For Many Jewish Youth, Gay Marriage is a New Normal

I woke early one morning in June to hear the decisions of the United States Supreme Court on a pair of cases about marriage equality. Joy mixed with disappointment. I celebrated the return of marriage equality to the State of California and the effective end of the ill-named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) through the extension of benefits to gay and lesbian married couples. At the same time, the Supremes dodged an opportunity to make Marriage Equality the law of the land. Still, there is hope as advocates work within the states to move equality forward.

Some people expressed frustration at the slow pace of full equality. I am not one of those people. I see that great strides have been made and more will come.


  1. Because at its root, marriage equality is grows out of our Jewish value of B’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image), and the inalterable Jewish value that all of us – including gay men and lesbian women – are created in that image, thus deserving to be valued and inherently demanding equality. AND
  2. Because of young people like Dani and her friends who are increasingly becoming the dominant voice in our land. 

The Youth Shall See Visions

Dani is an 11-year-old young person from our Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) who recently spent a month at the URJ Camp Newman summer camp.

Dani inherently gets this rightness and justice of marriage equality. The challenges raised by opponents seem irrelevant to her. Homosexuality and the resulting call for marriage equality are a new normal for her and her friends.

Dani’s mother Debby explained it this way:

Dear Family & Friends, 

I wanted to share with you the story of how Dani and her friends celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision about Prop. 8.

One of the role-playing games that girls play these days is a variation on the time-honored game we used to call “House.” Modern girls now call the game “Family.” Everyone is assigned a role: one is the mother, one is the father, and the others are various sisters, brothers, and inevitably babies. Occasionally there is a dog or cat or horse involved. The girls have never hesitated to take on male roles, and they will spend hours playing the game (which usually involves a lot of scolding of the children and heavy sighing by the frazzled and overwhelmed mother). 

Dani was away for 4 weeks at her beloved URJ Camp Newman when the announcement that the Supreme Court dismissed the Prop 8 appeal reached Dani and her beloved cabinmates. They responded by deciding that they should all get married. So the ten girls, ages 10 to 12, formed five “married” couples for the rest of their time at camp (though there was flexibility in who was married to whom from day to day).

That they so readily and seamlessly (and joyfully) adapted the game of Family to include same-sex couples truly brought home for me how far we have come as a society in overcoming ignorance, intolerance, and fear when it comes to accepting, embracing, and role-playing different kinds of loving couples.

Dani and her cabinmates’ game does not mean that equality has been achieved yet, but how this one group of girls responded provides us a glimpse into how today’s children will act when they are tomorrow’s adults. 

Statistically, it is quite possible that one of those 10 girls may already know or later discover that she herself is a lesbian. Imagine her having this silly yet loving pre-teen memory to hold dear as she chooses how to make her own way into a world that may not always embrace her sexual orientation as warmly and naturally as her cabinmates did in the Summer of 2013.

To those of us who seek full equality for gay and lesbian individuals and couples, Dani’s game playing is so moving.

Two friends of Dani’s mom reacted even more passionately:

Said one,

I am fighting back tears as I type this. My heart is too full to say much, but please know I find this a beautiful sentiment to a subject that is so hard for a lot to stomach. The fight is constant and continues, of course, but knowing this is the future is very empowering.

Said the other,

I remember playing “house” (and yes, that’s definitely what we called it then) with the cute as a button little blonde across the street, and I ALWAYS had to be the boy. It never dawned on us that we could both be the girl and live happily ever after…

Debby allowed me to publish this story after she asked Dani what she thought about sharing this on your blog. Dani does not have a problem with it.

To quote Debby, 

I think the thing that feels so remarkable about Dani’s story and about the kids my daughter is friends with is that they do not view being gay as a big deal or particularly interesting or special – or negative. Obviously, there are still plenty of kids in the country who do NOT feel this way, but the momentum feels to me to be moving in the direction of: why should I care (or have any say in approving) who someone else loves?

Right, why should I care about or have any say in approving who one marries?! Relationships between two mature, consensual, supportive adults, who see in each other B’tzelem Elohim  deserve equality.

May that equality, blessed by our communities, soon become the law of our whole country.

Judaism Accepts Homosexuality and Marriage Equality

The Supreme Court soon will decide the fate of California’s Proposition 8 (which forbid Marriage Equality) and DOMA (which defined marriage as between a man and woman, and allowed states not to recognize the marriages performed in other states).

