Big Apple, Little Time


I flew to New York City last night on the red eye, and am leaving today at 1:00. I will be in the city that never sleeps, not sleeping, for 30 hours. I am here for a quick catch up with my Aussie Posse. A remarkable group of friends from Melbourne, Australia. We met at a wedding and this is our third year together to welcome in the holiday season. They are like family and I love them. By family of course I mean they are my ridiculously entertaining and attractive drunk uncles.

I don’t know if it is all Australians, or just this group in particular, but they can drink. They perfectly time the ordering of their drinks so that as they take the last sip of one cocktail, the next one arrives without skipping a beat, or a sip as it were. They are wonderful human beings and being with them makes me happy. It also makes my liver want cry. I love a cocktail, but these people are on a whole other level. They drink three drinks to every one of mine.

I arrived yesterday at 7:00 am and have not slept. I arrived, met a friend for breakfast, did a little shopping, then a bit of work, then lunch with another friend, then the debauchery began. We had a private area at the rooftop bar at The Standard Hotel. It was gorgeous and the service was perfection. I drank 3 cosmos, and no good can ever come of that. Particularly since the truth is I lost count after 3. I drank like it was my job and I was employee of the month.

We stayed out until only about 11, then I came back to the hotel, while the Aussie Posse went to a nightclub. I took a shower, put on my super cute pajamas, and crawled into bed. As I started to doze off, the nightclub seemingly relocated to the hotel. It started off as a couple of people talking quietly in the living room, then it became a few more voices, then it became a full on rave. There were over 100 attractive, young, gay men in our penthouse and I was amazed.

I was inspired by their beauty and their bravery to live their lives out loud. By out loud of course I mean with no clothes on. There was a whole lot of naked happening and I marveled at all of it. People were everywhere and I must say as the one old lady in a sea of young gay hotness, these men had impeccable manners. As they continuously came into the wrong room and found me in bed, they apologized, offered to get me water, and told me my hair was fabulous.

Eventually I gave in and embraced the fact that I was not going to get any sleep, so I joined the party. I chatted to a lot of people, got eyelash tips from a beautiful man in a dress, learned how to tape my boobs for perfect cleavage, and saw more bits and bobs than I have ever seen in my entire life, because apparently one’s bits are an important piece of wardrobe when you are a young, fabulous gay man in New York City. It was an evening of wonder and enlightenment.

I’m happy around this special group of people. I feel safe and pampered. They are generous of spirit and my time with them makes me see the world in a new way. They work hard, and play harder. They are unapologetic about their excesses, while remaining humble. Jayson and Stephen are the poster couple for relationship goals, and should either one of them decide they wanted to shake things up and marry a Jewish old lady, I’d push and claw my way to the front of that line.

Justin is the social director of the group and I love him like a son. Andrew is the Grande Dame and nothing but kindness. Laura is my soul sister and I want for her all the thing she wants for herself. I am blessed to be a part of this family and cannot speak of them without a shout out to my beloved Gamble, who brought us all together. Even though it is kind of nutty to travel so far for such a short time, I am very happy I came to celebrate Jayson’s birthday in the big apple.

I was meant to join everyone for a Drag Show brunch at 2 and take a flight home at 8:30 tonight, but I’ve decided to take an earlier flight and head back to LA. This experience made me feel young in some ways, but old in others. I’ve never been a stay up all night kind of person, and so this has taken a toll. I am tired, and probably still drunk, so I need to get home so I can go to work tomorrow without looking like I’m in need of some serious medical attention.

I learned something new about myself over the past 24 hours, which is always a good thing. I discovered I want to come back in my next life as an attractive gay man, with a loving and supportive family, and a dentist as my husband. Thank you to Jayson, Stephen, Justin, Andrew, Claudio, Laura, Jacek, and Kassidy for an amazing time. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and cannot wait until we are all together again. Safe travels my darling friends. Be safe and keep the faith.

Gay parent sues Pressman Academy for discrimination


gay man is suing Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, claiming the Conservative Jewish day school discriminated against his 8-year-old daughter because of his sexual orientation.

The suit refers to the man only as “John Doe,” a single, Israeli-born man whose two daughters, referred to as “Jane Doe 1” and “Jane Doe 2,” were enrolled at Pressman Academy until the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Filed Sept. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court, it alleges that Pressman teachers and administrators “failed to address the bullying that Jane Doe 1 was subjected to because she has no mother.” It says a teacher at the school insisted on “informing everyone in the class that Jane Doe 1 was different,” even after the student asked her not to. The suit alleges civil rights violations, fraudulent business practices and infliction of emotional distress, asking for an unspecified amount in damages.

The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Adam Wasserman, the attorney for the plaintiff, declined to comment on the case.

Erica Rothblum, head of school at Pressman Academy, said in an emailed statement to the Journal, “While we cannot comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, it is important that everyone know that we are a school committed to the physical and emotional safety of our students.”

She added, “We are a community that embraces diversity, and we remain an inclusive community for LGBTQ students and families. Our commitment includes a life skills class in our middle school that explicitly teaches about sexuality and identity, as well as an active partnership with Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.”

The 47-page complaint alleges that Pressman Academy, a preschool through eighth-grade day school operated by Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard, engaged in false advertising by selling itself as a “warm embracing community” that “balances a rigorous academic education with social, emotional and spiritual learning.” It claims other students teased Jane Doe 1 by calling her an orphan, pushing a chair into her, circulating rumors about her and, at one point, putting thorns on her pillow.

“The inaction by the faculty and staff at Pressman sent a direct message to the students that tortured, taunted, physically, and verbally abused Jane Doe 1, ‘that this behavior is acceptable at Pressman,’ ” the suit alleges.

After a school therapist learned Jane Doe 1 and her younger sister were the daughters of a single gay man, “everything began to get progressively worse,” according to the suit. Allegedly, a teacher announced to a third-grade class that “Jane Doe 1’s family is different,” and Jane Doe 1 was discouraged from attending a Mother’s Day event.

As a result of this treatment, the suit claims, “Jane Doe 1 became severely depressed and talked to her tutor about wanting to kill herself; she isolated herself socially and would not play with other children at recess because they picked on her; she would lock herself in rooms because she felt safer alone than with other students, staff, and teachers.”

Eventually, according to the suit, a Pressman Academy counselor told John Doe it would be better if he withdrew his daughter and sent her to a local Reform day school.

At the advice of a third-party therapist, John Doe withdrew his daughters from Pressman Academy, according to the suit. Jane Doe 1 had attended the school for six years.

In her statement, Rothblum, the head of school, painted a very different picture from the one in the complaint, describing the school as a place where “everyone should feel safe and comfortable to tell a teacher, counselor or administrator” if they encounter bullying. “Those adults will then take prompt and effective action,” she wrote.

She added, “Pressman Academy is a community of support and engagement, and we are invested in the well-being of our children and our families.”

A lesbian couple holding hands during the annual Gay Pride rally in Tel Aviv on June 8, 2007. Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images

Israel to change adoption law, giving same-sex couples equal rights


The Israeli government said it would amend adoption law in the country to give same-sex couples equal rights.

The state made the announcement at a Sept. 17 Supreme Court hearing in response to a petition regarding adoption by same-sex and common-law couples filed by the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers, with the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, against the Social Affairs Ministry and the attorney general.

The state said it would introduce the new legislation by June 2018. The agreement comes less than a month after the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs reversed its opposition to allowing same-sex couples to adopt in the country. The government initially had told the court that given the “reality of Israeli society,” same-sex parents put an “additional burden” on their adopted children.

The agreement to introduce the new legislation led to the court dismissing the lawsuit, though the court reminded the two sides that if the legislation is not forthcoming, the petitioners could return to court.

“The court recognized the merits of the petition presented to them and decided to encourage a fundamental change in Israel’s adoption policy. From now on, same-sex families, who deserve the right to adopt like any other family, will have that right,” Riki Shapira Rosenberg, lead attorney for the Israel Religious Action Center, said in a statement. “We will continue to closely monitor the legislative processes following the petition to ensure that the government follows through on its commitment and soon.”

Although adoption by same-sex couples has been legal in Israel since 2008, in practice it has been nearly impossible. Because opposite-sex couples have been given priority, only three same-sex couples have adopted in Israel out of 550 applicants. More than 1,000 opposite-sex couples have adopted in the past nine years.

Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 24, 2016. Photo by Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Jewish tech millionaire turned lawmaker could be first openly gay governor of Colorado


Jared Polis is already on to the next thing. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has looked at his resume.

By the age of 25, he had founded three companies, which would shortly make him a multimillionaire. He then turned his focus to education, establishing two charter school systems to cater to immigrant and homeless youth and serving on the Colorado State Board of Education.

At 33, he entered national politics, when he was elected to represent Colorado in Congress.

Less than 10 years after his Washington debut, Polis now has his sights set on a new goal: to serve as governor of Colorado.

The Jewish Democrat announced earlier this month that he was joining the already crowded race with an ambitious three-pronged platform: to ensure Colorado uses only renewable energy by 2040, provide free preschool and kindergarten across the state, and fight income inequality.

If he wins, the 42-year-old would make history in more ways than one — by becoming both the first Jewish governor in Colorado and its first openly gay person to serve in the post.

Polis’ candidacy has upset the gubernatorial race, where Rep. Ed Perlmutter, also a Democrat, was previously seen as the front-runner, said David Flaherty, a political consultant who runs the Colorado-based firm Magellan Strategies.

“Perlmutter was the odds-on favorite for the Dem primary, and I also think he was the odds-on favorite to win the general election, but that’s not the case now,” Flaherty told JTA. “And some discussions I’ve had with Democratic political insiders have really felt that Jared has a good shot of winning the primary — but the general is more of a debatable issue.”

Perlmutter, 64, a Christian with Jewish ancestry on his father’s side, served in the Colorado state Senate for eight years prior to being elected to Congress. He appeals to the “established Democrat crowd,” including those who voted for Hillary Clinton in November, said Flaherty.

Meanwhile, Flaherty said Polis, with his focus on renewable energy, appeals to younger voters and Bernie Sanders backers. Sanders won nearly 60 percent of the vote in Colorado’s Democratic caucuses last year.

“Right now it’s an even fight between Ed Perlmutter and Jared,” said Flaherty, adding that some of the other Democratic candidates also should not be discounted.

Polis was exposed to civic involvement from an early age, growing up in a Reform Jewish family in Boulder.

“My parents were active in the anti-war movement in the 1960s, so I grew up with a tradition of civic activism around our dinner table and going to different marches for different causes,” such as civil rights and anti-nuclear proliferation, he told JTA.

His family moved to San Diego, where he attended La Jolla Country Day School. As a 19-year-old student at Princeton University, he founded his first company, the internet access provider American Information Systems, which he later sold for $23 million.

In 1996, Polis founded the online greeting card company Blue Mountain, a spinoff of a firm started by his parents. He later sold the dot-com startup for $780 million. In 1998, Polis launched the online flower retailer ProFlowers, which he later sold for $470 million.

Polis, who is among the top five wealthiest members of Congress — his net worth is estimated at $90 million to $390 million — sees his business background as an asset to his political career.

“One, voters trust somebody who has a background creating jobs instead of just talking about it, who knows how to balance a checkbook, who knows how to build a business,” he said. “And second of all, the experience has been very helpful to me in creating policies that allow businesses to grow and flourish in our state and country.”

Polis dismisses accusations that he used his wealth to buy his way into office. He spent $1 million on his campaign to serve on the State Board of Education compared to his opponent’s $100,000, and $6 million on his 2008 congressional campaign, defeating Democratic establishment candidate Joan Fitz-Gerald in the primary.

“When people run campaigns they have to raise a lot of money, and I’ve been one of the top fundraisers nationally for the Democrats, and people do appreciate it when you’re able to say no to special interests and PACs, like I have. I’ve never accepted any PAC money,” Polis said.

