Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"At LGBT Memorial Service, Orthodox Add To The Rainbow" by Hannah Dreyfus- The Jewish Week

A diverse crowd of 300 attended a memorial service last week for Shira Banki, the 16-year-old stabbed and killed at Jerusalem
RCA’s Rabbi Mark Dratch points to communal responsibility, says not the time to ‘retreat’ into defensive mode.

When Sean Herzfeld, an openly gay Orthodox teenager from Westchester County, heard about Shira Banki, the 16-year-old who was stabbed and killed by a charedi protestor at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade, he felt scared.

“I was sad, I was disappointed, but mostly I was really frightened,” said the rising junior at a local yeshiva high school. “It could have been me, or any one of my ally friends.”

Herzfeld spoke last Thursday night to a crowd of 300 at a memorial and solidarity rally for Banki at the LGBT Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Though there were only 150 seats, people flowed into the auditorium and stood pressed closely together, many wiping away tears as Herzfeld spoke. The crowd was diverse, with kippot, traditional women’s head coverings and rainbow flags sprinkling the crowd.

Herzfeld, an active member of JQY, a nonprofit organization that supports Orthodox LGBT Jews, recalled marching with his peers in the Salute to Israel Parade just two months earlier, waving a rainbow flag.

“Three days after the Israeli Day parade, I’d already resumed my usual teenage schedule including participating in school activities, extracurriculars and hanging out with friends,” he said. “Three days after participating in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, Shira Banki succumbed to her wounds on her hospital bed.”

The emotional memorial service brought together representatives from organizations representing a wide swath of the Jewish community, including Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the largest LGBT synagogue, Rabbi Steven Greenberg, co-director of Eshel, an organization working towards the integration of LGBT Jews, and Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), America’s largest body of Orthodox rabbis.

Rabbi Dratch’s appearance, which marked the first time an RCA member spoke at a LGBT Center event, was considered a “historic” moment by many, especially in lieu of the RCA’s public statement of concern following the Supreme Court verdict on gay marriage in June. In the statement, the RCA rejected the court’s “redefinition of marriage” and cited it as a threat to Orthodox religious freedom.

Rabbi Dratch said he was “embarrassed” that his appearance at the ceremony was considered something special. Standing behind a podium draped with a rainbow flag, he spoke for five minutes denouncing the cultural influences that produce violent extremists and pointing to elements of communal responsibility for the tragedy.

“There are sins of commission and sins of omission,” he said, citing failure to “speak up” against pejorative or mocking comments as part of the problem. “Our community has been much too silent for much too long.”

He added that while the act of extreme violence might have been an aberration, it “festered in a community whose culture is too often pervaded by insensitivity, disrespect, vulgarity and intolerance.”

One attendant, who preferred to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said it “blew her mind” that Rabbi Dratch was standing behind a rainbow flag.

Mordechai Levovitz, executive director of JQY and one of the event’s organizers, said that Rabbi Dratch’s remarks “more than rose to the occasion.” While he had spoken alongside Rabbi Dratch at a mental health conference in April, this was the first time he was officially representing the RCA, according to Levovitz.

“In the past, he was careful to say he was coming as an individual, and not necessarily to represent the organizations,” said Levovitz. “This time, we didn’t give organizations that option.”

A representative from the Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University president Richard Joel both said they would have liked to attend, but were traveling, according to Levovitz.

“There can be positive repercussions from this tragedy — the Orthodox world is beginning to understand the impact of negative messaging coming from the rabbinate,” he said. “It’s just not so simple to keep pushing away an already ostracized minority.”

Dr. Jack Dresher, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on gender and LGBT issues, said that those with severe mental illnesses do make use of the belief systems around them. “Racism, sexism and homophobia are all themes they could pick up on,” he said. Repeated moral condemnations can lead to anti-homosexual biases, heterosexism, and even anti-gay violence. “It becomes increasingly difficult for members of these groups to distinguish between the ‘sinner’ and the ‘sin’,” he said.

The attack at the Jerusalem parade has alerted people to the “unintended consequences” of hateful words and actions. He referred to the memorial service as an “amazing moment of dialogue.”

“What we saw on Thursday did not spring up overnight — it is the culmination of brave efforts to engage in dialogue for the past 10 years,” he said.
In Israel, several prominent Orthodox rabbis, including Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern and Rabbi Benny Lau, strongly condemned the violence and pointed to the communal factors that may have contributed.