Soon, the Jewish web will return to discussions about what Judaism really says about homosexuality.

Orthodox and other literalists will try to argue that the Torah clearly forbids the homosexual act. In fact, Conservative Judaism’s legal bodies recently approved of gay marriage.

In fact, much has been written to declare that Judaism accepts homosexuality. 

In a recent article on ReformJudaism.org, Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser reminds us that

The only laws regarding same-sex intercourse in the Hebrew Bible are two verses in the book of Leviticus: “Do not lie down with a male, the lying down with a woman. It is an abhorrence” (Leviticus 18:22), and “A man who lies down with a male, the lying down with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrence. They shall be put to death, their bloodguilt upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

The meaning of these laws is far from self-evident.

A careful look at these two verses, however, shows that this is not an open-and-shut case. To start with, both verses use rather tortured syntax to refer to the abhorrent act. “Lying down with a woman” seems to be a phrase that Leviticus is using to specify sexual intercourse, not simply lying down next to another guy. The text needs that explanation for a simple reason — there is no word in Biblical Hebrew that means homosexual. The idea can only be conveyed by comparing it to a man having sex with a woman.

So, how was sexuality between two men understood … understood in the time of the Hebrew Bible?

Throughout the Bible, sexuality between people of the same gender, especially between two men, is understood in one of two ways: 1) A form of violence and domination exerted by one man over another to humiliate him, and 2) A form of sexual excess that is so unbridled that it does not discriminate between male and female. Interestingly, these are both forms of sexuality that, even today, are not practiced primarily by people whom we would call “homosexual.” 

Modern examples of the first category are rapes committed in prisons, on battlefields, and by bullies in schools. Such crimes are committed by men who seem to be more interested in subjugating and humiliating their victims than in sexual gratification.

The second category is the indiscriminate sexuality we associate with modern orgies and a “swinging lifestyle.” The Greek Scriptures, known to Christians as the New Testament, seems particularly interested in this form of abhorrence and it vilifies it in several passages. See, especially, Romans 1:25-32, which refers specifically to men who allow their lust to become so unbridled that they “leave the natural use of women.”

Clearly, this is not a reference to men who have an inborn sexual attraction for other men – people we would describe as homosexuals.

Rabbi Goldwasser concludes:

But rabbinic tradition also contains passages that counter the condemnation of homosexuality. The Talmud states that it is forbidden to humiliate another person and that one may even violate a negative commandment (“Thou shalt not…”) in order to avoid humiliation (B. Berachot 19b). The Talmud also states that a person who is compelled to transgress a law by forces beyond his or her control has not truly sinned. 

In an age when science has given us the understanding that sexual orientations is not a choice — it is an aspect of our nature with which we are born — our thinking about Jewish law and homosexuality must change. We need to re-evaluate our understanding of Torah if it leads us to condemn people when they seek to fulfill — with love and compassion — the sexual desires God has given them. We must recognize that it is the height of humiliation to tell people that they are unworthy of love and intimacy because of the way that God has made them.

Other Wisdom on Marriage Equality from a Jewish and religious perspective:

Jewish Clergy Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

I signed onto this letter to the Boy Scouts of America about its policy that excludes gay scouts and scout leaders from its ranks. I was Life Scout, member of the Order of the Arrow, Junior Assistant Scout Master, and BSA Camp staff member (at Camp Wahtutca in New Hampshire; the Boy Scouts had a significant positive influence – especially on my leadership skills – during my formative years.

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism in Washington, DC, is shepherding a letter from Jewish clergy. For years the Boy Scouts of America has maintained a policy that excludes gay scouts and scout leaders from its ranks. Later this month the Boy Scouts National Council will consider a proposal to lift the ban on gay youth but uphold its policy of prohibiting LGBT adults from serving in the organization:

We write as rabbis and cantors to add our voices to the call for the Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) to end the ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. Many of us are former scouts, the parents of scouts or children who aspire to scouting, and admirers of the mission and purpose of the BSA. Each of us, however, opposes the BSA’s discriminatory policy that excludes gay scouts and leaders.

The BSA ban causes real harm to gay youths, adults and their families around the country. LGBT youth, and often the children of LGBT parents as well, face alarming amounts of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and – most distressingly – LGBT youth experience significantly higher rates of suicide. These children and their families must not be denied the opportunities to achieve and the structures of support that the Boy Scouts already provide to so many.

