ANDREW ELIAS RAMER is a Maggid (Jewish sacred storyteller) living in San Francisco, California. Born on this date in Queens, New York, he believes that the prophetic tradition and storytelling are one and the same. The job of a storyteller is to create a narrative that holds a group together, forms the fabric of thought that a community or village of people inhabit.
Andrew grew into being a maggid through many moments and teachers. As a five-year-old he lay under an enormous honeysuckle vine with his best friend. Sprawled on the ground that warm day with the sun streaming in long shafts of light, she showed him how to pluck the honeysuckle from the vine and suck the nectar from the flower. The bees were swarming in and out of the blossoms. Something in his consciousness opened up and he understood that just as the bees were going back to the blossoms, that everything comes from and goes back to something, to a primal Source. It did not occur to him then that the ‘something’, is God or that this was a spiritual experience. Now he reflects that that experience changed his life, as it was his first encounter with God of and in nature and the world.
As an adult he was spiritually formed through many communities including the Gay Spirit Visions Conference in North Carolina, and the New York Healing Circle, which flourished during the early AIDS years. His mentors, collaborators and guides have included Charles Lawrence, Donna Cunningham, Harry Hay, Raven Wolfdancer, Rabbi Benay Lappe, and Rabbi Dev Noily. He is a member and one of many lay leaders at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco. After years of spiritual wandering, it was in Torah study with Dev Noily at Sha’ar Zahav that he found wisdom, comfort and a rich new way to live as a Queer Jewish man.
He believes that leadership is best when it is collective, like a flock of birds with each member of the flock taking a turn leading at the front. In that spirit, Andrew was one of 141 members of Sha’ar Zahav who worked together to create a new Siddur (prayer book) which was published in 2009. His contributions include art, the blessings he wrote, and editorial assistance. He also facilitated six writing workshops in which community members created new liturgy to reflect the beautifully complicated realities of LGBT Jewish lives.
His writings are a form of Midrash, an interpretation of biblical tales where he tells the stories of queer and transgender people that were left out or written out of our scriptures. This practice of “queering the text” is both joyously traditional and transgressive. As a child attending a traditional religious Jewish school he first learned the craft of Midrash through his teachers, who would tell stories about the Torah before they read it. When he learned to read Hebrew he learned that most of his favorite stories were not in the written Torah at all, because they were Midrash, Oral Torah. That discovery was one of the doorways for him into this tradition and practice.
In his role as a storyteller Andrew likes to create origin tales, to seduce people into the narrative, and to fulfill the understanding that without storytelling we cannot function as a people. When he thinks about the stories that don’t get told he feels more empowered to write and speak them. He believes that whatever your faith tradition you can and must own all the stories and re-tell them any way you want–for the sake of us all, for the sake of a viable planet, and so that people may find themselves and love themselves. He invites us to question everything, question every story no matter what our elders tell us, so that we can retell everything quietly until we’re in a safe place where we can tell all of our stories out loud to the world.
Andrews’s stories can be found in the books: Queering the Text: Biblical, Medieval, and Modern Jewish Stories; Siddur Sha’ar Zahav; Two Flutes Playing; Revelations for New Millennium; Angel Answers; Ask Your Angels; and The Spiritual Dimensions of Healing Addictions. He was interviewed in Gay Soul by Mark Thompson and is a long time friend of White Crane for which he wrote the column Praxis.