Un-mazel tov

Apparently, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), a prominent liberal Modern Orthodox Synagogue reversed its recent decision to include same-sex wedding announcements at the shul.  According to the Times of Israel Article which wrote about this: 

The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx will no longer announce the weddings of its LGBT members in its newsletters in accordance with a policy dictated by the OU, the largest association of Orthodox synagogues in the United States. The policy was set out this month in response to complaints from other member synagogues, which take a harder line on opposing same-sex marriage.

The article quoted the OU’s position:

“It is the OU’s unequivocal position that support for, or celebration of, halachically proscribed conduct is fundamentally inappropriate,” the OU statement reads, according to the Five Towns Jewish Times. “Accordingly, the institutional endorsement or encouragement (implicit or explicit) of any conduct that is contrary to halacha is activity that no Orthodox synagogue should allow.”  From what I understand the Five Towns Jewish Times went off on this issue and Open Orthodoxy in general as well.

Aside from a discussion about whether saying Mazel Tov constitutes endorsing “conduct contrary to Halacha”, as an Orthodox parent of an LGBT person I have obvious issues with this.  My biggest one is this: “The policy was set out this month in response to complaints from other member synagogues, which take a harder line on opposing same-sex marriage.”  So, you’re telling me that some other guy had an issue with it, tattled to the OU and the OU took a hard stance deciding to call into question one (actually two from my understanding) of its member synagogues???

I am so tired of people or groups who are seemingly unaffected by this issue stirring up problems for those of us who are actually affected by it.  If another shul wants to include LGBT couples, why should the first shul be bothered?  Jewish LGBT people are pretty adept at figuring out which shuls are ones they are accepted at or not, and in the cases where the answer isn’t as clear cut there is an entire project dedicated to this concept.  Trust me when I say that in most cases, LGBT people don’t want to go to the shuls that don’t want them there.  Let alone be wished Mazel Tov to in those places of worship.

A friend of mine told me the following story. She was recently visiting a community where one of the Rabbis addressed the issue others shuls that allow mazel tovs to gay people in his sermon.  She didn’t hear the speech, but it was a hot topic where she was visiting and she said this bothered her mostly because she didn’t feel that the Rabbi needed to get up and address this to his shul.  He can do what he wants with his own shul, but why did he feel the need to drag another synagogue through the mud to his congregants?  Besides the fact that it is almost impossible to assume that there are no LGBT or parents of LGBT people in his shul (that he either knows about or doesn’t), what exactly is the point? Why couldn’t he bring this up with the original Rabbis in question? Have a private dialogue. Include the OU if need be, but don’t drag HIS congregation into it.  All it does is feed the flames of intolerance in his shul.  Maybe that was his point, but why the need to have such a public fight? I’m piecing things together and I realize that his sermon started the conversation going with the OU and the subsequent reversal of the  decision at HIR.

Now, I want to make it clear, at this point I am not faulting HIR.  I don’t know what sort of pressure they are getting from the OU and what the ramifications are as well as big picture issues that I am not aware of.  But I am blaming the OU and these other member synagogues.  It is so easy for people to monday-night quarterback this issue.  If you don’t have to confront the reality of being an LGBT person in the Orthodox world or being Orthodox and having an LGBT loved one. It is so easy for the mainstream Orthodox world to rally against this and Open Orthodoxy when LGBT people are hanging by a thread to Judaism.  Open Orthodoxy has offered LGBT people hope whereas mainstream Orthodoxy has made it clear that there is little to no place for LGBT people there.  Those of us who care about our LGBT loved ones and their connection to Judaism (if that is what they want) are thankful that Open Orthodoxy has a big tent approach that has thus far not completely alienated them.

And here’s the thing, mainstream Orthodoxy laments the OTD phenomenon.  They hate seeing people leave Orthodoxy.  Well, it is very likely that behavior exhibited by its other member shuls will not only alienate LGBT people but their family members as well.  Why should my other children feel comfortable in a religion that excludes their brother? Why should I?

Speaking of my other children, I’ve made a decision.  I belong to an OU shul. It is a relatively liberal one, but thus far announcements about same-sex marriages have not made it to the shul bulletin and I imagine that the OU’s recent proclamation won’t help that in the future.  So, here’s my decision. As long I cannot announce my gay son’s engagement or wedding at our shul (when the time comes), I will not announce my heterosexual children’s engagements or weddings either.  I refuse to even let one person assume that the happiness and joy of one of my children is more appropriate than the other.   This makes me sad because I like to embrace happiness wherever I can find it.  But sometimes a statement must be made.  Even without saying anything.

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Baltimore LGBTQ People and Family Members: Please Help!

The folks at JQ Baltimore asked me to post this and your participation is really important/:

YOUR CHANCE TO BE HEARD!
JQ Baltimore is sponsoring focus groups in mid-November and we are looking for Baltimore-based LGBTQ people and family members to share your experiences, opinions and ideas. Groups will be led by a 3rd party facilitator who is working with our team. There will be multiple sessions (each approximately 60-90 minutes long) and family members will meet in a separate group.
If interested in participating, please send an email with the subject: “FOCUS GROUPS” to Mindy (jqbaltimore@gmail.com).
In the body of the email please include your:
• first name
• age
• email address
• cell phone number
• whether you identify as LGBTQ or are a family member of one.
Gift card raffle before and after each group!
More details to follow.
PLEASE NOTE THAT STRICT CONFIDENTIALITY WILL BE MAINTAINED!

