Do men and women matter?


Most Americans do not realize that, as large as the issue of same-sex marriage is (and it is very large), there is an even larger issue at stake in the same-sex marriage debate.

That issue is whether gender matters: Do male and female, man and woman, matter?

In the brief span of about 40 years, a war against the male-female distinction has been waged. And it has been largely successful. 

This was unforeseen and unforeseeable. Had anyone living in 1975 (or, for that matter, anywhere in the Western world for the previous 2,000 years) been told that Western societies would one day seek to erase the most basic and important innate distinction between human beings — the man-woman distinction; that the best educated would deny that men and women were different in any meaningful way; and that the two sexes would be regarded as completely interchangeable — that person would have thought he or she was talking to a madman.

Yet, that is what has happened at the social equivalent of the speed of light.

It began with modern feminism, a movement that has influenced vast numbers of men and women born after World War II. It was the movement’s goal of women’s equality that led to its denial of innate male-female differences. First, feminists feared than any acknowledgement of male-female differences would lead back to male-female roles. Second, they increasingly tended to equate “equal” with “same.”

Feminism convinced a generation of men and women, especially those attending college and graduate school, that (to cite one well-known example) the only reason boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls and tea sets is due to a sexist upbringing. Without sexist assumptions about boys’ and girls’ alleged differences, boys would just as happily play with dolls and tea sets and girls would just as happily play with trucks. 

That this was nonsense didn’t matter. When that is all you hear from your teachers and read in your textbooks, you begin to believe it. It was believed, for example, by a major intellect, Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University and Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton. He told a story about “giving his daughter two trucks as an effort at gender-neutral parenting. The girl soon began referring to one of the trucks as ‘daddy truck’ and the other as ‘baby truck.’ ”

The next societal force working to erase the significance of the sexes was the gay rights movement. The very premise of the movement is that the only thing that matters in sexual relations is that consenting adults engage in it. Whether men and women make love to one another or to members of their own sex makes no difference. Gender doesn’t matter.

And if gender doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter with regard to parents: It makes no difference whether children have two mothers, two fathers or a mother and a father. Schools such as New York’s progressive Rodeph Sholom Day School, in 2001, even banned any celebration of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day among its elementary school students.

Catholic Charities, the nation’s oldest ongoing adoption services, were forced out of the adoption business in states like Massachusetts and Illinois — because they placed children for adoption only with a married man and woman. Progressives consider such a sentiment — that, all things being equal, it is better for a child to have a mother and a father — as bigoted and absurd. Since the sexes aren’t different, a mother provides nothing that two fathers can’t provide, and a father provides nothing that two mothers can’t provide. 

Young people in America and elsewhere are increasingly experiencing the results of this denial of male-female significance. 

• Harvard University appointed its first permanent director of bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and queer student life. The individual, Vanidy Bailey, has asked that he/she never be referred to as he or she, or as male or female. Harvard has agreed.

• Each year, more and more American high schools elect girls as homecoming kings and boys as homecoming queens. Students have been taught to regard restricting kings to males or queens to females as discrimination.

• When you sign up for the new social networking site, Google Plus, you are asked to identify your gender. Three choices are offered: Male, Female, Other. The same holds true on applications to American universities such as New York University.

• The left-wing French government announced that in the future no government-issued document will be allowed to use the words “mother” or “father.” Only “parent” will be allowed.

• In Rhode Island, at least one school district canceled its father-daughter dance after the ACLU threatened to sue the district for gender discrimination. Only parent-child events, not father-daughter dances or mother-son ballgames, will be allowed.

• More and more schools now feature cross-dressing days for all their students.

• In Sweden, some parents now send their children to at least one school that does not refer to children as either a boy or a girl. 

Same-sex marriage is both the culmination of this erasing of male-female significance and its most powerful expression: Society has declared that marrying someone of the same sex is no different from marrying someone of the other sex.

The Torah went out of its way to assert the monumental importance of gender distinctions. When God created the first human beings, the Torah tells us, “Male and female He created them.” Only of humans does the creation story make this statement; gender distinctions don’t matter among animals except with regard to procreation. And the Torah prohibits men from wearing women’s clothing and women from wearing that which represents manhood. But how many Jews really care what the Torah says? Like the American Constitution, the progressive regards it as a deeply flawed text written by deeply flawed sexist, homophobic and racist men. 

In negating the man-woman distinction, we are bequeathing to our children a Brave New World. Time will tell whether they will thank us. I don’t think they will.

The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage


Last year, I officiated at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of my synagogue.  For a Conservative congregation, this was quite a break with tradition.  Nevertheless,  I was proud to stand beneath the wedding canopy with this couple, who affirmed the sacredness of their union “in accordance with the laws of Moses and the people of Israel.”  Before I chose to officiate, I studied the texts, teachings, and arguments in my tradition.  I didn’t make this decision lightly.  Today, I am unfazed by the apparent biblical injunction against homosexuality as an “abomination.”  I am confident in my stand, despite a 3,000-year-old tradition that has no precedent for such a marriage.  In fact, it is from a place of humility and awe before my tradition and God that I have chosen take this stand.

The Hebrew word for wedding is “Kiddushin,” which means ‘Sanctification,’ or ‘Holiness.’  A wedding is the formal declaration of the holiness of love.  All the blessings and rituals and formulae under the wedding canopy affirm one idea:  when two human beings find each other and love each other, it is Godly:   a taste of the World to Come, a world of perfected justice and joy.   It is in our capacity to love that we are holy, and most fully in the image of God.  If there’s anything that 3,000 years of Jewish history has shown us—3,000 years of so much exile and persecution—it’s that the only hope for humankind is to strive toward ever-more loving and just societies. 

We Jews are a people who have never quite fit into the same categories of peoplehood or religion that other nations do.  We are a distinct people, even as we bear a message of God’s universality.  We affirm that we are different from other peoples, even as we know that we are no different than any other human being.  Our presence in the world has often been a source of anxiety for other nations, religions, and people.  In this way, we Jews have always been a queer people .  And yes, I use the term ‘queer’ deliberately.  To be queer is to be troubling, unsettling, not meeting expectations of the way others might want things to be.

It is, in fact, the Jews’ queerness in the world that captures our particular Divine message to all humanity.  As Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, creator of Queer Spiritual Counseling teaches, the existence of God is the queerest thing about the universe.  God, too, cannot be categorized or boxed in. The inexplicable mystery of God is a source of unspeakable anxiety to so many of us who long to reduce God to our simplistic categories.  Finally, we declare the love of a wedded couple to be holy because love, too, defies all classifications and can never be bounded–it’s a feeling, but not just a feeling; it’s a state of being that “have,” that we “are,” but it is larger than any one individual or relationship.  Love is queer, and in recognizing this, we find its holiness, its Godliness.