The book of Proverbs tells us, “Train up a child in the way the child should go, and even when the child is old, they will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). For many children across America the Boy Scouts has proven an excellent way of sharing such life lessons and building character. Like the Boy Scouts, our Jewish tradition emphasizes the values of personal responsibility, service to the community and a broader commitment to justice. These values apply equally to gay and straight individuals. Indeed, how can we teach service to a community when that community excludes our friends, family members and neighbors?

We are pleased to hear that the Boy Scouts of America will consider a proposal to end the ban against gay scouts. However, we were deeply troubled to learn that the ban on LGBT scout leaders would remain in place. We believe that each human being is created b’tselem elohim, in the image of God. That stamp of the divine does not change between childhood and adulthood. Indeed, LGBT adults can and do provide exemplary role models for both straight and gay youth.

As Jewish clergy, we urge you to fully lift the BSA’s policy of discrimination that currently impacts both children and adults. When that occurs, we look forward to participating again in the worthy work of the BSA.

Other Jewish clergy may sign on here.

I just signed onto a petition to the United States Senate, urging them to push forward the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.  I have written before about the sanctity of unions between gay men and between lesbians.  It is about B’tzelem Elohim, that we were all created in the image of God.  

Petition to the Senate 

Push forward DOMA repeal! 

Dear Senator,  

As a supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, I am writing to urge you to push forward the Respect for Marriage Act (S.598), introduced by Sen. Feinstein. As you know, this bill would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, and provide equal federal marriage rights to legally committed same-sex couples. 

The Human Rights Campaign has been fighting to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act ever since it was enacted — from the delivery of over 340,000 petition signatures and letters to Congress in just the past two years to HRC President Joe Solmonese’s testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in July.  

It’s time to advance the Respect for Marriage Act. With the Senate Judiciary Committee now moving this bill forward, I’m counting on you to demonstrate a commitment to the cause of equality by doing everything in your power to repeal DOMA.  

I and a majority of Americans support the repeal of this law, and I thank you for considering our position at this critical time for the issue of equality.

Perhaps you will consider signing onto the petition also.  Click here

A Time for Celebration: New Yorkers Gain Marriage Equality

In New York, they are celebrating.  For marriage equality have finally been extended in the great state of New York to all its citizens, heterosexual and homosexual.  We schepp nachas (share the joy) too, because a step forward in one state is a step forward for our country.

Here in California, we should be celebrating too. Not from a distance of 3000+ miles, but right here in our own backyards… and in the temples, and the churches, the mosques and the ashrams.  We should be celebrating the marriage of all created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image), as they are able to sanctify their love in the holy (and secular) covenant of marriage.

Alas, we still await that moment in California.  It will come.  The polls and the demographics show that eventually marriage equality will be a given.

Until that time, we hope and pray. We sanctify in religious ceremonies the binding of two souls – two men, two women, a man and a woman – with holy words and holy rituals.

And we wait, until such ceremonies will be recognized by our state, and by our nation, as a marriage.

Ken yehi ratzon,  may it be God’s will.

Let’s Pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)

Today I signed on as a co-sponsor of a letter by the Faith Coalition for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The UAFA legislation ends the long-standing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrant families. The letter, with the support of the Union for Reform Judaism, our national synagogue organization, says:

Dear Honorable Senators and Members of Congress:

We, the undersigned faith-based leaders and organizations, join together to call upon President Obama and our elected officials in Congress to enact inclusive, comprehensive immigration reform legislation that ends the long-standing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrant families.

Our diverse faith traditions teach us to welcome and care for our neighbors with love and compassion. Of the many great injustices in this broken immigration system, family separation is one of the most egregious. Family is the bedrock of any society and is critical in the development of healthy individuals and strong communities. Immigration policies should make expeditious family reunification a top priority and should include all families as part of that foundation. For us, this is a clear matter of simple justice.

Under current immigration law, gay and lesbian people cannot sponsor their foreign-born partner for an immigration visa, no matter how long they have been together or how committed their relationship. With no ability to sponsor their partners, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are being forced to live abroad, disrupting their careers, uprooting their children, and breaking ties with family, local communities and places of worship. No one should be forced to choose between their country and the person they love. It is time that U.S. immigration laws kept families together instead of tearing them apart.

There are over twenty countries — including strong allies such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Israel and South Africa — that recognize the permanent partnerships of lesbian and gay couples within their immigration laws. The United States should also be a leader in protecting the equal rights of its citizens and should not continue this discriminatory treatment in its immigration laws.

