Eshel Meetup in Baltimore

If you are in the Baltimore/DC/Philly area next week and are an Eshel member (or potential member) or parent (or potential Eshel parent), consider attending a wonderful Eshel event that will take place. It is amazing that the Eshel Directors, Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Miryam Kabakov will be running the event.

Eshel meet up in Baltimore!

November 15 @ 7:00 pm9:00 pm

We are excited to get together in person with our Baltimore/DC Eshel family.  Join us in this intimate,confidential  setting to meet others, like yourself, in the extended Eshel network.

When: November 15 at 7 pm

What:  A small private gathering for Orthodox LGBT, and parents/families of Orthodox LGBT people.

Who:  Eshel leaders, Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Miryam Kabakov will lead this discussion group.

Refreshments and conversation.steve-in-circle-talking

Participants are asked to adhere to strict confidentiality.

Details on the location will be given after RSVP to: info@eshelonline.org

A Call for Jewish Schools to support LGBT Students

In an article published in his school’s newspaper, Rabbi Ari Segal, headmaster of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles called for Orthodox leaders and specifically schools to create safer spaces for LGBT Jews in our communities.  The article is titled, “The biggest challenge to “Emunah” of our time.” In this article, Rabbi Segal writes about the crisis of faith that many young Orthodox people are having nowadays because either they or people close to them are LGBT.

“This may surprise many adults, but the reconciliation of the Torah’s discussion of homosexuality represents the single most formidable religious challenge for our young people today. More young people are “coming out” than ever before, and that repeatedly puts a face to this theological challenge. These weighty issues do not live in the abstract; they powerfully and emotionally impact genuine individuals living in our Orthodox community, with real life families and friends. What may seem like an interesting sociological debate in truth is creating crushing pain, anxiety, and general turmoil for people about whom we care deeply.”

He continues on to state that it is not educators’ and Rabbis’ jobs to determine the cause of someone’s sexual orientation or gender difference.  He writes “I think we should stop discussing the “why” of it and leave that to God. The more we try to understand this, the more harm we do. Simply stated, my shoulders are not broad enough to reconcile the totality of this issue.”

Rabbi Segal goes on to explain that our LGBT children are suffering, regardless of how we may try to make them feel accepted when we speak to them on a one to one basis.  “Young people in the LGBT community have told me that they feel invisible when we counsel them in private; they feel somewhat loved, but only unofficially, “tolerated,” but not embraced.”  

So how can schools embrace their LGBT students? Rabbi Segal offers some thoughts:

  • Allow, or even sponsor, a support group for our LGBT students.
  • Find ways to celebrate those individuals choosing to live an Orthodox life while struggling with their sexuality. These brave students are responding to this powerful test of their emunah. Let us not relegate them to second-class status.
  • Encourage – and indeed expect – that our straight students support their gay peers in our school. Gay students deserve the same friendship and solidarity as anyone else, especially as Jews trying under the most challenging of circumstances to navigate the Torah and observe its commandments.
  • Implement anti-discrimination human resources policies and create a safe working environment for all employees.
  • Modify our educational plans and curricula to focus on discrimination against LGBT communities.
  • Provide our teachers with professional development in this area through organizations such as Eshel.
  • Find a way to assure our LGBT students that they belong and have a place at school and in our community. (We’ve already set this process in motion at Shalhevet, stay tuned for an important announcement.)

I am so appreciative of this article and thankful that Rabbi Segal wrote it.  I hope that his suggestions get disseminated to all of the Orthodox Day Schools in this country and that the discussion continues.

 

Links of Interest

Some great pieces this week:

  • How Israel’s Modern Orthodox Jews Came Out Of The Closet: A brother writes about how and why his sister  (and others) chose to come out publicly in the wake of very strong LGBT statements made by several Rabbis in Israel.
  • What Can You Do For the LGBT Jew in Your Community?  Shlomit’s latest TOI Post.  This is a great resource for allies who really want to help and welcome LGBT Jew’s into their communities with real action and not just in name only.
  • Some Thoughts On Social Transitions  “The Story of a Birl” blog published an amazingly educational and informative post about social transitions.  It’s a great piece for those who are starting to learn about gender non-conforming children and gender dysphoria.