It is no accident that the famous Levitical injunction concerning homosexuality appears in a section of the Torah called “Kedoshim,” meaning “Holy.”  When seen in context, the homosexual act described comes amidst a series of many kinds of human couplings—all of which are abusive because they are not loving acts.  When one man rapes another man simply because he does not have access to a woman, such an act is indeed an abomination, a desecration of God’s holiness, a desecration of love.  Such an act is the farthest thing from the love of two human beings—of whatever gender—that we can and must sanctify whenever it arises in our human condition. 

I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman.  Love is queer — it can never be limited to our categorizations of roles and gender.  Love is commitment, presence, and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it.  We must, in our very imperfect world, celebrate, sanctify, and lift up love wherever we find it; because our loving relationships are the only way that we will bring Godliness to this world.  For these reasons, I proudly stand for the evolution of Judaism,  in awe of the wisdom of my Jewish people and tradition, the of holiness God and the queerness of  love.


Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

Opinion: Same-sex marriage campaigns should heed local sentiments


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Since the May 8 vote to approve North Carolina’s Amendment One referendum, which constitutionally bars the state from recognizing as legal any marriage other than that of a man to a woman, his words still ring true. Our march toward justice for all citizens of North Carolina, for all God’s children, is incomplete.

In Judaism, a “heshbon hanefesh” is an “accounting of the soul.” The concept helps us clarify how we go forward.

Our campaign against Amendment One made significant inroads in mobilizing the support and energy of the state’s African-American community, thanks in large part to the incredible leadership of the North Carolina NAACP’s president, the Rev. William Barber. He framed the issue as one of basic civil rights, upholding the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, rather than just as an issue of marriage, and that resonated with many African-American community leaders.

In doing so, he strengthened opposition to Amendment One while acknowledging that many will, and are entitled to, have major problems with same-sex marriages. I found the shift from support of the amendment to opposition heartening.

The fight joined many committed people who worked to create a “coalition for goodness and justice.” Our dynamic group, whose members barely knew each other when we started, will continue to fight for social justice issues for all North Carolinians.

Nonetheless, the defeat was far worse than expected. The amendment passed by a whopping 21 percentage points even though polls had predicted a 10-point victory.

So what exactly went wrong?

Professor Maxine Eichner of the University of North Carolina School of Law and other experts, including family-law professors from most of the state’s law schools, detailed the possible harmful and unintended consequences of the amendment. One poll indicated that people would vote against the amendment if it were shown to harm families and children. Reliance on this information became the campaign’s strategy.

But basing a campaign on such information was a major tactical error, and several in the anti-amendment coalition tried to point this out. For two weeks prior to the referendum, amendment supporters ran an effective campaign countering Eichner’s arguments. It included call-in phone briefings with lawyers dismissing the fears raised by the professor.

The “don’t harm families” approach also was reflected in the name of the major organization against the amendment—“Protect NC Families.” The name does not say what the organization stands for and is close in name to “Focus on the Family,” a national organization that opposes recognition of gay marriage. This similarity led to confusion.

I’m also not sure that those who came from out of state to help defeat Amendment One understood the people of North Carolina. They were well meaning, but now move on to another battleground. Their record on defeating these amendments is 33 losses and one victory. Is not a strategy change warranted?

Amendment One passed overwhelmingly because of the opposition’s inability to reframe the debate from marriage and on to civil rights. Months ago some of us warned that many North Carolinians who opposed same-sex marriages would vote against the amendment if they thought it was discriminatory and denied equal protection as guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

The response was that the argument might gain traction in Greensboro, with its unique civil-rights history (the original sit-ins occurred at the downtown Woolworth department store), but would not resonate elsewhere in the state. Opponents also worried that it would shift focus from the “don’t harm families” strategy in a way that would be harmful at the polls.

The unexpectedly high margin of defeat tells us that basing the campaign on potential harms to families was a tactical error.

A related step that Amendment One opponents should have taken was to emphasize and publicize the pronouncements of prominent conservatives and libertarians who opposed the measure. They generally based their opposition on the same civil rights argument regarding violating the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection.

Finally, the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 52 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Yet a significant number are afraid that legalizing same-sex marriage would force their clergy to officiate at such marriages. Consequently, they oppose same-sex marriage laws. Once people learned that no law could ever be passed that would require a faith community or clergy member to perform such a ceremony – that would be unconstitutional—support for the legalization of same-sex marriages increased to 58 percent.

Would this amendment have passed if the campaign been managed differently? No one can be sure. Many against the amendment feel that had local people been listened to, the vote could have at least been closer.

Our next step, aside from various legal challenges, should be to convene focus groups of those who opposed Amendment One. We have to ask the serious questions and plan a new strategy.

As King wrote, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Indeed, but the arc will bend only if those of us who care act wisely in our efforts to bend it.

Rabbi Fred Guttman is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.

In N.Y., debate over religious exemptions at issue in gay marriage bill


When it comes to passing a gay marriage bill in New York State, even many supporters acknowledge that wide-reaching religious exemptions are crucial.

After all, this is the state with the nation’s second-largest number of Catholics and largest number of religiously observant Jews, and many say including exemptions is a legitimate way to address concerns of the religiously observant.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that if we’re going to recognize same-sex marriage, we do it in a way that is nuanced,” Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, told JTA.

Though robust protection of religious liberties already exists in both New York and federal law, Wilson said she understands why religious groups are pushing to reiterate and strengthen these guarantees.

“You don’t want to put them through a test of violating their conviction or violating their law,” she said.

Exemptions could protect nonprofit organizations, businesses and individuals from being forced to acknowledge same-sex marriages—perhaps so that, for instance, a kosher catering business or a Catholic florist could refuse to provide services for a same-sex wedding.

But some same-sex marriage supporters argue that specifically including exemptions in the bill isn’t necessary because existing law already makes allowances for religious freedom. They charge that the debate over exemptions really is a smokescreen for those who want to defeat the bill.

Ultimately, New York’s experience may serve as a lesson for other states seeking to legalize same-sex marriage through state legislatures, as opposed to the court mandates in states like Iowa.

The question now is whether the focus on religious exemptions derails the bill or whether it allows the bill to overcome religious objections. Gov. Andrew Cuomo strongly supports same-sex marriage, and he reportedly is just shy of the votes he needs in Albany.

Much of the debate over exemptions has centered around private individuals, like bakers or photographers, and businesses like banquet halls. In other states, businesses or individuals refusing to work at same-sex weddings were sued or lost tax-exempt status, opponents of gay marriage say.

Jennifer Pizer, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and an expert on sexual orientation and discrimination, says that’s par for the course in America: You can’t let religious beliefs affect commercial decisions.

“People are free to hold these views—they’re not just free to hold those views, they’re protected.” But, she said, “the current legal system does not permit people engaged in business to discriminate based on the proprietors’ own religious views.”

Pizer said the New York debate over exemptions hearkens back to a time when religious views were used to justify racial segregation and opposition to equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation.