The Uniting American Families Act would end the long-standing discrimination lesbian and gay binational couples face under current immigration law. This bill would allow lesbian and gay binational couples to petition in the same way – and with the same rigorous process of documentation – as straight couples. We endorse the Uniting American Families Act which upholds the fundamental value of keeping families together. We urge Congress to pass this critically important legislation as part of any comprehensive immigration reform measure.

We call on President Obama, and Members of Congress, to provide the leadership and moral courage to pass inclusive and comprehensive immigration reform legislation. No reform can truly be called comprehensive unless it includes LGBT immigrant families as well. We are committed to working together for this long overdue and much-needed reform.

We must all work to honor our country’s commitment to families and its rich history as a nation of immigrants.

Learn more about the Uniting American Families Act.
If you are a major business, consider supporting the legislation along with these corporate supporters.

Seeking Justice, Mercy and Humility: A Jewish Response to Marriage Equality

The prophet Micah (ch. 6) asks a question which many of us, in the quiet of our own thoughts, do (or should) ask ourselves: Man (or our society) has told you what is good, but (by contrast) what does God require of you? Micah, speaking as a mouthpiece of the Holy One, answers thus: Only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Whenever we approach a difficult situation or issue in our lives, our prophet urges us to consider: What does it mean to “do justice?” How can we “love mercy?” Where does “humility” come into play in our lives? This should be the central values discussion of our time.

Speaking Out on Jewish Values
However, as Rabbi David Saperstein, director of our Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington DC, has declare so eloquently, the Christian Right has successfully hijacked the values discussion (and the social policy decisions that result) by presenting a one-sided view of the significant social issues of our time.

Nothing has been more successful for the Christian Right than their demonization of the issue of gay marriage. Many states have passed ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage by large margins, truly energized by a voting bloc who supports keeping marriage as a purely heterosexual institution. Is this “doing justly?” We have heard loudly and clearly from the Christian right on this issue. Shouldn’t we hear also from our own Reform Jewish tradition about its perspective on this issue? So, what does Reform Judaism think about such things?

Jewish Views on Human Sexuality
In its far-reaching report on Human Sexuality, the Ad Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR – Reform Rabbis organization) identified nine values as being significant to Jewish values on sexuality: B’tzelem Elohim (living in the image of God), Emet (truth), B’ri-ut (health), Mishpat (justice), Mishpacha (family), Tziniyut (modesty), Brit (covenantal relationship), Simcha (joy), Ahava (love) and Kedusha (holiness). In defining these values, the committee drew from traditional sources, evolving social norms and modern Jewish commentaries.

Central to the definition of kedusha (holiness) was the notion that In a Reform Jewish context, a relationship may attain a measure of kedusha when both partners voluntarily set themselves apart exclusively for each other, thereby finding unique emotional, sexual and spiritual intimacy. Ultimately, after reviewing Jewish sources and attitudes, the Ad Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality was led to conclude that kiddusha (holiness) may be present in committed, same gender relationships between two Jews, and that these relationships can serve as the foundation of stable Jewish families, thus adding strength to the Jewish community.

Of course it makes sense that our Reform Jewish institutions would understand the evolving nature of human relations in this way. As Rabbi David Freelund (of my parents’ synagogue in Hyannis, MA) explained years ago in an article on the Reform Jewish perspective on marriage equality, “Reform Judaism has long been on the cutting edge of social issues and civil rights in America. Women’s rights, racial equality and religious freedom have long been dear to us.” Rabbi Freelund continued:

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism lobbies on Capitol Hill on issues of importance to the movement. One of the arenas in which social activism of Reform Judaism has been prominent is in the area of gay rights, the idea that sexual orientation should be of no consequence for choices in profession, religion, personal or family status. But why?

Current credible medical and psychological authorities or bodies do not agree that homosexuality is somehow “abnormal” behavior. In fact, our best medical and social scientists can tell us that there is a normal spectrum of human sexual behavior, including both hetero- and homosexuality. This spectrum has been with us throughout recorded history and always will be.

What about Biblical Texts that Seem to Call Homosexuality an Abomination?
Clearly, the thrust of our rabbinic tradition has been to read these texts as condemning all homosexuality. However, these texts, as read in recent scholarly works and rabbinic teshuvot (opinions), may be understood to be specifically condemning only adulterous homosexuality (married people having sexual relations outside of their marriages) or homosexual rape (the concern of the story of Lot and Sodom).

