Category Archives: opinion

Building True Acceptance— By helping gay kids, synagogues and Jewish schools can make the community better for all of us

Building True Acceptance

By helping gay kids, synagogues and Jewish schools can make the community better for all of us

By Marjorie Ingall|November 14, 2012 7:00 AM|

 

Jeanne Schwartz called her husband John at work one afternoon in June 2009. “Joe has taken a lot of pills,” she said. Their 13-year-old son Joe, who’d just come out as gay at his middle school, had tried to commit suicide.

In Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle To Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms With His Sexuality, John Schwartz tells Joe’s story, as well as his own and his wife’s. This is a family memoir, not a self-help book. But like Schwartz’s earlier book Short (which I raved about in Tablet a couple of years ago), Oddly Normal mixes personal anecdotes and science reporting in a way that adds resonance to both. A national correspondent for the New York Times, Schwartz tells us about his son’s difficulties as a gay teenager while also examining research into gayness, homophobia, and teen suicide.

Jeanne and John had suspected Joe was gay since he was 3. He’d loved pink and rhinestones and Barbies and fabulousness; for Halloween he asked to be “a disco yady.” Joe later said that he’d known he was gay since he was 8. But knowing who you are isn’t the same as being comfortable with who you are. He called the burden he struggled with “the secret,” and for a long time he refused to name it, even to his parents.

Even though they tried to help their son in his secret struggle, John and Jeanne may inadvertently have made it harder for Joe to accept who he was. When Joe started kindergarten, for instance, Jeanne quietly put away all his Barbies and their spectacular outfits. She worried that if Joe talked to kids at school about his love of all things glittery (his favorite word was “prettiful”), he’d be teased. Joe wondered where his treasures had gone, but his parents told themselves that at least they’d let their son’s plastic castle draped with beads, his trove of costume jewelry, and his prettiful crystal globes remain in his room, so he could enjoy them in private. They meant well, but as Schwartz ruefully writes in retrospect, “We had built his first closet.”

There’s a lesson here for all parents—even well-intentioned, open-minded ones. And it’s a lesson that Jewish institutions, leaders, and teachers should heed as well, as they wrestle with notions of inclusion, acceptance, and tradition. Being tolerant doesn’t necessarily mean being helpful. We may tell ourselves that the Orthodox are the ones who need to pay more attention to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning kids, but guess what: A lot of us—even those of us who consider ourselves accepting—are doing a mediocre job.

***

Joe, who’s now 16, survived the suicide attempt. In the book, John tells the story of how he and Jeanne grappled with how best to help their son afterward. Joe had trouble with impulsiveness, anger, and certain teachers, in addition to his “secret.” His parents got advice (sometimes conflicting) from psychologists, researchers, and all kinds of therapists, as well as an ad hoc group of friends and colleagues John refers to as The League of Gay Uncles.

One of those “uncles” is Mark Kaiserman, then the Schwartzes’ rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Livingston, N.J. “Mark is much younger than me, but he brought a sense of calm and wisdom to our discussions about Joe,” John Schwartz told me in an interview. “After the suicide attempt we went to him, and he had a lot of good advice for us, with a sweetness we would always treasure.” For years, Schwartz attended a weekly Torah class led by Kaiserman. “One of the enduring intellectual pleasures of my life is this study group,” Schwartz said. “And we spent a lot of time on Leviticus, discussing and debating the text. I didn’t just pick up the Cliffs Notes. I am a proud member of the Reform tradition that says that Judaism is a living faith. It doesn’t mean you go all loose and floppy—‘Oh, I’ll do the rules my way’—but it does mean there is a grand tradition of adaptation; it’s thoughtful and reflective.” He paused. “I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with combining wool and linen in a single garment.” He paused again. “And I eat chicken parmigiana.”

Kaiserman, now the interim rabbi at a congregation in California, told me, “You can argue with someone that they’re misreading the text or that times have changed. But no argument will be compelling to someone who insists that being gay is an abomination.” He went on to explain: “With my community I have the same conversations I would about any social issue I’m on the left about. The Torah is not an obstacle to believing what I believe. Subjecting someone to a life of misery and shame and humiliation and lying is not the way we intend for people to live.”

But even in left-leaning communities, acceptance can be more theoretical than actual. Joanna Ware, lead organizer and training coordinator for Keshet, an organization that works for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life, said, “It’s great to have our hearts in the right place, but we need the skills and tools to figure out how to make acceptance real. It’s great for a rabbi to think, ‘If I were asked to officiate at a same-sex union, I’d be open to it,’ but if he doesn’t communicate that, he won’t be asked. It’s one thing for Hebrew school principals to respond to bullying, but something else entirely to be proactive. Our leaders need to think, ‘What is the community I want to create, and how do I foster norms that facilitate this kind of environment?’ ”

For example, congregations and religious schools could consider ways to engage cool sixth-graders to model the way to behave for younger students. Synagogues should think about language, communication materials, how often leaders speak specifically to LGBTQ inclusion. Ware said, “A lot of times we hear, ‘We welcome all people!’ but then it turns out, ‘Oh, we didn’t mean people like you.’ That can be true of Jews of color, Jews by choice, Jews with disabilities, interfaith families.”

Ware says that religious schools can support a climate of acceptance by sending a clear message that they value all students. “We need visibility in a visual sense. For instance, LGBTQ safe-zone stickers are physical indicators that say this is a safe space for all kids.” And we need to accept that words can seriously wound. Schwartz points to a 2010 study that found that more than 72 percent of gay students said they frequently heard slurs like “faggot” at school, and almost 90 percent had heard the word “gay” used in a negative way. Nearly 87 percent reported they were distressed by the language (as Joe was). So, teachers, support staff, custodians, and parents all need to play a role in nipping such language in the bud.