On the other side, Marc Stern, the associate general counsel for legal advocacy at the American Jewish Committee, which has not taken an official stance on the same-sex marriage bill, said the fight for equality does not trump the right to free exercise of religion.

While some religious groups, including the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America, the Catholic League and others have lobbied against New York’s same-sex marriage bill, Stern says their time would have been better spent pushing for more robust religious protections across the board.

“I think they’ve made a major tactical blunder. The handwriting was on the wall on gay rights,” he said, suggesting that the legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable. “The thing to do is to give up that fight and fight for a broad religious exemption.”

Strictly religious Jews, however, feel they have an obligation to fight back against a bill that would “promote the notion that all intimate relationships are equally acceptable,” said Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America.

“The Jewish religious tradition is emphatic and unambiguous about the wrongness of same-sex relationships,” Shafran said. “Religious organizations cannot impose their will on society, but neither can they – at least Orthodox Jewish ones – shirk their duty to proclaim what is proper and what is not.”

Jay Michaelson, founder of a gay Jewish spiritual group called Nehirim and author of “God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality,” says the Jewish imperative is to fight the demands of religious lobbyists, not to fight gay marriage.

“As American Jews, I don’t think we want to have the churches calling the shots on what our civil policy should be,” Michaelson said. “Protecting one minority protects all.”

Some Jewish organizations cite civil rights as the basis for their support of the marriage legislation.

“The Reform movement certainly believes that all people were created in the image of God,” said Honey Heller, a co-chairwoman of the Reform Jewish Voice of New York State, part of the Reform movement’s social justice arm. “That’s why I get a little concerned about religious exemptions.”

Michaelson criticized the silence of large Jewish organizations on the issue, saying they shouldn’t leave Jewish gay groups to battle it out alone with Orthodox groups like Agudath Israel.

“It would be more effective to have non-LGBT allies say we support religious freedom, we support separation of church and state,” he said.

With the debate in Albany focused not on the morality of gay marriage but on the practicalities of a bill, ideological opponents of same-sex marriage say guaranteeing religious exemptions is better than nothing.

“We would prefer that it not pass,” said Howie Beigelman, deputy director of public policy for the Orthodox Union. “But if it has the exemptions in it that are robust and that do protect everyone, I wouldn’t call it a win, but I would call it the best we could have gotten.”

Motion to vacate Prop 8 ruling over Judge Walker’s sexuality is denied


A federal judge has denied Prop 8 proponents’ motion to vacate Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling against a ban on same-sex marriage over Walker’s sexuality, ” title=”CNN.com” target=”_blank”>CNN.com.

Judaism and Same-Sex Marriage


While voting to keep intact the marriages of approximately 18,000 Californians, including many Jewish couples, the California Supreme Court voted today to uphold Proposition 8, an initiative that amended California’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.  Another chapter in the longer story of same-gender marriage in California has ended, and yet another is already beginning.  Here in Los Angeles County, demonstrations against the ban are already underway in Leimert Park and more are planned for East Los Angeles and West Hollywood.  Activists on both sides of the issue are mobilizing in anticipation of another ballot initiative in 2010 or 2012.

Meanwhile, the broader discussion will continue.  To get an early start, let’s examine just one of the charges made by those who oppose equal rights to civil marriage for same-gender couples: Such marriages would “change the traditional definition of marriage.” Well, chevrah, we of Judaism’s Reform movement have lived, for generations now, with an earth shattering “change to the traditional definition of marriage,”—only our world hasn’t shattered yet. Despite the staggering shocks that today’s economy has dealt to most of us, Reform Judaism remains the United States’ largest Jewish denomination. Reform Jews continue to marry and to create families and new Jewish generations.

What is it that we’ve done?  Effectively and ritually, Reform Judaism has transformed marriage from a kinyan (an acquisition) to a brit (contract). For years, Reform Jewish marriage has not been the transfer of a bride from her father’s stewardship to her husband’s. It is a contract between two Jews who are absolutely equal in their right to give themselves to each other. For such Jews, the kiddushin (sanctity) in marriage is not about setting a woman aside for one man only, but rather in setting aside a couple for each other. For Reform Jews, says Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, “sanctity only exists in the context of equality.”

Sanctity. Not license, not ‘anything goes,’ but a deep, moral sense that each competent adult Jew has equal status—and that only her Creator can trump a human being’s ownership of her own person. Judaism’s understanding of human dignity is very old—the first thing we learn about ourselves in the TANAKH is that the human was created in the image of God. However, our association of this understanding with bone-deep moral outrage at the idea of human chattel is pretty new. In the days of our country’s Civil War, both Reform Rabbi David Einhorn and Conservative Rabbi Sabato Morais were hounded by their respective communities for their staunch opposition to human slavery—an institution that our Rabbis mitigated but did not condemn unequivocally. This horror of enslavement and fierceness for equal rights under the law is part of the heritage of modernity that Reform Jews have embraced—as an expression of the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

As Rabbi Denise Eger, newly installed president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California said when asked if lesbian or gay marriages are l’daat Moshe (according to the Law of Moses), “What is daat? Tradition. Since the 1820’s, Reform Judaism has been developing Jewish tradition to include mutuality and equality.”

This emphasis on equality may be expressed in ketubot that depart from the traditional assignment of different roles in the marriage based on gender. Some Reform Jews, who marry under a chuppah, sign innovative ketubot that commit them to mutual responsibilities. Others make a brit ahuvim, a partnership pact and set of rituals developed by Dr. Rachel Adler for Jews who wish to “acquire a partnership.” Like many Reform Jews who find ourselves reaching back across a paradigm shift to an engagement with Jewish law, Adler is concerned that such concepts as holiness and separation have not been sufficiently explored in a Reform context and wants to be very deliberate about the meanings behind the rituals we perform.

Conservative Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor at the American Jewish University and leader in Jews For Marriage Equality points out that, long before the issue of lesbian and gay marriage arose, there have been Jews who have not recognized Reform marriages anyway—let alone marriages performed by secular authorities. Dorff reminds us that, “Rabbi Isaac Klein, of blessed memory, long ago wrote a responsum that was approved by the CJLS [The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards] that states that although Jews should get married with chuppah and kiddushin, if they got married through civil law alone, retroactively that is considered a marriage, and the couple would need a get to dissolve their marriage in Jewish law. Rabbi Klein reasoned that is even more evidence than their sexual intercourse that they intended to be considered as married.”

In other words, for traditional Jews, marriage “through civil law alone,” along with Reform marriage, has been considered to be the same as shacking up. Traditional congregations only recognize such marriages if they are between Jews who are permitted to one another, as having been effected through intercourse. Furthermore, even though civil law permits, say, the former Mrs. Schwartz to marry Mr. Cohen at City Hall—and they could marry in a Reform congregation—no Orthodox synagogue has ever been made to perform such a ceremony or to recognize the resulting marriage.