Understood in the light of these studies, the deeper lesson of Torah takes precedence. Judaism and Torah teach that we are all are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Being created in God’s image means that each person is valued, worthy, and sacred. Such love – between mature consenting individuals – is similarly holy. Gay or straight, bisexual or transgender – the people, their gender identities, and the ways they make love – are blessed. The Torah teaches that; our tradition affirms it. Those who read it any other way may be quoting the Bible as others have read it, but are misreading the Bible for their own outdated and non-moral perspectives and purposes.

Where Does the Reform Jewish Movement Stand?
In that light, Reform Judaism embraced full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our congregations in 1977. The CCAR even adopted a resolution that year calling for legislation decriminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults, and calling for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians. The United States Supreme Court acted on this issue, casting aside any legislation restricting the bedroom behavior of consenting adults. The CCAR was well ahead of the curve.

In 1990, the CCAR endorsed a position urging that “all rabbis, regardless of sexual orientation, be accorded the opportunity to fulfill the sacred vocation that they have chosen.” The committee endorsed the view that “all Jews are religiously equal regardless of their sexual orientation.” The admissions policies of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion were changed to state that the “sexual orientation of an applicant [be considered] only within the context of a candidate’s overall suitability for the rabbinate,” and that all rabbinic graduates of the HUC-JIR would be admitted into the CCAR.

Our Reform Jewish institutions have embraced full equality and are committed to it. Our religious ideals will be challenged in the years to come. In 2000, the CCAR resolved that each of its members was free to act to his or her own conscience in performing same-sex weddings, and that liturgy and rituals should be developed to make these ceremonies meaningful and immersed in the holiness marriage. This and much more has been done.

Reform Judaism stands today in support of [the many different kinds of families] in our congregations, and in support of spousal relationships that create Jewish homes and bring holiness into the world. We are committed to a policy of inclusion and freedom for our rabbis to marry those couples they see are Jewishly-committed, regardless of gender or orientation. It is time for our states and our country to recognize marriage equality as an enshrined corollary of our American freedoms.

Do Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly with our God
We, the people who recall the words of our sacred Scriptures – You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9) – seek to do justice. We, people of faith who try to love mercy, defend vigorously the dignity of every human being, consistent with the principle that each of us is created in the Divine image. While we respect those who may be single, we uphold the values of marriage and family. Marriage, imbued with the values of exclusivity, permanence, intimate companionship, and love, provides fulfillment for each partner and adds to the common good of the community. Thus, in an attempt to walk humbly with our God, we affirm that every human being has an absolute right to such fulfillment, and that the loving, committed relationships of same-sex couples have the same potential for kedusha (holiness) as those of heterosexual couples.

I look forward to the ability to marry our gay or lesbian congregants to their beloveds, in ceremonies recognized by the state and our country. May that day come speedily.

As always, I invite you to join me in a discussion on these significant Jewish issues. Email me at Rabbipaul [at] orami.org or call me to set a time for us to get together and talk.

A Letter to our Teens and College Students: About Safe Places and Safe People… Like Your Rabbi and Cantor

