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Written by Michal Daveed. Michal is a professional writer and non-professional kinkster who shares her experiences as a Jewish woman in the world of BDSM. This is her first piece published on Jewrotica
As I walk into the hotel conference room, the strangeness of my circumstances hits me again. When I’m at a BDSM convention, the first thing on my to-do list is the communal Shabbat celebration. It’s my third time attending this weekend, and as such, my second anniversary of entering the Kink Scene.
I’ve already turned off my cell phone for Shabbat. If anyone wants to find me over the next day, they’re going to have to do it the old fashioned way of running into me in a hallway or meeting me at a class – or in the dungeon.
The room is already set up, and in some ways, it resembles any Shabbaton I’ve attended. On a table sits enough tea candles for anyone who wants to light, one bottle of grape juice made to last for dozens of plastic cups, and a store-packaged challah covered with a napkin. But the differences are hard to ignore, starting with the crowd.
No one is dressed for the holiday, at least in the conventional sense. Some attendees just wear jeans and a t-shirt, but some have dressed in ways that more explicitly say “sexy,” from tight leather pants to a Fifties pinup look. Others have gone all out, with corsets, or floggers on their belts, and straight-up fetish-wear. A few men wear kippot, one of whom also has a patch on his vest announcing him as a Leather Titleholder (think kinky pageant winner).
Not all of the room is Jewish, as several gentiles have shown up, some out of curiosity or support for Jewish friends.
In perhaps the best representation of the event, a crockpot is on, but there’s no cholent simmering. It’s full of paraffin wax that has melted before Shabbat begins, in case any observant Jews want to participate in the wax play following the ceremony. A large blue tarp lies spread out on the floor in wait.
The Shabbat candles are off to one side designated as Not for Play. For gentiles and non-observant Jews, in addition to the crockpot there are also several other candles in a variety of colors. Since darker colors get hotter, players have a degree of control over wax temperatures, or, they can just get dramatic with vibrant hues. Catholic votive candles were the cheapest and easiest colored candles to acquire. (The irony doesn’t escape anyone.)
We decide enough people are present to begin, and we’ve entered the 18 minute window for final Shabbat candlelightings.
The organizers, friends of mine from Kinky Jews Philadelphia, introduce themselves and welcome the crowd. The room is adjoining the dungeon, but at the moment the usual sounds of pain or excitement are at a minimum, and we can bring in Shabbos in peace.
My friends are bubbling with excitement as they start the evening. One couple met at this same event three years ago. They speak about how this convention brought them together, and attending has become an important tradition.
“This is a weekend we can all feel a part of this community,” says “Feivel,” as a few people nod in agreement. “I think we should say Shechiyanu.”
As in every year, the group says the blessing together, and then someone translates it into English: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.”
A few of us offer explanations for the rituals, and the next few minutes once again sound like any other Shabbat gathering. We all sing Shalom Aleichem, and I lead kiddush over the grape juice. We make motzi and tear up the challah as we send it across the room. Snacks go over well; this is a universal law.
“I don’t remember this from USY Shabbatons,” jokes one woman over a chunk of challah.
“I went to pretty much every convention when I was in High School,” I agree. “I think I would have remembered something like this.”
“My daughter’s in USY now!” She exclaims. “What region were you in?”
I tell her, but then we let it go- to win this game of Jewish geography could feel like a violation of privacy. I do, however, introduce her to a friend of mine whom I originally met through USY. He entered the Scene a couple of years before I did.
I think of that Shabbat two years ago when I surprised myself by going to this convention. The Shabbat ceremony that night had been much like this one, but I was completely different. I often find meaning in Shabbat, but the religious gathering was a source of comfort as it had never been before. I was terrified of where I was, but looking around at a room full of Jews who wanted to celebrate, I realized I wasn’t alone, in more ways than one. I saw that this part of myself could comfortably coexist with my Jewish identity.
Ceremony over, people begin to converge on the tarp and pour the candles over their own and each other’s bodies. I’m not interested in participating, so I say my Shabbat Shaloms and excuse myself. I’ll find someone later to confirm Havdalah plans for Saturday night – sans wax play.