“It is not possible to say ‘our hands did not spill this blood,’” said Rabbi Lau, standing in Zion Square before hundreds of rainbow flags at a memorial rally for Banki and the Palestinian toddler killed in the West Bank. “Anyone who has been at a Sabbath table, or in a classroom, or in a synagogue, or at a soccer pitch, or in a club, or at a community center, and heard the racist jokes, the homophobic jokes, the obscene words, and didn’t stand up and stop it, he is a partner to this bloodshed.”

Miriam Wopenoff, a middle-aged chasidic woman from Crown Heights, stood in the crowd on Thursday night, a wad of tissues in her hand. She wore a long black skirt and a traditional black head covering. “I’m here to support friends from my community,” she said. “Many of them couldn’t be here.”

Zach B., who asked that we not use his full name for privacy reasons, just graduated high school and will be studying at a prominent Orthodox yeshiva in Israel in the fall. He attended the memorial service on Thursday night not knowing what to expect. Still, the weight of communal responsibility propelled him to go.

“It would be easier if we could just say ‘this guy was a nut job’ and be done with it,” he said, wearing a kipa, dark pants and button down shirt. “But we can’t wash our hands of what happened, until we try and make it better.”

Editorial intern Talia Lakritz contributed to this report.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Breaking the silence on Jewish suicide" By William Kremer BBC

My thoughts and feelings after reading this article:
This article brought be to tears. It speaks for the many who cannot speak for themselves. All too often, the people suffering the most are the ones you would never expect. 
Years ago, I felt like one of those people. The feelings of self hatred for not fitting the mold, for being different, and for believing that if you knew what I knew about me, then you would hate me to. Every time someone told me I love me or how special I was, I would get physically ill. Especially, so and so wants you for their daughter. As if they knew who I was.
After all, they loved who they thought I was and not the terrible human being I really was. If they knew that I was gay, they would  not only reject me, but they would feel like I violated their love and respect. I would be bringing shame onto the family and community. 
This was my worst fear and something I tried not to do. After all, I was the person who always tried to be the peacemaker and simply wanted to make those around me proud. 
Today, some people look at me as the enemy. They look at me as the person that threatens the very fiber in which we come. The person that is destroying the community and destroying religion, simply because I was gay. 
Yes, I don't hide that I'm gay and for good reason. I speak up for the younger me and I speak up for the many younger me's walking around with the same feelings and painful thoughts. Why should anyone think they are alone? 
I lost a few friends to suicide, which I know was a result of the deafening silence around them. Gay children are keenly sensitive. A parent can say I accept and love you, and the child hears I lovED you but now you are a sense of shame and heartache. They come home to visit and sense the underlying shame. It leads them to think they are not worthy of love. 
A Jewish gravestone

Among Orthodox Jews, a self-inflicted death is seen as a serious sin which brings shame on the family. But a couple who have lost two sons to suicide believe more needs to be done to prevent such deaths, and help families grieve after they occur.
In 1995, a young man from one of the kibbutz communities of the Beit She'an Valley in eastern Israel died by his own hand. It was the first recorded suicide in these kibbutzim since they were founded in the 1930s.

Friday, July 31, 2015

My thoughts on: "Off the path of Orthodoxy"- NewYorker.com

"Footsteps" is an organization that helps ex-religious or ex-frum people navigate the outside world. Provides training, therapy, support and all.

I'm not promoting this organization, simply sharing my thoughts on these issues. I write and share some of my personal story, because we cannot continue to stay silent. People need to know they are not alone. 

I honestly wish this organization "Footsteps" was around when I was 22 and lost. I had no idea how to navigate the world around me. I had many struggles, but never the struggle of coming back to Orthodoxy. That wasn't even an option. There was no room for me. 

I felt like I was thrown out to sea, not knowing how to swim and without a life preserver. No one was there to guide me or help me navigate. 

I know many who have abandoned it all, because they too felt abandoned. It was just too painful to be a part of. It breeds contempt for religion as a whole. The harsh judgement, the fear, the shame, along with the emotional damage it can cause is immeasurable. 

Everyone needs to feel like belong somewhere. If you don't provide it, they will find it. It can come in the form of addiction, the wrong crowd, and worse. We must do our best to provide a more inclusive, understanding, and tolerant community. We need to work together to stop the bleeding. Being silent is no longer an option. 

Imagine the Hasidim who only teach Yiddish to their children, in hopes to keep them in the ghetto. How could they ever leave if they have no skills, education, or even a common language with the world outside their village? 