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We sent the following letter to our entire community…
Cheshvan 5771
October 2010
Dear Members of the Or Ami Family,
We hope that you will share the letter below with your teens and college students.  Some of you might feel comfortable sharing it with your preteens.  It is inspired by the writing of Rabbi Andy Bachman of Brooklyn and Rabbi Alan Cook of Seattle, but the sentiments expressed are very deeply felt by each of us.  We want each and every teen and college student at Or Ami to know that they are part of a community that will love and support them, no matter what.
There are many wonderful resources out there if you, your teens, or your college students are confronting any of the issues addressed in the letter.  We will be providing opportunities in our Temple Teen Night, our Confirmation, our LoMPTY youth group, and in other forums to discuss these matters, but you may also wish to check out some of the following online resources.
§   http://www.nfty.org/resources/guides/bullying/ (Reform youth movement’s resources on bullying and LGBT issues)
§   www.rosalindwiseman.com (creating cultures of dignity, from the author of the non-fiction book upon which the movie “Mean Girls” was based)
§   www.GLSEN.org  (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network)
§   www.Lambdalegal.org (working for the civil rights of the LGBT community)
§   www.thetrevorproject.org (focused on crisis and suicide prevention among LGBT youth)
Dear Or Ami Teen or College Student:
Hi!  As your rabbi and cantor, we have been asked to respond in a Jewish manner to an important issue. Sometimes those issues are so heavy, so serious, that words seem insufficient.  We are writing you about Rutger’s student, Tyler Clementi, his being bullied and his recent suicide.  Tyler’s tragic death has saddened us greatly.
If you are not familiar with what happened, you can read the full story.  Here’s the gist of it: Tyler was secretly filmed having a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room at Rutgers University.  This film was then broadcast over the Internet, causing him much embarrassment.  Authorities believe that this was a major factor in his decision to take his own life.  Appropriate personnel from his school and from local law enforcement are continuing to investigate.  Tyler is only the latest and most publicized in a string of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) young people who have taken their own lives because of pressures they felt to conform to the expectations of others.  Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all of these young men and women.
But we want to speak to you, whoever you may be.  Whether you are gay, straight, bi or transgendered or just plain confused, Judaism teaches that each individual is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  It does not matter what other people think about you as you struggle to figure out what you think about yourself.
What does matter is that you feel comfortable being who you are – at Or Ami, at school, in your community, and in your home – and you learn how to deal with those who do not accept you.  And you need to know what Tyler, in his shame and pain and suffering, may have been unable to appreciate – that no matter how badly you feel about how things are going in your life, you will always have someone to talk to, and a community that will accept you, support you, and love you for who you are.  Let us also help you if you are in pain or thinking of hurting yourself.  (Suicide is a permanent solution to what is a temporary problem.) Our emails are at the bottom of this letter, and we encourage you to reach out to us if ever you need help.
Tyler Clementi’s life ended because we live in an imperfect world that hurts or even kills people because they are different.  People fear what they do not understand, and so we are left with a twisted world where people are harmed because of who they are, or whom they love.  Others may be hurting due to acts of anti-Semitism, cyber bullying, social exclusion, breaking up with a first love, using drugs/alcohol, or any of the countless other pressures that teens and college students face today.  The effects of such harm will not always be physical, but words and name-calling and lack of acceptance can leave scars just as deep as one who wields a knife.  The good news is that there are more people in the world who support your right to be who you are than not. Torah teaches Kedoshim Tehiyu, that you are holy and valued (Leviticus 19).   We accept you and want you to feel welcomed and valued and respected and loved.
Although the two of us are straight men, we have been blessed with friends and relatives, rabbinic colleagues and other coworkers, and beloved and involved congregants who are gay or lesbian or bi or transgendered.  If we examine our relationships, I believe all of us would find the same to be true.  Some come out easily; others struggle with their identity; still others remain “in the closet.”  One day, perhaps we will be able to say, “Who cares what an individual’s sexual orientation is?”  And until that day comes, so long as such prejudice and bigotry remain, we cannot remain silent.  The Jewish tradition teaches that we are all responsible for one another. 
As your rabbi and cantor, we care for you. So if you are reading this, and you are feeling sad, angry, scared or any of a myriad of confusing emotions, and you need someone to talk to, please be in touch with one of us (our emails are below).
And always remember that you have a rabbi and cantor and a community that care about you deeply and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.
With love,
Rabbi Paul Kipnes                                                      Cantor Doug Cotler
[email protected]                                                 [email protected]
You may want to read Rabbi Kipnes’ blog on the issue (The Holy One Created Tyler Clementi; Why Couldn’t His Roommates See His Holiness?) here

The Holy One Created Tyler; Why Couldn’t His Roommates See His Holiness?

This weekend, though consumed with the celebration of life – a wedding, two B’nai Mitzvah, the bris of a baby – my heart was breaking as I tried to comprehend the deadly harassment that led to the death of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi.  His roommate taped a private sexual encounter, publicized it on twitter and put the video up on the internet.  Humiliated and bullied, Tyler jumped off a bridge to his death.  I am horrified and embarrassed that such acts continue to happen. 

It is enough that our young people struggle so to acclimate to college life. That Tyler was targeted in what is supposed to be safe space (his dorm room) by people who were supposed to support him (his roommates) and that his privacy and dignity was destroyed are unconscionable. 

