Metro Weekly

Mr. Nice Jewish Boy DC Pageant Returns After Hiatus

July 31 pageant features four hopefuls competing for a title and prizes while promoting the visibility and diversity of the Jewish community in D.C.

Mr. NJB 2022 contestants (clockwise from top left) Alejandro Bolivar-Cervoni, Toreno Herbert, Alex Melnik and Herbert Meisne

The Mr. Nice Jewish Boy DC pageant, which had become an annual staple of summer in D.C. prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, will return in person on Sunday, July 31, after a two-year hiatus. 

The competition, colloquially known as the Mr. NJB pageant, takes four people of Jewish heritage and puts them in a competition, where they’ll have to perform in a group musical or dance number, showcase some of their personal talents, answer questions from a panel of judges, and get the audience (who votes for their favorite contestant, with results comprising half of the eventual winner’s score) on their side.

In addition to the crown, the pageant winner will earn $250 in drink tickets from Pitchers, the popular Adams Morgan gay sports bar, and $250 gift certificate from Floriana, the popular Dupont Circle restaurant. Both Pitchers and Floriana are the primary sponsors of this year’s pageant.

“We have an application that’s open to basically anyone in the community. We blasted out the announcement to the entire NJB listserv and any LGBTQ Jewish people we knew. On the application, we ask them basic questions like, ‘Why do you want to participate?’ or ‘Tell us a little about yourself,’ or ‘What would be your talent?’ And from there, we just try to select as diverse and representative of a contestant group as we possibly can,” says Jeremy Sherman, the Mr. NJB 2018 winner and one of the pageant organizers.

“We have four new contestants this year who’ve never been a part of it before,” adds Sherman. “Some of them have never even attended a previous Mr. NJB pageant, and other moved to D.C. during the pandemic, so they weren’t even here when we held the last one.”

This year’s pageant will be held at Union Stage at the Wharf, in Southwest D.C. General admission will be $30 per person, with VIP tickets costing $50 per person. Each VIP ticket earns the bearer a free drink ticket and two free tickets for a raffle, featuring about 30 great prize packages from various local D.C. businesses that are also serving as sponsors. Another sponsor, VIDA, has offered space in its dance studio free of charge so the contestants can hold rehearsals for their joint dance number ahead of Sunday’s performance. 

Proceeds from ticket sales, as well as the raffle, will benefit Keshet, a national LGBTQ+ Jewish organization that supporting queer Jews and their families. Much of Keshet’s programming involves Jewish youth and teenagers and their families, including educational trainings, recreational programs, day programs, Sunday schools, and summer camps.

Organizers have also arranged for bartenders to prepare a special Mr. NJB-themed drink, with one dollar from every sale going to benefit Keshet. Organizers hope to raise more than $7,000 for Keshet in total this year, which would dwarf the amount raised the last time the pageant was held in person, in 2019. Pageant organizers say those who can not attend the pageant in person but wish to contribute to the cause are welcome to donate to Nice Jewish Boys, which will direct their donations to Keshet.

This year’s pageant host will be local D.C. drag queen Venus Valhalla, who identifies as Jewish, and will be making her first appearance at a Mr. NJB pageant, where she will entertain the crowd with a few numbers of her own in between the various phases of the competition.

This year’s judges include Dani Stoller, a local Jewish actress and playright based out of Washington, D.C.; Ami Altzman, the youth programs director for Keshet, the chief beneficiary of the pageant, and Marci Chaves, the mother of longtime Nice Jewish Boys DC member and first-time pageant organizer Alexander Chaves, who will be flying up from South Florida for the competition.

Particularly given the political attacks against LGBTQ rights nationally and the reemergence of anti-Semitic violence and attitudes in the United States in recent years, the visibility of Nice Jewish Boys and the eventual pageant winner speaks volumes about what Pride means for those who are both Jewish and LGBTQ.

“Visibility has always been important for a lot of communities,” notes Chaves. “I am obviously Jewish, queer, but also Latinx. My family is from Colombia. This year, one of our contestants is from Puerto Rico, and another one of our contestants is African-American. So to be able to not only show our Jewish heritage, but also be out, be queer, be loud about it, and then show all of the intersectionality that comes with that, really is a statement that we are here, and we’re not going anywhere.

“It’s important that we have that house packed, all of those raffles sold, all of that money raised, so that people can see that there’s not just one of us, there’s a ton of us. And we aren’t going to sit and be quiet. We’re going to celebrate ourselves, and we’re going to make sure you know about it,” says Chaves.

“Mr. NJB is the one event every year that really shows the power and the strength of this entire community,” adds Sherman. “When we work together to put on this fabulous show and raise money, we do a great job. And it’s a it’s a moment to show that strength, show that pride, show that power that we have as a collective, queer Jewish community.”

As a former titleholder, Sherman says it’s interesting to watch the four contestants go through the process of competition from another angle.

“It’s fun to watch the contestants kind of go through the motions of preparing to compete in this event,” he says. “The competition kind of puts you out of your comfort zone a little bit. Many of the contestants don’t know each other that well, and are not super close friends. Many of them don’t know how to dance or have never participated in a talent show before, or don’t do a lot of public speaking. So as a previous contestant, knowing what they’re experiencing, I love watching them grow and have fun and participate in this in this great event.

“I also just love the enthusiasm from the entire community about the pageant’s return,” he adds. “Seeing a whole new generation of people learning about Mr. NJB for the first time, getting involved, and buying tickets makes me really excited for a whole new crop of people to experience the event.”

The Mr. Nice Jewish Boy DC pageant will be held on July 31 at Union Stage at the Wharf, 740 Water St. SW. Doors open at 4:00 p.m., with the show starting at 4:30 p.m. Tickets cost $30 per person, and $50 per person for VIP tickets, which are limited. For tickets or more information, visit www.unionstage.com/shows/mr-nice-jewish-boy-pageant-2022. Follow Nice Jewish Boys DC on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NJB.DC or on Instagram at @nicejewishboysdc.

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