Arts & Culture
Spotlight On: Jewrotica’s Ayo Oppenheimer and David Abitbol
Talking to Oppenheimer and Abitbol about sex, Judaism, and their exciting website Read More
Discussions about Jews and sex have traditionally been somewhat taboo and secretive, that is, until Ayo Oppenheimer dreamed up Jewrotica; a self-proclaimed “hub for Jewish sexual expression, reflection, entertainment, and learning.” Besides being an online community and sexual education resource, Jewrotica also holds workshop events that explore Jewish tradition, sex, and text. Right now they are on the hunt for the Hottest Rabbis of 2013—so if you know any cool, sexy rabbis—get at them.
I Skyped with Oppenheimer and one of Jewrotica’s founding partners, David Abitbol, who is also the founder of Jewlicious, a grassroots organization that aims to shape the way young adults participate in Jewish life.
Oppenheimer is also looking for people to join on the Jewrotica team in any capacity, so if you believe you’re the next face of Jewrotica, contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did the idea for Jewrotica develop and how long have you been around?
AO: Jewrotica was an idea I had been thinking about for a number of years, but in different carnations, at various points. In June 2012, when the New York Times wrote an article about Fifty Shades of Grey first being popular in the Orthodox Jewish community in Washington Heights, I started thinking, there is Jewish everything. We’re overly programmed in all areas of study, but not in Jewish erotica. There was no hub for Jewish sexual expression.
How did you guys meet?
DA: Ayo was an ROI Fellow, which is a grant for young Jewish social entrepreneurs. It’s a group of 120 fellows that meet every summer in Jerusalem.
AO: Well, we actually first met at a Jewish Federations of North America event called Tribe Fest. They sponsored a group gathering.
DA: Yeah—we met in a parking lot.
AO: David is well known for Jewlicious and I was brought in to do some speaking based on some other projects I had been working on. So we met there and reconnected at ROI where I pitched Jewrotica. David was on board from the start. The night I conceded the idea and name he stayed up creating the logo with me and we reserved the domain.
I’d imagine for some holidays, more than others, you can use more sexual language and innuendo. How is it approaching sexual themes for certain holidays in contrast with others?
DA: Well, Judaism is an overall ethic that touches and incorporates upon every aspect of your life. To whatever extent every holiday represents some aspect of Judaism, then that corresponds to the sexual realm as well. Since Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, it’s the only day we’re actually forbidden from having sex. We had an interesting essay on Yom Kippur that are about forgiveness and the concept of teshuvah (repentance) and cheating. Jewrotica is not just sex, it’s relationships too.
The exploration of sex and Judaism has never been packaged in such a modern and comprehensive way as Jewrotica. Why do you think you were the first person to be able to craft this and how has the reception been from the more orthodox communities?
AO: I think one of the reasons why I created Jewrotica—this is not one of the top reasons, more a perfunctory practical thing—is I thought I was one of the few people that could actually pull it off. You need the edgy and sexy and something with a hot design that will be able to speak to people. Jewrotica has pulled a lot of people in that normally would never go to anything Jewish, but they hear the name Jewrotica and they want to check it out. But at the same time, because I was raised really, really strongly in my Jewish education practice and observance, I started learning Torah at age five and Talmud at age 10. I have the knowledge to put traditional content in there, but I’m able to tow the fine line between, yeah we’re going to have XXX, but there’s no nudity and pornography, so organizations like MASA and HIUC will still advertise with us.
Jewrotica has a rating scale from PG to XXX, which categorizes the story by raciness. Do people submit their own ratings or do you guys? And what constitutes the ratings?
AO: That’s actually a good idea to have people rate the stories themselves; we haven’t done that yet. We have a code on the website. The website is for adults, obviously. PG is fairly innocent content, usually our essays and Torah pieces and the mentioning of something innocent, like kissing. PG-13 is more racy language or describing a hookup of some sort. R is explicit descriptions of sexual scenarios or explicit words for parts of the body and then XXX is all that stuff plus either unconventional sexual practices like kinky BDSM or things that may be trigger warnings like violence or abuse. We want to give our readers a full heads up that this is what you’re about to get into.