His Jewish background has a large influence on his political beliefs.

“I derive a lot of the values that I try to bring into the public sphere from my private faith,” Polis said. “Certainly for me I focus a lot on education, and I’m running for governor to bring [free] preschool and kindergarten to our state and improve our schools, and that’s an important Jewish value.”

Polis, whose great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Poland and Ukraine in the early 20th century, added: “And also being so close to the immigrant experience, I’m a strong defender of immigrant rights and refugees, of course with the experience that Jews had prior to World War II, that few countries wanted to accept Jewish refugees.”

Judaism also plays a big role at home for Polis, who with his partner Marlon Reis has two young children, 6-year-old son Caspian Julius and 2-year-old daughter Cora Barucha (named after Polis’ great-great-aunt Kasha Barucha). He is the first openly gay parent to serve in Congress.

The family attends three synagogues in Boulder: the Conservative Bonai Shalom, the Reform Har HaShem and the Renewal Nevei HaKodesh.

Polis, who defines himself as “in between Conservative and Reform,” won’t pick favorites.

“They’re all great. I like to support Jewish life in our community, and they’re all doing great things,” he said.

He also recently joined his cousin Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the rabbi of Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., for Shabbat dinner.

The lawmaker also has another way of connecting to the Jewish tradition — through food. When not cooking his way through his grandmother’s collection of recipes of traditional dishes, he and Reis, who also is Jewish, have been trying to re-create the cheese blintzes of Reis’ great-grandmother Dora.

Polis said they’ve tried “a few dozen times” but haven’t quite gotten it right yet. They aren’t giving up anytime soon.

“We’ll know when we get there if they taste the same as he remembers,” Polis said.

Can gay and lesbian teens find a home in Orthodoxy?


By eighth grade, Micha Thau knew he was gay. But he also knew that being gay was not acceptable in many of the Orthodox spaces he inhabited. So he buried that part of himself.

But it didn’t stay buried. He began to suffer headaches, vertigo and other physical symptoms he attributes to his feelings of intense isolation. He relished days when the symptoms would send him to the doctor, just because “I got to leave the hellhole that was my life.”

“There were times when it was just crushing,” said Thau, 18, who graduates from Shalhevet High School next month. “I thought it was over, like I really could see no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Youth in Thau’s position face few options, none particularly rosy. They can quit Orthodoxy and live out gay lives, either as secular Jews or within another branch of Judaism. They can stay in Orthodoxy and renounce a part of themselves, living in celibacy or difficult relationships. Or they can do as Thau did and fight for openness and inclusion, and risk becoming poster children.

Still, as the secular world increasingly has embraced same-sex couples, the Orthodox has not been left totally behind. A number of congregations and communities, pulled by the conscience of some of their members, are taking a hard, wrenching look at their laws and traditions, and how they impact Orthodox youth.

When Thau came out during his sophomore year to Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s head of school, and Principal Rabbi Noam Weissman, he was literally shaking. The administrators were surprised by the toll it had taken just to talk to them.

“We thought we had done an amazing job” promoting inclusion, Segal told the Journal. “And it turned out he had waited to come out to us because he was scared — he didn’t know what the school’s position was.”

Shalhevet student Micha Thau last summer at the Jerusalem gay pride parade. Photo courtesy of Micha Thau

Segal has since emerged as an advocate for teens like Thau. In an opinion column in the Shalhevet school newspaper, he called the dilemma they face “the biggest challenge to emunah [faith] of our time.”

Thau’s coming out has turned into something like a coming out for the entire Modern Orthodox community in Los Angeles: a highly visible test case for a virtually invisible issue. Thau has joined with Shalhevet’s administration to reshape perceptions of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in a religious community pulled in opposing directions — toward acceptance by its modernity and toward silence by its Orthodoxy.

The letter of the law

For the young people caught up in that struggle, the root of the problem lies in Leviticus, which labels gay sex a toevah, most often translated as an abomination, and, a couple of chapters later, prescribes the death penalty as punishment.

Strains of Judaism differ in how this law, like most laws, is applied. Reform Judaism suspends the prohibition, allowing clergy to officiate same-sex marriages. The two greater Los Angeles synagogues with outreach programs for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood and Beth Chayim Chadashim in Mid-City Los Angeles, are aligned with the Union for Reform Judaism.

Conservative Judaism openly grapples with the law. As of a 2006 Rabbinical Assembly decision, gays and lesbians have been welcomed into Conservative congregations and rabbinical posts, but sex between men remains prohibited — the 2006 ruling did not address sex between women — and deliberations continue on same-sex marriage.

Orthodoxy generally adheres to the letter of the law, and homosexuality is no exception. Though outright hostility toward gays, lesbians and bisexuals is less common in the United States than it was before legalized same-sex marriage, so too is unconditional acceptance. Orthodox teens struggling with their sexual orientation in this environment can’t be sure how their communities will react if they come out, or whether they will risk losing friends and family.

Photo by Fabio Sexio/Agencia O Globo

It’s impossible to know how many teens are caught between their Jewish faith and their sexual orientation. Within the general population, multiple studies have found that around 3.5 percent of respondents self-identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. But even those studies may not reflect an accurate count because not all respondents provide truthful answers, and many surveys, including the U.S. Census Bureau, do not ask about sexual orientation.

At Shalhevet alone, a school with an enrollment of slightly more than 200, general population estimates suggest there are something like eight lesbian, gay or bisexual students. Thau said he currently is the only out gay student at the school.

“For every Micha Thau at Shalhevet, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of gay, lesbian, transgender students at Orthodox institutions struggling, fearful, worried, self-destructive,” said Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi in the U.S. and an activist for LGBT Jews.

Walking a fine line

For Modern Orthodox communities, the word of biblical law translates practically into a stance that neither embraces same-sex partnerships nor outright condemns those who choose to undertake them.

“On the one hand, we’re not going to support it,” Rabbi Steven Weil, senior managing director of the Orthodox Union, one of the major national Orthodox institutions in the United States, told the Journal. “But on the other hand, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that gay and lesbian members feel as much a part of the community as anyone else.”

Nonetheless, the model of an Orthodox marriage, without a doubt, is a husband and wife. Weil said, “Where there’s a little bit of pushback is where a couple wants to be discussed as ‘Mr. and Mr.’ or ‘Mrs. and Mrs.’ ”

For teens contemplating their romantic and religious futures, the range of answers they might receive from rabbis and school administrators is wide. For now, Shalhevet seems to represent the most progressive response they might receive in Los Angeles.

Valley Torah High School in Valley Village occupies a more conservative place on the spectrum. Reached by phone, Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, the head of school, was quick to note that intolerance against gays, lesbians and bisexuals is not welcome.

“With my students, I feel it’s important that they understand that this is not something that we look down upon,” he said. “This is not a choice that people make.”

However, he wouldn’t budge on the issue of Jewish law: The rules are clear, and a student who wanted to live an out gay or lesbian life at the Orthodox high school would run into trouble.

“This would be inconsistent with the atmosphere — for a kid to say, ‘I’m gay, I’m acting out on it and I want to be a member of Valley Torah in good standing,’ ” he said. “It’s inconsistent from a halachic viewpoint.”

Asked whether such a student could, for instance, lead prayer services or school activities, he answered, “In 31 years, it hasn’t happened. But honestly, let’s just sort of change the question. I’d have the same dilemma if a kid came to me and said, ‘Rabbi, I love Valley Torah but I’m just eating at McDonald’s every night. That’s who I am.’ ”

At YULA Girls High School, the policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual students is in flux.

“We’ve had internal discussions, but we haven’t yet formulated a policy,” said Head of School Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, who plans to leave YULA Girls this summer after leading it since 2008. “It would obviously include the greatest amount of respect for the students and understanding of whatever they’re going through.”

He said the heads of the area’s Orthodox schools — including YULA Girls, YULA Boys, Valley Torah and Shalhevet — meet periodically to discuss important issues, including this one. As of now, they haven’t formulated a conclusion. But Lieberman expects that soon most local Orthodox schools will provide statements or policies on the matter.

As attitudes about homosexuality have shifted, with gay rights and narratives becoming more mainstream, hard-line positions have become more difficult to maintain.

Thau recalled telling his grandfather that he was gay and getting a surprising answer.

“He said, ‘So?’ ” Thau recalled. “And he said, ‘If you had told me that 10 years ago, I would have had a very different reaction.’ ”

Thau went on, “As much as the Orthodox community tries to isolate itself from the secular world, there are always cracks in the wall — no matter how high the wall is. Culture will always bleed through.”

Caught in the middle

But ensconced behind the walls of a Torah-observant lifestyle, many teens still face an awful choice between God and love.

“When you’re living in the Orthodox community, being gay and being religious — they’re not cohesive,” said Jeremy Borison, 25, who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Los Angeles. “So me, if I had to choose one, I was gonna stay with the religious side of it.”

He said he’s now able to balance his faith and sexual orientation — but only because he found a welcoming community in B’nai David-Judea, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, where Senior Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky has been outspoken in favor of greater acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Others, like David, a gay man in his 20s who grew up in an Orthodox family in Los Angeles, no longer feel like they have a place in the Orthodox community.

Some of the gay and lesbian individuals interviewed for this story, including David, asked not to be identified by their real names or even the schools they attended, fearing they and their families would face sigma and untoward gossip. David still is wary about sharing his story publicly, for that reason.

At the Orthodox high school he attended in L.A., he knew he was attracted boys, but thought it was a phase, something all teenagers go through. There were no Orthodox Jews who were gay, as far as he knew; it simply wasn’t conceivable.

He had a good time during his high school years, though, enjoying his religious education and even getting close to some of the rabbis. But by the time he found himself in yeshiva in Israel, in a completely different environment, he realized his feelings weren’t going to go away. His first reaction was to treat them as something wrong with him that needed to be fixed.

A good deal of therapy later, David is leading an out gay life, but he finds that he’s uncomfortable in Orthodox spaces. His experience didn’t make him hate Judaism; he’s still finding his place in the religion. But he no longer considers himself Orthodox. How could he feel welcome in a community that considers who he is to be a great sin?

Every problem begs a solution

From time to time, students approach Stulberger, the head of school at Valley Torah, struggling with feelings of attraction to members of the same gender. Stulberger said he has “helped many students over the years in their struggle — but in a private way.”

His first reaction when students come to him with this issue is to assure them, “We are here to talk to; we are here to help you.” But after that he draws a line: “What I won’t do is give the indication that giving into your same-sex attraction is something that’s acceptable.”

To these students, he presents two options. One is celibacy. The other is to “get help, find the right professional who can help you to reorient.”

Stulberger alleges there are thousands of young men who have changed their sexual orientation with professional help. While the scientific and LGBT communities dispute its effectiveness, the internet is filled with testimonies from people who claim to lead happy, heterosexual lives as a result of “reparative therapy.” Stulberger even knows a handful of them, he said.

One of those is Naim, an Orthodox man in his early 30s who attended Valley Torah and who asked to be identified only by his middle name. For years, he struggled with his attraction to men but rejected the idea of living an out gay life.

“I didn’t want that lifestyle,” he said. “I wanted to get married. I wanted to have a family. I wanted to do what men do — period.”

Photo by Eitan Arom

By the time he was 28, he said, he’d been in and out of rehab for drug addiction and was addicted to gay porn. Then, he made an electrifying discovery on the internet.

“There’s a whole community out there — Jews and non-Jews alike — that don’t want to live that lifestyle and have struggled with it and gotten help, and now they’re married,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible, God is talking to me right now. Why did it take 28 years to tell me this?’ ”

He enrolled in reparative therapy designed around what he called a “gender wholeness model.” He identified factors such as a troubled relationship with his father and an unhealthy identification with traits he admired in other men as the cause of his same-sex attraction, which he referred to as SSA. He treated it like a condition that needed to be fixed, he said, and he began to heal.