National Coming Out Day Version 2.0

You know it’s been a while since I blogged when I couldn’t remember how to log in to this site.  Weird.

Here’s the short version of what’s been going on with this Orthodox Mom of Gay Kid (After almost 4 years, I completely regret the title of this blog.  Oh well.  A life without regrets is a life not lived.):

My son is now 18.  That seemed to happen very quickly in hindsight. He was 14 when he came out and when I started this blog.  He started college in August and by all measures it seems like he is in the perfect place for him and we are thrilled. I haven’t blogged in a while because honestly, I used to use this blog more for thinking about heavier things with regard to my son being gay/living in the Orthodox community/etc. and truthfully over the past year it has pretty much been a non-issue for us personally.   I didn’t have much to think or write about.  To quote my favorite book series “All was well.”

And all is still well, to be quite honest.  The fact that my son is gay is still a non-issue. That might change for me over the next few years- as he brings home significant others, as we try to figure out how we continue to fit in the Orthodox community after that, etc.  But right now, all is well.

So why am I writing? ? Well, Today is National Coming Out Day.  And last week my son came out.  Again.  No, not as a gay man. Not as trans or anything on the LGBTQ spectrum.  He came out as a Conservative Jew.  This followed a very meaningful Yom Kippur and a long time of religious soul searching for him.  He stated that he feels most comfortable in Conservative settings. He wrote a beautiful note  about this and explained how he values his  Orthodox upbringing and schools,  but at this point this is where he is Jewishly. He expressed that his pluralistic high school and current University which has a very large Jewish presence (of all denominations) helped him to figure out where he truly belongs.  I can write more about his message but suffice it to say, I was and am proud to be the mother of such a mature, thoughtful and appreciative young man.

Which isn’t to say that this was a completely neutral experience for me. My immediate emotion after reading his note felt bittersweet.  On one hand, I was so happy that he had been searching and found a place where he feels he belongs.  On the other hand, I reacted the way parents often do.  I felt a bit of remorse.  For the life I lead and tried to raise him in that he now won’t be an active part of.   Now, I’m not here to defend that feeling.  I do not believe that children should be carbon copies of their parents.  To quote Khaled Hosseini in the Kite Runner, “Children aren’t coloring books.  You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.” I firmly believe this.  But I also believe (maybe erroneously) that it is natural for a parent to feel some remorse, sadness, regret or other  emotion when their child rejects something that the parent holds dear.  Of course, the parent must then make a conscious effort to get past this feeling and be able to look at the big picture and realize that their child’s happiness and growth are more important than the parent’s hurt feelings.  But I think it would be intellectually dishonest not to acknowledge the emotion that a parent might feel in this situation.

Since that initial reaction, I’ve had some time to think about this and ruminate (as I tend to do) and here is where I am currently.  As indicated my blog pseudonym (Proud Mom), I continue to be SO proud of my son.  To know I have raised a deep thinking individual, someone who won’t stop searching for his truth, someone who recognizes the good of where he came from even though it might not be where he ultimately ends up, someone who despite making this announcement about  who he is today acknowledged that he is not done searching makes my heart so incredibly happy.

I am so heartened that my son founds a group with which he feels completely comfortable.  It would have been disingenuous of me to ask him to continue to identify with Orthodoxy when let’s face it, Orthodoxy has yet to fully identify with him.  Yes, strides have been made in some communities and groups, but at the end of the day is it fair to expect our kids to  remain members of a “club” that most of the time doesn’t accept them?  It’s an uphill battle that I can’t expect him to take.

When my son came out he was angry.  At the world. At us.  At Judaism.  One time he said, “I’m not Jewish.”  He didn’t identify at all.  It was painful, but understandable.  At the time, I wrote the following on this blog:

“And I realized that no matter what, I want my son to have a Jewish identity.  I know that he will probably not practice his Judaism the way I do, but I want him to feel something.”

His recent “coming out” has shown me that he feels more than something.  He cares. He’s connected.  He’s Jewish.  And indulge me for a bit, I’m kvelling.

2017 Eshel Parent Retreat

Registration for the 2017 Eshel Retreat for Traditional and Orthodox parents of LGBT people is open! The retreat will take place the weekend of May 5-7, 2017 at the Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp.    I’m on the planning committee and I can tell you, it is going to be a fantastic weekend.  Here are some of the sessions/programming planned:

  • It Takes Two to Tango: The Dance of the Parent-Child Relationship
  • When You and Your Spouse are Not on the Same Page at the Same Time about your LGBT Child – or at different stages of acceptance
  • The Child I Gave Birth To and the Person You’ve Become: exploring the experience of having a child who is transgender
  • Learning the Ropes: practical pointers for helping your trans child navigate the legal and medical systems
  • “Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First”: Taking Care of Ourselves So We Can Take Care of Our Kids
  • Keeping Our Kids Healthy and Safe: Mental Health Resources
  • Finding the Right Words: How and What to Say?
  • What’s So Funny about Having an LGBT Child? Well, did I tell you about the time… Sharing humorous anecdotes.
  • Red Flags – What to Look Out For: Warning Signs that We Might Need to Consult with A Mental Health Professional
  • From Pieces to a New Whole: Helping our Child be the Best He or She Can Be and the Many Different Ways of Being Kadosh

If you have any questions, leave a comment or message me and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

In the meantime, feel free to check out some of my thoughts on past retreats:

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.

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.