Moreover, they wouldn't have the ability or choice to shift from one version of Orthodox Judaism to another. I can't speak for them, but I can understand the pain and frustration many experience.

It took me close to 15 years to find somewhat of a gradually increasing Jewish religious connection. I had to leave literally everything to rediscover it on my own terms. 

As much as one might say, why would one create an organization for those who left Orthodoxy or Judaism, it could have made my life much easier. Maybe I wouldn't have come so close to the edge of the cliff. 

I understand why an Orthodox Jew would think of such an organization as a detriment to their world. I would have thought the same if I hadn't  experienced what I had years prior. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thoughts on Children of Jewish Same Sex Couples: A blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel | Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

This essay is not about same-sex marriage. It seems amply clear from Torah and halakha that marriage entails a union between a man and a woman.

This essay is not about whether the United States Supreme Court should have legalized same-sex marriage, or whether such marriages should or should not be performed by civil magistrates.

We are confronted with a reality, whether we approve or do not approve. 

The reality is that same-sex marriage is legal in the United States; that “Gay rights” activists have convinced much of the public that their cause is a “human rights” issue and that those who oppose same-sex marriage are “on the wrong side of history.”

We are also confronted with a reality, whether we approve or do not approve, that among the vocal advocates on behalf of same-sex marriages were major American Jewish organizations that foster civil rights. 

Indeed, it has been reported that some Christian religious leaders are faulting the Jews (what else is new?) for destroying the Christian values of American society by forcing society to adopt same-sex marriages.

As Orthodox Jews, committed to Torah values and law, we will continue to live according to Torah and halakha. But it surely will be impossible to ignore the prevailing laws and attitudes of American society.

I want to focus on one aspect of the current reality: children of same-sex couples.

Until fairly recently, same-sex couples generally did not have children. Technology had not been developed for in vitro fertilization. Surrogate motherhood wasn’t available. Adoption agencies were loath to give children to same-sex couples. So gay couples lived their lives on a more or less private level, without having a significant impact on society at large.

But today, the situation has changed radically. It is far more common for same sex couples to have their own children. Through in vitro fertilization and through use of surrogate mothers, many gay couples are now also parents. Gay couples are also considered valid candidates for adopting children.

Whether we approve or don’t approve, we have an increasing number of children growing up with Jewish same-sex parents. 

Should these children be converted to Judaism if their surrogate mother and/or egg donor were not Jewish? Will an Orthodox beth din undertake such conversions? Will children of same-sex parents be accepted in our day schools? Will we want our children and grandchildren to have play dates with them in their homes? Will these children be able to grow up “normally,” without being stigmatized?

While these kinds of questions have increased during the past several decades, they are going to become even more prevalent in the years ahead. It is easy to close our eyes and simply say: we do not condone same-sex marriages and we want nothing to do with children of such marriages. 

It is a spontaneous reflex to tell such families to go elsewhere for their Jewish lives, and not expect to find a home in Orthodox communities, synagogues, and schools.

And yet, I think we all need to think more carefully about what is at stake here. Should children of same-sex couples be excluded from our Orthodox Jewish communities? Do we have some moral responsibility to help them grow as good and faithful Jews? 

Do we have a religious responsibility to ensure that such children—as well as all other children—are not discriminated against or stigmatized? Should sincere, religiously observant same-sex couples, be prevented from having their children converted to Judaism?

As we are in the midst of a serious transition in the social/religious life of our society, quick yes or no answers are seldom helpful. While we do not yet have all the answers, we at least need to recognize what the questions are.

Over the years, I have found that my own views on these issues have been impacted by direct contact with same-sex couples who have come to me with their children. It is easy enough to dismiss stereotypes: it is altogether different to look into someone’s eyes, feel their pain and anxiety; see their genuine love of their children and their desire to raise their children within an Orthodox Jewish community.

I, along with so many other Orthodox Jews, strive to maintain Torah values while facing the realities of the society in which we live. It is not always easy to balance conflicting imperatives. 

We need to think very carefully and very calmly before we can reach absolute clarity in a confusing world. But if we are to err, we should err on the side of love and compassion.


"The Rise and Fall of JONAH"- How a "gay conversion" program using nudity, cuddling, became Orthodox Rabbis' go-to answer for LGBTQ Jews

On a warm day in June, a Jersey City jury heard Jonathan Hoffman, an Orthodox Jew, describe an exhilarating weekend he spent sponsored by JONAH, an organization that claims to “heal” same sex attraction.