 

These are my friends

I’ve written about this in the past, but one of the most amazing parts of this journey has been the opportunity to make so many new friends.  Some are purely virtual- blog friends, Facebook  group friends, and whatsapp friends.   Some are telephone friends- other parents I’ve met through the JQY and Eshel parent calls.  Some are honest to goodness real friends that I’ve been lucky enough to get to know in person.  These friends and I invite each other  to family simchas, meet when we can in person, spend the night or visit when we come to our respective towns.  I value each and every one of the friendships I’ve made with different LGBT people and their parents, children, siblings, etc.   Everyone is dealing with something completely different, but the sense of friendship, camaraderie and support is very real.

So when one (or more) of these friends I’ve made (whether virtual or “IRL”) writes something or starts a new project, I feel like I must share their wisdom.  One friend has started a blog, The Story of a Birl about her almost 7 year old gender non-conforming child.  This mom, who also lives in a Modern Orthodox Jewish community,  is definitely on a journey of her own, and I hope I don’t sound patronizing when I say that she and her husband are inspirational.  They appear to be approaching their child’s needs with an amazing amount of  realism, practicality and love.  I am positive that this child will grow up to be a wonderful human being, no matter what the course his life ultimately takes.   I loved this part of her introductory blog post:

I don’t know if my son is transgender. I don’t know if he will “grow out of it”. I don’t know  what will happen tomorrow, a week from now, in a year.

But I do know that today my son is happy. Today my son loves me and tells me so everyday. And along with my husband I will continue to do what I am doing. Love him. Support him. Let him know how incredibly special he is, and that any options are open to him, and we will love and support him no matter what.

Because ultimately, don’t we all just want to raise happy children?

I’ve recently mentioned Shlomit Metz-Poolat.  She and I only started corresponding several weeks ago, but I’m already so happy that we have.  In addition to the article she wrote about Rabbis and Hope , she has recently written two more articles in the Times of Israel.  The first one is titled Navigating the Frum World as an LGBT Parent, in which she writes about some of the positive and negative experiences she has had as an Orthodox LGBT parent.  This article does a great job normalizing the experience and talking about it in a very real way.

The second article, Silence Is Not An Option For This LGBT Voice was written as a response to some of the negative feedback she received after publishing her last few articles.  She wrote about how she refuses to “cease and desist” talking about her life as an Orthodox LGBT person despite the desires of some of her readers.  I really liked this part:

I spoke with a friend yesterday. A rabbi’s wife and a  kind neshama. My daughter and hers are dear friends and she too told me of wrestling with that reality; with her child coming home and telling her that my daughter had two moms, to which she merely responded, “Well, that’s different.” She was not in the business of teaching her child to hate, or to destroy another Jewish soul. And she said to me recently, “I have learned two things from having gay friends; 1) that it is not contagious and 2) that no matter how much you belittle, ridicule or insult gay people, it does not make them become straight.” She gets that being gay is not a choice.

And to all those out there who think it is, who think I am pushing something in your faces, or that I choose to be gay, or live a gay lifestyle, I say this: You know what you can choose, you can choose to be a better person. You can choose to be kind. You can be a saver of lives, not a destroyer of souls. You can open your hearts, not harden them like Pharaoh. And if not, then feel free to pass over my blogs; to go on to the next The Times of Israel blog that suits your needs, or, even simpler — just turn off your computer. I, however, prefer not to stick my head in the sand. I prefer not to be silent. I prefer to live.

I am so proud of these women who are writing about their experiences because the more they write, the more people will learn and get support from them.  And the more people learn, the less they can hate. Because knowledge is the antidote to hatred.

Pride and Tolerance

(warning: this might be a tough read, please do not read if you’re in a bad place.  Also this is long.)

Tomorrow is the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance.  I keep thinking about Shira Banki.  Maybe because (as I’ve said before), I’m a bit of anniversary nerd and any time an anniversary is commemorated (whether it’s the actual date or not), I think about the years before.  And I’m still sad for Shira. And her family. And for all of the LGBT Jews in Jerusalem who are wondering tonight whether they will be safe to march tomorrow.