“My attraction for men has diminished significantly,” he said. “Usually, my SSA, on a scale of 1 to 10, is at a 0.”

Now, he’s looking for a wife.

“There are still days when I struggle every once in a while,” he said. “Thank God it doesn’t happen very often.”

Taking a pledge

Told that a Los Angeles high school recommends reparative therapy, Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or of JQ International, a West Hollywood-based Jewish LGBT support and education organization, was horrified.

“What it does is, it encourages people to kill themselves,” she said. California law bans the practice for mental health providers.

David moved away from his Orthodox community after high school and hasn’t returned, but some of its stigmas and taboos lingered with him. He sought out reparative therapy while in college, and while he didn’t find it particularly traumatizing, he said it made him hate himself. Since then, he’s blocked much of it out in his mind.

Now, Segal and Thau at Shalhevet are asking other Jewish schools to affirm in a pledge, written jointly by Thau and the administration, that they “will not recommend, refer, or pressure students toward ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion therapy.’ ”

“We believe that’s damaging,” Segal said of the practice.

The pledge includes five other points — which Segal insisted schools can adopt altogether or individually — including an assurance that gay, lesbian and transgender students won’t be excluded from school activities and will be provided with support services. The full statement is available online at jewishschoolpledge.com. As of now, Shalhevet is the only school to have signed it.

Asked about the pledge, Lieberman, the head of YULA Girls, said, “It’s very powerful,” adding that if YULA Girls were to issue a policy about LGBT students, “it would definitely gravitate toward that.”

The idea of the pledge has its origins in Thau’s coming out to Segal and Weissman.

“What could we do?” Segal said he asked the teen. “What could we have communicated to you, Micha, that would have helped?”

Photo courtesy of Builders of Jewish Education

The administrators realized that communicating anything at all would have been a good start. Even though both men assumed a gay student would be welcomed, Thau struggled through years of uncertainty because they had never said as much publicly.

“Schools and communities and shuls should have this conversation and decide what they believe, and then publish it,” Segal said — even if it is less progressive than what Shalhevet came up with.

Bat-Or said she hopes other schools will follow Shalhevet’s lead and take steps toward inclusiveness, for instance by circulating JQ’s helpline for LGBT Jews and advertising their counselor’s offices as safes spaces for students questioning their sexual orientation.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 150,” she said of Shalhevet’s efforts. “I really mean that. It took huge courage for [Segal] and for Micha to get together and to do this.”

A movement in the making

Cases like Micha’s make it increasingly difficult for Orthodox communities to ignore issues faced by their lesbian, gay and bisexual members.

“Centrist Orthodoxy is conflicted and not admitting the conflict,” said Greenberg, a Yeshiva University-ordained rabbi who came out years later and co-founded Eshel, a Boston-based organization that promotes inclusiveness in Orthodox communities. “They are pulled by much more traditional frames, and they are pulled by the human realities they’re facing.”

At least in some communities, that conflict has meant a long, slow drift toward acceptance.

Elissa Kaplan, a clinical psychologist who came out as lesbian 15 years ago while living in an Orthodox community in suburban New Jersey, has watched attitudes change before her eyes.

“The world has changed since then,” Kaplan, 55, said. “Gay marriage is legal now in the civil world. That’s enormous, and it has an impact. It matters. Even people who say they are not influenced in their attitudes by what happens in the secular world — it’s just not true.”

She’s felt the impact of those changes herself, she said.

“My wife and I would go into one of the kosher restaurants in the area and might get dirty looks from people,” she said. “That really doesn’t happen anymore.”

In Los Angeles, that change has played out in parlor meetings where community members get together to grapple with the issue of inclusiveness. In March, some two dozen Jewish teens and parents gathered in the dining room of a Beverlywood home, sitting on folding chairs and nibbling on cookies and cut fruit as they listened to Greenberg speak.

The parlor meeting was the work of Eshel L.A., a local group allied with the Boston-based organization. It first convened in June 2015, when Harry Nelson, a local health care attorney, invited community members to his home to meet Greenberg and Eshel’s other co-founder, Miryam Kabakov, the group’s executive director.

From there, they formed a steering committee. That December, they had the first of many parlor meetings on topics like how to curb homophobic comments at the Shabbat table and how to talk to their children about same-sex couples.

“The thing that struck me most with this issue is that the Orthodox tradition that I so value and the Orthodox lifestyle I so love were creating pain, intolerable pain, for people who are gay,” said Julie Gruenbaum Fax, one of Eshel L.A.’s principal organizers and a former Jewish Journal staff writer.

Fax and her peers are looking to create Orthodox spaces where lesbians, gays and bisexuals can exist openly and comfortably. Sometimes, that entails actually grappling with Jewish law. At the parlor meeting in March, Greenberg, 60, who has salt-and-pepper stubble and a professorial air, moved fluently through the halachah and commentary on the topic of homosexuality.

On the face of it, the law as it is appears in the Torah seems clear enough. Leviticus 18:22 states, “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.”

But Greenberg pointed out to his Beverlywood audience that the rabbinate has created work-arounds for all kinds of mandates and prohibitions, such as those against carrying objects outside the home on Shabbat or farming during a jubilee year. The laws governing these exceptions are complex, but the point is, they are negotiable — unlike homosexuality, for most Orthodox rabbis.

During his presentations, Greenberg is careful to allow room for dissent and questions, and community members frequently take him up. One woman at the meeting, who wore a long black skirt and said she’d adopted Orthodoxy later in life, admitted that the concept of full acceptance for gays and lesbians in the Orthodox community makes her uncomfortable.

“I did this to bring boundaries to my life, to my kids,” she said of her decision to begin strictly observing Jewish law. “So when we start to open things up,  it scares me.”

She continued on the topic of boundaries: If you’re going to toss out the prohibition on gays and lesbians, she suggested, why not let women wear jeans instead of skirts?

Thau was sitting in the front row. As the woman went on, he turned around and began to cut her off, looking upset, but Greenberg gently put a hand on his shoulder, and Thau sat back in his chair. During an interview a week later, Thau said he was grateful to Greenberg for stopping him from saying something he might regret.

“I’m always in the hot seat as the poster boy for gay people, answering all the questions,” he said. “And it’s not a role I’m unwilling to take, but it is very difficult to be perfect all the time.”

Inching forward

Becoming a poster child is exactly what Nechama wants to avoid if she decides to come out.

A student at Shalhevet who asked that her real name not to be used, Nechama said she’s only questioning her sexual identity. But if she were to come out, she would be hesitant to speak about it with too many people at her school.

“I just feel very uncomfortable with the idea of being gay in a Modern Orthodox school,” she said.

While the school itself is progressive enough, some students come from more conservative backgrounds, she said.

She said she hopes to remain Orthodox, even though she struggles with some of the Jewish laws she’d be obligated to observe. To the community at large, her only plea was for empathy.

“We’re teenagers and we’re going through confusing times,” she said. She urged peers and parents “just to hear everything out, because it’s kind of hard to be alone in something like this.”

For his part, Greenberg is clear-eyed about the work in front of him: Creating a fully accepting Orthodox community will be neither quick nor easy. But he holds it as the responsibility of Orthodox leaders to sympathize with members of their communities who struggle with their identities.

“If you’re not willing to suffer with that kid who is caught in the crosshairs of this cultural and religious conflict,” he said, “if you’re not willing to be with that kid, then you don’t deserve the role of leadership.”

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

Jewish silence in the face of atrocities in Chechnya?


In recent days, reports have emerged about authorities in Chechnya rounding up scores of gay men, imprisoning them, beating them, with many dead.  Reports are now coming to light of concentration camps where gay men are being held and subjected to brutality, torture and murder.  Apparently, this deplorable treatment is in response to the application of a Moscow-based gay rights group to hold Pride parades in the region. Chechen authorities are denying these claims.  Alvi Karimov, a Chechen spokesman told Interfax, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

These reports of purging, murder, brutality and erasure are disturbing enough in themselves.  But this Passover, I am struck by another disturbing reality:  American ignorance of this issue in general, and Jewish ignorance in particular. Of course, we are living in times where our news cycle is overwhelmed with rising threats over Syria, North Korea and Russia.  At home, our media is beset over the latest scandal du jour in connection with the presidency.  It is indeed very difficult these days  to notice what is happening in a small republic in the north Caucasus mountains.

But we cannot afford not to notice.  If we have been paying attention to the meaning of our Passover seders, we know that we ourselves are a people who were brutalized, oppressed and murdered simply for being who we are.  We have gathered as families and communities, telling our story of having been refugees of slavery.  And we emerge from our seders with a clarion call to invite ‘all those who are hungry to come and eat’ together with us.  The beginning of our ethics, and our very Jewish identity, lies in our ability to empathize and to act on behalf of all those who still know the oppression that we have known.  And after the Holocaust, with Chechen authorities rounding people up, putting them in concentration camps, and murdering them, the silence of the Jewish people on this issue is unconscionable.

A danger inherent in the Passover experience is to read the Haggadah only in tribal, particularist terms:  God’s unique love and rescue of our people vindicates our people alone, and denigrates all other peoples.  That danger extends to all the times that we fail to see the story of who we are reflected in others, simply because those others are so different from ourselves.  I once spoke to an American Jewish woman who was a young mother during the years of the Second World War.  I asked her if she knew at the time about the internment of Japanese Americans, and she answered yes.  When I asked her what she thought about that internment during those years, she responded that there was a war going on!  She felt that it was not the time or place to speak out against such a thing, and frankly, it didn’t occur to her at the time to speak out.

The essence of Passover is that we, ourselves, were the ‘other.’ We, ourselves, were the ones whose plight was ignored by those who might speak up.  To be Jewish is to be, eternally, the other.  And in a very real sense, all those who are oppressed and erased must become a part of our people.  The gay men in Chechnya may seem so far away and other to us.  But in this case, they literally are us, as the story of the Jewish people is, and always has, included the story of LGBT people.

The good news is that our people do respond so often when called upon to speak out on behalf of the oppressed.  Organizations like HIAS and others are doing great work to raise awareness and to act on behalf of refugees and others in dire need of our help.  The challenge, however, is to endeavor to notice those who have escaped our attention–perhaps because their plight feels too far beyond our reach, or their stories too ‘other’ and different from anything we can relate to.  The most Jewish thing we must do, however, is to speak out and act on behalf of the very ones who seem the most ‘other’ to us.  It is only through their redemption that our own redemption from slavery can truly become complete.


Gil Steinlauf is a prominent Conservative movement rabbi in Washington, DC.  His opinions are his own.

Hebrew word of the week: Ge’eh


Like any modern language, Hebrew has to have words that reflect modern-life attitudes and concepts. The English gay, which meant “lighthearted” in previous times, has come to mean “male homosexual.” Many universities have a department for gay studies, usually now known as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).*

New Hebrew words either translate the English term (such as kef for “fun”; zmanekhuti for “quality time”) or use a word that sounds like the English, as with ge’eh and gay. The feminine form is ge’ah, and the “gay pride parade” is mits’ad ha-Ga’ava. Universities, including the religious Bar-Ilan, have ha-ta’ ha-ge’eh “The (Proud) Gay Club.”

*LGBT is abbreviated in Hebrew as ב״טהל (lesbiyot, homo(seksual)im, transjenderim, bayseksualim); ga’avah lahtabit is “LGBT pride”; agudat ha-lahtabim is “(the Israeli) LGBT Association.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

U.S. Jews among biggest backers of same-sex marriage, data show


American Jews are among the most supportive religious groups of same-sex marriage.

Some 77 percent of American Jews expressed support for same-sex marriage, according to data gathered in 2014 by the Public Religion Research Institute. Some 47 percent of American Jews polled said they “strongly favor” allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, and 30 percent said they “favor” it.