He described a “wild party” where a group of men danced in the woods, threw cake at each other and rolled in the mud before washing off in a group shower. Hoffman told the court that JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) had helped him in his effort to change his sexual orientation.

Hoffman was deemed as “success story” by JONAH — someone with a history of sexual relations with other men who has married a woman and started a family. In a videotaped deposition played for the court, Hoffman credited JONAH’s program as “the stuff that has helped me and the stuff that I hold dear to my heart.”

But others claim they were harmed by the organization. Last week, in a landmark verdict, a jury agreed. The five plaintiffs alleged that JONAH defrauded them by saying the program’s methods were scientific. The jury found JONAH liable for $72,400 in damages for consumer fraud and “unconscionable business practices.”

The verdict, however, leaves the Orthodox community with more questions than answers. Like how a young Orthodox Jewish man struggling with homosexual desires was guided by well-known rabbis to spend weekends in the woods like the one Hoffman described. All under the watchful eye of a self-styled “life coach” who is also a Mormon high priest. 

Much of the answer lies in the brilliant salesmanship of JONAH’s director, convicted fraudster Arthur Goldberg, and his less colorful co-director Elaine Berk. But it also includes the fact that recommendations of JONAH came from a number of respected Orthodox rabbis and mental health professionals.

The Beginning

In the late 1990s, Berk’s son came out to her as gay, she testified. She was troubled by this and “wrote letters to rabbis and different Jewish organizations and didn’t receive answers.” Frustrated, she did her own research and found psychologists positing there were ways to “heal” homosexuality.

She met Goldberg, whose son had come out to him as gay, at a conference about homosexuality and healing in 1997. The next year they founded JONAH.

Described by Goldberg and Berk as a referral service, JONAH espouses treatment that includes one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and weekends in the woods. JONAH asserts that “wounds” incurred in childhood cause homosexuality, and once those wounds are “healed,” men will have healthy, non-sexual relationships with other men and become straight.

In 2000, JONAH received an endorsement from Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, dean of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia and a member of Agudath Israel’s Council of Torah Sages. The endorsement remains on JONAH’s website today.

Around the same time, the award-winning documentary “Trembling Before God,” depicting the struggle of Orthodox gays and lesbians for acceptance in their religious communities, was released. Suddenly, gay Orthodox Jews became visible — and vocal — in a way they never had before.

Jonathan Hoffman noted that he found JONAH in 2006 through an online comment critiquing the film.

“There weren’t any other resources in the Jewish community that [were] providing Jewish men with the help that I was looking for,” Hoffman said.

Moishie Rabinowitz, now treasurer of Jewish Queer Youth, was referred to JONAH by Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, known as the Novominsker Rebbe. Raised in a charedi home, Rabinowitz, 22, was well into the process of shidduch dating. The only problem: he knew he was gay. At the time, “there was no gay Jewish world,” he told The Jewish Week.

Rabbi Perlow referred Rabinowitz to JONAH. But knowing that the organization used unscientific methods of conversion therapy, he decided not to go. 

In 2004, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest Orthodox rabbinic association, issued an endorsement of JONAH, suggesting “rabbis might refer congregants to them for reparative therapy.”

But the biggest endorsement for JONAH came with “The Torah Declaration” in 2011, signed by over 200 rabbis. The document, apparently drafted by about two dozen men, attributed homosexuality to “childhood emotional wounds” and declared that attempting change was the only Torah-consistent way to deal with the problem. And JONAH was the only Jewish organization offering the possibility of such change. 

The Unraveling

Just when JONAH had reached the height of rabbinic backing, it came under attack. In November 2012, four former clients and two mothers filed a fraud suit.

In court papers and later at trial, witnesses said that Alan Downing, JONAH’s Mormon “life coach” who claimed to have subdued his own homosexual attractions, routinely “invited” young men he was counseling to strip in his office and then “physically feel” their masculinity. Downing also led others to believe the behaviors of their parents had turned them gay.

Immediately after the complaint became public, the RCA rescinded its support and asked JONAH to remove the endorsement from its website, where it remains today.

Last week’s verdict against JONAH did not come as a surprise to Rabbi Samuel Rosenberg, the Orthodox rabbi and licensed clinical social worker who was co-director of JONAH from 1999 until around 2002, when he left due to “theological and professional differences,” particularly regarding the weekend retreats’ nudity and cuddling.  “I would not approve the methods,” Rosenberg told The Jewish Week.