When Shira was murdered, I didn’t hold back, as I often do.  I laid a large part of the blame on the Orthodox world.  Not on the fundamentalists who protest all things modern.   But on people in our own world who use homophobic speech in the name of halacha or stay quiet in the face of that same homophobic speech.  These people play a part in what ultimately becomes the fundamentalism that killed Shira.

The  Orthodox world has come a long way.  I marvel at that every day.  But unfortunately, it is still completely ok for people to objectify LGBT people in order to participate in  a sick sort of halachic gymnastics routine that completely vilifies their lives. I’m referring specifically to a post on Facebook I have been monitoring over the past couple of days.  This post showed up in a group that is billed as a “A place for serious discussion of the Jewish religion.”  And it usually is.  This group is heavily moderated and the moderators appear to be caring and careful and tolerant and usually don’t allow discussions to spiral out of control into the point where they may cause pain for readers. But for some reason, the topic at hand- “Due to the fact that Homosexual relations fall under yehareg v’al ya’avor, what ramifications should that have when people cite the acceptance of homosexuality in orthodox judaism as being pikuach nefesh...” (that was the topic) got very out of control.  It got to the point where commenters were discussing whether gay people have the halachic obligation to commit suicide or castrate themselves (spoiler alert: THE DO NOT.)  I actually don’t think the majority of the commenters (even the ones who made these egregious statements) were coming from a place of homophobia or outright meanness.  But the casual way they were willing to discuss this “hypothetical” situation, brought me and many other people who read this thread an incredible amount of pain.

I hope with all my heart that  posts like these don’t passively (or actively) lead to the kind of fundamentalist fanaticism that killed Shira Banki. But I actually worry more that they will kill LGBT people in a much more personal way.  People talk about pikuach nefesh and many take it very seriously.  Yet others mock what they look at as the stereotypical concept of the suicidal LGBT person.  They act tired of hearing that they have to be careful about what they say because an LGBT teen (or adult) might end up committing suicide.  They feel as if THEIR rights are being encroached upon because they have to be sensitive with their words.  I’m not joking here, I’ve heard this time and again.  But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  If it saves the life of ONE person to bring up the concept of the at risk of suicide LGBT person, I’ll bring it up over and over and over again.  Look, I’m depressed, sad and angry after reading the thread I mentioned AND many others in the days leading up to the Pride Parade in Jerusalem.  But I’m just the mother of an LGBT person in the Orthodox world.  I’m not a person who is struggling to BE in the orthodox world as an LGBT person. I literally can’t imagine what that is like.  A fair amount of LGBT people commented on the thread I mentioned.  And they did so with class.  And with a lot more respect than I probably would have had.  I give them credit. And I hope their words were positive forces for the people who didn’t feel like they COULD speak up. The people who were reading the horrible words written for the sake of an “academic halachic exercise”  I hope those people know that their lives are worth something.

This all also comes on the heels of a Rabbi in Israel, Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, who made remarks over 700 other Rabbis and Israeli leaders stating that the IDF’s inclusion of LGBT people is part of a liberal agenda and that LGBT people are perverted people.  The good news is that many Rabbis and leaders condemned this statement immediately and soon after.  One example is today, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah put out a beautiful statement of condemnation.  Here is an excerpt:  “As Israel’s Minister of Education Naftali Bennett wrote, “Jewish law is not meant to be a divisive tool … One cannot denigrate an entire community and take shelter behind Jewish law.”  On the contrary, Israel and the IDF have always been models for the difficult but critical task of unifying Jews of diverse backgrounds and origins, of advocating for respect for different religious beliefs and practices, and of treating people with different sexual orientations with the equality they deserve.

We are heartened by the overwhelming message coming from so many corners of the Jewish world that we will not allow narrow-minded partisans to drive us from our commitment to the Jewish people as an am echad.”  