“Judaism should be associated with support,” Ware said. “One way is for religious schools to be clear, in words and actions, that this is where you can be protected to be yourself.” Ware tells the story of a gay man who recalled being teased by Hebrew school classmates for being, in his words, “not the most masculine kid.” When he was around 10, another student muttered, “I don’t want to sit next to that fag.” The teacher literally dropped her books and made it unequivocally clear that that such language and behavior were not acceptable in the community or in the sanctuary. “What was striking to me,” Ware said, “was what the student said: ‘I was terribly embarrassed at the time, but when I look back now it was the first time anyone stood up for me, and it was in my synagogue, in a Jewish community … and because of that the Jewish community has always felt like a safe space for me.’ ”

Little gestures like that can have huge impacts. “In the shul where I’m currently working, they’ve always had women light the candles,” Kaiserman said by way of illustration. “That’s the tradition. I said, ‘But what if it’s a single father whose child is having a bar mitzvah?’ They said, ‘Oh, then Grandma lights them.’ I said, ‘What if it’s a gay couple?’ They’d never thought of it, because they’d never had it. But they are positively inclined toward acceptance, so they were open to the reminder that some of the models we have about how to do things don’t work in the light of gay and lesbian families and kids.”

Creating an atmosphere of true acceptance helps everyone. Keshet offers a poster for Jewish schools presenting seven Jewish values on which to build inclusive Jewish community. They are:

Kavod: Respect
Shalom bayit: Peace in the home
B’tzelem Elohim: In God’s image
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh: Communal responsibility
Sh’mirat halashon: Guarding one’s use of language
Vahavta l’reicaha kamocha: Love your neighbor as yourself
Al tifrosh min hantisbur: Solidarity

These values support all kids, not just gay kids. But sadly, some conservatives view all efforts to encourage mutual respect through a homophobic lens. This October, the American Family Association led a boycott of Mix It Up at Lunch, an annual event begun by the Southern Poverty Law Center 11 years ago, designed to encourage kids in school cafeterias to sit next to other kids with whom they don’t usually sit. Mixing up the usual cliques, the theory goes, will help bullies and passive bystanders start to see potential victims as people, and thereby lessen the prevalence of bullying. But the AFA declared that the program was designed specifically “to establish the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools” and convinced around 200 of the 2,500 participating schools to drop it. As faux-conservative pundit Stephen Colbert pointed out on his nightly TV show, “It’s a devious plot: Get kids to learn that despite our outward differences, in our hearts we’re all pretty much the same. That leads to open-mindedness, which leads to open-pantsedness.” (This year’s event took place Nov. 13.)

Despite the homophobia of groups like the AFA, the casual brutality kids are capable of and the benign cluelessness of many well-intentioned Jewish liberals, it’s important to note that not every LGBT kid is destined for trauma. As Schwartz told me, “Some kids come out and it’s no big deal. For others, it can be a fraught and difficult process. My best advice for parents is to go back to Dr. Spock and say, ‘Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.’ I’m not saying I know more as a parent than someone else. But I can say it’s up to everyone to be good parents in the way they know best.” Indeed, how we parents respond to our children’s sexuality can have a major impact on how happy they are. A study by Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that LGBT kids who experienced rejection from their parents were six times more likely to suffer from high levels of depression and were eight times likelier to have attempted suicide than peers from families who didn’t reject them.

Acceptance of LGBT people is growing. A 2001 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans said that gay or lesbian relations are “morally wrong,” and 40 percent found them “morally acceptable.” Only a decade later, those numbers had flipped: In 2011, 56 percent said LGBT relationships were morally acceptable and 39 percent said they were morally wrong. Schwartz cites statistics showing that the number of Americans supporting gay marriage went from 27 percent in 1996 to 53 percent in 2011. The world only spins forward, as last week’s victories for same-sex marriage and gay elected officials demonstrated.

As for Joe, he’s doing well. He read and gave notes on his father’s manuscript. He’s out and proud, doing theater, playing Dungeons and Dragons on weekends with friends, doing fine in school. He can still be fragile, but so can a lot of us. And we all deserve support. As Ware put it, “We need to say to all kids, ‘Who you are is fabulous; you are made in the image of God.’ That’s part of what the sacred work of our Jewish community is about.”

“A Strange and Separate People” by Jon Marans— “Betrayal and New Beginnings”

Marans, Jon, “A Strange and Separate People”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2012.

“Betrayal and New Beginnings”

Amos Lassen

I was very lucky to have been able to see Jon Marans’s “The Temperamentals” when I first moved to Boston last spring after having read the script. Quite naturally I was anxious to read his new play “A Strange and Separate People” especially because it contains two of the topics I am especially interested in—religion and homosexuality.

A Manhattan couple suddenly finds itself teetering on destruction when a gay doctor takes up his religious beliefs with a strong passion and begins to question what love really means. The play is an intimate drama with just three characters and looks at the issues that exist between Orthodox Judaism and gay men, a subject I am very familiar with. However the main question is not unique to Judaism alone but to every gay person who is spiritual and wants to live a life that encompasses both sexuality and religious belief. This is about an Orthodox gay Jew but it could be about any person who embraces his religion and his sexuality and tries to find a place where the two can co-exist.

The world of the Orthodox Jew is strange to those who have not lived it (which I have done and still do, to a degree although I have been a reform Jew for about seven years now). It is a world centered on the 613 commandments that are presented to us in our holy texts. It is also a world of tradition, obedience and liturgy. More than that, however, it is a world of respect and herein is the problem for many—is it truly possible to be in both worlds at the same time?

The three characters here—Stuart Weinstein (in his early 30s, handsome, Jewish although not so observant when we first meet him, a doctor with a sharp mind and wit), Phyllis Berman (mid 30’s, a tad prudish, private but has the ability to rage) and Jay Berman (Phyllis’s husband, tough and self-centered) all discover that their world is about to be challenged by love. Each of the characters reaches a point at which he must introspect and then decide upon choices to be made. Additionally each character is what we have called in literature, the “other” meaning that they are not totally absorbed into one group or another. Because Phyllis has an autistic son, she does not fit into the typical Jewish world, Stuart, because he is gay also does not fit that world or the New York gay community because he is Jewish and Jay also has a disconnect from both worlds because he has been living a life of deceit.