Thirteen Jewish groups, among them organizations representing the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative streams, were among the 25 groups that joined the amicus brief filed by the Anti-Defamation League in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday that  legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

The only religious group to be more supportive of same-sex marriage are Buddhists at 84 percent, with 48 strongly favoring and 36 in favor. Seventy-seven percent of religiously unaffiliated also support same-sex marriage, with 45 strongly in favor and 32 in favor.

The data were collected as part of the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas for 2014, which comprises 40,000 interviews among a random sample of Americans in all 50 states. The institute, a nonprofit group, is “dedicated to research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life,” according to its website.

CORRECTION: This article said originally that 77 percent of religiously affiliated supported same-sex marriage. It should have been religiously unaffiliated.

Meet Joel Simkhai, the Israeli foundr of Grindr


“Everybody knows Grindr. If you’re a gay man and you don’t know what Grindr is, then you’re lying.”

Steve Levin may be head of sales at — you guessed it — Grindr, but he isn’t speaking hyperbole. 

Late at night at a drag bar in West Hollywood, a table of seven gay men in their 20s all discussed the social app, which has revolutionized how gay men meet each other since it launched in 2009. All but one of them had the app downloaded on their phone. When the odd man out was asked why, he said that he used to be on the app, but a year ago he opted for Scruff (a Grindr spinoff designed specifically for men with facial hair). Regardless of the app, though, he continued, “Being gay, there’s no way around it — apps are the best way to meet guys.”

Grindr was started as the first social app exclusively for, as it advertises, “gay, bi and curious guys.” Now embarking on its sixth year, it boasts staggering stats with nearly 14 million downloads in more than 192 countries. 

Founder and CEO of the social phenomenon, Joel Simkhai, never expected Grindr to be such a success. Born in Israel, raised in New York and now living in Los Angeles, Simkhai first got the idea for Grindr as a way for him to meet guys — simple as that. 

“As a gay man, you’re always wondering who else is gay,” Simkhai, 38, told the Journal. “The problem is pretty inherent and [there] has never been a good solution. For years I’ve been thinking about this problem.” 

Finally, when the second-generation iPhone came out in June 2008, he came across an answer. The technology is fairly straightforward: The app uses a geolocation device that allows users to view a selection of profiles categorized by location (the nearest Grindr user is pictured first). Tapping on a profile picture allows the user to read a brief profile and, if he so chooses, send a pic, message or share his own location. The next step, if both parties agree, is an official meet-up.

So what separates this social network from all other social networks? 

“It can help you get out of the house,” Simkhai said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the social networks don’t do that. They’re asocial in a lot of different ways. With Grindr, you interact with the goal to meet, and that’s something that I’m very proud of.”


“[W]e’ve been fighting for our equality and against persecution for a long, long time. Gay men and women are still fighting back now.”
— Joel Simkhai

Simkhai called the app “magic vision” for guys, referring to how it’s changed the dynamic of how gay men meet each other. 

“You sit in your office, you sit in your house, you sit on the bus or wherever, and there’s all these people around us, but it’s pretty hard to figure out who else is gay,” he said. “It really gives you a way to see everyone who is gay around you.”

Sure, the app originated as a hook-up app, but it’s become much more than that, especially in smaller communities, according to Levin. He said that in major cities, “There’s a million ways for gay guys to meet each other, but in other countries and Middle America or rural areas, it doesn’t exist, and it’s terrifying to come out.” 

It’s in cases like those, where gay men are virtually isolated from a larger gay community, that Grindr makes its biggest impact, Levin said.

There are pages and pages of testimonies on grindr.com where users share their success stories. There’s Mario from Sulzberg, Germany, a place he described as “very conservative”; Min and Paopao found each other in Suzhou, China; and Skip, who’s currently serving in Iraq, met fellow Grindr users in Baghdad. The stories are endless. 

Simkhai said Grindr adopts a bigger role in the lives of secluded gay men throughout the world, especially in countries where homosexuality is criminalized. 

“From our perspective, in a lot of these countries, there are no gay bars or gay communities, no real gay life, and so for our users, that’s really gay life for them,” he said. “This is their main media to meet other gay men, to interact and to not feel alone, to not feel like they’re a weird creature, that they’re very normal and very human.”

In 2013, Grindr was officially banned in Turkey. Simkhai immediately responded by issuing a public statement: “We are very upset to hear that the Istanbul Anatolia 14th Criminal Court of Peace blocked Grindr as a ‘protection measure.’ Grindr was created to help facilitate the connection between gay men — especially in countries where the LGBT community is oppressed.”

Instances like these are why the company founded Grindr for Equality in 2011, an outreach initiative that mobilizes Grindr users across the globe to bring LGBT equality issues to the forefront. In 2014, its “Get Out Safely” campaign partnered with Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration International, the only international organization devoted to advocating for LGBT individuals seeking refuge from persecution based on their gender and sexual preference. Grindr distributed a message to app users living in countries such as Egypt, Russia and Uganda, providing step-by-step information that would ultimately help them leave their countries and escape persecution. More than 7,000 users clicked on the link to seek help.

“We’ve done a bunch of things around the world to push governments into new things and to warn users of the dangers that they’re facing. We try to figure out what can be done,” Simkhai said. 

Simkhai said that as a Jew he’s a minority already, and “we’ve been fighting for our equality and against persecution for a long, long time. Gay men and women are still fighting back now. I’d love to see that greater equality and greater love for different people and different sexual orientations.”

Coming to this country as an immigrant — not to mention being diagnosed with dyslexia as a child — he is proud to have overcome significant challenges.

“To think that you could build something from scratch that becomes international and is used by millions of men all the time, to have such an impact, is really exciting,” he said. “Hopefully I serve as a role model,” he said.

After a few quiet moments, Simkhai continued, “The word ‘role model’ comes off a little strong. Hopefully, somebody could look at me and say, ‘If he could do it, then I could do it.’ ”

Barney Frank on practically everything


Long a legislative lion for Democrats, Barney Frank retired from Congress two years ago. But he remains famously shrewd and caustic, feisty and funny, as well as the most prominent gay politician in the nation. With current roiling debate over the financial reform that Frank helped to legislate, along with his frequent appearances on CNBC and the publication of his memoirs in March, he's back in the spotlight.

Frank was in the U.S. House of Representatives for 32 years. In Congress, he was the controversial Democratic leader on the House Financial Services Committee and was a co-sponsor of the eponymous 2010 Dodd-Frank act, which brought sweeping reform to the financial industry. Now 74 and married, when he's not on TV or relaxing on the coast of Maine, he's giving paid speeches and teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

David A. Kaplan recently talked to Frank for Reuters in mid town Manhattan. During a wide-ranging exchange, in his characteristic Bayonne-meets-Boston mumble, Frank discussed the 2016 presidential election and his fear of Chris Christie; his prediction on a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage; the future of Dodd-Frank; his disappointment over President Obama; his distaste for Jon Stewart; and why, no, he didn't cause the 2008 financial crisis. Edited excerpts:

REUTERS: What do you make of Congress last weekend watering down Dodd-Frank, your signature bill?

BARNEY FRANK: One small piece of the law was affected, but it's mostly good news because of the furious response, which shows that financial reform continues to be a major public concern.

R: Would you encourage President Obama to consider not signing the bill?

BF: Yes.

R: And thereby shutting down the government?

BF: He could say, “Send me the same bill without the provision [affecting Dodd-Frank].” Any shutdown would be brief.

R: Did supporters of changing Dodd-Frank, even a little, miscalculate politically?

BF: Yes, Republicans misread public opinion. So did the Senate Democratic leadership and the White House.

R: And the banks themselves-the ones affected by Dodd-Frank?

BF: They're not concerned with public opinion.

R: What will Republicans do in terms of further rollback since they'll soon be in control of Congress?

BF: Given the response we just saw, it will be difficult for them to make any major changes in the face of what I am now confident will be very loud public disapproval.

R: Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was most vocal in opposing the current bill. How do you think she comes out?

BF: She showed she's a force to be reckoned with.

R: Do you miss not being part of the legislative action?

BF: I wouldn't want to have had to be involved in complex negotiations. But I was glad to speak out last week.

R: Are you happy with how Dodd-Frank has been implemented so far?

BF: Yes, with one exception. There's been one chip-away, but it came a coalition of left and right, with the support of lenders, realtors, homebuilders and in particular, advocacy groups. I wanted to say that no mortgage loans could be made and then 100-percent securitized without risk-retention; people refer to that metaphorically as “skin in the game.” But to get the bill through, we had to give in to create a special category of super-safe loans that didn't have to be risk-retained. I also was disappointed the Republicans under funded the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the SEC, but that hasn't really done any harm. Ideally, I'd have liked to merge the SEC and the CFTC.

THE SCOURGE OF POLITICS

R: What do you think of the midterms?

BF: I'm discouraged by more than simply the God-awful turnout. The root of our problem is people who are frustrated we haven't produced for them economically. You get into a vicious cycle in which people are disappointed in government because it hasn't delivered, so they then get mad at government and vote for people who dislike government, which makes it even less likely that government will do anything for them.

R: What's the fix?

BF: There are two things we should do to free up money. One, and I'm sorry the President appears to be back-pedaling on this, is cut military spending. And the time has also come for Democrats to look at the environmental issue. Part of that community makes two mistakes. They take a morally superior tone. It's possible to support laws on climate change, but still understand it will have a negative impact on some people and figure out how to compensate them. Not every environmental issue has the same moral importance.

R: So, better turnout next time isn't the solution?

BF: We have to persuade white guys that we really do care about their economic interests.

R: Do the midterms portend badly for Democrats in 2016?

BF: Not so much. We have a temporary advantage in that the Republicans are so badly split that they're going to have a hard time putting together a ticket that gets unified support. They're going to have the same problem Romney had.

GAY RIGHTS

R: Has the velocity of change gay rights surprised you?

BF: It's astonishing. I filed the first gay rights bill in Massachusetts history in 1972. And at any time these past 40 years, if you'd asked me to say, “Where's it going to be three years later?” I'd have been wrong.

R: Is that speed a function of the progressivity of the American people?

BF: Absolutely. If it hadn't been for gender equity and race, we wouldn't have gotten started. But once we did, the reason [for progress] is simple: We're much less different. Almost every straight person has gay and lesbian friends, relatives, etc. When we all started saying who we were, people realized it didn't make any difference. Reality beat the prejudice.

R: Will the U.S. Supreme Court rule on same-sex marriage?

BF: Yes, next year. Of course they'll say yes. Unless Ruth Ginsburg dies. But then they'll still say yes because it will be a 4-to-4 tie. Based on his prior votes [in other gay rights case], I'm sure [Justice Anthony] Kennedy is going to vote to uphold same-sex marriage.

R: So, you predict 5-to-4?

BF: Yes. Potentially 6-to-3, if [Chief Justice John] Roberts joins, but I doubt it. I was struck by what they did recently-their refusal to act. [Without comment, the Court let stand lower-court rulings that upheld a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.] There's a perfect sports analogy. They gave same-sex marriage an intentional walk. They weren't going to let us hit a home run, but they weren't going to try and get us out.

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE: 2016

R: Would you support Hillary?

BF: Pretty enthusiastically. I have slight differences with her on foreign policy-she's more hawkish. But the reality's going to force Democrats into a less intervention position. And you have an appealing candidate. So I'm supporting her and I'd urge others not to run against her.

R: Think there's a chance others will?

BF: No, especially because it doesn't look like we have the luxury of a fight. After the midterms, it's particularly hard for anybody who's thinking about running against her from the left.

R: Who will the Republicans nominate?

BF: They have a terrible problem. You have Jeb Bush on the one hand who has real problems on the right. You have Rand Paul or even a Rubio who have a certain implausibility. God is not that much of a Democrat for Ted Cruz to get nominated.

THE GOP AS LEADERS

R: Will the GOP behave differently now that it controls both houses of Congress?