I wish I could end there.  I was saddened to hear that Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat will not be attending the Pride Parade there in deference to the city’s Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox populations.  I understand that life isn’t black and white.  And Jerusalem certainly is a city of nuance.  So I’m not calling Mayor Barkat homophobic/anti gay or anything of the sort.  But I do have to say this.   When it comes to the topic of LGBT  in the Orthodox world, the anti-LGBT folks are already the de facto winners.  They are starting from a place of advantage and anything that Jewish LGBT people are doing to promote tolerance or acceptance of themselves is already an almost insurmountable uphill battle.  So by sitting out the parade, all Mayor Barkat is doing is giving credibility to the people who use halacha and the Torah to promote hate and intolerance of LGBT people.  I’m an Orthodox Jew. I get the role that halacha plays in our world.   I don’t downplay it and I don’t mock it.  Nor do I say it has no place. But just like those who are telling the LGBT people who angry with Nir Barkat not to be so black and white about this, I implore Nir Barkat to know that his decision looks black and white.  It sends a clear message.  And I can only assume it hurts.

I feel that this post has been a pretty big downer, so I want to end on a positive note.  Emanuel Miller wrote an article in the Times of Israel titled, Why Religious Jews Must Attend the Jerusalem Pride March. It does exactly what the title suggests.  Discusses why Orthodox Jews SHOULD go to the parade.  Here is a (large) excerpt:

“I understand why religious people react to the parade so strongly. Yes, the Torah makes abundantly clear that certain things are considered unacceptable. But that doesn’t give religious people a license to relentlessly belittle, mock, and hurl abuse at people whose sexual orientation is different to our own.

It’s time to show that while we can’t agree on everything, we are united in “Ve’ahavta l’reacha k’mocha” — love your fellow as yourself — and note the Hebrew root reya there, rather than the more common chaver. The word chaver indicates an individual we feel close to. The word reya, however, suggests a disconnect. It’s easy to love our friends. The challenge is to love the people with whom we don’t see an immediate bond.

I’m not trying to change your religious views. I’m religious myself. I too believe that the Torah is the eternal word of G-d. Nevertheless, at a time when so many people are hijacking the name of our religion to attack others, it’s important to show that these people stray from our religion’s loving values.

The Jerusalem pride march is a statement that there are homosexual people all around us. The LGBTQ community is very much part of Jerusalem’s social fabric. It’s time we make space for them and show them that we can live together, despite whatever differences of opinion we may have.

Being Jewish means many things. Standing up for people who are isolated, scared and weak is no less a part of Judaism than keeping Shabbat. It’s time to show the world that we, religious Jews, stand together with our brothers and sisters, no matter their sexual orientation, and demand that they not suffer from persecution, threats and derogatory comments.

Is that too much to ask?”

Shira Banki was murdered a year ago because she was standing up for people who are isolated and scared.  I hope that tomorrow’s parade is a success and can serve as a legacy to Shira’s memory.  May her neshama have an aliyah and may we all learn to work together and accept one another.

Hope after Rabbis fail

Several months ago, I posted an open letter titled, “when Rabbis Fail” by Shlomit Metz-Poolat.  Shlomit’s voice has not been silenced since she wrote that letter.  This week she wrote an article in the Times of Israel titled, Even when some rabbis fail, others rise above and there is hope for LGBT Jews” This article includes the same base of the open letter.  Ms. Metz-Poolat discusses ways she feels the Rabbis have failed her and her family. In many parts, it is painful to read.  I cry when I read that she does not feel that she will have a chevra-kadisha who will take care of her after she dies (after 120).  I feel hopeless when she talks about a shul community she cooked and said tehillim for that didn’t do the same when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.   However…interspersed throughout she includes glimpses of hope, small as they may be.

For example, I hope, because of rabbis like Rabbi Benny Lau. A few months ago I was privileged to hear Rabbi Lau speak at the foundational meeting of PORAT (People for Orthodox Renaissance and Torah). Rabbi Lau said that this is an issue of Pikuach Nefesh; because when we relegate people into darkness – in essence into obscurity – we relegate them to the closest thing to death. He rises above. He gets it; my hope is others will too — especially in the rabbinic world. 