The play is very, very timely because with the discussion of gay marriage that has taken this country by storm, religions have begun to issue statements that contain their points of views and while some are beginning to accept homosexuals, Orthodox Judaism is still in the midst of a very heavy debate about the issue. This is a story of struggle that involves love and faith and sexuality and we watch as three individuals embark upon personal journeys with the hopes of finding their places in this world.

What we read here is very personal for me as I have experienced so much of it in my own life and I suppose that I am still dealing with some of it. I have been able to find my own place in Judaism (I think) yet the question will always remain as to whether Judaism has found a place for me. Here in Massachusetts I am able to live a full Jewish life as an openly gay man but was certainly not able to do the same when I lived in Arkansas. Those who are dealing with the issues know exactly what I mean and I really think that it is necessary for a person to prioritize which facets of himself are the most important to him.

I do not want to give away anything in the plot of the drama because I want everyone to have the opportunity to deal with the issues here as they come to them. I am quite sure, however, that reading the text is not nearly as powerful as actually seeing it performed but there is a advantage to reading the lines. It gives the reader time to think about so much. Watching the play is a slap across the face; reading it is a slap across the mind.

 

“Penn State: A Modern-Day Akeda: Did Society Pass or Fail Moral Test on Joe Paterno Scandal?” by Samuel G. Freedman—an amazing analysis (from “The Forward”)

“Penn State: A Modern-Day Akeda”*

“Did Society Pass or Fail Moral Test on Joe Paterno Scandal?’

* Akeda is the Hebrew word for binding and the Abraham/Issac story is traditionally referred to as the “Akeda”. For me this is the most dfficult story to fully understand in the Five Books of Moses.

Worshipping a Fallen Hero: We occasionally face modern-day versions of Biblical tests. Did many Penn State students allow their reverence for coach Joe Paterno to blind them to his culpability in a child sex scandal?

Worshipping a Fallen Hero: We occasionally face modern-day versions of Biblical tests. Did many Penn State students allow their reverence for coach Joe Paterno to blind them to his culpability in a child sex scandal?

 

By Samuel G. Freedman

Published November 18, 2011, issue of November 25, 2011.

This essay is closely adapted from a *d’var Torah that the author delivered on the Sabbath of November 12 at Ansche Chesed, a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan.*

The text of parsha Vayera is as familiar as any in the Torah. It includes the Akeda, the passage we read not only in the annual cycle, but also during the High Holy Days. And the story it tells has become, more broadly, part of Western culture, invoked by everyone from Soren Kierkegaard to Bob Dylan.

We already know the outlines of the Akeda. Abraham and Sarah, now elderly, have been unable to conceive a child. In recognition of their goodness, God grants them a son, Isaac. Yet as the boy gets older, God commands Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him. Only at the last minute does an angel instruct Abraham to stay his hand, and only then does the Almighty provide a ram to be slain instead.

The Rambam teaches us to consider the Akeda as a metaphor for faith, and declares that Abraham passed the test. If we want to understand the Akeda in a historical context, then we can consider it Judaism’s answer to the pagan Canaanite religion that sacrificed children to the god Moloch.

Like the Akeda, Moloch is part of a wider intellectual heritage. Milton wrote of Moloch in “Paradise Lost,” and Allen Ginsberg in “Howl.” Muslims, like Jews, associate the Valley of Hinnom, where the child sacrifices were made, with hell, because no act seemed more unconscionable.

We know Abraham is not a bad person, and we know this even before he is hallowed in our tradition as Avraham Avinu. In this parsha, we see Abraham go to great effort to feed three strangers. We see him plead with God to spare the people of Sodom. Though he accedes to Sarah’s order to expel Ishmael and Hagar, Abraham gives them bread and water to help them survive in the desert.

Yet this same Abraham is ready to kill his own child, even though God’s command contradicts His promise that Abraham will become the father of a great nation. Abraham, who was willing to intercede for the sinners of Sodom, says nothing to God on behalf of his son. The text specifies that Abraham waited until the next morning to go to Moriah, and yet there is no indication that Abraham had a second thought. Rashi tells us that even after the angel spoke, and the ram appeared, and Isaac was saved, Abraham asked God if he shouldn’t at least wound Isaac, draw blood.

What kind of deviance is this?

If you have children, as I do, then you remember those moments when you bathed them, or when you zipped them into those fleecy pajamas with feet, or when they fell asleep on the couch after Sabbath dinner and you carried them into their beds. When you think of their helpless innocence, like Isaac’s, how can you conceive of lifting your arm, knife in hand, against your child?

Not so with Abraham. When Isaac asks his father where is the sheep for the burnt offering, Abraham lies. He says, “God will see to the sheep.” The truth is, “Isaac, you are the sacrifice.”

What kind of deviance is this?

We might think of the entire book of Genesis as the narrative of humans learning to be human and God learning to be God. The God of the Akeda is, then, if not a false God, an insecure and immature God. He is competing with Satan, trying to prove just how obedient Abraham can be. And maybe God is thinking that if a charlatan like Moloch can get people to sacrifice their children to him, then shouldn’t I, the one true God, be able to demand just as much?

There’s a midrash we need about the Akeda. It’s about who was watching all this happen. Who saw Abraham heading up the mountain with Isaac? Who saw Abraham tying up his own son? Who saw him preparing the fire? Who saw him lifting his knife? And why did no one say or do anything? That’s the midrash I want to hear.

We flatter ourselves in assuming that nothing like the Akeda could happen in our civilized time. We are, of course, totally wrong.

Some of us are old enough to remember the Kitty Genovese case from the mid-1960s. Genovese was a young woman attacked as she returned home one night to her apartment in the Forest Hills section of Queens. And the scandal of her murder was that, as A.M. Rosenthal of The New York Times memorably wrote, 38 witnesses watched the attack unfold and essentially did nothing. Nobody called the police until it was too late.