It’s just wrong to claim that civil marriage equality would force changes on religious institutions. No rabbi has ever been forced by civil law to conduct a marriage between a divorcée and a Kohen, just as the availability of non-Kosher food in the general marketplace doesn’t force cheeseburger onto anybody’s plate.

Robin Podolsky is a writer and former press secretary to State Senator Sheila Kuehl

Synagogues Working to Be More Open to Gays


[UPDATE]

NEW YORK (JTA)—The newsletter sent out last month by Temple Israel of New Rochelle contained the usual sort of announcements, including a reminder about the synagogue’s upcoming Purim carnival, mazal tovs and condolences, and information about a social event at a local steakhouse.

But a small notice about a screening of the film “Hineini: Coming Out In a Jewish High School” reflected a quiet change at the Reform synagogue in suburban New York.

The screening is part of an overall push by Temple Israel to be more welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews. In recent months, the synagogue has edited its membership forms to accommodate diverse family structures, and it now advertises in the gay press and with gay advocacy groups. It also plans to train teachers to be sensitive to issues related to sexuality.

Prompted by the experience of a teenager in the community who was teased when he revealed his homosexuality, momentum built last year when the synagogue hired a new youth director who is openly gay.

“On some level, I kind of view myself as a poster child and that these kids and the adults need to see somebody in the community who fits the description,” said Barry Shainker, the youth director.

Shainker says that while changes are programmatic, the goal is to make such inclusiveness routine.

“Of course in some ways, our goal is to put ourselves out of a job,” he said. “In a few years this will be a no-brainer. What could be a 30-minute discussion at a board meeting becomes a 30-second vote in the future.”

Temple Israel is not alone: A recent conference in New York attracted a cadre of about 60 rabbis, educators and activists from across the denominational spectrum who shared “best practices” for becoming more welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews.

The conference, organized by Jewish Mosaic and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, was part of the “Welcoming Synagogues Project,” which seeks to develop a model for inclusiveness to be implemented this summer by 10 pilot congregations.

“We’re trying to come up with a process that’s scalable,” said Joel Kushner, director of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation. A similar program took place March 1-2 in Los Angeles.

“There isn’t going to be one size fits all,” he said.

Findings from the 2009 Synagogue Survey on Diversity and LGBT Inclusion, presented at the New York conference, underscored what Kushner described as a need for congregations to be more welcoming. The survey found that 73 percent of the 760 rabbis polled think their congregation is welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews, although only 33 percent of the 997 synagogues that responded offer programs aimed specifically at gays and lesbians.

The impetus for adopting a more welcoming approach comes from a critical mass of gay members or from policy questions such as the ordination of openly gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors, according to one of the study’s co-authors, Caryn Aviv.

“It has shifted people’s perceptions because they’re having personal interaction with gays and lesbians,” said Aviv, who co-authored the study with Steven Cohen.

To be sure, some synagogues have consciously welcomed sexually diverse Jews for years. For example, Temple Israel in Boston, a Reform congregation with 1,700 families, made such a decision based on what members believed was “right.”
“It was untenable to them that gay and lesbian Jews wouldn’t have a home,” Rabbi Stephanie Kolin said.

The synagogue is working with the Boston-based advocacy group Keshet to become a so-called “safe school,” meaning it will train teachers to address bias and promote gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inclusion.

Temple Israel recently conducted a focus group with some of its LGBT members to find out what as a community the synagogue could improve. Last year the synagogue hosted a program on transgender and gender expression. In the past there was a LGBT chevra, or social group, and the synagogue sent dozens of people to rally at the Massachusetts State House in support of equal marriage.
“Acting publicly around justice issues is another way that we are proactively welcoming,” Kolin said.

At the conference in New York, representatives of other synagogues shared their “best practices.”

At Kolot Chayeinu, a progressive congregation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, b’nai mitzvah students discuss gender diversity in Jewish texts. Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta has adopted a “brit,” or contract, that stipulates the inclusive values of the community. Beth Simchat Torah, New York’s synagogue for GLBT Jews, has published a new prayer book in which the prayers for life-cycle events—including marriages and baby namings—are not printed in the conventional order, so as to promote the idea of diverse family life.

According to Debra Kolodny, the executive director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, a critical part of being inclusive is to have leadership that reflects diversity in sexual orientation, and that LGBT perspectives are heard and integrated into teaching and services.

“So it’s just kind of normative,” she explained. “I think inclusion presumes that there is an ‘in group’ and ‘out group.’ ”

At Kehilla Community Synagogue, a Renewal congregation in Piedmont, Calif., the congregation’s inclusiveness was on display last summer when seven same-sex couples married in a group ceremony staged in reaction to the state’s Proposition 8.

Sandy Bredt, Kehilla’s executive director, said the ceremony “was kind of a marriage of our political and our spiritual values.”

For gay and lesbian Jews, having programs and sermons targeting them—combined with a generally welcoming attitude—make congregations more inclusive.

When Joseph Antenson was shopping for a synagogue several years ago, he sought a congregation that had obvious participation from gay and lesbian members and where there was no “separate but equal” status. His desire to hear a rabbi take a proactive stance from the bimah was part of his attraction to B’nai Jeshurun, a liberal synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“It’s too easy to say, ‘Sure, we’re welcoming,’ but just don’t talk about it,” he said.

In general, Antenson noted with regret, the Jewish community has not been at the forefront of welcoming gays and lesbians into synagogue life.

Antenson, a lay leader and member of the marriage equality, membership and interfaith committees at B’nai Jeshurun, said that when he told fellow congregants about his partner, “I never got a reaction.”

Half of the members of the marriage equality chevra are straight and at B’nai Jeshurun, it is common to celebrate the anniversary of a gay couple, or to see a gay or lesbian couple celebrating an aufruf.

“It’s public evidence that we welcome gays and lesbians, and they are full members of the congregation,” Antenson said.

But according to Aaron Weininger, a second-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a change in cultural assumptions must accompany concrete actions.

“There are so many ways to engage the issues,” he said, citing films such as “Hineini” and programs like LGBT Shabbat dinners. “It is not ‘either-or,’ it’s ‘and.’ ”

While Weininger noted there is no “one size fits all” model, he said synagogues should be asking whether they are engaging all members of the community.

“Because LGBT Jews have been marginalized and alienated for so long, there does need to be a certain level of awareness,” he said. “The more messages our synagogues send that are pro-inclusion, the more younger people coming out and identifying as LGBT feel safe.”

Still, he and others noted, a shift in attitude in Conservative congregations is linked to the movement’s policies regarding gay rabbis and cantors.

Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, Minn., said his congregation was ahead of the curve and had been since the mid-1990s, when the synagogue was asked to participate in a gay marriage ceremony.

“I think that the Conservative movement in its official capacity sort of caught up to what we’ve been doing,” said Allen, who served on the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Human Sexuality in the early 1990s.

Allen said in lieu of programs targeting LGBT members, his congregation has adopted a welcoming mind-set.

“We didn’t make a special gay slot on our board,” he said.