Rabbi Rosenberg and Goldberg clashed over the boldness of Goldberg’s claims.

“Mr. Goldberg insisted that he wanted to publicize the claim that he can assure anyone who comes through his doors that he can ‘cure’ them, quote unquote,” Rosenberg said. “My position was that it’s totally unethical to guarantee it, as with any psychotherapy. And also, that the term ‘cure’ is totally inappropriate in this context, because I would not call it an illness.”

Goldberg and his attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rabbi Rosenberg said he was also troubled by Goldberg’s efforts to marshal Orthodox rabbinic support for JONAH through adopting calculated, Torah-friendly language while concealing the fact that he is not personally Orthodox. 

Despite Goldberg’s lack of formal Jewish education — he left yeshiva after grammar school — and his personal non-observance, he was instrumental in the formation of right-wing Orthodoxy’s approach toward gay Jews. It was Goldberg’s name that was on the 2011 article in the Orthodox journal “Hakirah,” featuring a discussion between Rabbi Kamenetsky and him about the necessity of “setting forth Torah values” and touting JONAH’s services.

Within months, language from that article appeared in the Torah Declaration.

Some rabbis have successfully had their signatures removed from the document, like Rabbi Dr. Martin Schloss, director of the Jewish Education Project’s day school division. Others have hit a brick wall.

Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, a licensed clinical social worker and president of Nefesh, the International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals, said he initially signed the declaration because he thought it “was merely a stance on the idea that sexual orientation is not absolute” and that some motivated clients could “find a healthy way to manage heterosexual relationships.” However, he later took issue with the document’s “unequivocal language that all homosexuals can be treated with today’s available clinical expertise.” Despite asking to be removed several times, he said, his name remains on the website.

According to plaintiff Chaim Levin, however, even Rabbi Kamenetsky has privately expressed doubts about the Torah Declaration.

Levin said he met the rabbi two years ago and “saw the pain in his eyes as I recounted my experiences in conversion therapy and JONAH. He asked me for forgiveness and said that the document ‘needs to be changed.’ To date, nothing has, and Rabbi Kamenetsky has remained silent.”

Rabbi Kamenetsky declined to comment.

Although JONAH’s bizarre methods were exposed over the course of the trial, some Orthodox rabbis stand by it.

Asked about the recent verdict, Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, a signatory to the Torah Declaration, said he wasn’t aware of it but was content to have his name on the document.

But the details that emerged shocked others.

“Although there are reputable therapists who use and have had successes with conventional counseling methods to help people wishing to control their same-sex attraction,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, “the sort of ‘therapy’ that Mr. Downing says he employed is utterly outrageous and would never be sanctioned by any reputable Orthodox rabbi.” 


Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Jewish Leaders Speak Out on Anti-Gay Murder in Greenwich Village"- The Forward

5/21/13 by Michael Kaminer- Jewish LGBT leaders are joining the chorus of condemnation around the West Village murder of a gay man over the weekend by a convicted felon who spouted homophobic slurs before pulling the trigger on his 32-year-old victim.

Just steps from the historic Stonewall Inn, widely considered the birthplace of the modern gay-rights movement, Elliott Morales shot Mark Carson in the face after harassing Carson and a friend on Sixth Avenue near West Eighth Street.

“We’re located in the Village, so it’s not just a gay issue for us,” Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, longtime spiritual leader of LGBTQ synagogue Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, told the Forward in an interview. “It’s our backyard.” Kleinbaum drew a connection between Carson’s murder and violence against Jews. “I have tried through the years of being rabbi at CBST to strengthen people to not be destroyed in the face of the kind of hate that exists in the world toward us, both as Jews and as gay people,” she said. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Video: "Dear Homophobic Rabbi"

So, after multiple people recounted to me how a particular well known common acquaintence has been speaking negatively about me after learning that I'm gay -- not having once talked to me about the issue, so I've decided to make a little response to him, because I don't think I could stand to look at him now, unless he truly and sincerely apologizes and asks for forgiveness.

"LGBTQ Orthodox Teens, Forging a Derech" by Justin Spiro 03/16/2015- NY Jewish Week

“Do you have any resources for a 15-year-old gay yeshiva high school student?”
It was 2011, and I could hardly believe my ears. I apologized to this desperate mother and offered the small consolation that her son can attend the JQY adult meetings when he graduates high school. (JQY is the largest national non-profit supporting LGBTQ youth and their families in the Orthodox community.) 