Then we learned recently about another Akeda, this one at Penn State University: a football coach who allegedly abused young children under the guise of his charitable foundation, to the point of a boy of 9 or 10 being raped by that coach in a locker room shower. We learned again of decent people worshipping a false god, or misunderstanding what the real God requires of us. The head football coach, the athletic director, the university president — none of them appears to have acted as quickly and boldly as necessary to halt the abuse. Hundreds of students rioted in the street in defense of the very people who failed a moral test.

The reputations of the legendary coach, Joe Paterno, and of Penn State mattered more than the safety of all those little boys. We’ve seen this scenario before, with the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts and in parts of the Jewish communal and rabbinic worlds where sexual predators have been tolerated or protected.

I know some of you may wonder why a d’var Torah is devoted to current events. Shouldn’t it be about etymology or historicity or gematria? About theology? But what’s important in Judaism isn’t just what we have to say about the Torah, it’s what the Torah has to say about us.

If we comfort ourselves with the interpretation that Abraham, in preparing to kill Isaac, was simply fulfilling his faithful duty, passing the true believer’s test, then the text leaves us with some reasons not to be so sure. Sarah goes away from Abraham, never to rejoin him before her death. And as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has pointed out in a commentary on the Akeda, God never again speaks to his chosen one.

Samuel G. Freedman is a professor of journalism at Columbia University and the author of such books as “Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry” (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

Leveling Leviticus

Leveling Leviticus

Amos Lassen

Those of us who choose to be identified with religion are forced to deal with the question of how to live our lives while facing the issue that we are created in the image of God but that our acts of love are punishable by death by that same God. This punishment rests in the book of Leviticus and some of us have chosen to ignore the writings therein.

Leviticus is the third book of the Five Books of Moses which contain the history and the beginnings of the legal system as we know it today. Traditionally these books are understood as revelations–God’s words written down by Moses and are considered a record of the past as well as an explanation of God’s will for the world. The laws which appear in these five books are the ultimate source of authority and a starting point for what later becomes legal. Bur there is also symbolic power here as well.

What is written in Leviticus cannot be dismissed lightly–the concepts presented are vital to our daily lives–to love our neighbors, dealings with strangers and seeing ourselves created in God’s image. But how do we live when the same text that tells us we were created in God’s image also berates us by saying that our acts of love are punishable by death?

It is here that we must establish a way to come to terms with the holy texts. We can, as so many others have done, interpret the writings to enable us to function with it on its own terms. We can treat the text as historical record and draw conclusions based on the way it functions in a given context. Or we can encounter the writings directly with our emotions and our self-knowledge, allowing it to move us to anger and ultimately to action.

In modern times gay men and women have made themselves a presence in community. If we understand the text historically we have a strong prohibition against homosexuality. The fact that we are told in the book of Genesis that we are created in the image of God, we must assume our identity cannot be an abomination. Others interpret the text as referring to certain sexual acts but not to same sex relationships. By this the text is not relevant to a style of life and love and family of which it was ignorant.

Biblical scholars maintain that in the time of the Bible homosexual acts were forbidden but this does not encompass the reality of the modern world. One of the major problems is the meaning attributed to the Hebrew word “to’evah” or abomination. For some reason this word which was originally meant to connote a forbidden act of idolatry has been used to denote certain sexual practices. In Leviticus the references to homosexuality dealt with cultic practices of same sex relations and not to society at large.

In our encounter with Leviticus, we experience pain, terror and rage. We can imagine the unnecessary damage done to generations of people who were forced to feel shame and guilt and had to hide their feelings while wallowing in shame, guilt and fear all of their lives. But if we can get past the rage we can see the admonitions of Leviticus as tools to educate people about the deep rooted history of oppression and in turn we can use this to break down the wall of silence that surrounds us. By doing this we can transform the Bible from a stumbling block to a path of entry. We become more honest with ourselves and with our community about barriers to our involvement, about our need for separate places of worship and our demand to be accepted as an intregal part of life. To be whole we must acknowledge with what great difficulty how those pieces of our lives fit together. But it is also necessary to demand–of ourselves and of the people around us–that those pieces be made to fit.

It is indeed amazing that words written thousands of years ago still have enough power to affect us today. Words are powerful but it is up to us to make the words that will transform our lives and give new meaning to our existence as gays and Lesbians.

In future blogs I want to look more specifically and in more detail at Leviticus as well as the chapters in Genesis on Sodom and Gommorah and see what can be learned from them.

“Abraham’s Attributes: A Source of Strength”—Thinking about Abraham— an excellent article

Abraham’s Attributes: ‘A Source of Strength

Ilana Goldhaber-Gordon

 

There was a time when I could not read the story of the binding of Isaac without wishing for a different ending — that Abraham would stand up to God, refusing to harm his son. Some of my rabbinic colleagues redefine the story, ignoring God’s words, “because you did this thing and did not hold back your precious son from me, I will bless you.” They claim that Abraham failed God’s test because he mounted his son on the slaughtering block.

Past generations were unabashedly proud of this story; it was the pinnacle of Abraham’s life. When the ancient rabbis played with the ending, their inclinations were opposite to those of my rabbinical colleagues. One midrash imagines Abraham actually slaughtering Isaac, and an angel bringing him back to life. In the traditional view, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac earned their descendants a special claim on God’s affections.

Let’s be humble for a moment. Let’s not assume that our ancestors loved their children less than we do, loved violence more than we do, or were more prone to fanaticism. Instead, let’s assume that our ancestors knew something we have forgotten concerning how to read sacred text.

Many of us today read the Bible in much the same way we read history. We criticize Abraham the way we might criticize Winston Churchill. We analyze the implications of Abraham’s actions outside the story line, or we ask what someone else would have done in Abraham’s place. We’re asking the wrong questions.

Ironically, our sages — who believed that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob existed in the flesh — understood that their stories were not to be read as history. They understood the patriarchs as larger than life, archetypal symbols. No one ever was nor ever will be like Abraham. But every one of us carries something of Abraham within ourselves.

