I spoke about this topic with Debbie enough times to know that she wasn’t interested in this aspect of her private life being discussed in print.
I knew about it, other writers knew about it, and respected her privacy. There was enough to write about her — and Shlomo Carlebach, for that matter — without getting into what they did or whom they called when they were lonely.
Did some closeted Jews feel that closeted lesbians would benefit from her talking about sex?
And it continues from there. Regardless of whether you think Friedman herself should have been out or not–and outed or not–there are a couple of problems here. First, this rehashes the whole notion that being out and queer (as @itsdlevy noted on Twitter this morning) is all about what happens between the sheets (as opposed to, say, what happens under the chuppah, what happens when one brings a date to events, what happens at daycare pick-up, and so forth.) This isn’t (‘just?’) about “bedroom stuff.” It’s about life stuff. And though Marks seems to cast the story as one in which Friedman herself framed the issue as about sex, I’m not so sure I consider him a reliable witness.
Being gay is like sexually assaulting your congregants and followers? Really?
(And if you want to talk open secrets, from Blustain’s Lilith article, linked above: “We do know that certain segments of the progressive Jewish world, until the day Rabbi Carlebach died, distanced themselves from him because they were aware of reports of his sexual behavior. Leaders at ALEPH, and its sister organization, a retreat center called Elat Chayyim, told Lilith that during Rabbi Carlebach’s life they refused to invite him to teach under their auspices or sit on their boards.”)
I take umbrage at the idea that sexual assault and harassment is about “call[ing someone] when.. lonely.” I take umbrage at the idea that the perpetuation of sexual assault and harassment is something that should not be discussed. I take umbrage at the even merest implication that being queer and perpetuating sexual harassment and assault are even remotely analogous.
If you want to argue that Friedman had a right to privacy about her life, you can argue that. But do not bring in this disgusting analogy, and do not imply that sexual abuse should ever be left a private matter.
When I heard that Debbie Friedman had passed away, I was sitting in a conference room at the San Francisco Federation, participating in a board meeting for Keshet, a nonprofit organization working for the full inclusion of GLBT Jews in Jewish Life. I learned of Debbie’s passing via a message posted on Twitter by a lesbian Jewish educator with whom I used to work. The news hit our meeting hard. We stopped for a moment of silence. After all, she was one of us.
Sadly, Debbie Friedman was not a member of the Keshet board of directors. She was, however, a lesbian Jew. But reading the press asking for healing prayers during her recent illness, or the overwhelming displays of grief and affection in both the Jewish and mainstream press since her passing, you’d never know it.
I didn’t know Debbie personally. But like most liberal Jews my age who have been even the slightest bit involved with organized Judaism, I’ve been touched by her melodies. Most of those songs came to me second- or third-hand, learned at summer camp and USY events from song-leaders and enthusiastic youth leaders who taught their friends to sing “Not By Might” or her havdalah niggun as though they were as old and as central to Judaism as the Torah itself. Although I eventually became familiar with Debbie Friedman’s name, I still prefer to hear her songs shouted by enthusiastic teenagers over her considerably more polished renditions. And it wasn’t until I reached graduate school that I learned that the havdalah melody I had been singing since the fifth grade came from her wellspring of melody.
I didn’t know Debbie personally. But as someone who’s been a leader in the Jewish GLBT world for a number of years, I’ve heard persistent stories about her life as a lesbian. It seems that Debbie’s sexuality was an open secret; everybody knew about it, but no one spoke of it. This made me angry. Was she ashamed? Did she fear for her career? From all accounts, Debbie was incredibly humble – is it possible that she didn’t realize how central and beloved she was to not only her Reform Movement, but to contemporary American Judaism as a whole? I can’t imagine a single synagogue refusing to sing her prayer for healing because the love of her life was a woman, but maybe Debbie could.