As I hung up the phone, I didn’t feel very good, so I could only imagine how she and her son felt. This was just months after a string of high-profile LGBTQ teen suicides, and the It Gets Better Project had been launched to give LGBTQ youth a message of hope for the future. JQY even created its own "It Gets Better" video for Orthodox gay youth. While the project was well-intentioned, the It Gets Better message tells a drowning child that a raft is coming. Some teens simply cannot stay afloat. It was time to build more rafts.

continue readingLGBTQ Orthodox Teens, Forging a Derech- NY Jewish Week

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Creating a Community of Support" by Daniel Atwood - Yeshiva University Commentator 1/28/15

The author discusses the words of R' Willig (a Rosh Yeshiva) of Yeshiva University
on treatment of LGBT Jews. This article seems to be very pertinent and one
which holds our leaders accountable. Moreover, he discusses how being in
an environment that is NOT respectful or supportive can have strong negative
consequences on an LGBT individual. In addition, he discusses the danger of
leaders using "they" as if they are not present or a part of the community.
Please take a read and share.

"As 2014 ended, so did the life of Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year
old transgender girl from Ohio who committed suicide after
a short life of suffering. Her suicide made waves, trending
all over national news and social media. In her final words,
Leelah describes herself as feeling rejected by her parents,
aloof from her friends, and as having no choice but to end her
own life. 

With Leelah’s story in mind, I want to address the YU
community regarding a sensitive and important issue: creating
a community of respect and support on our campus, especially
for LGBT students. I do so with the utmost humility and
respect for the YU community, which is usually wonderful, but
sometimes treacherous.

I presume that my readers understand the difference between
condoning a specific political or Halakhic position and
providing support for a person struggling through a difficult
period in their life. I do not intend to propose anything radical
on a policy level, but rather to make a statement that all of
our community’s members have the right to feel respected,
dignified, and, most of all, safe. 

If creating a supportive community for all is not a value you 
share, then I realize that nothing I say will convince you otherwise. 
However, in the spirit of “love your neighbor as yourself” 
and “loving the widow, orphan, and stranger,” two major Torah 
concepts (the former being the most important according to some),
I believe we must discuss how we can create more support on campus
for those who feel marginalized.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach- "The story behind an ad condemning the treatment by Hamas and Iran of the LGBT community" JPost

12/22/2014- I expect to be attacked from two camps this week. The first, as usual, is the Israel haters who follow my trail on the Internet like dogs in heat. The second is people who love Israel but who think homosexuality is Judaism’s greatest sin. Both might find common cause to condemn a full-page ad that my organization, This World: The Values Network, and Stand With US have taken out in The New York Times this week.

The ad features a close friend of mine named Rennick proclaiming in a bold headline: “My name is Rennick Remley. I’m a gay American. And I support Israel.”

I first began conceiving the ad during the Gaza war this summer. I was astonished that the LGBT lobby in the US did not come out forcefully to defend Israel and condemn Hamas. I was even more appalled that so many liberally-minded students and academics, who fight for gay rights every day, could be on the side of Hamas.

 In the ad Rennick, a very special young man who courageously agreed to speak out, is candid and plainspoken: “If I lived in Gaza or Israel’s neighboring states, I would be thrown in jail, mutilated or killed. Though I am not Jewish, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where I can live without fear. I am free to adopt children, serve openly in the military, advocate for my community’s rights and be accepted as a human being.”

Friday, June 6, 2014

Quotes To Live By- We are all responsible!

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me."

-Martin Niemöller

Tags: apathycompassion,cowardicediversityhuman-rights

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Twelve Topics: Start An Orthodox Conversation About LGBT Jews" - The Jewish Week

Please read this article and perhaps share it. It is important for us to be discussing this topic openly and being real about it. Please take a moment out of your day to make a difference. 

Thank you,
05/05/2014- We are a group of many dozens of observant, Orthodox families from across the United States, including Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

We are just like most of you – with one exception: Our children are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender). Each of our children told us on a fateful day some months or years ago that they are not heterosexual. It is who they are and who they will always be. 