It wasn’t just 18-year-old Tyler who suffered.  I learned from Rev. Dr. Neil Thomas, Senior Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church, Los Angeles, that five teens who took their lives in September:

Raymond Chase, 19 Rhode Island; Seth Welsh, 13, California; Asher Brown, 13, Texas; Tyler Clementi, 18 New Jersey; and Billy Lucas, 15, Indiana; five teens who took their own lives, not this year, but this month (September)…. We mourn with them and we commit ourselves to live our legacy now and use our voices and our lives and to work together to bring to an end the senseless violence against all our our children; specifically LGBTQI children who face taunts and harassment every day in the playgrounds and classes of our schools and colleges.

There are many lessons to be learned from this horrific harassment.  My friend Rabbi Denise Eger of Temple Kol Ami focuses rightly on the need for better education of our youth on issues of tolerance, human sexuality and the appropriate use of the internet: 

In this weekend of the movie premier of The Social Network about the founding of Facebook the emerging facts of the Tyler Clementi case scream out for our society to have a renewed discussion about acceptable boundaries in the face of the internet and a real discussion about tolerance, acceptance and human sexuality. There is lots of condemnation but little honest talk about the need to educate our young people.

I support her call for better, deeper and more encompassing education in our schools and in our synagogues.  

Perhaps there is another lesson, simple yet important, that one would think (hope) that in the 21st century, we would not longer have to teach.  It is a most basic lesson of the value of each human being.  Apparently, we must go back to basics.  So here goes:
Judaism and Torah teaches that we are all are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. Let us be clear about what Genesis meant and means.  Being created in God’s image means that each person is valued, worthy, and sacred.  Such love – between mature consenting individuals – is similarly holy.  Gay or straight, bisexual or transgender – the people, their gender identities and the ways they make love – are blessed.  The Torah teaches that; our tradition affirms it.  Those who read it any other way are misquoting the Bible for their own twisted perspectives and purposes. 

So let us mourn the deaths of Tyler, Raymond, Seth, Asher and Billy, and the thousands of other LGBTQ teens and adult who, struggling to understand and accept their own identities, face unrelenting bullying and harassment.  May our synagogues and schools and colleges becomes havens of hospitality, safe places to come to accept the holy way the Holy One made each of us. 

FIrst Transgender Rabbi, Reuben Zelman, to be Ordained

Five former Or Ami interns – Jordana Chernow-Reader, Ari Margolis, Dan Medwin, Lydia Bloom Medwin, and Sara Mason-Barkin – will be ordained Rabbi this Sunday at Hebrew Union College’s Ordination ceremony.  Be sure that I will blog about that on Monday. 

Also exciting is the ordination of Reuben Zellman, the first transgender Rabbi.  The Jewish Journal writes:

As a child, Reuben Zellman found life anything but cut-and-dry. “I’ve always had a complicated gender identity,” he said. “As a kid, I liked both boys’ and girls’ clothes, and both boys’ and girls’ toys.”

At 20, Reuben — who grew up as Claire — made the decision to begin living life as a man. “That’s what was right for me,” he said simply, declining to elaborate on his personal history.

Several years later, he said, he found his calling: to become a rabbi. In 2003, Zellman became the first transgender rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and, for that matter, in the entire Jewish community.  Read on.

On Inviting Rev. Warren to Give Invocation at Obama Inauguration

Politically it was both brilliantly strategic (if you want to show yourself as being open to diverse opinions and a wide variety of religious perspectives) and very disappointing (for it does not move us beyond this nonsensical discriminatory way our state and country deals with gay men and lesbians). Thus I signed onto a letter to President Elect Obama, saying (you too can sign on here) :

Dear President Elect Obama:

I am disappointed by the invitation to anti-LGBT and Prop. 8 supporter Rev. Warren to give the invocation at your inauguration next month.

But I am writing to you today as a Human Rights Campaign supporter urging you to turn the corner on this controversy by officially committing to HRC’s Blueprint for Positive Change — a concrete plan for LGBT equality:

— Issue an Executive Order within the first 100 days that reaffirms protections for federal workers based on sexual orientation and expands them to also include gender identity;

— Work with Congress to sign Hate Crimes legislation into law within 6 months;

— Support only a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA);

— In the first 100 days develop a plan to begin the process of eliminating the failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; and

— Work with Congress to end unequal tax treatment of domestic partnerships benefits.

Yesterday, you defended your selection of Rev. Warren by saying “I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.”

I ask you to restore my trust by pledging to support HRC’s Blueprint for Positive Change.