Abraham represents a soul that accepts death. That acceptance is elusive in our world of penicillin, seat belts, and smoke detectors (May their effectiveness only increase!). Most of us have come to believe that every child born has the right to a long life, and we demand that right from God. And many of us are stunned when death appears. Abraham was never surprised by death. He understood that life is but a passing shadow, death its inevitable end.

Abraham is also ready to make sacrifices. Many people are generous, but, for better or for worse, true sacrifice is rare. Most of us donate to charity, but few of us give enough so that we feel pinched. If we give of our time, usually we do so when it is most convenient, not necessarily when it is most needed. Abraham believed so deeply in God, he was ready to give up the one thing he loved most in this world.

Finally, and above all, Abraham is ready to obey God. A crucial premise of the story is that Abraham knew whom he was obeying. Today, nobody is privileged to receive personal instruction from the Almighty. Instead, we face a hard, ongoing process to find the ways of righteousness. But in those moments when we see the right thing to do, then we have a choice: to indulge in endless analysis, self-doubts, or cynicisms, or to hush and obey.

Abraham represents each of these traits in their rawest form, offering an intensity that we should not imitate. Normal people who live in utter obedience of God or another cause, willing to sacrifice everything for that belief, with no fear of death, are not what we usually call righteous. They are dangerous fanatics.

Yet when the sages read the story of the binding of Isaac, they recognized Abraham’s attributes within themselves and saw them as a source of strength. They knew that every person can work toward acceptance of death. We can open ourselves to making true sacrifices for our ideals. And, if we engage in self-reflection in order to recognize the voice of righteousness, then we can resolve to obey that voice at those moments when we know we’ve heard it. By channeling our Abrahamic attributes, we might live our lives to the fullest and direct our actions with confidence toward godliness.

Ten Interesting Facts about LGBT History (from David Mixner.com)

Ten Interesting Facts about LGBT History

(thanks to David Mixner.com)

Aug 24 2011

Oesarria 
Jose Sarria

The more we know about our history is the more we know about ourselves. If you feel you have no past and come out of ‘nothing’ then you will feel like ‘nothing’. Our history is extremely important to record for future generations. Some of these facts are interesting historical tippets and some our more profound. Nevertheless, it is all about us!

1. In 1903, New York Police raided the Ariston Hotel and was the first raid ever on a bath house in the United States. Seven men received sentences up to 20 years in prison.

2. The first homosexual rights organization Society for Human Rights was founded in 1924 but lasted only a couple of months before the police forced them to close.

3. In 1926, ‘The New York Times” mentions the word homosexuality for the first time.

4. The words to “America The Beautiful” was written by a lesbian named Katharine Lee Bates who died in 1929.

5. In 1937, the Nazi’s used the “Pink Triangle” for the first time in the concentration camps.

6. The United States Supreme Court in 1958 ruled in favor of a LGBT publication on First Amendment grounds. It is the first time the Court has ever ruled on an issue dealing with homosexuality.

7. Jose Sarria becomes the first openly LGBT candidate for office when he runs for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961!

8. The Mattachine Society had a ‘sip-in’ to protest a New York StateLiquor Authority regulation that banned serving alcohol to homosexuals! This was in 1966!

9. In 1972, Sweden became the first country in the world to allow transexuals to change their sex and receive free hormone treatment.

10. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Society officially removes homosexuality as a mental disorder By the way, they recently, without dissent, passed a resolution endorsing marriage equality!

Some Interesting Thoughts from my friend, Rabbi Andrea Myers

 

Rabbi Andrea Myers

Author, ‘The Choosing: A Rabbi’s Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days’

A Match Worth Making? A Response to Orthodox Jewish ‘Straight’ Marriages


“Move to Denver!” It was all I could do to keep myself from shouting at the screen while watching Brokeback Mountain a few years ago. In a New York City movie theater, this behavior would not stand out. Jack and Ennis, the central characters, secret lovers for decades, were fighting. Jack was insisting that they could have had a good life together, and Ennis was trying to push him away. I was rooting for Jack, for the possibility that the two of them could have been a couple instead of entering into heterosexual marriages. I, and a number of fellow movie-goers, wanted to tell them: “Please go somewhere that you can live your lives together already.”

I had similar thoughts when I read that Rabbi Areleh Harel, an Orthodox rabbi living in the West Bank, is acting as a matchmaker between gay men and lesbians. Rabbi Harel’s idea is that marrying gay men and lesbians to each other allows them to have families, while keeping their secret and staying within their religious world. Presumably, having them marry someone who is gay instead of someone straight is meant to lessen the collateral damage that Jack and Ennis’ families suffered.

Still, collateral damage is easy to imagine in this situation. The people who enter into these arrangements, no matter how pure their intentions, are deceiving their families and their communities. Every affirmation they receive for their wedding is based on a fiction. They are modeling a marriage that is not based on romantic or sexual intimacy and love. They are setting themselves up for infidelity and a life lived under constant threat of exposure.

I also wonder where God is in the legal fiction of these marriages. Harel abdicates responsibility for the consequences of these marriages, saying that if adultery takes place it is “not [his] business.” There is a Jewish teaching that if you make three successful matches, you earn a place in the world-to-come. Where do you go if you have set up a situation that could cause tremendous pain and suffering to entire communities?

I also wonder why, if these marriages are meant to conceal the identities of the couples, Rabbi Harel’s work is being featured so prominently in national and international media. Lavender marriages have been going on for centuries, and have been discussed in other traditional communities for years. Why has the Harel story gone viral, and why now? It may be that the trend towards the legalization of same-sex marriage has upped the ante, and made those who oppose it want to show alternatives. Why risk disapproval by marrying your same-sex partner, if you could find an opposite-sex gay or lesbian person to marry and gain heterosexual privilege instead?

I have to believe that the people who are entering into these marriages are sincere. They are trying to find a way to live lives that are normative in their communities. What disturbs me is that this is being presented as their only choice, the only way that they can continue to live as observant Jews. In this situation, “Move to Denver!” need not mean: “Leave your religious practice!” Rather, it means: “Find another way.” Lech lecha, go forth like Abraham did. The territory may feel unknown, but with faith you can make it there. Live the life that is yours to live.

