Gay Jews tired of S.F. leather bars now have Mazel Top

“Alter kockers like big knockers,” drag queen Kylie Minono lip-synchs to an old novelty record hit — “Boobs!” — by late cabaret singer Ruth Wallis.

Playing up her own ample assets, she adds, “This goes over great in Israel!”

Minono was performing in the latest edition of Mazel Top, a comedy hour or dance party or semi-Jewish gathering — it’s not easy to label — that has been taking place regularly at a San Francisco nightclub since last year.

 

Drag queen Katya Smirnoff-Skyy with Oasis co-owner Geoff Benjamin

One thing is for sure: The event is aimed toward gay Jews, and not much gets held back.

 

Minono, who described herself as “one-quarter Jewish,” was the hostess for the March 3 event at Oasis, a 15-month-old gay bar and drag club. She wore a bright floral dress, complete with a petticoat and lots of cleavage.

The event subtitle was “Such a Punim,” and its poster featured an ugly black-and-white Boston terrier wearing a pink “Shayna Punim” dog shirt.

In March 2015, Mazel Top went with a Purim theme, and its poster included an image of a nude man with a large prune hamantaschen covering his private area, with “Eat my hamantaschen” written on it. A slogan was also included: “Jewish boys to take home … but NOT to momma.”

Other Mazel Tops included “Hanu-con,” where attendees were provided with blue and white Santa hats. For Passover last year, Jewish go-go dancers wore jockstraps adorned with lamb images.

Geoffrey Benjamin, an owner of Oasis and the creator of Mazel Top, said in an interview that he designed the event to be authentic to “who I am and what I was going to enjoy.”

He opened the club with three business partners on Dec. 31, 2014, and many credit it for breathing life into a San Francisco gay scene that has been somewhat dominated by a handful of leather bars. Oasis’ focus is on original parties and shows that often have a drag component.

Benjamin was raised Jewish on New York’s Upper West Side and came to San Francisco by way of Chicago 23 years ago. He and his husband, Craig, have two adopted children, a 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. The family attends Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, San Francisco’s historically gay and lesbian synagogue. “My husband I have raised our children at Sha’ar Zahav, where my daughter will become a bat mitzvah this May,” he said.

Benjamin said he “likes creating community,” including in his past work running nonprofits. He was acting chief operating officer for ORAM, an S.F.-based nonprofit that advocates for refugees who have fled their countries because of persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Before that, he led a nonprofit that facilitates access to arts programs for young people who are or have been incarcerated.

He said he’s also been involved with Jewish organizations, working with Keshet, Sha’ar Zahav and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

“Community” was a recurring theme in many of Benjamin’s responses, and it’s something he thinks about a lot when creating programs for Oasis. Asked about the genesis of Mazel Top, he said although he’d found a fairly robust gay Jewish community in San Francisco, “I had not been to a [Jewish] party that I really liked.”

So he created a “fun, cute, gay Jewish night.”

After attending a Mazel Top event last year, San Francisco resident Timothy Dean Cochran said, “Those boys were hot!” Though he isn’t Jewish, Cochran said Mazel Top provides him “a welcoming atmosphere with hot guys who you may or may not want to bring home to meet your mother.”

Then he added, with a laugh, “What can I say, I’m a sucker for a guy with a big … nose.”

Mazel Top had been running as a monthly event, but it has switched to quarterly; the next edition will be in July. Unrelated to the schedule shift, Benjamin noted that the San Francisco gay Jewish community is not as tight-knit as it used to be.

“Now Keshet’s growing, and with other synagogues being so accepting … in some ways, I miss when we were all in one place [Sha’ar Zahav], when there was one place in town,” he said. But “I think it’s a wonderful development.”

Saul Sugarman

Saul Sugarman is a freelance writer.