Sage Cassell-Rosenberg is Customizing Judaism

By on June 25, 2024

When I met Sage in person at a cafe in Berkeley, I was so struck by their passion and enthusiasm for everything from foraging for fruit to building a welcoming Jewish community. We continued this conversation over Zoom, where we discussed more about their work at Keshet, crafting Jewish ritual that works for each person, and what’s feeling alive during Pride.

Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Caroline: Sage! What’s your current role at Keshet and what brought you there?

Sage: I’m the Jews of Color Program Manager, which I am absolutely honored to say. I love what I do, and essentially, I came to Keshet because it gives me the opportunity to be the person I needed when I was younger. I was born and raised in Miami Beach, in the modern/ultra-Orthodox community. My dad often joked that we were “Lubav-ish” [editor’s note: a play on Lubavitch, one of the movements in Hasidic Judaism]. As a black Jew, I’ve always lacked that feeling of belonging within Jewish spaces. Very commonly, I’ve felt like a tourist in my own religion.

So that experience created this passion for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging trainings and education, as well as talking about how we can promote feelings of belonging for historically marginalized folks. When I saw the opportunity to specifically work with Jews of Color at a Jewish LGBTQ+ organization, I could not think of a more perfect shidduch (a match). 

That sounds like such a good match! What are you working on at 

Keshet these days?

We’re working on quite a few things right now for LGBTQ Jews of Color. We have this affinity space called QJOC Kinship: a monthly virtual gathering space for Jews of Color. It’s the last Tuesday of every month. 

Recently, I got to do an event in the Bay Area with JYCA (Jewish Youth for Community Action), called ‘nosh and narratives.’ We were working with JOCSM (Jews of Color, Sephardi, and Mizrahi) teens, ages 13 to 17, and we had a Shabbat experience where we shared what ritual means to us, but also how we queer ritual. We had this Shabbat over pizza, with arts and crafts and fidget toys, and my main takeaway for the teens was that, if it’s Shabbat, and you’re doing something, then that’s a Shabbat activity. That could

be you taking on traditions, or making your own traditions, or it could just be you living your everyday regular life.

Overall, customizing Judaism has been a central theme within the different programming I do. For instance, we had the first-ever Shabbaton for LGBTQ Jews of Color in February. We even reached registration capacity t, which was awesome. The entire theme was that we get to pick—what Jewish community, what Jewish practices, and what our relationship to Judaism means for us. 

It’s a gift that I get to do this work!

Is there a Jewish practice that you’ve customized?

When I was first learning kiddush (blessing over wine), in the first grade, I was so excited to learn that I ended up memorizing it by heart. Because I wanted to know it for when it was my turn to say it.

When I showed it to school with it memorized, the teacher said, “I’s so cool that you did that… but you know that women don’t do that.” 

I was raised in such a binary society, and now, as an out trans person, one of my favorite things is that I’m the one who makes kiddush in my house. It’s so beautiful because growing up, even though it was something that I was told wasn’t for me, my little Jewish neshama (soul) knew that it was something I was going to do in the future—and I did it.

So good. Are there any other Keshet projects we should know about?

I’m excited to share that Keshet is currently making history by doing the first-ever survey on the experiences of LGBTQ Jews of Color in Jewish spaces. When I started at Keshet, nearly a year ago, I was scouring the research for my demographic. What I found was that there wasn’t really any research specifically on the experiences of LGBTQ Jews of Color. 

So we currently have the survey open—each and every response is making history, because you’re contributing to a body of work that has never existed before.

We’re also asking folks who don’t identify as LGBTQ Jews of Color to share this survey with their network and as a step of actionable allyship—because the more people we reach, the better that we understand. And through better understanding we’re able to improve as a Jewish community.

So, it’s nearly the end of Pride Month! What’s feeling alive for you this month?

Just every day, living as my authentic self. Specifically, working at an LGBTQ+ organization, Pride is all I’m thinking about this month…

But, I do want to continuously remind myself, why do we celebrate this each and every month? Who are the people who are continually fighting for us to be able to live the lives that we do? I also want to honor so many folks within the past, present and future, who continue to fight for our rights, so that way, I get to feel like each and every day is a blessing.

When we met in person, we talked about building more community for LGBTQ Jews of Color in the Bay Area. What are some hopes or dreams you have for the Jewish community here?

As someone from Miami, where it’s also a melting pot of culture like the Bay Area, I would just say, if there are any queer Jews of Color who have an idea, who are lacking the resources, I would love to make some of these ideas happen and to figure out how I could do that in the Bay Area. We’re tentatively talking about doing something in the Bay Area within 2025. I’ll keep you updated for when that starts to develop.

In the meantime, I’m an open suggestion box—or if you just want to connect with me, you do not have to have an idea. If you’re queer Jew of Color or an LGBTQ Jew of Color and you want to talk to another one, I can be your person. [Editor’s note: you can email them:]. 

Now, onto our in-house Proust Questionnaire! Tell me a book, movie, poem, play, song, or piece of art or media that you love. 

You know, every single airport that I’ve been to has had these tiny books from the Harvard Business Review on emotional intelligence. They’re all so phenomenal, and they’re written by  leaders in the field. You could read two pages and learn a whole lot about yourself. You can finish them quickly—it allows me to digest and take in new information.

What’s the Bay’s best-kept secret? 

In my limited time in the Bay Area, one of my favorite activities to do was walk around the neighborhoods in between my in-person meetings. I saw so many fresh fruits growing on people’s lawns and yards, and I picked a bunch of loquats, lemons, oranges. I recommend looking at the beautiful succulents, and then touching some grass! I found it to be very healing.

When was a recent time you felt a spiritual connection? 

At the Keshet staff retreat in Los Angeles, I got counted for a minyan for the first time. That was such a lovely experience, because I’d always wanted to be counted for a minyan and the opportunity had never presented itself where they needed me in order to do a Jewish service.

It was really healing for the little trans kid in me who just wanted to be in the men’s section. Then, being able to be in a space that wasn’t just the men’s section—it was this eclectic space of a bunch of different gender identities, where we’re all just praying together. That they needed me for a minyan was such a beautiful experience.

GatherBay Profiles is our interview series spotlighting the vast array of community members doing rad things! Released twice per month, the series aspires to celebrate GatherBay’s greatest treasure—the people around us. Want to be profiled? Email