3 Links to read before reading my posting:
These are three seemingly distinct articles - about different communities, different issues and different discussions. Yet, they are very much interrelated and inter-woven.
The first link directs you to a newspaper article outlining a statement made by a group of Orthodox rabbis, educators and community leaders earlier this summer on issues regarding the GLBT community. Though constrained by a very specific view of Halachah (Jewish law) when I read this statement this summer in light of an ever-right leaning Orthodox community I felt hopeful. Hopeful not just by the effort made but by the serious, earnest and real recognition the community leaders had to make clear the sanctity of all human life, the dignity of every person and truth be told mostly the bravery for those who signed the document. In a community which recently responded to a female Rabbi with a lot of negative and hurtful language and deed, it brought me hope for my Orthodox GLBT friends and hope that some day the entire Jewish community would support and celebrate all people seeking to create Jewish homes and families no matter their sexuality. Did it go far enough is another question for another time but I felt for the first time in a very long time truly hopeful.
Then came the second "controversy" from a local NJ paper meant to be a community paper in Bergen County. In the paper, A Simcha section appears in each publication celebrating weddings and other smachot (joyous lifecycle events). For the first time a gay couple was featured in the wedding section. As a result of this public statement about the upcoming wedding of Avichai Smolen and Justin Rosen the paper was the receipient of a significant amount of angry responses and in response the paper published the following apology stating:
"It would no longer publish announcements of gay or lesbian engagements, and apologizing
for any pain we may have caused.”
Finally over the last month it has been noted that 5 teens have committed suicide as a result of bullying or taunts regarding their sexual orientation. It is unclear statistically why this jump but for certain these incidents are devastating and frightening examples of what happens when a community does not respond or deal with the mistreatment of human beings based on sexual orientation.
It is all of these incidents in close succession and the wording of the newspapers apology that got me thinking. It got me thinking about pain, who causes it and what are our obligations as a Jewish community with regard to these issues.
There is no Orthodox newspaper in the country, world for that matter would publish a gay wedding announcement. This is pretty clear, in a community newspaper who decides. Who decides what is celebrated? Who decides what smachot are marked, selected, chosen for publication? Does an Orthodox standard determine how a community should act? Are Orthodox rabbis the authority for community newspapers? What about community organizations - like JCC's or Federations? Who makes decisions about who to celebrate? Pain, what about the pain caused to people who feel ashamed of who they are, embarrassed to be their true selves in their own religious community for fear of being ostracized? How about the embarrassment and shame on a human community which allows so much embarrassment and shame to be out in our world that we are complicit in the deaths of 5 teenagers in the last two months as a result of bullying and public embarrassment about their sexuality. Who apologies to those families who have had to bury their children?
This reminded me of this week's Torah portion and something noted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Chief Rabbi of Great Britian. The questions he and other commentators ask about Noah is what does Noah say to God when the decree is issued that the world is about to perish? What does he say when he is told to make an ark to save himself and his family? What does he say as the rain begins to fall? The answer is: nothing. Not a sentence or a word just silent obedience. We assume this would be what the Torah would have aggrandized but it is not Noah who is chosen as the father of the Jewish people. Intuitively, the sages understood that the hero of faith was not Noah but Abraham - Abraham who fought a war to rescue his nephew, who prayed for the people of the plain even though he knew they were wicked; Abraham who challenged heaven itself in words unrivalled in the history of the human encounter with God: "Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?" What might an Abraham not have said when confronted with the possibility of a flood. "What of there are fifty righteous people? What if there are ten? Far be it from You to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike." Abraham might have saved the world. Noah saved only himself and his family. Abraham might have failed, but Noah - at least on the evidence of the text - did not even try. Noah's end - drunk, dishevelled, an embarrassment to his children - eloquently tells us that if you save yourself while doing nothing to save the world, you do not even save yourself.
You see all of these incidents - the Orthodox statement on homosexuality, the incident in Bergen County, the suicides they are all linked. Linked by our obligation toward respect, toward human dignity, toward community responsibility toward acting like Abraham and not like Noah. When we stand by and allow our community, the human community, to dignify the mistreatment of others, to denigrate the celebration of life, in this case to diminish the celebration of the creation of a new Jewish family we are in a sense allowing behaviors that diminish the fundamental Jewish value, God's image inside of each of us. God's image is more than simply spark of God inside - it represents, embodies in it the value that all human beings deserve K'vod Ha'Briyot - literally, the dignity of creation. The person sitting next to you at the office or on the train home tonight, the person bagging your groceries, cleaning your car and Avichai Smolen and Justin Rosen all deserve to be honored for who they are a part of God's creation. If we are not able to behave this way - to live out this fundamental Jewish value then we will end up with more stories like that of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown and Billy Lucas all of whom under the age of 19 when they killed themselves as a result of bullying, public outing and embarrassments with regard to their sexuality.
If we do not stand up and say differently in the world - speaking out like Abraham taught us and Noah was unwilling or unable to do, our world and our small Jewish community will stand responsible for these deaths. In celebrating commitment, to the creation of a family, in celebrating what it means to be human no matter who you love we become exemplars of God's creation, living truly in God's image. Ken Yihi Ratzon - so may it be your will and my the memories of Tyler, Seth, Asher and Billy be a blessing because of our words and deeds.