BF: The real problem is House-versus-Senate. You're going to see great dysfunction. The House Republicans are a very right-wing group, They understand they're going to have a hard time getting anything done, so they're preemptively blaming Obama for their own failure to get together.

R: Is current congressional dysfunction unique in U.S. history?

BF: You have to go back to the Civil War. Things were not ground down under George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, or Carter. It starts in 2011. In 2009 and '10, we passed financial reform and health care. We repealed “Don't ask, don't tell.” We did women's pay equity. Go back to W. You got No Child Left Behind, the prescription drug program. Under Clinton, even when Republicans were impeaching him, he was still working on a budget deal.

R: What will break the fever?

BF: If the Republicans lose badly in '16. The Democrats take back the Senate, win the presidency, and make gains in the HouseUsually when a party goes far to the extreme, as the Republicans did in '64 with Goldwater, or the Democrats in '72 with McGovern-they're punished at the polls. What was unique in 2010 was Republicans went to the right, but so did the country. It was anger over the things we had to do to respond to the financial crisis. So the Republicans didn't get penalized.

R: Which '16 Republican candidate would worry you most?

BF: Chris Christie maybe, although that bridge scandal was bad. But he'll have terrible trouble getting the nomination, because there's this perception of him being more moderate.

R: More so than Jeb Bush?

BF: If I thought Bush, I would have told you Bush.

R: He's articulate and thoughtful, and from an important state electorally.

BF: And he's a Bush. And his brother went out very unpopular. There's a sense of establishmentism. Christie conveys a sense of being an outsider.

R: If Hillary doesn't run, would Senator Warren be interested?

BF: Of course she'd be. Who's got an ambition in life to be a Triple-A shortstop?

OBAMA

R: You've praised Obama at times, even though you initially supported Clinton in 2008. What are the lessons from his presidency?

BF: He misunderstood partisanship in its best sense. I was worried when he said in 2008 he was going to be post-partisan, It gave me post-partisan depressionHis mistake was to think you can talk your way out of things and undervalue the reality of genuine disagreement. You win the right to cooperate only by being tough to start with. He skipped that part.

R: Is his failure related to race?

BF: Obviously he got elected. And I don't think that's why Tea Party members of Congress were so bad. But the whole birther thing was clearly based on race. And by the way, any sense that race is not a big factor in America is totally refuted by Ebola. If Ebola had broken out in Israel or Ireland, rather than with black people in Africa, it would be treated very differently here.

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008

R: In prior financial epochs like Enron and the S&Ls, people went to jail. Why not this time?

BF: The abuses in many cases weren't yet illegal-ethically awful, but not illegal.

R: Was the Justice Department too timid?

BF: I think so. But liberals have to remember that an essential element of due process is you shouldn't be convicted on behavior that's ambiguously criminal. Part of it, though, was early on were worried about the fragility of the economy, and those other things-Enron, Tyco, World Com-didn't occur when the economy was on the brink.

R: Why would a fragile economy deter prosecutions?

BF: Because you'd make it more fragile by crashing institutions and high-level individuals.

R: Are you given insufficient credit for supporting free enterprise?

BF: I have a fundamental philosophical view, which is we have two systems in our democratic, capitalist society: private sector and public. In the private sector, the more money you have, the more influence you have. That's how a market economy works. If you work harder, you get more moneyAnd that's a good thing. the public sector is supposed to be one-person, one-vote. But weak campaign-finance laws allow you to buy more influence. You're supposed to be able to buy influence in the private sector, not in the public sector.

R: Don't people get the government they deserve?

BF: I agree absolutely. My formulation is this: politicians make a lot of mistakes, the press drives me crazy, and voters are no bargain, either. But part of the problem is unequal money.

R: What do you mean by “voters are no bargain, either”?

BF: It's interesting that the institution the public values the least is the one in which they have the greatest input in selecting: Congress.

PRESS PROBLEMS

R: If the press were so influential, wouldn't Paul Tsongas have been elected president in 1992?

BF: The press is very different today. It's a major contributing factor to pro-right-wing, anti-government feeling. Because even the liberal press is anti-government. Ever watched Jon Stewart say anything good about government?

R: He's part of the problem?

BF: Him and others. The effect is to tell people it doesn't make any difference who they vote for. I differentiate Bill Maher from Jon Stewart. Maher's very funny, but also has good and bad guys on the show. You say, “Oh, I agree more with this side than that side.” You come away from Stewart and especially Colbert, and say, “Oh, they're all assholes.”

R: Is your media critique that different than it would've been a generation ago?

BF: The most active people in society live in parallel media universes, which only reinforce what they believe. That's one reason we don't get compromise. Because when people who represent one faction try to compromise, they're told by supporters, “Why are you doing this?” If the response is, “We didn't have the votes,” you hear, “Of course you have the votes. Everybody I know is for it.”

R: Isn't there some good in how the Web makes information more accessible?

BF: Before the Internet, if you read something, except on a bathroom wall, people generally had to persuade somebody else that what they said had some plausibility. The Internet destroys that.

R: Shouldn't I expect my legislators to be smarter than to believe the echo chamber reflects reality?

BF: You missed the point entirely. You have the people who are going to vote for you overwhelmingly threatening not to vote for you if you compromise. If you think elected officials are entirely indifferent to their voters, you're wrong.

R: Might there not also be – God forbid I use the phrase-a “silent majority”?

BF: Not who vote in primaries.

R: Is your press critique an argument for greater press regulation?

BF: No. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

R: Say again?

BF: Who will guard the guardians?

R: What do journalists not ask you that they should?

BF: Good question. There's this misperception about who did what during the financial crisis, and particularly the irony that it was conservatives pushing for subprime loans. The liberals were trying to regulate them! There's been this great historical effort by conservatives to suggest otherwise.

R: Trying to turn you into the bad guy?

BF: Yeah. In 2007 a Wall Street Journal attacked me because we had a bill to restrict subprime loans. They said, “Don't you want poor people to have homes? These loans are wonderful-80 percent of them are paying off.” That's not a very good percentage.

PRIVACY IN PUBLIC

R: Is it fair game for journalists to speculate about the sexual orientation of public figures?

BF: There's a right to privacy, not a right to hypocrisy. If you're gay and you're voting for anti-gay stuff, then you should be outed. Let me ask you this: If the leader of the right-to-life movement got his daughter an abortion, would you publish that?

R: I'd have trouble. Because it's the daughter's privacy.

BF: If [gun-control advocate] Sarah Brady had an Uzi, would you report it?

R: Yes. That's not within the zone of privacy.

BF: Why not?

R: It's not about health, sexuality, finances, religion, and so forth.

BF: Here's the deal: Nobody thinks there's a zone of privacy as to whether or not you're heterosexual.

R: So if someone is gay that's not in a zone of privacy that journalism ought to respect?

BF: I didn't say you would go out [a public official]. I said it would be a good thing if he did it.

'TOO HARD ON PEOPLE'

R: What do you know now that you wished you'd known 30 or 40 years ago?

BF: I didn't fully understand how to integrate a democratic society with a capitalist system. I also wish I had a better sense I could be too hard on people. I've gotten a little gentler-being less explicit when I thought something was incredibly stupid.

R: Do those amount to regrets?

BF: Most people tell me that a lot changed when I fully came out in '87. If you muffle your sexuality and try to have your career make up for it, I believe that infects your career.

Amendment allowing Israeli gays, singles to use surrogate mothers advances


An Israeli government committee approved an amendment that would allow same-sex couples and singles to use surrogate mothers in Israel.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the amendment to the surrogacy law on Sunday by a vote of 7 to 5. Under the current law, only heterosexual couples can arrange to have a surrogate mother in Israel.

Other couples and singles go abroad to have children through surrogacy, many to India and Thailand.

The amendment, which must pass three Knesset votes, is expected to face objections on moral, religious and legal grounds.

Israel has a shortage of women willing to be surrogate mothers.

The bill places limits on surrogate mothers, including allowing no more than three surrogate pregnancies per woman and raising the maximum age for a surrogate mother to 38. The prospective parents must be 54 or younger.

Congresswoman ‘disturbed,’ ‘saddened’ by Ugandan anti-gay bill


Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-37th district) has denounced the decision of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to sign into law a bill that criminalizes specific forms of homosexual activity.

“I am deeply disturbed and saddened that President Museveni decided to sign this ill-conceived and morally wrong piece of legislation,” the California representative said. “Americans have learned first-hand how poorly history judges writing discrimination into law, and generations will judge President Museveni and the Ugandan Parliament the same.”

A ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights and international organizations, Bass said that the new law in Uganda is not indicative of how the leadership of neighboring countries treats lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“It is important to remember that Africa is a continent of 1 billion people in fifty-four nations, and this legislation is not a reflection of the entire continent,” Bass said, joining a chorus of Jewish-American opposition to the Ugandan legislation.

Under the new law, Ugandans convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” could face life sentences behind bars.

The law concerns sexual activity with a person who is disabled, or under 18-years-old, or instances in which the offender is HIV positive

The Ugandan president approved the law on Feb. 24. 

Yesterday, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which has made LGBT rights its foremost issue, “condemned Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law as a violation of the basic human rights of Uganda’s LGBT people.”

The Congresswoman, for her part, said she would not allow the Ugandan leader’s actions to deter her from her efforts of advocating on behalf of vulnerable communities worldwide.

“I will continue to use my position to advocate for equal and basic rights for people around the world. I stand with Secretary Kerry in stating that the United States will continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize vulnerable persons in any society,” Bass said.

U.S., Israeli LGBT community leaders convene


In a first-ever seminar organized by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), leaders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities from the United States and Israel met recently to explore possible collaborations and share knowledge.

“Israel has a lot to be proud of — there are a lot of LGBT community centers sponsored by the government — and the trip was about sharing and facilitating best practices,” said Myra Clark-Siegel, director of international communications at Project Interchange, which was founded in 1982 to bring leaders to Israel for a week of travel and learning.

It was a natural fit to connect members of the LGBT community through the seminar — which took place Oct. 28-Nov. 4 — given AJC’s commitment to advancing human and civil rights, she said.

The nine American delegates on the trip met with secular and Orthodox Israelis and Palestinians to explore the multiple facets of Israel that cross the political and religious spectrum. They visited with representatives of the Agudah, Israel’s national LGBT organization, and Gal Uchovsky, co-founder of the Israeli Gay Youth Association. The delegation also traveled to the West Bank. 

L.A.-based delegate Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation, the nation’s largest LGBT scholarship organization, said there is much the two countries can learn from each other. 

“For example, the U.S. could stand to learn from the manner in which Israel accepts LGBTQ members into its military and see this as a strength, not a weakness to its safety,” he said, using a Q for “queer” or “questioning.” “And as a young country, Israel can learn from the advancements the U.S. has taken to support its LGBTQ youth in school through certain legislative actions and publicly funded youth organizations.” 

Nurturing unity between the LGBT communities in both countries is vital to the equal treatment of people around the world, Valencia added.

“Most recently, we’ve seen the importance of solidarity in our community surrounding Russia’s anti-gay propaganda and the upcoming Olympics,” he said. “We owe it to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Russia to raise awareness across the world of the hatred, harassment and violence that they’re suffering under the current leadership and of our disapproval of such treatment.” 

Another delegate, Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law dedicated to conducting research on sexual orientation law and public policy, said there’s great value in learning about how countries, such as Israel, handle LGBT rights. 

“Interacting with professors and lawyers engaged in LGBT rights in other countries is helpful in thinking how LGBT rights have evolved here and reflecting on U.S.-specific barriers and opportunities with regard to LGBT rights,” he said. 

Future plans at the Williams Institute include inviting individuals to speak about LGBT rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories. 

“The seminar allowed me to meet and talk with lawyers and scholars working on LGBT rights and consider them to come to UCLA and speak,” Sears said. 