And this passage:  “Know this, I am strengthened by those who do want to rise above, who choose to find a place for us – and they exist and sustain us. I see it every Friday night in our home where we have an Orthodox minyan, where I listen to Mincha, a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat and daven Ma’ariv; a minyan built from a mix of knitted kippas, velvet kippas, those in suits, those in casual clothes and even a Carlebach-influenced chassid. We are all Am Echad. This minyan started about two years ago when my friend broke his leg and could not make it to shul. I offered to have a minyan for him, and while all of this began happening in the shul, the minyan stayed, even after my friend healed. It is the only place I can really daven now, and my daughter sees that. And she sees that despite all of this, my partner continues to daven every morning. She is a true role model for my daughter; and she too has hope. We all do.”

I have hope too.  Because not long before this article came out, Shlomit emailed me and told me she was one of the people who spoke at a recent RCA panel dedicated to LGBT people in the orthodox world.  Her speech was relatively similar to the letter and article she wrote, but also provided her background story. The panel addressed around (or a little less than) 100 Rabbis and their wives. Everyone consisted of pulpit rabbis, educators and counselors.  The panel was comprised of Shlomit, a father of a lesbian woman, two gay men, and a clinical social worker who deals with LGBT issues in the Orthodox community.  I wish they had included a trans person on this panel, but Rome was not built in a day .  I have hope because not long ago, the RCA NEVER would have considered hosting this panel.  Even a couple of years ago maybe they would have had a panel on LGBT issues, but possibly wouldn’t have thought to include an actual LGBT person on the panel.  I don’t know how they chose the panelists, but based on Shlomit’s writings, they didn’t shy away from choosing someone who would criticize them. I do not know what will come out of this panel.  Some who are on the ground and needing things to move at a more progressive speed may scoff at the fact that this was “all” they did and ask how I can have hope from such a small gesture, but for this organization this IS a big deal  Members of the RCA made a first and decent step.  The conversation has started and must continue.  And that is where my hope lies.  Thanks again to Shlomit for putting herself out there for not only herself and family but for all of the Orthodox LGBT adults and kids who are in desperate need of support.

Links of Interest

The LGBT Community and Orthodoxy: Video of the Torah in Motion Panel Discussion in Toronto that I mentioned several weeks ago. The panelists are: Rabbi Steven Greenberg, Yeshaya Grossman, Moderator Dr. Elliott Malamet, Carol Seidman, Dr. Marshal Korenblum, and Rabbi Chaim Rapaport. ** I implore you- if you were planning on binge watching “Orange is the New Black” or anything else on Netflix, watch this instead.  It is amazing and important. ** (Special thanks to a loyal reader for sharing this link with me.)

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi of England has released a statement that shuls must embrace gay Jews.  In his statement following the Orlando Massacre, he said the following:

“In the face of such unspeakable violence, we must be introspective. The Torah takes a clear, well-known position on acts of homosexual intimacy but it also leaves us in no doubt about our responsibility to provide a welcoming environment in our Synagogues and beyond for all Jews, regardless of their level of religious observance, ethnicity or sexuality.

After Orlando, we must take a step beyond condemnation and open our hearts and our Synagogues so that no Jew feels persecuted or excluded from the warm embrace of our communities.”

Milt’s Barbecue For The Perplexed, a kosher Chicago restaurant released the following statement on Facebook:

“Dear Milt’s fans: In commemoration of the tragedy last week in Orlando and in celebration of this week’s Chicago Pride Parade, Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed is flying the rainbow pride flag through Sunday. As Jews, we at Milt’s stand with all groups that espouse love and inclusiveness. Much to our disappointment, we have a received negative feedback this week, and some customers have said they won’t dine with us as long as the flag is displayed. The flag will stay. We will remove it after Sunday’s parade, as we had originally intended. We sincerely hope our valued customers stand with us, too.”

If you are in or near Chicago, show Milt’s your support and go visit them and eat there!

