Life's a drag: Lady SinaGaga shows Limmud participants how to combine Judaism and make-up

What does a Long Island-born, Lubavitch-raised, former yeshivah boy turned drag queen do for Christmas?


What does a Long Island-born, Lubavitch-raised, former yeshivah boy turned drag queen do for Christmas?

He spends it at Limmud educating festival-goers on how to contour their faces and use Judaism as an influence on their act, of course.

Moshiel Newman Daphna’s standing-room only session – Life’s a drag, queen – charted the ups and downs of his time as a drag act, focussing largely on his gruelling two-hour make-up routine.

A 10-minute film clip gave Limmud participants in Birmingham an additional inside track on how he adopts his stage persona – Lady SinaGaga.

The moving session included Moshiel – one of triplets – emotionally recalling coming out as gay to his family.

“It was a difficult time for me and my parents and family but now, five years later, it’s taken a happy turn. They are in a place of acceptance.

“Even though I realised I was gay and I was queer, playing with gender was something I was told not to do. I played with my mom’s clothes when I was young.

“Judaism is so much about identity and how that is expressed – often through clothing. Drag is just a ritual with an outward expression for an inward feeling.”

Taking festival-goers on a tour de force of famous drag acts – Ru Paul is apparently “unabashedly queer” – Moshiel introduced some of the personalities who, he said, had “mainstreamed drag” culture.

Examples of popular films which had utilised drag and “queering of gender for mass audiences” included Mrs Doubtfire and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, he said. They had been the start of a movement and the appropriation of gay culture.

The ritual of becoming Lady SinaGaga sees Moshiel spend two hours doing his make-up, hair and outfit, including using medical-grade adhesives on his face. Four types of foundation are used for highlighting and contouring. Triple-stacked eyelashes consist of three sets of false lashes stuck on top of each other, an admission which made many women in the audience wince.

“I know I look like an extra from the Lion King,” he said, half-way through the video explaining his creation. But it was, Moshiel said, essential to use the heavy-duty make-ups to make his cheeks “really pop” on stage.

With embarrassment, he admitted his spending on make-up can stretch to hundreds of dollars. Hair, nails and jewellery increase the costs. Foam padding fills out his hips, and fake breasts are used to look more womanly.


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What sort of reception does his religious family give Lady SinaGaga?

“I hid it from my family for a long time,” Moshiel said. “I thought it would be too much for them to swallow.

“Once my parents became more accepting of me being gay, I showed it to them. I was Facetiming my mother and I was getting ready for a Friday night show and she was getting ready for Shabbos. She just said, ‘you look beautiful’.”

Having now moved to Chigaco, Moshiel is trying to work his way up the city’s “hierarchy” of drag acts with his Jewish-influenced performances.

In his slightly camp New York accent, he explained: “It’s a really Jewish concept. If you think of the Cohen Gadol… there are many places I can look into our past and see the idea of costume behind the title of ritual. I feel that. Drag is just a heightened expression of gender for purposes of entertainment – or enjoyment."

Asked what is needed to begin a career in drag, he said: "It’s really fun. For those thinking of taking up drag, just do it. And then do it again and again. Most people are not amazing at everything the first time they do it. If you are just starting out don’t give up – take risks and have fun. It’s about getting out into the world and getting reactions from people.”

Asked by one Limmud participant if there were examples of drag in the Torah – the questioner cited the midrashic suggestion that Joseph’s technicolour coat was actually the biblical character in drag – Moshiel responded by saying his own Judaism had heavily influenced his Lady SinaGaga act.

“Initially my mother was offended by the name, but now she knows it’s just like Lady Gaga.”

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