More Milk – An Israeli View

Ha’aretz wrote a profile on the Harvey Milk movie. (My previous comments here.) Entitled Gay activism with a Yiddish inflection, the article explores some of the Jewish elements to gay activism:

At the same time that Milk was pushing for people to come out of the closet and publicly embrace their gay identities, there was subset of gay San Francisco Jews who were embracing their Jewish identities. A group known as the Lost Tribe formed in 1978, after fundamentalist Christian Anita Bryant’s crusade to enact anti-gay legislation came to California in the form of Proposition 6, known as the Briggs Initiative.

The Briggs Initiative, which Milk helped to roundly defeat, would have barred gay and lesbian teachers from teaching in the public school system. The Lost Tribe, comprising dozens of activist gay Jews, worked within the Jewish community to drum up opposition to the initiative.

“It was a powerful and bonding time, and people made relationships personally and politically that have continued to this day,” says Avi Rose, a former member of the Lost Tribe. Rose is now executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay. Rose, who also coedited the 1989 anthology “Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish,” which draws a direct connection between being Jewish and being gay. “As Jews, there are things we know about stigma and discrimination, and the importance of being visible,” he says. “I think for a lot of gay Jews, that translated from our Jewish experience to our gay experience. That’s what brought so many of us into the movement in prominent ways.”

Indeed, as with the feminist movement, Jews played leading roles in the early days of the gay rights movement. Milk’s campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, was Jewish. And in New York, where the movement took shape following the Stonewall Riots of 1969, such leaders as Marty Robinson and Marc Rubin rose to prominence.

These days, Milk’s legacy continues with a new crop of gay Jewish political leaders. The first gay congressman to win election was Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank. And last month, Mark Leno became the first openly gay male in the California State Senate. Leno, a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a San Francisco gay and lesbian synagogue, studied for two years at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Milk: Another Jewish Boy Working for Social Justice

My wife and I saw Milk earlier this month, a poignant film about Harvey Milk, gay rights activist, politician, martyr. Each of us recalled elements of the story: Orange County-born wife remembered the havoc state Sen. John Briggs caused; I remember Anita Bryant’s joyous, musical homophobia. Both nauseated us.

Watching the movie, one could not be but energized by Milk’s skillful marrying of passion, political activism, realpolitik balanced with values… by his ability to give hope to countless who needed hope.

Yet again, we find a Jew whose life, informed by the story of our people, steps into the forefront of an important social movement. From slavery to freedom, degradation to hope. Sure, Milk was a secular Jew, but, according to his nephew, his life was informed by our Jewish story:

As the Jewish Journal reports:

… Stuart Milk explains, that concern for the underdog stemmed from his uncle’s understanding of basic Jewish principles.

“He was 15 at the end of World II, and I can definitely say that he was deeply affected by the Holocaust,” Stuart Milk says. “So, yes, the Jewish sensitivity to civil rights absolutely had an impact on Harvey. In fact, he was the one who told me about how much support Jewish organizations and Jewish individuals gave to minorities. He often said that Jews feel they cannot allow another group to suffer discrimination, if for no other reason than that they might be on that list someday.”

“Furthermore,” he says, “Harvey was the first to tell me that in addition to the Star of David, which Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, there were pink triangles that gays had to wear, and that almost a million gays were put to death.”

The Bible has Nothing to Say about Gay Marriage

Someone in the mainstream press finally said it out loud: Contrary to what conservative preachers would like us to believe, the Bible has nothing to say about gay marriage, and very little (positive) to say about marriage in general. Newsweek comes along with a blazing article – speaking truth to power – about the hypocracy and falsehoods being spread about what the Bible does and does not say about marriage. And why opponents of marriage equality scarcely have a leg on which to stand.

Entitled GAY MARRIAGE: Our Mutual Joy, the article notes that opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.

Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

We read on:

In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call “the traditional family” are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews’ precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between “one man and as many women as he could pay for.” Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world. (The fact that homosexual couples cannot procreate has also been raised as a biblical objection, for didn’t God say, “Be fruitful and multiply”? But the Bible authors could never have imagined the brave new world of international adoption and assisted reproductive technology—and besides, heterosexuals who are infertile or past the age of reproducing get married all the time.)

One correction: the author claims that most Jewish denominations do so publically support gay/lesbian marriage. Not true. The Reform Movement has done so here and here. The Reconstructionist Movement has done so. Some within the Conservative movement have begun to do so.

More on my take on marriage equality and LGBT issues in general here and from our Congregation Or Ami here.