Do you have any story idea that stands out for you as really memorable or funny?
AO: Yes, I can’t say favorite because there’s too many that I like, but there are so many good and true stories. One is called “Religious Freedom”. Basically, we did an evening of “Jewrotica Bedside Reading Event,” in Austin and it was someone there who wrote the piece for us. It was a true reflection of him being in college. It’s his first year in college and he’s going to the club fair. His parents had given him advice to find a nice Jewish girl at Hillel. He walks over to a group and essentially this girl talks him up about LDS—The Church of Latter-day Saints and she’s this adorable Mormon girl. So he’s like, “Could I do this? Could I give up the 3,000-year-old tradition of my ancestors? Of course, I couldn’t do that.” But the next day he goes to the LDS meeting and goes through this whole thing—finally reunites with the girl on campus a few weeks later and she essentially says, “The club fair? Oh! I’m in this acting class and my friend got sick who was supposed to be at the booth and I told her I would take on representing LDS that day, but I’m actually Jewish.” It was hilarious, the way it was delivered.
Have you received interest in Jewrotica from non-Jews?
AO: It’s really weird that when we get press, we get a lot in Germany, Spain, Latin America, Russia, and Australia—and what’s really remarkable is that a website about Jewish sexuality—you have to push it on them for most Jews to engage in it, but the non-Jews there are fascinated and it’s amazing the amount of traffic that spikes during those periods. It doesn’t matter where-as soon as there’s a story there we see an amazing surge of interest in about this concept of Jewish erotica.
It’s a really novel way to learn about our community. It’s strange, but in way, because we have the glossary and pop up terms and are providing the background, and explaining the concepts, it makes it easier. If this existed for the Hindu community, I would love to learn about Hindu rituals and values through sexual stories.
Were you taught many of the stories that you pull from in sexual analyses or did you learn most of it when you decided to start Jewrotica?
AO: Both. I was raised with this stuff, but they don’t really focus on those types of stories. When I visited Jerusalem recently, I sat for 10 hours with the Tanach, reading through the stories. This is going to sound really weird, but I looped my mom into it. She’s more religious that I am, so I pitched to her that we should do a “chevruta,” which is a Jewish partner study. I said, “Mom, let’s learn the chevruta; Let’s learn the Torah,” and only after did I tell her we would be plowing through the Tanach for sex stories. So we actually came up with a lot of great things from that experience.
DA: I went to Jewish day school, so you know, you’re a randy teenager—you’re looking at the dictionary for sex stuff, too, let alone the Torah. There’s actually a wealth of stuff beyond the Torah. There’s all the content that we grew up with, the obvious things that are in the Torah. Then when you go deeper and you read some of the Zohar commentaries-like lulav, don’t even get me started.
What are your plans for the future of Jewrotica?
AO: There are a lot of places we can take Jewrotica. We actually, just this past week, did a huge website overhaul. We moved from block format to magazine format. Our big focus this past month has been getting the new look going for the coming year. We’ll continue the daily postings, boosting our followers, getting the workshop out there, and we’re starting to train Jewrotica facilitators.
DA: Real World interactions.
AO: Yes. I love this project but we’ve always known, as nice as it is to have a website, actually getting people together for conversations is important. And we’re getting more requests. I can’t be everywhere and I don’t want to be everywhere. I want to bring more people in to be apart of it. So, that’s gradually what we’re going toward.
DA: It’s an ideal program for Hillels and young leadership groups. It’s a way of sneaking in a little bit of Jewish knowledge via the “sex route.” Everybody is into sex. We give them what they want and we slip in a little of what we need.
AO: That sounds so sexual! This is what I deal with everyday, Jillian.