Gay members serve on the board because they are involved and supportive of the synagogue.

“For many years, people did not feel they could talk about the core of who they were,” Allen said. “I think all we’ve done is open the door and allow people to walk in.”

Hope breeds strength


PARIS — “It was invisible, as always,” begins Theodore White’s classic “The Making of the President, 1960,” describing the mysterious process by which millions of voters combine to make their most important political decision.

This time, it was visible.

The crowded lines at the polls, the frenzied communications on the pathways of the Internet, the huge crowds at political rallies revealed this to be an election like no other. Most of the time history just happens and we see it in the rearview mirror. This time history happened right in front of our eyes.

The Democratic Party that has won a mandate to govern the White House and the Congress is a party transformed. In the Roosevelt and Truman years, the Democrats were the party of the working class, of the urban and rural areas, and Jewish voters, among many others, were enthusiastic supporters of the New Deal and Fair Deal coalitions. But the issue of race had to be glossed over because a party of Southern rural whites could not be racially progressive.

In the 1960s, the Democrats had to choose, and they chose the side of racial equality, supported by Jews, who were actively engaged in the civil rights movement that forced the hand of national Democrats.

The party paid a steep price for that choice, as white voters in the South and many whites outside the south deserted the Democrats for a rejuvenated Republican party that clearly placed itself on the side of whites. After Lyndon Johnson’s landslide election in 1964, only one Democrat, Jimmy Carter, has received more than 50 percent of the popular vote — Carter got 50.1 percent — and Republicans have dominated presidential elections. (Bill Clinton managed to win twice without breaking 50 percent of the vote.) How to hold onto white working voters and minority communities in the same party became the agonizing task of a party that hoped to provide health care and other progressive economic policies. Meanwhile, the African American militancy of the 1960s and the apparent softening of support for Israel in some corners of the left opened up serious rifts within the Jewish community, concerns that would reemerge in Obama’s run for the presidency.

When this campaign started two years ago, no one anticipated that not only would Democrats finally overcome their painful standing in a presidential election, but that the candidate who would do it would be African American. In fact, history suggested that to be, perhaps, the least likely option. The expectation was that it would take another Bill Clinton, a white candidate who could walk comfortably in both racial camps, to solve the problem. And that maybe Democrats could hold their industrial base and the Northeast and West Coast to squeak out a victory, with one or two more states added in.

Instead, Obama obtained more than 52 percent of the popular vote, the most for a Democrat since 1964. He redrew the political map with victories in Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio and Florida. The most dramatic moments came with his victories in Pennsylvania, and the big fish, Ohio. These blue-collar states, with lots of conservative Democrats, were seen as difficult for Obama, but he won them both. White suburban voters helped Obama win, a significant shift from the days when suburbs helped Republicans beat the urban turnout, and Jewish voters undoubtedly helped Obama turn Florida blue.

The Republican Party, and particularly George W. Bush, helped make this historic election possible. Certain of their dominance of national politics, Republican leaders came to believe that if they simply stuck together and mobilized their conservative base, that the feckless Democrats and moderate Republicans would continue to recede as a threat. Having taken control of the White House in a disputed 2000 election, the Bush team moved to enact their program with discipline and contempt for Democrats. Inspired by Vice President Dick Cheney, they came to believe that they could do whatever they wanted. Victory in the 2002 congressional elections appeared to them to be evidence that the strategy was working. The result was the ill-advised invasion of Iraq in 2003. That invasion set in motion the forces that led to the 2008 watershed.

As weak, demoralized and disorganized as they were, Democrats nursed a grudge that grew into a burning rage against the Bush administration. They could not agree, however, on how to fight back. The Iraq war divided Democrats between the Howard Dean wing of the party that wanted to fight against it, and the Clinton wing that had succeeded by narrowing the differences with ascendant Republicans and hoping to win narrow national victories. Dean proposed a 50-state strategy to put the party into every state and to concede no state. He could not win the party’s nomination in 2004 and instead became party chair where he tried to get the strategy going. When the Democrats finally openly opposed the war in 2006, they won a major victory in congressional elections.

Meanwhile the deterioration of the Bush administration, its handling of Hurricane Katrina and the slowing economy eroded the re-elected Bush’s popularity. His has become the most unpopular presidency since polling began. Obama challenged the inevitable nominee, Hillary Clinton, with his early opposition to the war. That issue, and his decision to implement Dean’s strategy by competing for delegates in red states, catapulted him to a shocking upset of Clinton for the nomination of his party. Yet Obama could not easily crack Clinton’s base among women, Jews, older voters, and Latinos.

Republicans had every reason to believe that they could beat Obama. As an African American candidate, he could directly embody the racialized images of “otherness” that they had so successfully glued to the Democrats. But they ultimately discovered that the “base” strategy that had won the 2002 and 2004 elections would not work in 2008, just as it had failed in 2006. The base strategy cost them the suburbs. It cost them blue-collar voters. It cost them Latinos. It cost them a generation of young voters. It cost them women. And it also cost them Jewish voters. No one understood that black turnout in the south would be so large as to put several red states into play.

The problem with building a party around white racial resentment is that the spigot cannot easily be shut off. Bush, Karl Rove and John McCain all understood that the future of the Republican party rested with the immigrants who had come from Hispanic and Asian nations. The conservatism within those groups could make them natural Republicans. That was the Republican hope for a long-term majority, and it was a pretty smart plan. But the base that Bush and Rove had fed so long turned on immigrants, just as they had earlier turned on African Americans. The Bush-McCain immigration plan that might have built a bridge to Hispanics died, and McCain was forced to renounce his support for his own plan to have a chance of winning the Republican nomination. The result? Obama and the Democrats reaped a massive harvest of Latino votes in the Southwestern states of Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. McCain, the candidate whose image of moderation made him the best choice for the Republicans in a tough year, had to hew the party line as that line became unpopular on issue after issue.

Certain that white, working-class voters would be driven by culture and race to support Republicans, the White House dithered as the economy slid. To the end, McCain stuck to traditional Republican economics, downplaying the crisis and calling for trickle-down economics. Instead, there would be red meat for the culture wars. Joe the Plumber would symbolize the white guy who fears that his tax dollars will go to some vaguely described “welfare” program. It probably did work with some voters. But many other cross-pressured, older white Democrats in the industrial states seem to have ultimately decided that while Democrats may sometimes act like latte-drinking goofballs, they at least ought to get a chance to do something about the economy. That probably blunted some of the much-feared Bradley Effect.

The social conservatism symbolized by a rigid pro-life stance caused heartburn for Republicans among suburban voters, with women, and ultimately with Jewish voters. Jewish women are the most pro-choice group in the electorate, and Jews tend to be on the most tolerant end of most measures of social liberalism. One could almost hear moderate Jewish voters crying out to Republicans to send them a real moderate, a Dick Riordan, an Arnold Schwartzenegger, a Nelson Rockefeller for those with a longer memory. Instead, Republicans sent them the message that Democrats would weaken Israel — don’t worry about those other issues. The Sarah Palin nomination may have been the final push for wavering voters. The relentlessly anti-intellectual Palin was hardly the ideal candidate to appeal to Jews.