It is with this thought in mind that we would like to have a virtual conversation with you. Imagine yourselves sitting around the Shabbat table. You have just finished Kiddush and are about to eat. Think about the statements below and how you would respond or comment. Just pick a few, and begin. That’s what most of us did with our families – slowly, carefully, needing time to absorb and appreciate the circumstances and the people around us. Important questions below:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

EVENTS: April 25-27th, Speaker: Orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenberg of Eshel, Topic: Homosexuality and Jewish Law, Where: Southern Westchester, NY

"Jewish Organizations Sponsor Speaking Tour Focused On LGBTQ Community" - The Daily Voice by Nathan Bruttell
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Several Jewish organizations are leading a movement to make Orthodox Judaism more open and accepting of homosexual members.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg
Orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenberg will speak at various Jewish institutions and organizations in Southern Westchester during the weekend of April 25 to 27. Greenberg, an award-winning author and noted teacher, will speak at Temple Israel of New Rochelle, Beth El Synagogue Center of New Rochelle, Temple Israel Center of White Plains (in collaboration with the JCC of Mid-Westchester) and Community Synagogue of Rye (in collaboration with Congregation KTI of Port Chester).
Additional weekend sponsors include Westchester Jewish Community Services, the Westchester Jewish Council and Mosaic of Westchester a new nonprofit initiative created to fully integrate LGBTQ Jews into Westchester Jewish life, according to a press release. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

" At Eshel, We Are Hopeful" by Rabbi Steven Greenberg and Miryam Kabakov- The Jewish Week

4/10/14- Our friend Justin Spiro has hit upon the challenge in his piece, "LGBTQ Youth Have No Derech To Stray From." We cannot complain that young people are leaving a community if it leaves them first. 
It cannot be denied that LGBT lives are at present, largely unacknowledged, excised or reviled by a majority of the Orthodox community. However, at Eshel, we are actually optimistic in regard to the future, and we want everyone, including teens and their parents, to hold off from despair. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"LGBTQ (Orthodox Jewish) Youth Have No Derech To Stray From" by Justin Spiro- The Jewish Week

4/9/14- This weekend I had the amazing opportunity to represent JQY (Jewish Queer Youth) at Keshet's Shabbaton for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) teenagers. JQY is a non-profit organization supporting LGBTQ youth and their families in the Orthodox community.  The participants at the Shabbaton represented a wide variety of religious, gender, and sexual identities. 

What struck me most was the life-saving role Judaism played in the lives of these teens. Many found refuge in religion when homophobic friends, family, and society rejected them. They spoke about Reform and Conservative congregations and youth groups embracing them and mitigating the harsh reality of life beyond the synagogue walls. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Gay (Orthodox) Rabbi Discusses Religion, Tolerance" at UMD - by Elena Baurkot for The Diamondback

Photo by Marquise McKine
4/1/14- After beginning to identify as a gay man in 1999, Rabbi Steve Greenberg felt like a “duck-billed platypus” — it was an unthinkable scenario. 

However, the author and teacher learned to reconcile his religion and homosexuality, a topic he discussed last night in McKeldin Library’s Special Events Room in front of about 100 (150) people. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"The Power of Knowing You Are Not Alone" by Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

13735142863/17/14- In Haaretz and Tablet Magazine, a pair of articles about Orthodox parents of LGBT children discuss the challenges of their predicament and an organization that is helping parents navigate their new world after their children come out. The organization is called Eshel and I think they are doing very important work. 
There is a difference between the two articles. Haaretz gives more superficial and less optimistic view of the overall situation. While Tova Ross has written a pretty comprehensive and optimistic take on the work Eshel is doing and the progress being made in the community. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"When LGBT children come out the closet, their Orthodox parents go in"- Haaretz

Eshel Parents Retreat in March, 2013
By Brian Schaefer Mar. 15, 2014 
When a child comes out in an Orthodox community, parents share the burden of hiding. At an annual retreat, participants find comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

Coming out to your parents as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can be a daunting proposition, more so when you belong to a religious community that doesn’t recognize or accept LGBT members. 

But it can also be a relief: After years of isolation, you are no longer hiding. For many Orthodox parents, however, having a child come out is the beginning of their isolation.

“We didn’t realize the irony of that,” says Miryam Kabakov, the co-founder and executive director of Eshel, an organization that supports members of the Orthodox LGBT community. “When you come out, you let the secret go and the parent takes on the secret…. And what they do is go into the closet with it.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Don’t Exclude Our Gay, Orthodox Children" by Sunnie Epstein

2/19/14 Jewish Exponent- As a Modern Orthodox Jew and a Jewish educator, I have written, spoken and taught about homosexuality and our need as a community to address this issue within the framework of halacha, or Jewish law, for many years. I had already been an advocate for the LGBTQ community for decades when our daughter Rachie, one of our four children, came out more than four years ago.

