Tuesday, April 30, 2013

About Me- by Rich Dweck

*Original publication was the beginning of 2012 and continuously updated*
**Names of people or institutions mentioned below are not endorsements of this website, rather simply information I have chosen to share with my readership**


At my brother's Bar Mitzvah
in Israel. (Age 6)
                   You might be wondering where I came up with a name like "Jewish Pink Elephant". Trust me, you are not alone. I sometimes wonder the same. In my recollection, I wanted to have a website/blog that spoke about issues that were taboo. The urban Dictionary defined the term pink elephant as "something so large and obvious(like a pink elephant), but nobody says a word- like it doesn't exist, making the whole circumstance very awkward."

        The next question I would ask is why create a website/blog? I would tell you, I felt obligated to share my story. Sometimes, no matter how wonderful a community is, they fail at certain tasks. They are afraid of certain topics and feel certain issues are better off kept quiet. Obviously, I take a different stand.  

        As someone in their 30's, I have seen and experienced much. Some of my experiences were extremely painful and some have been very rewarding. I know some of you might be thinking that you or someone you know has experienced more pain than I. I understand how you might feel and hope you don't think I am competing for the title. I simply want to share my story, in the hopes that I can help another person hurting. 

        Sometimes, knowing you are not alone is the best gift anyone could ever give. You might simply relate to the feelings I express, but have a different issue altogether. I share my struggles with being gay, internalized homophobia, suicidality, depression, anxiety,hopelessness, fear,addiction and more. 

        In addition, I try to provide you with hope, self-love, happiness, survival,meaning and an understanding that it can get better. If you are going through a tough time, please don't give up. If you don't stay around, you can't reap the rewards of your suffering. Someday, you will realize the meaning of what you went through.  

        Hopefully, you will be able to understand how you can use your experience to help others. Perhaps, you might see the wisdom in your suffering. Nobody would ever think that what they feel they were cursed with, could actually be a blessing. In no way does this mean you should purposely suffer,that would be insanity at its best.    

        I will attempt to paint a quick, yet broad picture of where I have been, where I am, and where I am headed. After years of knowing I was gay, I decided to get help and try to change my sexual attraction/orientation. They refer to what I went through by a few different names: Ex-gay therapy, conversion therapy, and reparative therapy. After spending $24,000 and realizing it didn't work, I felt I had no choice but to come out and live my life. Why? Because the secret was literally killing me.  Sounds dramatic, but unfortunately it was. 

       It was very difficult for my family, community and myself. Nobody should ever think that "coming out" is easy, especially when you come from a very close and socially conservative community. To think being gay is a choice is preposterous. I apologize for the harsh wording, but I speak from my experience and the many people I have met along the way. 

       That being said, I decided to provide resources for others like myself and the parents dealing with a gay child. I only wish more resources were available 13 years ago. 

       Now that you had a chance to get to know why I created this site, I will share with you some of my role models and people that made a profound effect on my life. 

       I was very fortunate to grow up in a community that had great people like Joseph Beyda**, who gave his life to help others. He had a gift that is very rare. He had the gift of knowing how to deal with the right and left of our community. He had the gift of knowing how to speak with anyone and making people comfortable enough to trust him with issues they might have been dealing with and would never speak of. After being a very successful business owner, he went back to school to get his Masters in Social Work from NYU. Why would a man in his 50's that seems to already have it all go back to school? He wanted all the tools possible to help people within the community. 

       When he passed away about 14 years ago, we found out how much he really did for others. He helped people inside and outside the community. A story that was mentioned at his funeral was about someone that came to him and told him they were going to have their house repossessed. The guy found out a few days later that he owed nothing on his house. Joe had went and bought his house outright from the bank and never said a word. Why do I bring him up? Joe was very special to me. He had a huge effect on my life. He was a role model and their for so many of us. Unfortunately, he got sick and passed away only a few years into his social work career.  But, he will never be forgotten! 

       One might ask why I would give the background of the community I grew up in. Why is that important when describing my life? Well, it has everything to do with how I grew up. The values and ideas I was brought up in shaped some of what I went through. 

       Another very important role model in my life that I believe was one that helped shape my teenage years was Ricky Cohen**. I went through years of feeling lost and just not fitting in during high school. I was able to get to know some great people through my brothers. Ricky was one of those greats. He was filled with joy, empathy and conviction. He had special weekends that we would enjoy shabbat with dinner, songs, learning and a focus of learning by example. We learned lessons of goodness, positivism and growth. His family was amazing. They supported Ricky in his journey of being a man of change and loved him for it. Every great leader that has a family understands that helping others sometimes sacrifices the family. Sometimes it can destroy a family. Instead, we saw love and harmony and people who were stronger because of his involvement. 

       One of the greatest gifts in life is having role models that you aspire to be like. I learned many positive character traits. When issues were going on at home as some of us have at times, it was great to get away and be apart of a positive environment, rather than turning to drugs and other self-destructive things. I will always value the time we shared and the sacrifice that was made by Ricky and his family to help others and be a locomotive for positive change. 

       The most influential human being in my life growing up and today would be Rabbi Ezra Labaton** of Magen David West Deal in N.J. He played a central part in shaping my thoughts and ideas as a child. I have grown to appreciate him more and more. As a child, I couldn't fully appreciate and comprehend his teachings. I would compare my experience to a fine wine. As I continue to age and mature, I am able to see his brilliance and intellect unfold within me. His ideas and teachings are endlessly repercussive. The world is a better place because of him. May I aspire to emulate his characteristics of humility, kindness and selflessness. 

       One thing we did well in my family was surrounding ourselves with great people that were able to make up for any deficiencies with in the family unit. Sometimes it's ok to have issues within a family, even if they are severe as long as you can learn and grow from them. Sometimes, when people lack having gone through any trial or tribulation in their life, then they are just blah. I grew up with many people that had it simple and easy in life. I look at them today and they seem to live life as simple people that are not the "game changers" in life. I want to be a "game changer." If we make no impact on this world, then what did we live for?  

       Viktor Frankl** stated in his famous and inspirational book "Man's Search for Meaning", "What is to give light must endure burning", "Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way".  

          A few years ago, I decided to go back to school. I recently finished my bachelors degree in Psychology and am currently in an LGBT Health graduate program. My plan is to go on and get my Masters in Social Work. I chose the above programs, in order to educate myself on the specific mental health outcomes and specific stressors experienced by LGBT people. 

       Hopefully, I can help educate people and communities on the mental health risks specific to LGBT people and how we can prevent it. Rejection and discrimination are the top two issues that severely affect LGBT people. When I speak about mental health, I speak about depression, anxiety, suicidality, addiction, and others. 

       As someone that has been through the above, I hope I can bring healing and hope to those suffering. In addition, I want to be able to help families struggling through the experience having an LGBT member and making it possible for that individual to stay connected to Judaism and their community. 
Respectfully yours, 
Rich Dweck

 **Don't forget to follow me on Twitter. The tab to follow is on the top right hand side of the website.**

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