I don’t bear any ill-will towards Debbie for staying in the closet. But her life in the closet was double-barreled tragedy: how sad that Debbie could not live her life with wholeness, and how sad that so many queer kids were deprived such an important role model. How ironic that the tyranny of the closet overpowered the woman whose songs let us let go for a moment of what the world might think of us, just long enough to shout “Nutter butter peanut butter” or sway with our arms around our friends and not worry if we looked gay.
My friends who knew Debbie tell me that she had a life-partner. I don’t know her partner’s name, because all the press around Debbie’s illness and passing only asked for prayers and comfort on behalf of Debbie’s sister, family and friends. I hope this did not add to the unbearable pain and loss her partner must be experiencing now, but how could it not?
My friends who knew Debbie tell me that she struggled against the closet, that as recently as this year she expressed a desire to come out and a loss as to how to do so. It saddens me to think of her life ending, prematurely, with this business left unfinished. I hope whoever becomes the guardian of her legacy will follow through on this wish of Debbie’s, so that her life can be a blessing to future generations of GLBT Jews, and to all Jews.
Honoring movers and shakers doing good work on behalf of (or for) the Jooz in the areas of:
Social and economic justice and do-gooding
Peace (in Israel and elsewhere, except Iceland)
Jewish culture (whatever that is)
Spirituality (‘specially the touchy feel-y sort)
Inclusivity (Pluralist, Racial, Gender and all that ‘faggy’ stuff)
Media (it is the message after all, liek this blog)
Other things we hate but have to include.
Step one: We announce the contest and make it sticky on the site. (check)
Circulate it via email, blogosphere and intertubes. (need your help here)
Develop snarky but slick logo that looks Obama-esque (uh, check?)
Step two: Nominations accepted via form submission on the website
Post facebook event/app/group/widget to redirect voters to jewschool.com
Be sure that heads of major Joowish organizations and entities iz nominated.
Also, anyone with a huge email/twitter/facebook following…
Note that femalez iz welcome to apply but will not be winnerz
(cuz they iz too stoopid… naw, cuz they all already iz heroz- hi mom!)
Step three: Inform all nominees they are finalists. Because they are all special.
To be named a 36, they must encourage their supporters to vote for them
(and be popular).
Votes are accepted via hosted form, which collects their name, locale,
Announce winners of the cheerleading squad via press release, youtubz
Compile voter list into email database and announce winners via email list
Solicit their financial support, just for shirtz and gigglz
Use the email list for our own purposez: to give all teh kittehz cheezburgerz er- Kosher tofu-parve cheezburgers..!
Muuuuhahahahahaha!!!! I eatz it up. I laffs at u. More »
1. What does the decline of COEJL and the rise of HAZON say about the dynamics in Jewish organizational life? Who is in a position to exploit those dynamics to push for more change at a faster pace, in fields other than the environment?
2. How will the rise of J Street affect the dynamics within JCRC’s, federations, synagogue Israel committees, Hillel and other places where Israel advocacy is a driving force but not the formal heart of the mission? Does anyone have a snapshot of what should or will be different than today?
3. How will the rising acceptance of LGBTQ Jews in the Jewish community mainstream affect the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide?
4. Is there a chance that money spent on engaging less connected younger Jews will decided upon BY representatives of the target group instead of by older consultants and veteran communal agency staff members?
5. Is the rising generation of new leadership successfully mimicking the norms of the older generations, or demanding change as a condition of future engagement despite the short term consequence of not being promoted?
Here at Jewschool, we’ve been talkingsmack about the “Anti”-Defamation League, and justifiably so. So it’s only fair that we also give them credit when they come out on the good side.
Today, the ADL filed an amicus brief in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case in which California’s Proposition 8 (prohibiting same-sex marriage) was ruled unconstitutional in federal district court, which has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and will be argued on December 6. The ADL’s brief is in support of upholding the lower court’s decision. It focuses on a specific argument that I hadn’t heard before (and I’ve been following the case fairly closely): California currently has marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and domestic partnership exclusively for same-sex couples. California citizens in domestic partnerships have to indicate “domestic partner” as their marital status when filling out forms (and can’t mark “married” or “single”), and are therefore required to disclose their sexual orientation in all sorts of irrelevant circumstances, violating their right to privacy. Furthermore, “the segregated system required by Proposition 8 and the disclosure of sexual orientation that results from that system are particularly damaging because gays and lesbians are subject to invidious discrimination and violence based on their homosexuality.”