It was Obama, of course, who took this situation and turned it into an unlikely victory. If Iraq was his road to the nomination, the economy was his road to November. As the war receded as the decisive issue for the fall election, the economy turned out to be the monster one. As a first time African American candidate, Obama had to run a near-perfect campaign. Many Americans had never had the chance to vote for a black candidate, and voters are extremely cautious about the new and the different. In the debates, Obama showed steadiness and maturity and easily won all three. The comparison between the vice presidential picks of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin could not have been clearer. The Wall Street collapse tore the ground out from under the McCain campaign, and the race did not change much from then until the end. Obama’s organization turned out to be a thing of beauty, and it has replaced the rickety, amateurish Democratic Party organization with a 21st-century version that actually works.

The mood of celebration that has greeted Obama’s victory belies the hard days ahead. The nation expects answers on the economic crisis and also hopes that Obama, inexperienced in foreign policy, will show the steadiness at the helm that he demonstrated in his presidential debates. Pre-election polls showed that Jews had in the main overcome their initial suspicions of Obama to reach more than 70 percent levels of support, but many want to be sure that their decision to take a chance on the new guy over the well-known older guy was well founded. That means close attention to Israel and its defense, even in a period when domestic economic matters are likely to dominate the new president’s agenda.

In the inside-baseball world of politics, Obama’s election probably means a complete shift from one set of Jewish foreign policy advisors for another. Neo-conservatives, a number of whom are Jewish, comprised a core block of Bush’s advisers, and they were a major force in pushing the war in Iraq. As the war went bad, they drifted from the White House to media punditry and other perches. Quite a few gravitated to the McCain campaign, which in that sense campaigned to the right of the Bush White House — which had begun in its late days to quietly walk back from its own unilateralism in foreign policy. McCain’s loss means that they now have to fight for their place in their own defeated party rather than sitting in the seat of power. Their most prominent political ally, now that McCain has lost, is independent Senator Joe Lieberman, who now has to find his own place in a Senate where Democrats no longer need his vote to have a majority.

Obama will bring to the White House old hands like Dennis Ross and Jewish Democrats in the Congress with a different view of foreign policy than the neo-conservatives. How this new foreign policy team operates may not be a central concern for American voters as a whole, but it will certainly be closely watched by Jewish voters and organizations.

New presidents face their first political test in the congressional elections that follow two years after their initial election. In 2010, voters will render their first verdict on Obama’s presidency and his party’s performance. This cycle is a sobering reminder that in a democracy voters only give you the chance to prove yourself, not a blank check. The Republican party, soon to have a bitter internal debate about its future, will be a formidable competitor once again if it can open its doors and its minds to the same winds of change that drove them aground for now.

From my temporary perch in Paris, where I not only talk to lots of people from all walks of life, but collect news from around the world, I can tell you that the global interest in this election has been phenomenal. The raw excitement and expectation that has been set off in recent weeks by the possibility of Obama’s election has been transformational. It is, for me, a reminder that the world has only the greatest hopes for America. In Paris, any discussion of the U.S. election draws a standing-room-only crowd, and it is quite entertaining to hear people discourse about what is going to happen in North Dakota or to debate whether or not there is a Bradley Effect. I think that the often-opaque American political system has now, for the first time, become understandable around the world because of the intensity of the event.

The French now understand that Obama’s election will set off a long overdue debate about the status of minority communities within their own nation. Why, people are asking, are there not more minority members of the national legislative bodies? Would France elect a president of African origin? Nothing is going to be left untouched by these historic events. One of my students, who is black, flew to America to campaign for several days last week, and he told me that if Obama wins he is going to get active in French politics and maybe run for office.

When all is said and done, this is still a time for celebration. Racial divisions do not go away just because of an election, but we might think of these issues in a different way, and sometimes that is how intractable problems become tractable. In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy said memorably “We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom.” Obama’s victory gives his party a chance at the helm, but more importantly, it has tapped into a rich vein of hope too long hidden by the false confidence of cynicism. For Jewish voters, the decision to give Obama a chance is an important one. If he can fulfill those expectations, some of the ill will that is rooted in recent decades may lose its sting.

Hope is not always rewarded, but it is the one thing that generates the strength to face the worst of problems, and it is therefore the one thing we cannot do without.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the 2008 Fulbright Tocqueville Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Paris VIII.

Will herstory repeat itself?


With the recent on-court fracas of the WNBA, the historic presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton and the real potential for both parties to nominate a woman for vice president, it’s probably worth our while to consider where we have been, where we are and where we may go in regard to gender equality, both in Torah and in our time.

In the book of Numbers, we encountered the five daughters of Tzelophechad who took the unprecedented stand of coming before Moses and the priests to stake their claim to fairness following their father’s death: “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Numbers 27:4)

Moses consults God who replies, “The plea of Tzelophechad’s daughters is just: You should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter” (Numbers 27:7-8).

Imagine the courage of these women who chose to stand before the entirety of the Israelite leadership — all of whom were male — to seek out nothing more than a fair claim on their father’s inheritance.

This week, in the very last chapter of Numbers, in the very last paragraph, we once again meet up with these five brave women, however in this narrative, the story takes a twist. This time, it is the family heads of the daughter’s clan (e.g., men) who “appealed” to Moses and the rest of the leadership, concerned that “if they marry persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they marry; thus our allotted portion will be diminished” (Numbers 36:3). Don’t mistake the kvetch — this is not about interfaith marriage, but about Israelite men potentially losing charge of property because, as we might imagine today, an Ashkenazi marries a Sephardi Jew. And what’s the verdict from God? “The plea of the Josephite tribe is just….They may marry anyone they wish, provided they marry into a clan of their father’s tribe” (Numbers 36:5-6).

Once again, the “ayes” have it — or in this case, the men.

These women, whose name, “in the shadow of fear,” does not describe their actions but rather the world they lived in, could not get what they deserved without somehow being limited in their rights. Notwithstanding the significant progress women have made in so many areas of Western life, we have to wonder: Will America — will we men — ever live up to its founder’s Herculean promise of “liberty and justice for all” now for more than 50 percent of its citizens?

Consider that the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who hold the same job and do the same work. At the time of the EPA’s passage, women earned just 58 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. By 2006, that rate had only increased to 77 cents, an improvement of less than half a penny a year. Minority women fare the worst, with African American women earning 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men; for Hispanic women that figure drops to merely 52 cents per dollar.

We could imagine those facts relate primarily to low-income wages, but sadly the disparity grows with professional achievement: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2007 female financial advisers earned 53.7 percent of the median weekly wages of male financial advisers, and women in sales occupations earned just 64.8 percent of men’s wages in equivalent positions.

