them I was like, “I have to do this.” I’ve led two of the different LGBTQ Birthright trips. Since I’ve gone on Birthright as a college student I’ve led 10 different trips.
That sounds like a lot.
Yeah, and they’re always wild. Only two have been specifically LGBTQ though, interestingly enough, every trip I’ve done has at least one or two LGBTQ people. But those trips are really interesting and special because it’s a group of all LGBTQ Jews going to Israel and seeing it together. Just that community and that shared experience. It means so many things and opens so many doors for people.
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