Kudos to the ADL for standing up against defamation!
I’ll save you the click. The link is to a statement signed by the paper’s editor, Rebecca Kaplan Boroson, saying the following:
We set off a firestorm last week by publishing a same-sex couple’s announcement of their intent to marry. Given the tenor of the times, we did not expect the volume of comments we have received, many of them against our decision to run the announcement, but many supportive as well.
A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.
The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.
The views in opinion pieces and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Standard. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters. Libelous or obscene comments will be removed.
This is outrageous on many levels, and I’m sure I don’t need to go into them in detail here. But seriously? The decision is bad enough, but to apologize to “members of the traditional/Orthodox community” for “any pain we may have caused”? (And to implicate the entire “traditional/Orthodox community” in this decision is unfair and damaging to many people in that community as well.)
But if there is a happy ending (or, hopefully, a happy middle) to this story, it’s the inspiring way GLBT Jews and allies sprang into action across the internet today. My Facebook feed was overwhelmed with people posting outraged comments and committing to write to the paper. I posted a message about my outrage on the paper’s Facebook page, and dozens of others followed suit. Disappointed messages have been tweeted at the paper’s Twitter account all day. And although you wouldn’t know it, because no one has been approving comments on the original article’s webpage all day, I know dozens of people have been leaving messages there.
This week our country has finally woken up to the epidemic of gay teen suicide. Don’t be fooled by the media into thinking there’s been a sudden uptick in queer kids killing themselves — this has been going on for far too long. But for whatever reason, now people are starting to notice.
Here’s my video, Jewschool. If you’re making one, please share a link in the comments. And if you’re a queer kid out there who feels alone, maybe Jewschool can be the start of a new community for you. Start making it so by leaving a message in the comments to this post.
NEWS ITEM: In a special news report published online by the NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK, a woman was designated by Rabbi Avraham Weiss to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night, July 30, for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox Union synagogue.
The article goes on to say
In the past year, there has unfolded within American Modern Orthodox Judaism the first major evidences of a pending theological schism, as a small but media-savvy minority of rabbinic activists from the YCT/ IRF camp have begun pushing the MO envelope farther to the Left than mainstream Modern Orthodoxy ever contemplated. At the center of the impending schism is Rabbi Avi Weiss. He is charismatic and dynamic, rabbi of a shul with a large membership where he can introduce any innovation he desires, and he has a rabbinical seminary and rabbinical association in place to give his agenda the aura of a legitimate “movement.” Although Young Israel synagogues do not readily accept YCT graduates as congregational rabbis and the 900-member RCA does not regard YCT ordination as carrying the legitimacy of a RIETS Semikha, Rabbi Weiss has decided that he no longer needs communal approbation to venture on his own because he has the minions. More »
Around the country, yesterday, many cheered and many booed as Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, as unconstitutional and in contradiction of the due process clause.
While a seeming majority of US Jews are clearly supportive of overturning the ballot proposition, known in many circles in California as “Prop H8,” the Orthodox Union made this bizarre statement, according to the JTA:
“In addition to our religious values — which we do not seek to impose on anyone — we fear legal recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ poses a grave threat to the fundamental civil right of religious freedom.
“Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one,” it added, concluding that the OU looked forward to the appeals process.
In what world does the OU live? Apparently one where they will be forced by US law to officiate at same-sex marriages? Yes, that’s right, here in America practices and beliefs are forced upon religious organizations all the time. That’s why every synagogue has to have a nativity scene or a giant set of Ten Commandment plaques…
The full statement, which can be read here, goes on to say:
Already, in states with same-sex civil unions and similar laws, religious institutions, including churches, social service providers and youth groups have been penalized by authorities for their beliefs. Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one.