Israel’s position on gay marriage helped influence the Equality Forum, an LGBT civil rights organization that recently filed a federal marriage recognition lawsuit, according to executive director Malcolm Lazin, who attended the recent seminar. 

“Most states do not recognize lawful same-sex marriages. As such, you are divorced against your will in 32 states even though legally married int California,” he said. “In 2006, Israel’s highest court decreed that lawful same-sex marriages in foreign countries would be recognized in Israel and treated with equality. As a result, there are a large number of same-sex married Israelis who were married abroad. That case helped spur our thinking about a U.S. federal marriage recognition lawsuit.”

Equality Forum also coordinates LGBT History Month in October. Lazin said his Israeli counterparts now will make use of the organization’s free, online resources as a result of their interactions at the seminar.

“We also provided our Israeli counterparts with U.S. LGBT organizations that could be of assistance to their organization and its members,” he said.

Clark-Siegel said that the program by Project Interchange, which pays for delegates’ trips and receives the majority of its funding from donors, is a great opportunity for a two-way dialogue with Israelis who are adept at getting to best practices. 

“The young leadership is very encouraging in Israel,” she said.

Gay candidate blazes new trail in Israel mayoral race


As a candidate to become the Middle East's first openly gay mayor, Nitzan Horowitz is hoping his bid to run Israel's famously liberal city of Tel Aviv will help homosexuals across a region where they are widely frowned upon.

The left-wing legislator is not predicted to defeat the incumbent, the well-established ex-fighter pilot Ron Huldai, in an October 22 municipal vote.

But the 48-year-old remains upbeat, pointing to an opinion poll his dovish Meretz party commissioned last month that gave Huldai only a five-point lead.

A survey in the Maariv newspaper last week predicted a Huldai victory, but found 46 percent of voters were still undecided.

“I'm going to be not only the first gay mayor here in Israel, but the first gay mayor of the entire Middle East. This is very exciting,” Horowitz told Reuters.

Horowitz's prominence in Tel Aviv is not altogether surprising. In a region better known for its religious and social conservatism, it is dubbed the “city that never sleeps”.

With a population of 410,000, it was also ranked in a poll by Gaycities.com last year as a top gay destination.

By contrast, more than 800,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing black coats and hats poured on to the streets of Jerusalem last week for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a divisive figure whom critics called “Israel's ayatollah.”

Huldai, Tel Aviv's mayor since 1998, already apportions city budgets for its annual beachfront gay pride parade, and there is a gay film festival and municipal center for the gay community offering cultural and athletic programs for teenagers and young adults.

“You can't take away the fact that gay life has blossomed in the city under Huldai,” said Itai Pinkas Pinkas, 39, a onetime city councilor who worked with the mayor.

DISCRIMINATION

As a measure of how far Tel Aviv has come, rabbis who held sway in the Mediterranean city in 1955 blocked a bid by a woman to win election as mayor. Golda Meir later went on to become Israel's first woman prime minister.

“That's why his (Horowitz's) candidacy is not raising a firestorm, because many already see Tel Aviv as the gay capital of the Middle East,” Israeli political blogger Tal Schneider said.

But Horowitz, a former television journalist who as a lawmaker has largely championed social issues and advocated for African migrants who have flocked to Tel Aviv, says discrimination against gays in the city lingers on.

Just last month, Horowitz said, a landlord cited a party colleague's gay lifestyle in refusing to rent him an apartment.

The task of improving policy toward gays in the Jewish state is “very challenging, because this is a country, a region with a lot of problems concerning the gay community, discrimination, even violence,” the candidate said.

Israel's military made inroads decades ago by conscripting gay men and women alongside other 18-year-olds for mandatory service.

And even the holy city of Jerusalem, with a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, holds an annual gay pride parade.

But the gay community hits a roadblock when it comes to the issue of marriage.

Gay marriage — and civil ceremonies in general — that take place in Israel are not recognized by the authorities. Horowitz, who has lived with his partner for more than a decade, wants that to change.

“I hope once I'm elected this will contribute to tolerance and understanding, not just in Israel, but in the entire region,” Horowitz said.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mike Collett-White

Obama welcomes Pope Francis’ remarks on gays, abortion


President Barack Obama on Wednesday welcomed Pope Francis' recent remarks that the Catholic Church must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuals, saying the pontiff was showing incredible humility.

“I tell you, I have been hugely impressed with the pope's pronouncements,” Obama said in a CNBC interview.

Obama has worked to expand gay rights as president and last year backed same-sex marriage. He also supports the use of contraception and a woman's right to an abortion.

Pope Francis told the Italian Jesuit Journal last month that the Church had “locked itself up in small things” by its obsession with abortion, contraception and homosexuality.

Obama said the pope seemed to be someone who “lives out the teachings of Christ” and shows “incredible humility” toward the poor.

“That's a quality I admire,” said Obama, who has yet to meet the new pope.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney

West Hollywood’s tzedakah mayor


In any town across the country, a city council meeting can feel a lot like ground zero for American democracy: One by one, residents approach the podium and address the decision-makers with suggestions or grievances. With a few changes, a similar scene could have played out in a medieval English shire or a 19th century Polish shtetl.

At the July 15 session of the West Hollywood (WeHo) City Council, with more than 100 men and women of all ages in the audience, Mayor Abbe Land and the councilmembers sat behind a curved dais and listened to their constituents’ concerns: One speaker requested “more fiscal responsibility”; another, a business owner, complained about rising costs for leased parking spaces; still another, a homeowner, worried about a rehab clinic (“sober living center”) on her street.

There were also comments particular to WeHo, a city of 35,000 people with a large LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) population. These included a request for the rainbow flag to be flown next to the state banner and applause for the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage.

Land — who is Jewish, 57, slim, with short black hair and glasses — was the only woman at the dais, flanked by several councilmen, all of whom take yearly turns being mayor. An old hand at this — it’s her fifth time as mayor — Land ran the meeting with good-natured efficiency, listening and responding to everyone.

Some WeHo residents heaped praise on their city’s governance. Land mentioned, with evident satisfaction, a recent survey that shows 90 percent of WeHo residents who responded said their quality of life is either good or excellent, a clear sign the city’s government is successful — in sharp contrast to several other L.A. County cities plagued by poor management and corruption. 

But in an interview, Land said that, for her, WeHo’s success also poses one of the city’s biggest challenges as it moves forward. 

Land, who is married to artist Martin Gantman, has lived in West Hollywood since 1979 and, according to her official bio, was “part of the successful campaign to make West Hollywood an independent city in 1984.” Since then, she has been involved in one leadership position or another in the community, which has thrived in recent decades.

Throughout her tenure, Land has kept her eye focused on progressive causes (single-payer health care, affordable housing, diversity issues), on economic growth (promoting small business, absorbing immigrant populations), on safety and health (gun/ammo control, women’s issues, the environment, preventing domestic violence) and on improving the quality of life (increasing resources for children, ensuring seniors’ needs).

Over the years, she has received many awards, including being named “Woman of the Year” in 2005 by the L.A. County Commission for Women, and, notably, the “Remarkable Woman” award from the National Council of Jewish Women’s L.A. chapter.

“I’m not a particularly religious person,” Land said. “I wasn’t raised in a religious household. I’m not a temple-goer, though I observe Jewish holidays and love the traditions. … But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned more about the Jewish religion, and to the degree that it’s about giving back, it’s certainly influenced me. … My grandmother used to tell me that you always have to give back. I can’t tell you for sure that she called it tzedakah, that she used that word, but she was all about giving back to others. 

“I hate the fact that equality isn’t for everybody,” Land added. “I just don’t like the fact that inequality seems to be rampant, and it’s all really the luck of the draw. I believe that everyone should have housing, everyone should have food, everyone should have health care, and everyone should be able to marry the person they love. Those are the things that drive me.”

Beyond her work for WeHo’s constituents, for which she gets paid $825 monthly, plus standard public employee benefits, Land also serves as executive director and chief executive officer of The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT youth, whom Land refers to as “LGBTQ.”

“The Q stands for ‘questioning,’ ” she said. “Many young people aren’t sure what their sexual orientation is. … It’s a time of discovery, and we want people to feel free to come to talk with us about that. We want any young person who’s feeling that they don’t have an option, we want them to reach out to us. We want them to know they have an option.”

Pointing to the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people, she said, “We want all young people to know that they’re perfect just the way they are, and they deserve a chance to achieve their dreams. … They need to know there’s a safe place to go.” 

Land said that what’s most rewarding for her is that “when [government] works, you actually get to make things better for people.”

But even in West Hollywood, where the city is “thriving,” she admitted, “There are challenges: 17 percent of our people live below the poverty level; we have seniors fighting to find housing options that meet their needs as they’ve grown older.”

Nevertheless, she added, the city has focused on “providing lots of resources for public safety, for social services; we’ve spent a lot over the years on infrastructure. We just built a brand new library, we’re redoing our parks, we’re always investing, so the work that we do, and the work that the private sector has done, has really helped to raise land values. And that’s great.”

Great, yes, but the mayor acknowledged that rising property values come with a price: WeHo’s diversity is in jeopardy, because it’s harder and harder to afford to live there. She pointed to two new affordable-housing projects opening in the course of the next year. “One we refer to as ‘the Witkin Project,’ for older people, and one at La Brea near Santa Monica, for transitional-age youths as well as people of all ages. So we’re not only working on affordable housing, but also working on programs to maintain the quality of housing that’s already here.” 

“We want to make sure we continue to have a diverse community, that we continue to have young people in our community so they can thrive and eventually remain here and become the older people in our community,” she said.

“Our biggest challenge is to manage our success, so that we continue to hold on to our values.”

Edgar M. Bronfman: Jewish values dictate protecting gay marriage


In the early 1970s, while I was CEO of the Seagram Company, public dialogue about gay rights was largely nonexistent in corporate America. Social discourse had not yet even evolved into the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ethos that dominated the following decades. Homosexuality was simply not discussed and therefore, by implication, was shameful.

During that time, as the head of a company with thousands of employees, personnel issues often came across my desk. One day, the director of human resources came into my office with a recommendation to terminate one of my brightest executives. I found myself puzzled that anyone would want to fire such a promising young man until the director leaned in and confided in a hushed tone, “Well, you know, he’s a homosexual.”

The declaration did persuade me — but not in the way he had hoped.

The promising young executive continued on to a distinguished career at Seagram, and the HR director was soon let go. Although my choice was shocking to the director, the decision was obvious to me: to fire a person because of their sexual orientation was not only wrong, it was bad business. It was discrimination, plain and simple, and would not be tolerated in the company I ran.

More than 40 years later, I still feel such discrimination to be unequivocally wrong, but my views on the subject of gay rights have evolved. Particularly today, as we celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to recognize the legality of gay marriage, I now see marriage equality as a moral imperative because of my Jewish roots.

Just as the high court has shown moral bravery in its recognition of gay marriage, the Jewish community should follow its example in our myriad communities. As Jews, we should remember that our tradition upholds the bond between two loving people and the families they create as a source of strength and commitment to the betterment of the world.

“Justice” is a word we are taught early in life, and we are reminded constantly that it is a principle we should uphold and promote. In Hebrew, the word tzedek is used to promote acts of loving kindness and righteousness. Its diminutive, tzedakah, is translated as charity, but it is much more. We are taught in the Torah, in the book of Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” In Hebrew, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdorf.”

It is a vital, active imperative for the Jewish people to be on the front lines of issues protecting and promoting the rights of any group being treated unfairly. To take approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population and tell them they are second-class citizens is clearly unjust. As Jews we are instructed to seek justice for the stranger, the widow and the orphan because too often society discriminates against and takes advantage of those without advocates.