Some Great Articles (aka Links of Interest)

Here are some great articles/stories which have been floating around the internet this week:

We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out that we had so much in common. We met everyone in the bar. One of the patrons told me that his stepchildren were actually bar-mitzvahed in our congregation. Another one asked for my card so that his church could come and visit. The bartender shut off all of the music in the room, and the crowd became silent as we offered words of prayer and healing. My co-clergy Maharat Ruth Friedman shared a blessing related to the holiday of Shavuot, and she lit memorial candles on the bar ledge. Then everyone in the bar put their hands around each other’s shoulders, and we sang soulful tunes. After that, one of our congregants bought a round of beer for the whole bar.

The new center, which opened for weekend and evening hours at the end of April, provides counseling, kosher food, and even arranges housing accommodations for teenagers and young adults between the ages of 13 and 23 who don’t feel they can safely return home. Drop-ins come from a broad range of religious backgrounds, said Levovitz — “We’ve seen chasidic teens from Williamsburg still wearing bekishes (long coats traditionally worn by chasidic Jews), Sephardim, and Modern Orthodox kids from New Jersey who have been in day school their whole life.” Some drop-ins are already married; some already have children, he said. For many of those who stop in, it is the first space where they openly identify as LGBT. “Many of those who have come are still completely closeted in their families and communities,” said Levovitz.

Why I have hope

(reposted because I left out an entire paragraph in the original post)

Almost immediately following publishing my last blog post yesterday, my phone rang and I saw on caller ID that the call was coming from my children’s school.  From the Modern Orthodox school (where my other two children still attend) that my son left two years ago to attend a pluralistic Jewish school.   I answered the phone quickly, worrying that the school was calling to tell me that one of my children was sick or something like that.  It turns out that the person calling me was one of the Rabbis at the school. Two years ago,  I spoke to this Rabbi at the end of the year when we already knew our son was leaving the school and I immediately regretted not speaking to him sooner. He talked about my son’s situation with a level of compassion, love and respect that I had not seen prior and have not seen since. Don’t get me wrong, several individuals in this school have reached out to us and have been fine- but the way this Rabbi spoke to me was unparalleled.

This Rabbi called because he wanted to check on our family, and specifically our son, following the tragic events in Orlando this past weekend.  Before he could even finish telling me why he was calling, my eyes were already welling up with tears.  This Rabbi knows that the school he works at wasn’t a good fit for our son.  He said goodbye to him two years ago.  Yet, he continues to think about him, our family, and how we are doing. Both on a general level and in light of recent events that he knows may have affected us.  Knowing that he is looking out for our son/us touches me in ways I can’t even describe.
When I met with this Rabbi two years ago, one of the first things he said to me was the following.  He asked me if I can guess what his favorite part of a synagogue is.  I didn’t have a guess, but I assumed it was the torah, or the bimah, or the siddur.  I had no idea.  He then proceeded to tell me that his favorite part of a shul is a ramp in the sanctuary.  He told me that when he sees a ramp in a shul, this tells him that the shul is accessible to those it may not have been accessible to otherwise.  He continued to tell me that there has to be a place in Judaism for all types of Jews, regardless of their differences.
If you told me that a certain Rabbi would call to see how our son/we were doing after the Orlando shooting, I would have guessed it would be this Rabbi.  But that doesn’t diminish the fact that he did.  And it certainly doesn’t diminish the hope I feel knowing that someone like him is working in a mainstream Modern Orthodox school.
I also have hope because of the following video.  Rabbi Harczstark of SAR High School in Riverdale, NY spoke to his school about the Orlando shooting.  Here is the video and the accompanying Facebook post by the school:

This morning, ‪#‎SARHS‬ took time out to pray for the victims of the Orlando massacre. The eighth grade joined us as well. Rabbi Harcsztark delivered three messages. The first is that we have a Torah obligation to cry out in times of despair. Secondly, we need to recommit ourselves to fighting for our belief in the American values of freedom and equality. Thirdly, he spoke about our duty to stand together with each other to show our support for creating a safer environment that is more welcoming and secure for all of our students, including those who identify as LGBT.

The words were followed by Tehilim and Tefilot.

I think the way that Rabbi Harcsztark approached this was fantastic.  It should be a lesson and model to all other orthodox high schools around the country. This too gives me hope for our kids and their futures.