The key problem with these matches is coercion, people feeling forced into marriage because they see no viable alternative. Notably, this is a problem in same-sex and heterosexual marriages as well. Recently, there has been talk about the pressure on same-sex couples to get married in New York. A recent New Yorker cartoon shows two men in bed, one turning to the other and saying: “Please stop looking at me like now I’m gonna propose.” And in July, the New York Times ran an article titled: “Ready to Wed? No, Mom … Some Parents of Gay Children Push for Marriage.” This phenomenon, in which partners and parents pressure people to wed, is old news for straight couples, and almost everyone who is single.

The situation in the Orthodox community that Harel and his clients inhabit is one in which it is virtually impossible to have a social life without being married with children. In this world, being known to be gay would be cause for condemnation, exclusion, or worse. No wonder then, if these individuals feel like they have to live a lie, they would rather have companionship, social standing, and safety. But how many people, in the secular or liberal religious world, also feel immense pressure to be married, as if their only options are to be married or to be miserable? How many single people in our communities feel like their social and even professional options are limited by their single status? How many of them settle for mediocre marriages, preferring that to being alone?

Marriage should be an option for everyone — but it needs to be a choice, not a foregone conclusion. I fought to support marriage equality in New York State, as a lesbian and as a rabbi. My partner and I had our religious wedding back in 2001, when no one was pressuring us to get married; it happened entirely by the force of our own wills. What gives marriage its value is that it is chosen. “Choose life,” the Torah teaches, “that you and your children may live.” (Deut 30:19) As a liberal rabbi, I believe in informed choice: it is our privilege — and our obligation — to educate ourselves about our options and choose wisely, informed by our tradition and by our values, by our hearts and by our minds. It may be that for the gay men and lesbians who are calling Harel, they feel that this is their best choice. I wish that they could see more choices in their lives.

Some would argue that marriage has always been a business arrangement, a societal tool to create stable families. But in Judaism, marriage has always promised something more. Even in Biblical times, Rebecca needs to agree to her match with the patriarch Isaac, and her agreement is seen to set legal precedent: you cannot have a Jewish marriage without the consent of both parties. Indeed, Isaac and Rebecca’s marriage is the first one which the Torah describes as involving love. In another venerable Jewish source, “Fiddler on the Roof,” a daughter sings for the matchmaker to make her a match. But then she realizes that a bad match is worse than no match at all, and so she concludes:

Matchmaker, matchmaker, plan me no plan,
I’m in no rush, maybe I’ve learned
Playing with matches a girl can get burned …
So bring me no ring,
Groom me no groom,
Find me no find,
Catch me no catch,
Unless he’s a matchless match!

The Jewish wedding ceremony culminates in the sheva brachot, seven blessings. In them, the couple is described as re’im ahuvim, loving companions. Their voices on their wedding day are meant to be kol sasson v’kol simcha, the voice of rejoicing and the voice of happiness. I want to suggest another blessing, and it is this: may everyone be blessed with the ability to truly choose whether, and to whom, they will be wed. Then, as the wedding blessings promise, we will truly be celebrating with loving companions, their voices ringing out with happiness. Now that is a match worth making.

On Corn and Marriage: A Rabbi’s Reflections from the New York Senate Gallery—Rabbi Andrea Myers from The Huffington Post

 

Rabbi Andrea Myers

Author, ‘The Choosing: A Rabbi’s Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days’

On Corn and Marriage: A Rabbi’s Reflections from the New York Senate Gallery

After the vote on Marriage Equality on Friday, I sat dumbfounded in the gallery of the New York State Senate in Albany. Earlier that week, when the Senate passed a resolution declaring sweet corn the official state vegetable instead of taking up legislation on marriage equality, I knew we had entered the realm of the absurd. I had been in Albany last Monday, and had come home disheartened by the vitriol of the debate on same-sex marriage. Somehow, though, the news about the corn was comforting. I hadn’t thought the situation could get any more ridiculous. The fact that corn had made it to the table, so to speak, made me feel like anything was possible. The Senate really was willing to entertain anything, from the designation of the state vegetable to making rules about Bingo, and this gave me hope.

Monday had been sobering. My partner, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, and I had travelled to Albany to be part of a liberal religious contingent, organized by Pride in the Pulpit under the auspices of The Empire State Pride Agenda. It was heartening to see friends and distinguished colleagues from around the city, and to know that so many more were involved with calling and writing campaigns.

When we walked into the Capitol, we immediately found ourselves in the midst of a protest, with scores of marriage equality opponents shouting: “One man, one woman.” My first thought was that they really couldn’t be very familiar with the Bible. After all, just one of the three patriarchs in Genesis, Isaac, had only one wife. And when the going got tough, he was willing to pretend she was his sister, for the sake of saving his own skin (Gen 26:6-10).

We soon realized that very few of the conversations that day were of biblical or theological substance. The opponents of the bill were convinced that they alone knew the true (and to them, obvious) meaning of the Bible, and that they alone had a direct line to God. When the “One man, one woman” chant ended, another one began: “God says no!” At first, our group started chanting, “God says yes!” in response, but soon we shifted to: “How do you know?” That, it seemed to me, was the root of the debate. Our opponents were sure they had all the answers, and that the rest of us were going to burn in hell (the nicer ones informed us of this apologetically). I wanted to tell them that I had converted from Christianity to Judaism precisely because I was drawn to a religion that valued questions over answers, a religion that was based on interpretation, and the implicit belief that the Bible begins our conversation, but is not the end of the story. Judaism as it exists today contains a myriad of different interpretation and opinions, and this leads to a profound humility with regard to knowing what God wants. In contrast, the perverted marriage of political hubris and theology that I saw last week oversimplifies religious conversation. The result is a divisive discourse that is at once dangerous, hurtful and politically enticing. There is no sound bite like a hateful sound bite.