I have come to see the protection of gay marriage as a manifestation of the Jewish value of seeking justice for those who are enslaved. To those who cover their prejudice with reference to biblical injunctions against homosexuality, I ask if they are willing to live by every other law listed in the Torah. For such literalists, I submit that the very Torah portion of Leviticus that they so often quote also enjoins us to harbor no hatred against our brother and our neighbor.

To freeze Judaism in time because of ancient biblical edicts is to deny that Judaism is a mighty river that moves forward through time, a living entity that changes course and becomes renewed through what it meets on the banks. Like a river, it retains its essential character although it is constantly renewed and evolving.

Today, the Jewish pursuit of justice must channel itself against the denial of marriage equality. For Jews, who have suffered so much throughout history at the hands of prejudice, to stand idly by while any group is treated so unfairly is unequivocally wrong.

I have been inspired in my thinking on gay rights and marriage equality by a woman I have known since she was a teenager. She is now the leader of Keshet, a group that promotes equality for the LGBT community in the Jewish world.

Idit Klein first came to my attention when she was in high school. She was a student on a program I founded called the Bronfman Youth Fellowship that targets Jewish teens of exceptional promise from an array of backgrounds. In my conversations with her over the years, I have learned that the issues facing LGBT Jews are ones on which all Jews need to speak out.

Within the Jewish community we must endeavor to include and celebrate the diversity of families and couples within all aspects of religious, communal and institutional life. When our communities continue to open their tents as our forefather Abraham did, to include all who wish to participate in Jewish life, our people’s possibilities expand and gain strength.


Edgar M. Bronfman, the former CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd., is president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, which seeks to inspire a renaissance of Jewish life. He is the author of “The Bronfman Haggadah” (Rizzoli Press) created in conjunction with his wife, artist Jan Aronson.

Gay rights response: Let us eat (wedding) cake!


Doors opened early this morning at the Abbey, a gay bar in West Hollywood where people gathered to watch the Supreme Court rule that part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional by denying federal benefits to same-sex couples.

The watch party began at 6:30 a.m. Champagne was flowing and free wedding cake was available throughout the day. 

Anne Chamberlain, who celebrated after watching the decision at home, recalled how more than 20 years ago when she was a gay-rights activist in college, a reporter asked her what she wanted to achieve.

“I told them I wanted the rights for gays to marry, serve in the military and protection of violence, and I saw all of this in my lifetime,” Chamberlain said.

She married Megan Cavanagh in 2008 during the period of time when gay marriage was legal in California before voters approved Proposition 8. (The high court paved the way for a return of same-sex marriage by dismissing an appeal to Prop. 8) They take comfort in knowing that their marriage is now recognized federally.

Emily Reitz and Maureen Carroll at the Abbey in West Hollywood.

Some couples, like Troy Taylor, 44, and Teador Balog, 26, said the ruling means they feel more comfortable starting a family in this country. They were married in Washington D.C. but were worried that their marriage wasn’t federally recognized. Balog is a Hungarian citizen and now it will be easier for him to gain citizenship if he ever seeks to do so.

“The decision allows us to build a life together as a family,” Taylor said.

Emily Reitz, 28, and Maureen Carroll, 37, have been engaged for just over a year and plan to get married on Sept. 1.

“We had been planning on getting married no matter what, and we wanted it to be recognized,” Reitz said.

Reitz was raised Jewish although she no longer goes to synagogue. She plans to have a nondenominational wedding but said that they will definitely break the glass after the ceremony.

Reitz and Carroll said they look forward to celebrating tonight at 5:30 p.m. at a rally at San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards.

Opposition continues despite new Boy Scout policy


In 2001, Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) overwhelmingly decided to end its sponsorship of Cub Scout Pack 1300 to protest the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) policy banning openly gay scouts and leaders. It ended a nearly 50-year tradition of scouting at the Reform congregation.

Now, in the wake of BSA’s decision last month to end that policy for children — but not openly gay scoutmasters — the question remained: Will TIOH and other synagogues that acted similarly re-establish ties?

“Until they change their policy, all around, we would never even consider it,” TIOH Rabbi John Rosove said. 

Rosove was one of 500 rabbis and cantors — 24 of whom were from the Los Angeles area — who signed a letter that was delivered by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America on May 21 urging leaders to change its membership policy for children and adults. BSA made its partial change two days later.

For A.J. Kreimer, former chairman of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting (NJCOS), that change was a victory — one that he, like Rosove, hopes soon extends to adults as well. 

The NJCOS has, since 1926, been an officially chartered BSA committee. Among other things, it helps grow Jewish membership in the Scouts, develops programming for Jewish troops and packs around the country, and works with the national BSA to schedule major events so that they don’t conflict with Shabbat and holidays.

[Related: Jewish scouts say lifting of ban on gays is ‘momentous’]

Kreimer, speaking by telephone from his home in New Jersey, recounted how he has opposed the Scouts’ membership policy since the Supreme Court, in 2000, ruled 5-4 in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the Scouts, as a private organization, has a First Amendment right to set its own membership standards, including its exclusion of openly gay scouts and leaders.

Until BSA’s leadership completely amends the policy, Kreimer said, he will use his influence and position as president of BSA’s Northeast Region board to “continue to advocate for full inclusion.” But he and the NJCOS insist that efforts to reform the Scouts are more effective from within rather than from the outside. 

The Reform movement has taken a different position. As Ellen Aprill, a professor at Loyola Law School and a TIOH member who was the congregation’s president when it voted to end its sponsorship of Pack 1300, told the Journal, “We were convinced by everything we knew that there was no way we could fight from within.”

Since the Reform movement called for its synagogues to break with BSA in 2001, scouting in Reform congregations has dropped to the point where “now the number is infinitesimally small,” according to Barbara Weinstein, the RAC’s associate director.

“There were plenty of congregations that had those relationships,” Weinstein said. “Now there are very, very few that do.”

One of the few Reform synagogues to sponsor the Scouts is Temple Beth Hillel (TBH) in Valley Village. It never ended its sponsorship of Troop 36 and Pack 311, but it also effectively wrote into its charter that the congregation could disregard BSA’s policy restricting membership to openly gay scouts and leaders.

Although BSA has the power to revoke the charter of a sponsoring organization that de facto rejects its membership policy, Rabbi Sarah Hronsky said that it has never taken any action against the synagogue. Like NJCOS, Hronsky thinks pressure from the inside is more likely to change BSA than external pressure. 

“They tried to change it from without. They went through the court system,” she said, referring to the Dale case. “You can’t change something from without.” 

Hronsky said that to the best of her knowledge, the RAC has never pressured TBH to break from BSA and did not ask her to sign on to its recent letter.

The decline in Jewish scouting in general has not quite matched the pace of that in Reform synagogues, but in the last few decades it has declined significantly, according to Kreimer and Rabbi Peter Hyman, the national Jewish chaplain for BSA. Kreimer estimates that there were around 75,000 to 100,000 Jewish scouts in the 1950s. Now, he thinks there are closer to 40,000.

Hyman, who lives in Maryland and is the spiritual leader of a Reform synagogue, said, “There were times when there were troops in almost every synagogue, coast to coast, irrespective of theological leanings.” 

Both Kreimer and Hyman are lifelong Scouts and have reached the highest attainable rank — Eagle Scout. The latter spoke about the intersection of Jewish and scouting values. 

 “Don’t we want our kids, as Jews, to be trustworthy, loyal, to acknowledge God and to embrace tradition?” 

Trust and loyalty are two elements of the “Scout Law,” which is composed of 12 virtues that every scout is expected to uphold.

According to Kreimer, Hyman, and current NJCOS Chairman Bruce Chudacoff, several congregations that had been boycotting the Scouts have expressed interest in re-establishing a connection following the May vote on membership.

[From our archives: Rob Eshman — Scout’s honor]

Chudacoff, who lives in Wisconsin, said that one possible explanation for the decline in Jewish scouting is opposition to BSA’s policy. The recent change, he thinks, “is a good foundation for us to build and increase membership.” 

In Los Angeles, TBH and at least two other synagogues — Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills and Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village, both Orthodox — sponsor Scout troops and packs. 

Jeff Feuer is the Cubmaster for Pack 360 at Beth Jacob and the chairman of the Jewish Committee on Scouting for the West Los Angeles County Council. He has been Cubmaster for 13 years, and one of his main tasks in his role as chairman is to organize events among the Jewish units that also include Jews from the non-Jewish units. In Los Angeles, as nationally, most Jewish scouts are not in Jewish units. For the handful of observant Jews in scouting, though, a Jewish unit is a must.

“It’s very difficult for an observant Jew to participate in scouting unless it’s in a Jewish unit,” Feuer said. “Non-Jewish units meet on Shabbat, they meet on chagim [holidays], they serve non-kosher food.”

From describing a 200-scout Memorial Day weekend campout in the Santa Monica Mountains to a pinewood derby (a race involving handmade wooden model cars), to any number of activities designed to build character, leadership and survival skills, Feuer’s position is that synagogues that are holding out until BSA further reconsiders its sexual orientation policies should reconsider.

“I understand the objection,” he said. “But the loss to the community is a great one.” 

Scouting, Feuer thinks, does for boys what few other institutions can do in terms of building character, and though he understands some synagogues’ objection to scouting’s historical position on gays, he hopes they “weigh in their own minds what they think the trade-off is” and become more accepting of the Scouts. 

In 2000, the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center — the Orthodox equivalent of the RAC, representing nearly 1,000 Orthodox synagogues in America — issued a press release supporting the Dale decision that protected BSA’s membership policy as a First Amendment right. Unlike the RAC, the OU Advocacy Center has not been particularly vocal about BSA’s policy. It did not release a comment following BSA’s recent vote and has not publicly issued any memoranda to its member synagogues advising any position vis-à-vis the Scouts.

In the fall, Feuer and the local branch of the NJCOS will, as they do every year, try to bring local synagogues into the scouting fold. He is hopeful that some that have recently given BSA the cold shoulder may warm up. 

For now, he acknowledges that what could be a strong relationship between the Scouts and many congregations is “tarnished by this big political problem,” one that, if it disappears, could reopen the doors to a renaissance of Jewish scouting.

“It’s so much in keeping with Jewish values generally, you’d think every synagogue would want one.”

California: the left’s laboratory


Our state of California has become a laboratory. The progressive party, the Democrats, holds every statewide office, from governor on down, and they hold super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Even if every Republican legislator in Sacramento votes against a bill, the bill will pass. Therefore the left has a state in which it can do anything it wants. 

In light of that, here are three laws recently passed by progressives in California. 

The first law makes California, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “the first state to require that school textbooks and history lessons include the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

Throughout American and Western history, there has been one overriding purpose to history textbooks: to relate as truthfully as possible what has occurred in the past.

For progressives, however, that is not the overriding purpose of history textbooks. Rather, it is to enable students of various racial, national, ethnic, sexual and gender groups to feel good about themselves. California Democrats have therefore passed laws dictating that textbooks include the contributions of, among others, women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, European-Americans and American Indians. 

With regard to social policies, conservatives are more concerned with standards, liberals are more concerned with feelings. The standard here is historical truth. But historical truth matters less to those who are more concerned with feelings.

The historical truth, of course, is that white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) males were overwhelmingly the most active participants in founding America. Of course women, Catholics, Jews, Latinos, blacks, Asians, atheists and gays made contributions, and when they merited mention in history texts, they were mentioned. 

Imagine if we applied the California law to musical history. German/Austrian males — such as Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner — were disproportionately the greatest composers of classical music. What would progressives say about a law that demanded that histories of classical music must include composers of a dozen nationalities and not devote most of their discussions to those of German/Austrian lineage?

Actually, we have an answer. A few years ago the chief New York Times music critic, Anthony Tommasini, a progressive, published his list of the top 10 composers. He didn’t include Haydn, who, among other achievements, was the father of both the symphony and the string quartet. Why? Because, he wrote, he wanted a diverse list. Diversity, too, is a greater progressive value than historical truth. So Debussy (French), Bartok (Hungarian) and Stravinsky (Russian) made the list, but not Haydn or Handel. 

