Arts & Culture

Schmekel: Your Friendly Neighborhood All-Jewish, All Transgender Punk Band

According to the bio on their Facebook page, “Schmekel is New York City’s only All-Jewish All-Transgender Polka-Punk band. Their music sounds a bit like The Kinks crashed a Bar Mitzvah,while their lyrics combine bawdy humor and critical awareness, encouraging audiences … Read More

By / October 7, 2010

According to the bio on their Facebook page, “Schmekel is New York City’s only All-Jewish All-Transgender Polka-Punk band. Their music sounds a bit like The Kinks crashed a Bar Mitzvah,while their lyrics combine bawdy humor and critical awareness, encouraging audiences to laugh at butt jokes while deconstructing systems of oppression.”  The band is fronted by guitarist and songwriter Lucian Kahn, Keyboardist Ricky Riot, Bassist Nogga Schwartz and drummer Simcha Halpert Hanson.

The originality literally drips from this band, whose Polka Punk sound in and of itself is incomparable but coupled with their trans-aesthetic and queer-themed, humorous lyrics; they’re like a cross between Weird Al, Pansy Division and The World Inferno.  With lyrics like “It’s Hannukah in Brooklyn and I hope you’ll swing my way/ You think I’m kind of sexy, but you’re Christian and you’re gay/ You’ve never been with a guy like me and you have a vague aversion/But my position isn’t missionary and this isn’t a conversion.”  Their song about a trans man who realizes that the testosterone he’s been taking has caused him to grow a foreskin, thereby forcing him to consult his Rabbi, Schmekel lays the humor on thick, while at the same time visiting some rarely touched upon issues, particularly in the Jewish community.

“I wanted some funny music to get me through the rough days of my gender transition, but most of the media about trans people that I found was either exceptionally depressing or created by people who weren’t trans.  So I had this absurd idea to start an all-trans, all-Jewish punk band called Schmekel,” said Lucian Kahn when asked about the Band’s inception.  At this point the band has played a couple shows throughout New York, the first of which at The Delancey to benefit for a Queer Collective called Idyll Dandy Arts.`

I asked the members of Schmekel whether they felt like there existed a specific link between the Jewish and LGBT community.

“I definitely feel like the only trans men, at least,that I’ve met and have become close with, are Jews, which is incredibly affirming.  I say affirming because when I moved to New York, I was very religious and meeting other gender non-conforming Jews helped and continues to help combat the alienation I feel in the average synagogue community,” said drummer Simcha.

But what about Synagogue?  According to keyboardist Ricky Riot,”There are several congregations here that openly trans people attend.There’s also Nehirim, which organizes retreats for Queer and trans people.  I spent the high holidays at CBST(Congegation Biet Simchat Torah, an LGBT Synagogue) felt very welcome there; it was one of the most meaningful religious services I have ever been to. This community reassures me that I can be exactly who I am without being any less Jewish.”

I also took the opportunity to ask Schmekel my favorite question for any band, “What do you your parents think?”

“Joining the band actually prompted me to come out to my parents.  They were accepting, but I think given the explicit nature of the lyrics, I would feel uncomfortable pushing them into water they likely aren’t ready to tread,” said drummer, Simcha.

Ricky Riot, whose parents live in New Jersey, said, “They know I’m in a trans Jewish band except they are probably picturing something more traditional, which is cute. My father is just starting to accept my gender identity, but my folks probably won’t take too well to us singing about butt sex with our kippot on.”

“My mom is still getting used to my transition, but when I told her I had started a band called Schmekel, she laughed for a solid minute,” Lucian Kahn tells me, “so I would say she’s a fan.”