We look forward to the appeals process which will bring these critical issues to America’s highest courts.
Oh! Now I get it! They are against being told what to do or believe because it impedes the religious freedoms of a sliver of a tiny minority population in the US (which I really don’t understand how their freedoms are impeded at all)… What they are NOT against is taking away the constitutional rights of at least 10% of the US population who have been relegated to second-class citizen status and forced to stand by as the sacred institution of marriage is maintained for adulterers and wife-beaters… Good ol’ fashioned sense and reasoning from the OU.
Check out this interesting Statement of Principles, written and edited by leaders in the Modern Orthodox community:
For the last six months a number of Orthodox rabbis and educators have been preparing a statement of principles on the place of our brothers and sisters in our community who have a homosexual orientation.
The original draft was prepared by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot. It was then commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.
Significant revisions were made based upon the input of Rabbi Aryeh Klapper and Rabbi Yitzchak Blau who were intimately involved in the process of editing and improving the document during the last three months.
The statement below is a consensus document arrived at after hundreds of hours of discussion,debate and editing. At the bottom, is the initial cohort of signators.
We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshiva, ramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community:
1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism. More »
Last week, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, wrote an op-ed, “Embrace LGBT Jews as vital members of the community“, calling on Jewish organizations to enact non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, and called on funders to make their support contingent on the adoption and practice of such policies.
Adopting formal non-discrimination policies — and ensuring their implementation — will help us achieve two goals: 1, they will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full LGBT inclusion; and 2, they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the talk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.
This week, Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, wrote a response, “Don’t exclude in the name of inclusion“, arguing that the religious values of Orthodox organizations require them to practice discriminatory hiring based on sexual orientation. Therefore, Schusterman’s suggestion, if fully enacted, would result in a severe reduction of funding to Orthodox institutions.
The pro Israel organization Stand With Us is at the center of a controversy around the participation of Zionists at the US Social Forum. Briefly: A workshop was approved on LGBTQI struggles in the Middle East. Palestine solidarity activists and Arab queers pressed the Social Forum’s National Planning Committee to cancel the workshop.
Yesterday, the Social Forum released a statement confirming that they have cancelled the previously approved workshop:
“…we are grateful for the letters and e-mails from our fellow social justice activists regarding a workshop being put on by the organization Stand With Us. The goals and practices of this organization violate our principles. Far from its claim to represent LGBTQI communities in the Middle East, its purpose is to defend and justify Israeli aparheid. Jewish, Palestine solidarity and queer organizations have witnessed and experienced Stand With Us disrupting events and discussion on Palestinian rights and then claiming censorship when stopped. Their presenter has claimed to speak for the “queer Middle East” when in reality he speaks only for Israel. When asked to include other voices of queers from the region, he has refused.”
[Couldn't find this online - so no link.]
I’m fine with this outcome. I could see a progressive Zionist presentation on Israel finding it’s way to the program, especially if done together with other voices, so as to educate people and ‘problematize’ the often simplistic dismissal of any and all Zionists.
[Zionists! Zionism! Zionists! Zionism! That got the blood flowing, didn't it! It's like verbal aerobics for activists.]
It’s also nice to see that the Social Forum leaders took time to explore the situation carefully. They researched the group, talked to people, and even tried to work with the proposer of the event to include Arab queers. For this reasoned stance, they passed through a few days of shrill verbiage from folks who don’t understand why Forum leaders weren’t faster on the draw.
Just look at what Helem, Al-Qaws, ASWAT, and Palestinian Queers for BDShad to say:
SAY NO TO PINKWASHING AT THE USSF!
We, the undersigned queer Arab organizations, are appalled by the US Social Forum’s decision to allow Stand with Us to utilize the event as a platform to pinkwash Israel’s crimes in the region.
Whoa. Thanks USSF for being thoughtful about this.