Why? Because I feel that as religious Jews, we have a moral imperative to ensure that all members of our community are safe, valued and healthy. We are taught to use the midah of compassion here, as we do for so many other issues. 
When Rachie was 22 years old, she called me and my husband, and in the course of our conversation, basically said, “Mom, I am seeing someone I really care about, and this person is a woman. I am gay.” Neither of us were surprised. I asked her if she was happy and if this was a true expression of her core personality. My husband, Ken, just reminded her to stay safe and not do anything dangerous.

As an educated person, I am certain that biology and “how we are wired” is just the way G-d makes us. Furthermore, I am aware that 10 to 15 percent of any community is on the gay spectrum, and there is no exemption from this reality in the religious Jewish community.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"Parents, it's ok to be Human" by Richard Dweck

A parent hiding in the shadows
3/9/14- This weekend I was privileged to be asked to be facilitator at the National Eshel Retreat for Orthodox Jewish parents of LGBT children. I am so impressed by the courageous stories these parents shared of having an LGBT child. Many parents are afraid of reaching out for support and carry a heavy burden of shame and secrecy. Seeking out support aids them in becoming better loving parents and signifies the love and commitment they have toward their children. It allows them a healthier existence, and can heavily impact the mental and physical well being of these precious LGBT human beings. 

Moreover, this allows them to be better parents and learn ways of supporting their child. As one of these children, it's eye opening to understand what a parent experiences when they find out they have an LGBT child. Parents love their children unconditionally, but sometimes need the tools of how to show it. When a child doesn't match a parents expectations, they are thrown off course and can result in a child feeling isolated, hurt, and unloved. If you are a parent or know a parent struggling, share this wonderful organization (Eshel) , and let them know it's ok to admit they don't know. They need to know they are not alone and allow themselves the permission to be human. They have monthly support calls and meetings to help learn from one another. www.Eshelonline.org

Let's get the conversation started. You and your child/children are the most important people of all. A child's coming out can create a huge strain on your relationship with your spouse and family. You and your family are way more important than the community that surrounds you. Put your priorities in order. Love yourselves enough to take the next step! 

Richard Dweck 

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Who’s Afraid of Jewish Marriage? A reply to my respondents" By Sam Schulman- Mosaic Magazine (A response to: "Same-Sex Marriage and the Jews")

02/2014- I’m grateful for my respondents’ careful attention to my argument, which all three of them oppose—in individual ways that also have more in common with each other than I would have expected.

"Is Jewish Marriage Unique?" By Sherif Girgis- Mosaic Magazine (A response to: "Same-Sex Marriage and the Jews")

02/2014- Or is it more similar to Christian marriage than Sam Schulman suggests? In “Same-Sex Marriage and the Jews,” Sam Schulman offers an insightful, erudite account of how non-Orthodox Jewish communities got from Leviticus 18 to the Kiddushin Service for Same Gender Couples—or, you might say, from Sinai to Stonewall. Still more compelling is his take on the quiet but devastating revolution this has worked in the Jewish view of marriage. Here I want to examine two of his claims in particular: that the revolution’s roots are Christian, and that Judaism in particular is paying the bill.

From “We” to “I” By Rabbi Shlomo Brody- Mosaic Magazine (A response to: "Same-Sex Marriage and the Jews")

02/2014- The greater threat to Jewish mores stems not from same-sex marriage but from heterosexual promiscuity.  Sam Schulman’s very thoughtful essay, “Same-Sex Marriage and the Jews,” reminds us of the centrality of procreation in the Jewish conception of marriage. Yet his thesis overlooks the other central component in the Jewish understanding of marriage: existential communion or, in plain English, love. This has broad implications, not all of them obvious, for his analysis of the approach taken by non-Orthodox Jewry to Jewish same-sex marriage, and for any thinking about how Jews and others might be re-attracted to the traditional marital framework.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Gay Love and Jewish Tradition" Rabbi David Wolpe- Mosaic Magazine (A response to: "Same-Sex Marriage and the Jews")

The Wedding(Die Trauung)-Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
02/2014- The first same-sex marriage I conducted was between two women who had been together for nineteen years. They stood under the huppah with tears streaming down their faces.

We’ve come a long way. At one time, the rhetoric dominating the discourse on homosexuality among the gatekeepers of traditional Judaism was condemnatory at best, cruel at worst. In one of his milder statements, the great halakhic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote in the 1970s: “To speak of a desire for homosexual intimacy is a contradiction in terms.” Few would make such a statement today. Let us be grateful for small mercies.

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