That is why the success of the sweet corn bill gave me hope. It suggested that not everything needed to be taken quite so seriously. Also, it made me think about domesticity — specifically, the two ears of corn that Lisa and I had just made the kids as part of their dinner. For the rest of the week, we went back to our routine: a two-rabbi, two-mom family, busy with young children and work.

By Friday, things weren’t looking good. The Senate still had not decided to vote on the marriage equality bill, much less to pass it. I went back to Albany that afternoon without any sense of anticipation of success. Instead, it was a heady combination of frustration, stubbornness, and three Red Bulls which got me on the road. Anyone I spoke to who was in the loop said that it wasn’t worth coming, because it seemed unlikely that the bill would even make it to the floor. I went because I knew that the people who had been there all week could use some support; it felt like the right thing to do, as part of a long relay race with the finish line constantly around the next bend.

I went to Albany on Friday not expecting anything to change. But I got to witness what was a sacred moment: the moment when marriage equality became law in New York State. Even more, I got to see thoughtfulness and deliberation — the political process at its best — lead people to change their minds and their votes. I was so proud to hear Senator Stephen Saland talk honestly about his struggle to come to a decision, and how his parents’ values of treating everyone equally ultimately determined his game-changing support. His speech was the complete opposite of the rhetoric I had heard on Monday in the halls of the Capitol.

In last week’s Torah portion, Korach, we read about an internal rebellion among the Israelites. Korach and his supporters challenge Moses’ leadership. Moses, before responding, falls on his face. Chasidic commentaries suggest that he did so in a moment of self-examination. He needed to make sure his motivation was right, and that he himself was not at fault in some way. That moment of humility, which so easily could be seen as a moment of political weakness, was essential. Then as now, the lesson can be found: uncertainty is more valuable than certainty. The ability to change one’s mind can be more powerful than righteous indignation.

The same day the sweet corn bill was passed, legislation also passed to allow someone to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav taught: “The entire world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid.” New York senators crossed that narrow bridge with courage and dignity this week. In so doing, they opened marriage to countless loving couples. May this day be an inspiration for all loving couples to celebrate their love, and for each of us to be proud of who we are.

As I sat in the Senate Gallery, I saw a very happy and relieved governor; I saw senators cross the aisle to congratulate each other; and I saw the people of this state embrace one another in joy. This thoughtful legislation which had taken so painfully long to craft, brought people together in the end. I smiled to myself in the midst of the happy fray, because I knew that the best part of this change was yet to come. Marriage itself is not a declaration of having all the answers, but a daily commitment to being open to the questions together. Now, the door is open for so many more people to join in the conversation. To quote the concluding line of Tony Kushner’s sublime play, Angels in America, “The Great Work Begins.”

This Blogger’s Books from
indiebound

WOW–someone translated some of my reviews into Portuguese

Trabalhando Duro: As desventuras de um Sexpert acidental” – Que Vida!

adminMarch 28, 2011Leave Your Comment admin28 de março, 2011Deixe seu comentário

“Stoddard, Grant. “Stoddard, Grant. “Working Stiff: The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert”, Harper Perennial, 2007. “Trabalhando Duro: As desventuras de um Sexpert acidental”, Harper Perennial, 2007.

What a Life! Que Vida!

Amos Lassen Amos Lassen

Grant Stoddard became a sex columnist by mistake. Grant Stoddard se tornou um colunista do sexo por engano. He had little experience in neither sex not writing when he took a job as a sex columnist. Ele tinha pouca experiência em nenhum dos sexos não escrita quando ele aceitou um emprego como colunista de sexo. In “Working Stiff” he tells of his adventures in a hilarious and straight forward manner so if you are looking for light, sexy reading then this is the book for you. Em “Trabalho Duro”, ele conta suas aventuras em um modo direto e divertido por isso, se você está olhando para a luz, a leitura sexy, então este é o livro para você.

At twenty-two years of age, Stoddard found himself in America and had no idea as to what he would do with his life. Aos 22 anos de idade, Stoddard viu-se na América e não tinha idéia sobre o que ele faria com sua vida. Sexually he was inexperienced but then he won an online sex contest and was catapulted into the world of sex. Sexualmente, ele era inexperiente, mas depois ele ganhou um concurso de sexo online e foi catapultada para o mundo do sexo. The prize he won was to have intercourse with a famous sex columnist who happened to be married. O prêmio que ele ganhou foi ter relações sexuais com um colunista do sexo famosos que aconteceu para se casar. This liaison brought him to a job at Nerve.com and little by little he found his niche in life. Esse contato levou a um emprego na Nerve.com e pouco a pouco ele encontrou seu nicho na vida. His coworkers set up tests for him and he participated in every one of them. Seus colegas de trabalho criado para testes e ele participou em cada um deles. He was used as bait In a gay bar, went to an orgy of the rich, and participated in a sexual home invasion. Ele foi usado como isca em um bar gay, foi uma orgia dos ricos, e participou de uma invasão de domicílio sexual. While all this was happening to himself, all he wanted was to be at home in bed. Enquanto tudo isso estava acontecendo com ele, tudo o que ele queria era estar em casa na cama.

He recorded his activities in “Working Stiff” which is a compilation of the places his heart and his sexual organs took him and he did so with wit and humor. Ele registrou suas atividades em “Trabalhando Duro”, que é uma compilação dos lugares o seu coração e seus órgãos sexuais tomou e ele fê-lo com inteligência e humor. It is an x-rated look at sex which is very clever and very, very funny. É um olhar x-rated no sexo que é muito inteligente e muito, muito engraçado. I laughed aloud as I read about his adventures. Eu ri alto quando li sobre suas aventuras. “Working Stiff” is an outrageous look at the modern mores of America that is written with great style. “Trabalhando Duro” é uma ultrajante olhar os costumes modernos da América que é escrito com grande estilo. It is delightful and fascinating and very readable. É delicioso e fascinante e muito legível. Stoddard is perverse and self-depreciating and his appreciation of the absurdity of American sexuality is both smart and appealing. Stoddard é perverso e auto-depreciação ea sua apreciação sobre o absurdo da sexualidade americana é inteligente e atraente. He is the geek of geeks, the nerd of nerds but he has a great deal of heart. Ele é o geek dos geeks, o nerd dos nerds, mas ele tem um grande coração. He has written a “How To” book about career searching in New York and like he says of himself, he is the “personification of the [wet] dream come true. Escreveu um “How To” livro sobre a carreira de pesquisa em Nova York e, como ele diz de si mesmo, ele é a personificação “da molhada] sonho [em realidade. The book is like sex itself—seductive, fun and exciting. O livro é como o sexo em si, sedutora, divertida e emocionante.

