Everything is new at Purim off Ponce this year, says Rebecca Stapel-Wax, the executive director of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity.

“We have never sold out before,” she said. “In the past we have had maybe 90 hosts; this year it’s 160. The theme is fairy tales, so it’s really going to jump-start our storytelling for SOJOURN. It’s a kickoff for our annual giving, and we’ve created a new Fairytale Fund so we can sustain and actually grow much bigger.”

The 12th annual Purim off Ponce costume party will be held Saturday, March 3, at The Temple’s Schwartz-Goldstein Hall, the first time in that location, and proceeds from the popular event help fund SOJOURN’s mission on LGBTQ matters.

Two honorees, Judy Marx of Interfaith Community Initiatives and Billy Planer of Etgar 36, will receive the Michael Jay Kinsler Rainmaker Award “for their professional and personal efforts toward building loving communities where LGBTQ people feel safe, listened to and safe,” SOJOURN’s official announcement said.

“The reason for both of them to be chosen is that they do such wonderful generalized work in the world that’s a metaphor for what we do: getting people to understand more about diversity and LGBTQ issues. They are quintessential role models for that,” Stapel-Wax said.

Interfaith Community Initiatives works to strengthen relationships in diverse areas and situations, while Etgar 36 arranges fact-finding tours that teach teens and adults about history, civil rights and culture.

Judy Marx

“I think the work SOJOURN does is unbelievably important,” Marx said, “particularly in encouraging the Jewish community in being more welcoming. SOJOURN has put the ideal out there of what a welcoming and inclusive community should look like and how to get over some of the hurdles and stumbling blocks on gender and sexual identity. Rebecca and her team really help us all raise our game.”

Marx said interfaith relationships are now more crucial than ever. “People feel the political climate in this country is not necessarily friendly to community relations, so it’s time to double down on them and do it better than ever. We are working on building bridges between folks here in Atlanta, where faith is an important part of most people’s identity.”

The connection between SOJOURN and Etgar 36 is also about assimilation, Planer said. “Any group that has been marginalized and not had a voice for power in America has been fighting to be heard,” he said. “Including this (LGBTQ) community in the discussion about civil rights, that’s how we cross over.”

Billy Planer

Part of his job in teaching the civil rights movement is bringing it into modern times. “The struggle for civil and human rights issues is alive and well, just like it was back in the ’50s and ’60s when it was a race issue.”

One of Planer’s tours pays a visit to the AIDS Memorial Quilt project, which he cites as an example “of an impacted community that did not have a voice. Thirty years later we’re still dealing with deaths and infection rates of HIV/AIDS, even in teenagers.”

For Planer, it’s all part of the Jewish concept of taking care of others. “We know what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land. It’s incumbent upon our people to repair the world. We have to be there for them.”


What: Purim off Ponce
Who: Honorees Judy Marx and Billy Planer
Where: The Temple, 1589 Peachtree St., Midtown
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3
Tickets: $100; www.sojourngsd.org/pop2018