At the U Street Music Hall, four determined contestants competed in Washington, DC’s Mr. Nice Jewish Boy (NJB) pageant on Sunday: Adam Gerstenfeld, Ben Gersten, Jordan Aronowitz and Larry Komrower. The event was co-emceed by reigning NJB Jeremy Sherman and renowned New York City Jewish drag queen Lady SinAGaga. The pageant was a fundraiser for Keshet, a national organization that organizes programs geared towards Jews in the LGBTQ+ community, to help finance their regional Shabbaton retreats for queer Jewish youth. The event was hosted by Nice Jewish Boys DC, a social organization for LGBTQ+ young men that regularly plans community events. The event sold out the 180-seat venue and raised an estimated $8,000, approximately doubling last year’s total.
The pageant included an opening choreographed dance, a question and answer section and a talent portion for each contestant. Gerstenfeld did stand-up comedy, Aronowitz did a violin performance, Gersten did a double-dutch routine, and Komrower sang “Waving Through a Window” from the musical Dear Evan Hansen and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from the musical Funny Girl. Lady SinAGaga also performed a dance during intermission. After the pageant, there was an after-party at the Dirty Goose bar. “Bubbe’s are kvelling up and down the east coast over these handsome and talented local men,” says the event’s Facebook description.
Jeremy Gilston spearheaded this year’s pageant after competing in it in 2017. He had moved to DC only shortly before he discovered the NJB community and was asked to compete in the pageant. “I didn’t really know many people here, and the NJB community was a really awesome outlet for me to start making DC feel like home,” he says. He believes that the show represents the spirit of the Jewish LGBTQ+ community in DC. “You get to see a show that you identify with, it’s clear, it’s Jewish, it’s local, you feel like you’re supporting your community, it is highly entertaining, and your ticket sales go to charity. So I think it’s the right recipe.”
The winner was decided by 60 percent audience vote, 40 percent judge determination. Judges included James Cohen, chief development & communications officer of Keshet, Sharon Rosenbaum, mother of Ben Rosenbaum, the president of NJB DC, and Jayson Littman, founder and President of Hebro, a social startup for gay jews in New York City.
Gilston believes that the essence of a nice Jewish boy is captured in the community of the event itself. Being a nice Jewish boy means “extending an olive branch and welcoming people into your home and helping them feel comfortable when you are comfortable and they are out of their element,” he says, arguing that the event does just that for queer Jews in the DC area. “It really does help people find a home and have something they can work towards.”
Contestant Larry Komrower emerged as the winner of the event, with Adam Gerstenfeld as the runner-up. Introducing himself during the Q&A portion, Komrower asserted, “if it doesn’t involve corgis, cooking, or choreography, I don’t really care about it,” before throwing homemade challah into the audience.
“It’s so exciting. It’s been a long process of preparing, and getting to know the other contestants, and just having a good time, so I’m super excited and honored,” said Komrower after he was crowned. Komrower expressed joy at the success of the event: “Look how many people were here! I think it’s really cool how something like this can bring so many people together to provide not only an entertaining show but also a show that provides fundraising to a really valuable organization.”
Meet the Candidates
Before the event, I spoke with the contestants about their Nice Jewish Boy chops/bonafides. Here are some of their answers:
From: Roseland, NJ
Why do you have what it takes to be this year’s Nice Jewish Boy?
I’m really well-suited for the role because when I was a teenager I went to conversion therapy, and that’s really the lowest of the low you can go as a gay person in America. And as a teenager and throughout college, Jewish spaces were the ones that let me be who I wanted to be, and let me be myself. So to earn this honor of being the LGBT Jewish representative for Washington, D.C., that would really mean a lot to me. And on top of that, I also teach Hebrew school and advise the middle school Jewish youth group, so I want to be a role model for the kids I work with, that being Jewish is an asset to your identity. So that’s why I should be the next Mr. Nice Jewish boy; why I have what it takes is because I’m outgoing, I’m clever, I’m pretty dang good looking, and I’m putting it all on the line. I want to win.
What’s one issue you really care about and why?
I really don’t like that gay men can’t give blood. A couple years ago, the FDA changed their policy that men who had sex with other men were newly eligible to donate blood, but the rule is that you can’t give blood if you’ve had sexual relations with another man within the last year. So the FDA got all this credit for lifting the ban and ending the stereotype that all gay men have HIV, and they really didn’t do that, because it’s unfair and unreasonable to ask anybody to be completely celibate for a full year before they’re eligible to give blood, and quite frankly, people like myself are the right age, the right weight, the right health conditions, but because of some stigma that’s still attached to people like myself, we can’t contribute to people in need.
From: Pembroke Pines, FL
What makes you think you have what it takes to be this year’s Nice Jewish Boy?
I think I have what it takes because I went to Jewish day school for eight years, graduated in the top 37 percent of my class, and was one of the first leaders of my Jewish youth group in high school.
What’s one issue you’re really passionate about and why?:
I’m really passionate about education. So I was a teacher for two years, and I currently work at an education non-profit, so I really care about making sure that students get equitable access to education.
From: Columbia, MD
What is your favorite Jewish tradition?
I’m not a terribly religious person, but I do enjoy the concept of Shabbat of taking a day to take a break from everything, and to relax, and to think of all the things that you’ve had, and to think about the week coming forward, and to just unwind. I think that that’s something that I wish I would constantly take the time to incorporate that into my life a little bit more, because I think everybody deserves some time to relax and to unwind.
What are you looking for in a partner?:
Someone who enjoys many of the things that I enjoy, who makes me laugh, who is supportive, and it doesn’t hurt if they’re attractive. In an ideal world—even though I know that it can be a challenge in terms of sheer demographics—but ideally I’d like to have a partner who’s also Jewish, although that’s not a dealbreaker. Honestly, what I’m looking for in a partner…I don’t know, because I’m not really looking for a partner at the moment.
From: Great Neck, NY
Why do you have what it takes to be this year’s Nice Jewish Boy?:
I’m the full package of what a nice Jewish boy is, which is basically responsible, and beloved by parents, and I’m an accountant. So with all that together, and I think I pretty much have what it takes.
Favorite Jewish tradition?:
My family’s thing is Passover, and I actually went to college on the west coast, so I wasn’t able to go back to New York for it. This year was the first time I was home for it since, like, 2014. Being able to have those times with my family and have them be more than just a religious event—have it be one day where we know we’re all going to be together, regardless of how seriously or not seriously people are taking the purpose of the day. So being able to be with certain family, see everyone in one place for a happy occasion without any other pretext to it is awesome. What I really like about Judaism is that people can come together and it’s not only about religion, it’s just a reason to be together.