“Woof!: A Gay Man’s Guide to Dogs”– Woof! “Cães Woof! Um Homem Gay: Guia para” – Woof! Woof! Woof!

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DePrisco, Adam. DePrisco, Adam. “Woof!: A Gay Man’s Guide to Dogs”, Bow Tie, 2007. “Woof! Gay Man Um Guia para Cães”, laço, 2007.

Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!

Amos Lassen Amos Lassen

“Woof!” is one of the most delightful books I have seen in a long time. “Woof!” É um dos livros mais deliciosos que já vi em muito tempo. It is a tongue-in-cheek guide to choosing a dog, raising him, walking him, etc.—in fact it is everything you need to know about dogs (as a gay man). É um-em-bochecha guia de língua para a escolha de um cão, elevando-o, acompanhando-o, etc, na verdade, é tudo que você precisa saber sobre cães (como um homem gay). It defines about 20 breeds of gay men and 20 breeds of dogs as well. Ele define cerca de 20 raças de homens gays e 20 raças de cães também. It also has a lot of advice on choosing, adopting, naming and caring for our four legged friends. Ele também tem um monte de dicas sobre como escolher, adotando, de nomenclatura e cuidar de nossos amigos de quatro patas.

You will laugh all the way through as you discover the facts—from purchasing and selecting the gay-perfect dog. Você vai rir todo o caminho que você descobrir os fatos, desde a compra e selecionando o perfeito cão gay. The book also teaches you how to train your dog to become out and proud. O livro também ensina como treinar seu cão para ficar fora e orgulhoso. Sounds ridiculous, does it not? Soa ridículo, não é? It is not ridiculous however, it is pure fun. Não é ridículo no entanto, é pura diversão. The book asks us to become active and devoted dog owners and to share our lives with the ideal companion—a dog. O livro convida-nos a tornar-se dedicado donos de cães e ativo e compartilhar nossas vidas com o ideal de um cão de companhia. Additionally we should include our dogs in all of our activities—vacations, pride festivals, dog shows and other gay outings. Além disso devemos incluir nossos cães em todas as nossas atividades, férias, festivais de orgulho, mostra de cães e outros passeios gay.

Andrew DePrisco knows dogs and he knows gay men. Andrew DePrisco sabe cães e ele sabe que os homens gays. In his book he brings the two together and gives us advice on how to find a canine partner. Em seu livro, ele traz os dois juntos e nos dá conselhos sobre como encontrar um parceiro canino. His text is beautifully accompanied by illustrations by Jason O’Malley and they are amazing. Seu texto é muito bem acompanhados por ilustrações de Jason O’Malley e eles são surpreendentes. All 28 breeds of dogs are considered for all 28 breeds of gay men—from the drag queen to the cowboy (I have a Jack Russell and according to the book I should be a cowboy ad not a college professor) to hairdresser to Homothug and so on. Todas as 28 raças de cães são considerados para todas as 28 raças de homens gays, a partir da drag queen para o cowboy (Eu tenho um Jack Russell e de acordo com o livro que eu não deveria ser um cowboy do anúncio, um professor universitário) para cabeleireiro para Homothug e assim em. We learn which dogs are “suitable” and have potential for gay men. Aprendemos que os cães são “adequados” e têm potencial para homens gays. The All American boy should have a specific dog, the Fashionista, another and the Yenta, another. A American boy “Todos devem ter um cão específico, a Fashionista, outro eo Yenta, outro. Concentrating on pure breeds, DePrisco plays matchmaker between man and dog. Concentrando-se em raças puras, DePrisco joga o matchmaker entre homem e cão.

Some of the topics considered are how to determine the temperament of your gay breed, the secret sex lives of dogs, choosing a proper gay name for your dog, finding the right puppy finishing school and hosting a lucrative puppy shower. Alguns dos temas são considerados como determinar o temperamento de sua raça gay, a vida sexual secreta dos cães, a escolha de um gay bom nome para o seu cão, encontrar o acabamento puppy escola certa e hospedagem de um filhote de banho com duche lucrativos. DePrisco tells us to “find a dog to share your life with: love him, train him, and use him as a decoy whenever gaily possible”. DePrisco nos diz para “encontrar um cachorro para compartilhar sua vida com: amá-lo, treiná-lo e usá-lo como um chamariz, sempre alegre possível”. Once you find your lifetime dog partner, your world will become a different place. Depois de encontrar o seu parceiro de vida do cão, o seu mundo se tornará um lugar diferente. Your dog has the perfect beard, soft and cuddly, his nose is always wet and with four legs he has twice as good as a man. Seu cão tem a barba perfeito, macio e fofinho, o nariz está sempre molhada e com quatro pernas, ele tem duas vezes tão bom quanto um homem. He won’t ask questions and he is lays there—usually quiet. Ele não vai fazer perguntas e ele coloca lá, normalmente tranquila. In other words, a dog is the perfect partner. Em outras palavras, um cão é o parceiro perfeito. Your addictions will become secondary and you will be regarded as a caring person. Seu vício será secundária, e você será considerado como uma pessoa carinhosa. And….you never know who you will meet when you walk the dog. E …. Nunca se sabe quem você vai encontrar quando você passear com o cachorro.

Here is a Bible, as Joan Rivers says, for dog owners. Aqui está uma Bíblia, como Joan Rivers disse, para proprietários do cão. It is also a book for anyone who wants to laugh and learn at the same time. É também um livro para quem quer rir e aprender ao mesmo tempo.