And: The way that supporters of Israel use tolerance of gays and lesbians in some parts of Israel as a way to repulse criticism of how Arabs and Palestinians are treated is disgusting. Does San-Francisco excuse the war in Iraq? Pathetic.
IN OTHER NEWS
A commenter on my previous Social Forum post points out that one of Emily H.’s works is featured on the cover of the Palestine folks booklet. That’s great! A big cheery Detroit hello to any Social Forum folks reading these posts. The weather is fine, the lines are moving, and the downtown area at least looks fantastic. Big ups to everyone that helped put this together.
I can only imagine the pitch meeting: “What if the Swedish Chef was a Zionist?” “But the Swedish Chef is kind of a psycho, totally unaware of the havoc he’s wreaking on everyone around him while he’s trying to make his meal.” “Exactly! It’s perfect!”
I’ll admit, after watching the first one I stumbled across (“Jew Bread“), I turned to my office-mate and asked if she tell whether this was anti-Semitic or Zionist. After watching a few more, I think the answer is clearly “both.”
It’s like a train wreck… Each clip I watch repulses me in new and different ways, but I can’t look away…
So the the question is… who’s funding/making/distributing these?
On June 1st, queer Jewish spirituality outfit Nehirim and NUJLS (the National Union of Jewish LGBTIQQ Students) announced that they were going to merge, becoming one outfit–eventually named Nehirim, with a new Director of Student Programming and Student Programming Advisory Board created to help carry out NUJLS’ mission.
There are some obvious pros to all this queer Jewish convergence: one larger org is able to do more and have a stronger voice than a number of smaller orgs, there are ways to streamline administrative costs and hassles, and it’s much more effective from a fundraising point of view to not have a number of organizations with similar missions competing for dollars–you’ll note that the Schusterman Family Foundation makes an appearance on both press releases, for example. Of course, there are a lot of ways to merge clumsily and at the expense of important parts of an org’s mission–let’s hope no major errors are made on that front–and hopefully there’ll be enough space for each of the visionaries involved to continue to tear it up at the appropriate level. Only time will tell.
As a Reform gay shul, we should expect a siddur that does not shy away from playing with the liturgy and rushes straight in to right perceived liturgical wrongs. Reform siddurim are adept at this and, if Siddur B’chol L’vavcha is anything to go by, so are siddurim created by LGBTXYZETC (LGBTQIQ, according to this siddur) communities. That’s exactly the kind of eclectic siddur we get here.
As with any thoughtfully constructed congregational siddur, SSZ is full of references to the history of the synagogue, unique minhagim and character. In terms of liturgical structure, it follows recent Reform liturgies such as Mishkan T’filah quite closely, while delving further into the gender politics of the liturgy than mainstream Reform siddurim do. At the same time, some of their theological gender posturing falls short, perhaps defeating the purpose of the liturgists. And as for the size and ease of use of the siddur, it is the largest, most unwieldy siddur I have ever seen.
Let’s deal with the physical nature of SSZ first. Like I said, it’s gigantic. I’ve heard older congregants complain till kingdom come about the size of Gates of Prayer or MT. I can’t imagine what they would say about this tome. It’s large enough to prevent me from using it. Praying the Amidah with this thing might send you to a chiropractor. As you can see in the image below, it is thicker than its Manhattan gay siddur counterpart (a Friday night volume anyway) by far and even noticeably thicker than the not-so-inconsiderably girthy GOP and Plaut Torah commentary. More »
A half dozen authors read excerpts from their contributions to the book (or related publications), to a sold-out room. (Ok, ok, it wasn’t sold-out, because it was a free event. But there were chairs set up for maybe 50 people, and there were easily 150 there last night.) We heard stories of struggle and triumph, sadness and humour.
I was especially happy to hear another chapter from Leah Lax; she was an Artist-in-Residence at the NHC Summer Institute in 2007 and brought an entire room to tears with her story of births and abortion struggles as a still-closeted, married to a man, frummie.