In this land of seemingly unlimited opportunity, we as Jews cannot stand idly by to the reality that if working women earned the same as men (those who work the same number of hours; have the same education, age, and union status, and live in the same region of the country), their annual family incomes would rise by $4,000 and poverty rates would be cut in half, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Poverty cut in half — think of how that would change life for everyone in America.

Across oceans, the plight of mothers, daughters and sisters is often far worse. Human Rights Watch reports that as a direct result of inequalities found in their countries of origin, women from Ukraine, Moldova, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Burma and Thailand are bought and sold, trafficked to work in forced prostitution, with insufficient government attention to protect their rights and punish the traffickers.

This is not to say women aren’t “making it” in a man’s world: We’re blessed with hundreds of tremendous female rabbis and cantors, educators and executives and, according to Forbes, a global count of 99 female billionaires (caveat: the other 1,026 are men). In our homes and shuls, in our workplaces and communities, let our descendant daughter’s ancient plea for justice be a clarion call to us men to ensure that we “walk the walk,” turning the story of women standing “in the shadow of fear” to a herstory that values our differences while ensuring no less than equality for all.

Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein is one of the clergy at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and serves as its director for the Center for Religious Inquiry.

We Need Blacks’ Aid in Anti-Semitism Fight


The Jewish people are under attack. Horrific expressions of anti-Semitism are spreading across the United States and the world. These attacks, both verbal and physical, are occurring at all levels of society, from the highest ranks of government to individuals on the street.

This month, as we honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we ask blacks to embrace his legacy and to join Jews in defeating the injustice of anti-Semitism. Even as King struggled to achieve equality for black Americans, he did not hesitate to express total disdain for anti-Semitism, especially when it reared its ugly face in his own community.

King championed the civil rights of Jews, spoke out for the human rights of Soviet Jews and reminded the world of those Jews who endured beatings and humiliation and gave their lives for the civil rights movement.

The Jewish community cannot alone fight the battle against anti-Semitism. Blacks and Jews have a long shared history of working together to effect social change, as when Jews stood by their African American brothers and sisters in the civil rights era.

"In the struggle for human rights, as well as in the struggle for the upward march of our civilization, we have deep need for the partnership, fellowship and courage of our Jewish brother," King said.

Now the Jewish community needs the partnership, fellowship and courage of black Americans. The civil rights of Jews are now at stake.

A recent national poll by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding found that 77 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Jews agree that they should work together on civil rights. Anti-Semitic incidents are up dramatically in the United States, including a 24 percent increase on college campuses in 2002.

In England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Turkey and other countries throughout Asia and Europe, synagogues are bombed, Jewish schools are torched and members of the Jewish community are forced to hide their yarmulkes and Star of David pendants.

Were King alive today, he would speak out vociferously against this new wave of anti-Semitism. He also would not tolerate the moral laryngitis that many political leaders seem to suffer in the face of these despicable acts against the Jewish people.

King invoked the immortal words that "a people who fight for their own rights only are as honorable as when they fight for the rights of all people." He acknowledged the interdependence of our two communities — black and Jewish.

"Every Negro leader is keenly aware, from direct and personal experience, that the segregationists and racists make no fine distinctions between the Negro and the Jew," King said. "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

In this spirit, we appeal to black Americans to stand in solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters, who face the scourge and evils of anti-Semitism.

Courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Rabbi Marc Schneier is founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding; Russell Simmons is the group’s chairman.

One of a Kind


The Shivyon Minyan may be a 4-year-old prayer group of about 65 people that meets at a hotel once a month, but it has many of the assets that older, more established synagogues recognize are requirements for success: strong lay leaders and a grass-roots base of committed members, the capacity to meet needs that are not being met elsewhere, and a history of challenges and struggles that have strengthened the group’s character.

Founded at Congregation Mogen David, then a Traditional congregation on Pico, the Shivyon Minyan — Shivyon is Hebrew for equality — is an egalitarian prayer, study and social group committed to providing a comfortable, intimate setting for Shabbat.

Annette Berman, who with her husband Abe founded the minyan, described for the Journal some of the minyan’s basic principles: being open and friendly, greeting newcomers, giving beginners a place to try out new skills. Every service is followed by a free catered lunch, since Berman believes the meal, with the singing and conversation it includes, is essential to the Shabbat experience.

And at the foundation of it all is the commitment to having women be full participants and leaders in a traditional service.

“I’ve been a shulgoer my whole life, and I never had the opportunity to lead services or be called up to the Torah,” said Cynthia Tivers, who has been a Shivyon member since its inception. “I led the Torah service one Shabbat, and that was a very big deal for me, and it was new and exciting,” she said.

Berman realized there was a need for such a service at her 60th birthday celebration six years ago, when she held a women’s Shabbat service and asked her friends to participate. Many ended up reading from the Torah, leading prayers or having an aliyah for the first time, after going to great lengths to acquire the necessary skills.

“It was quite an important day in quite a few people’s lives,” Berman said.

About two years later, Berman saw an opening for setting up a permanent venue at Congregation Mogen David, where she had been a member for nearly 50 years and had just received a service award.

Mogen David — which just last month became Orthodox — was confronting an aging and dwindling membership. And as the neighborhood grew more and more Orthodox, young families were choosing shuls that met their ideological needs, which did not include Mogen David’s services, which used an Orthodox prayerbook, but also used microphones and had no mechitzah separating men and women.

Rabbi Yisroel Kelemer, who was then the rabbi, decided to allow alternatives to help get people through the door. He oversaw the establishment of an Orthodox mechitzah minyan and six months later, with Berman’s prodding, the Shivyon Minyan.

“At the time they came into being, I felt that we wanted to give everyone a chance to give expression. We could be the all-purpose shul, with a mechitzah minyan, the Shivyon Minyan and the Traditional minyan in the main sanctuary,” Kelemer said.

The board agreed, thinking the auxiliary minyans would bring more people through the doors and attract more members.

But while the Shivyon Minyan was successful in attracting people — up to 40 or 50 at the monthly Shabbat service, 85 to one shabbaton on Sukkot — many participants, like their counterparts in the mechitzah minyan, didn’t join Mogen David.

At the same time, political infighting intensified as conflicting ideological factions tried to gain control over the future of the shul.

“As the Orthodox element got stronger and stronger, pressure was put on us that if this is going to become an Orthodox shul, we can no longer have the Shivyon Minyan,” Kelemer said.

And so 18 months after Shivyon Minyan began, it was terminated, along with the mechitzah minyan, and soon afterward Berman was removed from the shul’s board. The mechitzah minyan was restarted at Mogen David a few months later and eventually became the primary service when Mogen David erected its mechitzah in the main sanctuary. Shivyon met for a while at the Berman home, then found space another minyan had just vacated at the Holiday Inn Select on Beverly Drive just north of Pico Boulevard.