Goods and Bads

Our family has a tradition (when we remember) to go around the dinner table and report on the “goods and bads” of the day.  It’s a nice way to reflect at the end of the day.  Sometimes, on not such great days it’s harder to find a “good” and on better days, it’s harder to find a “bad”.  Either way, it’s a tradition that I like and wish we did more often.

I’ll start with my bad.  The Orlando shooting.  I’m still at the stage where I can’t really formulate anything to say. When there are large communal tragedies (such as terrorist attacks in Israel) I often find myself shutting up.  When I say there are “no words”, it’s because there really are no words.  I also worry that anything that will be said might become politicized or that someone else will say something which will make these tragedies worse somehow.  So I tend to stay away from saying anything.  In this case, I’ll just say that my heart goes out to the 49 victims and their friends, families and loved ones.  Their deaths were senseless and cruel. And I hope it goes without saying to the LGBT community who is feeling that much more vulnerable and pained today, that I care about you and I’m so sorry this happened.  Other than that, no words.

It’s nice to start with the bads, so we can end on a more positive note. The good.  Our Rabbi mentioned the Orlando shooting in shul before yizkor yesterday.  Many people in the synagogue had not even heard about it yet because it was Shavuot.  But prior to the communal yizkor that we say for the victims of the holocaust, fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror, our Rabbi made a point of mentioning the victims of the Orlando shooting.  He spoke about how these were people who were cut down in the prime of their lives who were parts of families and communities.  He asked us to pray for their memories.  He didn’t mention the LGBT aspect, but it was clear that he was telling this Orthodox synagogue that when we are remembering loved ones, Jewish victims, etc. that it was imperative that we include these people in our prayers.  I thought his message was clear.

I mentioned the brouhaha that led up to the Eshel shabbaton in the Lower East Side several weeks ago.  I’m happy to report that the Shabbaton went on and from what I hear it was a wonderful weekend.  In the week that followed it, several Rabbis went on the record to show their support for LGBT Jews in the Orthodox community.

First of all  Rabbi Shmuli Yanklowitz posted a video interview that he conducted with an Orthodox LGBT woman,  Shonna Levin about the challenges of coming out in the Orthodox Community. Following this video, he posted the following on Facebook:

“Orthodox folks who are deeply opposed to LGBT inclusion in our community, you can bash me publicly, you can tell those of us pushing for more respect that we’re “not really Orthodox rabbis,” but don’t you dare state that these vulnerable people created in the image of G-d are “abominations,” “worshipers of baal (idolaters),” “need reparative therapy,” and are “deserving of the death penalty.” In continuing to state such horrific things on Facebook (& elsewhere), you are putting lives at risk, destroying the Torah & making G-d a refugee from the world! I beg you, make me your punching bag, rake me over the coals, but lay off the children-at-risk! For the love of G-d!”

After this, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, who I have met and have personally been on the receiving end of the compassion he shows to Orthodox LGBT people and their families, wrote an article in the Times of Israel titled, “Gay and Orthodox: An Oxymoron no more.”  The whole article is fantastic (read it all).  Here is a short excerpt:

“Being gay and Orthodox sets individuals on a lonely journey of self-discovery. Their bodies tell them one thing and God demands from them something else. Their self-identity is broken. Their emotions are pulling them in one direction while their conscience guides them in the opposite direction. Healing is hard and takes time.  Our tzav hasha’a (call of duty) is to accompany them as they navigate this treacherous terrain, not to reject or ostracize them.”

Shavuot just ended.  We as a nation have just recommitted ourselves to the Torah and all it entails.  I haven’t mentioned the connection between the shootings that occurred in Orlando and religion.  There is still much speculation. But we do know that religious fanaticism and prejudice that often comes from it often leads to tragic endings.  Let’s follow the leads of the Rabbis mentioned in this post and not let our religion be the thing that allows us to exhibit apathy or much worse, disdain for LGBT people.  Let us commit ourselves to making room for the LGBT people in our communities.  Let’s show them that we DO want them to stay.  That the community we have chosen to be part of and that many of them have been raised in DOES include them too.  If we can do this, maybe there will be just a little less hate in the world. And maybe that will make a bigger difference than we can ever imagine.