What can I say? I was persuaded enough by those few excerpts to pick up a copy of the book for myself. If you’re interested in the intersection of orthodoxy and sexuality, check it out.
Last weekend, the first Limmud Chicago took place on the wooded campus of Oakton Community College in suburban Des Plaines. I’m on the ‘Steering Wheel’ (there are no committees in Limmud) so I’m biased, but thought I’d provide a report.
From 8am to 11pm, nearly 400 participants gorged on 80 sessions ranging from Hasidut to Queer Torah and from Text to Crafts. Check out the program here.
My most memorable sessions were led by Arthur Waskow’s Can Jewish Festivals Save the World, Shai Held’s sessions, Menachem Cohen’s How Not to Study Torah, Aaron Frankel’s Songs of Yehuda Halevi, Marc Belgrad’s Getting to God, and Mark Rothschild’s fascinating Prophets and Profits. I would have had more were I not ‘on duty’ in the prime mid-day hours. I heard raves about Asher Lopatin’s session on the Quran’s portrayal of the Akedah, the obligatory drum circle, Ruthie Gelfarb’s Introduction to Mussar, and many more.
The conference drew participants from Metro Chicago, Toronto, Colorado, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and someplace called New York. There was a good mix of age ranges and backgrounds. Upon entry, everyone, whether presenter or participant, was assigned a volunteer role. And a considerable amount of leftover food was donated to the Night Ministry, serving homeless youth.
By now we’re all familiar with the Limmud concept, and this was, if I may say so, a very ‘limmud-y’ first Limmud in the Midwest. And if it can happen Chicago… it can happen anywhere.
It was a fantastic day and a smashing success. If you want to participate next year, check out the website.
Longtime Jewschool readers may recall that we’ve heard from Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the spokesman for the Rabbinical Alliance of America before. He really seems to like railing against the homosexuals. Obsessing about the gays, really.
Earlier this week, Levin, on behalf of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, issued a “media advisory.” I saw it on the Christian Newswire.
When Americans are suffering economically and millions need jobs, it’s shocking that the Administration is focused on its ultra-liberal militantly homosexualist agenda forcing the highlighting of homosexuals and homosexuality on an unwilling military. This is the equivalent of the spiritual rape of our military to satisfy the most extreme and selfish cadre of President Obama’s kooky coalition. We agree with Eileen Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness that this will hurt the cohesiveness of the military, cause many to leave the army, and dramatically lower the number of recruits, perhaps leading to the reinstatement of a compulsory draft.
Thirteen months before 9/11, on the day New York City passed homosexual domestic partnership regulations, I joined a group of Rabbis at a City Hall prayer service, pleading with G-d not to visit disaster on the city of N.Y. We have seen the underground earthquake, tsunami, Katrina, and now Haiti. All this is in sync with a two thousand year old teaching in the Talmud that the practice of homosexuality is a spiritual cause of earthquakes. Once a disaster is unleashed, innocents are also victims just like in Chernobyl.
We plead with saner heads in Congress and the Pentagon to stop sodomization of our military and our society. Enough is enough.
And, because Levin is all about living in the 21st Century, the press release was accompanied by a video of him delivering the statement:
Their praying in August 2000 to prevent natural disasters, allegedly the result of God’s anger over homosexuality, had nothing to do with the tsunami in Asia, Katrina, or the earthquake in Haiti. Seriously. And, if earthquakes are related, how come there aren’t more natural disasters in countries that allow openly LGB folks to serve in their militaries?
While the Christian Newswire condones Levin’s speeches (they link to another of his on the US government’s need to close abortion clinics), I’m sure none of you will be surprised to read that I condemn it. If, like me, you’d like to know who these “1,000 rabbis” are who are warning that homosexuality in the military will lead to natural disasters, and if, like me, you want to make sure the Rabbinical Alliance of America knows that they do not actually speak for all Americans, you can contact them at 718-469-6999. Go ahead, make a call.