“It was a traumatic time, but I think there was a recognition by those involved that this was something that transcended location,” said Rabbi Tracee Rosen, who was then a rabbinic intern at the Shivyon Minyan. The minyan got prayerbooks from nearby Conservative Temple Beth Am and a Torah scroll from Temple Emanuel, a Reform shul in Beverly Hills, and members still sponsor a lunch each time the minyan meets.
Rosen, who is now a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, says that smaller services like Shivyon are becoming more and more attractive to worshippers. Even large congregations are setting up smaller alternative minyanim to meet that demand.

“People want a growing sense of community, of being able to participate, not having it be just about the big lifecycle events and wanting to do a little bit more singing, a little bit more learning and a lot more participation,” Rosen said.

And with nearly all of the shuls along the Pico corridor being Orthodox, Shivyon offers a liberal alternative. It also reads the full Torah portion each week, unlike many other liberal services, which read a fraction of the portion of the week on a triennial cycle.

Berman hopes that the minyan, with its strong core community and target audience, will continue to thrive, despite the rocky past.

“We’re grateful to Mogen David,” she said. “They gave us our start. If we hadn’t had a home for 18 months, we would not have been able to develop the core group that continued on.”

For more information about Shivyon Minyan, call (310) 556-2744.

The Oldest Diary


There is something otherworldly about the experience of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It is perhaps the preeminent spiritual-cultural paradox in all of Jewish life. When girls and boys focus so intensely on this personal lifecycle event, each possesses a transcendent, timeless and eternal quality.

I was reminded of this recently as I was sitting in my study helping a young girl work on her speech a few weeks before her Bat Mitzvah. We began talking about her upcoming Bat Mitzvah and how it made her feel about being Jewish, how she might describe her own Jewish identity and her place in the history of the Jewish people.

In order to put into words exactly how she saw her relationship to the Torah and the passing down of Jewish tradition, she told me the following story: “Imagine that my parents and I decided to research our family history, and we discovered that my great-great-great-grandmother had lived her whole life in a small village in Russia. When we discovered that this same small village still exists today, we decided to take a trip to see where my great-great-great-grandmother lived.

“When we got there, it looked like it hadn’t changed in 200 years, and we began to explore the small, crowded streets. Suddenly, we stumbled upon the very house in which my great-great-great-grandmother had lived. When we knocked on the door, an old woman came and asked us what we wanted. We told her – through our interpreter, of course – that she was living in the exact same house that my great-great-great-grandmother had lived in and we were curious to see what it was like. She immediately invited all of us into her home.

“While my parents were busy talking to the woman, I walked in to explore another room. As I looked around, I noticed that one of the floor boards was loose, so I pulled it up and discovered a very, very, very old and dusty book. I grabbed the book and ran back in to show my parents. The woman who lived there took the book from me and began to read it.

“She told me that it seemed as if I had actually found my great-great-great-grandmother’s diary. Here were stories all about how she lived, what she thought about and what her dreams were for the future.”Imagine how incredibly excited I was to find this book. It was the most amazing thing I had ever owned, and I was thrilled to be able to read all about my own ancestor’s life. Who wouldn’t want to find a remarkable diary like that?”

“And Rabbi Reuben,” said the young girl, “that is how I feel about my Bat Mitzvah. When you hand the Torah from my grandparents to my parents and then me, it will be just like I’m getting the oldest family diary that has ever been found. Like I am saying to everyone, ‘This is now my story, too.'”

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses recites the final poem that he has written in his diary. He begins this poetic conclusion to the entire Torah by challenging us to recognize that the words and laws, commandments and ethical foundation of the Torah “isn’t a trifling thing for you, it is your very life.” Indeed, at this most sacred season of the Jewish year, our real challenge is to figure out each day how to make the precious inheritance which is our own Torah wisdom a meaningful part of our everyday lives. Then, says Moses, we will long endure on the earth, and the world will be a more sacred and holy place because we are in it.

Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel, the Reconstructionist congregation of Pacific Palisades.

Precedent Setting


Judge Pauline Nightingale, 90, says her mother taught her never to question the teacher’s authority. But when she entered the workforce after graduating from law school, she had no choice: authorities tried to keep her from practicing law because she was a woman. Not only did she learn to question authority, but she fought back and won.

Born Pauline Friedman to an Orthodox mother and a secular father, she grew up in Depression-era Boyle Heights. At 12 years old, she started working alongside the all-male crew in her father’s auto parts store.

Inspired by news articles about legal cases that her father discussed with her during work, she enrolled in evening classes at Los Angeles College of Law after graduating from UCLA in 1928. Nightingale — the only woman in her class — graduated valedictorian and summa cum laude, and passed the bar exam her first time in 1932.

Anti-Semitism was rampant in the larger legal firms, so she entered a practice with two Jewish men. A few years later, the firm was still struggling and she decided to look for a job in another field.

She took a non-legal interviewer position with the California Department of Employment. “Men [normally] interviewed men and women interviewed women,” she says. “But at that time the war was on and there was a shortage of men. So, I became the first woman to interview men.”

When she heard that there was an opening for a labor commissioner, a job in which she would enforce the working regulations for woman and minors, she realized it was a “golden opportunity” to work as an attorney. But the position was only open to men. “I protested the restriction,” she says.

After she passed the exams, she was told that she would have to work “irregular hours” from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. — a last-ditch effort to dissuade her from taking the job. Instead, she accepted the position and worked those hours for a full year.

When she was finally transferred to the day shift, she hoped that she would finally be able to use her legal knowledge. Instead, she was assigned to check businesses to make sure that the urinals in the men’s toilets were adequate. She had never so much as seen a urinal before, but did the job for six months.

Her next job finally put her legal skills to use. She spent 20 years working as counsel for State Labor Commissioner Sigmund Arywitz recovering wages and vacation pay, and enforcing lien laws.

Then in 1963, Nightingale applied for a worker’s compensation judgeship, along with five other women. “They still didn’t want women,” Nightingale says. “All of the women passed the written exam, but we were disqualified during the oral exam.” Three of the women reapplied, and despite some difficulty all passed. Nightingale went on to serve as a judge for 10 years.

After stepping down from the bench in 1973, she became active in ORT, Technion and Hadassah. She belongs to three congregations: Knesset Israel, Temple Shalom, and Temple Emanuel (she is especially fond of Rabbi Laura Geller.)

Nightingale was recently presented with the Outstanding Older Worker in California award and a Lifetime Achievement Award by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. “I was impressed that I received the awards, considering the fact that I’m a woman.”

Despite these and other accolades, she isn’t resting on her laurels. Nightingale spends less time in the courtroom these days and more writing letters to the California Supreme Court. “I still haven’t achieved what I want to achieve. I have cases I filed back from 1986 that I’m still fighting.”

Nightingale is happy to have seen the number of women studying law increase from almost nothing to 50 percent in her lifetime.

“I still think this is a man’s world, but women have made tremendous progress,” Nightingale says.

Alexis Sherman contributed to this article .