With this California law we have truly entered a Twilight Zone of the absurd. Have transgendered Americans who have made significant contributions to American history been heretofore left out of history textbooks? Have American Indians? Or bisexuals? Can you name one who has been deliberately omitted because of ethnicity or sexuality?

A second example took place this month when the California State Assembly passed a new bill. 

As described by the progressive Huffington Post: “A bill that would provide transgender students equal access to facilities and programs based on their gender identity cleared California’s state assembly. … The bill would explicitly allow students to use public restrooms and join sports teams that correspond with how they identify, regardless of their biological gender.”

In other words, if this bill passes the California State Senate — as it presumably will, given the progressive majority — students — even first-graders — will choose the restroom (or sports team) not according to their sex, but according to how they feel about their gender. No longer will a student’s biological sex determine whether he/she enters a men’s or women’s bathroom or joins a men’s or women’s team. 

And third, California has already passed laws prohibiting any business in the state from refusing to hire or firing an employee based on how one expresses his/her gender identity. That means that if one of your salesmen decides to wear a dress to work — as a man, not as a transsexual woman — no employer may demand that he show up at work in men’s clothing.

I have described only three of California’s progressive laws — those regarding sexuality. There are equally radical laws in all other realms of our lives. To cite but one, the California legislature is now considering passing what it calls the Homeless Bill of Rights. This bill, introduced by Tom Ammiano, the same San Francisco assemblyman who introduced the Transgender Bill of Rights, will allow anyone to sit, sleep, eat and otherwise live in any public place, including in front of stores and homes. It includes “the right to panhandle, the right to occupy public spaces, the right to fish through trash receptacles in search of recyclables … and the right to taxpayer-funded legal counsel if a municipality issues a citation to a homeless person for any of the protected activities.” 

This is what happens when the left does what it can. 

Welcome to California. Once the Golden State, now the Left’s Laboratory.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Three arrested in 2009 attack on gay club in Tel Aviv


Three suspects were arrested in connection with a 2009 shooting attack at a youth center for gays in Tel Aviv.

The suspects, who are Jewish, were arrested on Wednesday and are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.

A teenager and a youth adviser were killed in the Aug. 1, 2009 attack on the Bar Noar club for gay, lesbian and transgender youth.

A gag order remains on the details of the investigation in which more than 1,000 people have been interrogated.

Survey finds worldwide split over attitudes toward gays


A survey on Tuesday shows a world divided over the acceptance of gays, with countries in Africa and the Middle East strongly opposed even as tolerance grows in Europe, the United States, Canada and parts of Latin America.

People in predominately Muslim countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan along with Nigeria, Senegal and other African nations overwhelming said gay men and lesbians should be rejected from society at large, the Pew Research Center survey of nearly 40 countries found.

At the same time, acceptance of homosexuality continued to grow in North America and most of Europe, according to the survey, which polled nearly 38,000 people in 39 countries.

Some nations, such as Israel, Poland and Bolivia, were split.

“Acceptance of homosexuality is particularly widespread in countries where religion is less central in people's lives. These are also among the richest countries in the world,” Pew said in its summary of the findings.

“In contrast, in poorer countries with high levels of religiosity, few believe homosexuality should be accepted by society,” it added.

Still, in some countries where religion tends to be less central – such as Russia and China – gays have yet to gain acceptance, Pew found. Sixteen percent of Russians and 21 percent of Chinese were supportive.

One leading indicator of gay tolerance is same-sex marriage, which is now legal in 13 countries, including France, Argentina and South Africa, as well as parts of the United States and Mexico.

But anti-gay sentiment persists in much of the world.

In Nigeria, where sodomy is punishable by jail, the House of Representatives passed a bill last month to criminalize gay marriage, same-sex “amorous relationships” and even membership of a gay rights group.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said foreign same-sex couples should be barred from adoptions, saying that he would support a bill allowing only “traditional” families to adopt Russian children.

In the Pew survey, age and gender were also important factors in respondents' attitudes, with women and younger adults more likely to say they are tolerant of homosexuality.

Even in nations such as France and the United States where most men and women back gay rights, women are more likely to be accepting by at least 10 percentage points, according to the poll.

Younger generations were also “consistently more likely than older ones to say homosexuality should be accepted by society” even in countries that overall are more supportive of gays, Pew said.

For example, 54 percent of all Japanese polled offered support. But 83 percent of those younger than 30 said they accepted gays compared to about 40 percent of those 50 and older. In the United States, 70 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supported gays compared with 52 percent of those ages 50 and older.

Even in Lebanon, where 80 percent of those polled said they reject homosexuality, attitudes are changing. Nearly 30 percent of Lebanese aged 29 and younger said gays should be accepted compared to just 10 percent of those 50 or older.

The poll, which was conducted between March and May, has a margin of error of between plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points and plus-or-minus 7.7 percentage points.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Leslie Adler

Jewish scouts say lifting of ban on gays is ‘momentous’


Jewish scouting leaders say they are “overjoyed” after the Boy Scouts of America passed a resolution lifting a ban on gay youth.

A.J. Kreimer, the outgoing chairman of the Nation Jewish Committee on Scouting, said Friday the decision reached at the BSA’s national convention in Dallas on Thursday was “momentous.”

“Anything we can do to get more young people, especially Jewish youth, involved is a great day for Judaism and for scouting,” he said.

Members of the Boy Scouts of America’s national council passed the contested resolution by a majority vote of 61 percent.

NJCOS and other Jewish groups had been vocal in their support for lifting the ban.

Jewish Scouting leaders vocal on gay inclusion


Jewish Scouting leaders are taking a vocal role in efforts to pass a historic resolution that would partially lift a ban on gays in the Boy Scouts of America.

In a meeting of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting in February, members voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution lifting the BSA's longstanding ban on gay members. Now the Jewish Scouting group is working to shore up support for a resolution to be voted on at the Boy Scouts of America's annual convention in Dallas later this month that would prevent the Scouts from denying membership to anyone younger than 18 on the basis of sexual orientation. The resolution would not change the BSA's ban on gay adult leaders.

“I am advocating for complete change and inclusiveness,” NJCOS Chairman A.J. Kreimer told JTA this week. “I'm speaking with other people and as an area president, one of 26 in the country, I have advocated for fellow Scouters to do the same.”

The struggle over the BSA's position on gays has divided the national youth organization at a time when public opinion has grown markedly more accepting of homosexuality. Most recent public opinion polls show a majority of Americans supporting the right of gays to marry — a right the U.S. Supreme Court could grant as early as this summer. Meanwhile, the number of states recognizing such unions has grown to 11 — Delaware became the most recent on Tuesday — along with the District of Columbia.

As in the wider debate, BSA religious groups, which make up about 70 percent of Scouting units, are bitterly divided. Southern Baptist and evangelical churches are adamantly opposed to changing the organization's policy, while Presbyterian, Lutheran and Jewish Scouting leaders have come out in support of gay inclusion.

The Mormon and Catholic churches both officially denounce homosexuality, yet their Scouting branches — the largest and third largest within the BSA, respectively — have signaled a willingness to endorse the current proposal lifting the ban on gay youths only.

Kreimer said the proposed compromise is a deeply flawed one. The notion that a gay Scout would be expelled upon turning 18, or that a gay rabbi might be barred from hosting a Scouting unit at his synagogue, is “untenable,” he said. Still, Kreimer said most Jewish delegates will back the resolution as a temporary compromise.

“We are going to hold our nose and vote for it because it's the best we can do today,” said John Lenrow, BSA's Northeast Region executive vice president and a former chairman of the NJCOS. “But it doesn't mean the fighting is over.”

Jews have a long history in American Scouting. One of the group's first vice presidents was Mortimer Schiff, a German-Jewish financier who joined with Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller to help found the BSA in 1910.

With 7,000 teen Scouts meeting at synagogues, Jewish community centers and B'nai B'rith lodges across the country, NJCOS is tiny compared to other religious Scouting groups. The Church of Latter-Day Saints, the BSA's largest chartered organization, counts 420,000 Scouts under its aegis. NJCOS does not even represent a majority of Jewish Scouts.

“Most are not registered with Jewish organizations and belong to units that are public, nonreligious or are organized by churches,” Kreimer said.

Still, as one of the oldest BSA charters and the sole representative of a major religion, the NJCOS, which was founded in 1926, has been forced to rebuff opponents of gay inclusion who try to sway the Jewish Scouts by quoting biblical passages.

“I respond by saying until you tell me you keep kosher, don't try to tell me you read the Bible in its entirety and do everything it says,” Lenrow said.

Kreimer said the vote on gay inclusion was too tight to call. But whichever way it goes, he said it will certainly have a long-term impact on the Boy Scouts of America.

“It's a defining moment for Scouting,” Kreimer said, “and a test for the character and future of the movement.”

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association elects gay rabbi to lead group


The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association has elected an openly gay rabbi to lead the national rabbinic organization.

Rabbi Jason Klein, the executive director of Hillel at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, since 2006, was elected to lead the RRA during its 39th annual convention in New Orleans, which ended on Wednesday. It is the first national rabbinic association of one of the major Jewish denominations in the United States to be led by a gay man, according to the group.

Klein was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Council in 2002 and graduated from Columbia University in 1997. He grew up in Montclair, N.J. Klein spent four years as a congregational rabbi at Congregation Beth Emeth on the South Shore of Long Island, N.Y.

“Coming out and growing into my adult Jewish identity would not be the same were it not for affirming teachers, rabbis and other mentors along the way,” Klein said after his election, j. weekly reported. “I am honored to be able to give back by supporting colleagues who are creating welcoming communities in hundreds of settings across North America and beyond.”

The rabbinical association also honored Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who in 1974 became the first woman to be ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Sasso was honored in advance of her stepping down after 36 years as rabbi of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.

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.

Illinois lawmakers begin considering approval of same-sex marriage


Illinois lawmakers began considering a measure on Wednesday that would make President Barack Obama's home state the 10th in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

Supporters and opponents furiously lobbied lawmakers as a leading sponsor of the proposal pressed for a quick vote in the state Senate. The “lame duck” session is the final meeting before a newly elected legislature takes office later in January.

Buoyed by November election referendum victories in Maryland, Maine and Washington state, supporters of gay marriage want to make Illinois the first Midwestern legislature to approve it. Iowa's Supreme Court legalized it in 2009.

If approved, Illinois would be the second most populous state to allow gay marriage after New York.

Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of the Illinois legislature. But as in Maryland, Washington state and New York, a few Republican votes may be needed to pass a bill in Illinois.

State Republican party chairman Pat Brady was making calls to Republican lawmakers in support of gay marriage, legislative sources said, which could help win some votes for the measure.

Obama, a former Illinois state senator, publicly endorsed gay marriage in Illinois over the weekend, a rare occasion when he has weighed in on a state matter.

On the other side of the issue, Chicago Cardinal Francis George sent a letter to Catholic parishes saying same sex marriage undermined the “natural family” between a man and a woman.

“The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible,” he wrote. The letter, signed by George and six auxiliary bishops, urges Catholics to reach out to their state legislators.

Last week, Senate President John Cullerton's said through a spokeswoman that he was confident of the votes to pass gay marriage.

CIVIL UNIONS ALREADY LEGAL

But a move on Wednesday to speed consideration of the proposal in the Senate narrowly failed, 28 to 24.

It was not clear if the procedural vote was an indication that the proposal was short of the votes needed to pass or if some lawmakers simply wanted to take more time for debate. The Illinois House will convene later in the week.

Even if Illinois lawmakers fail to approve gay marriage before a new legislature takes office, there is a reasonable chance of passage later in the year because Democrats gained seats in the November election and will have super-majorities in both chambers.

In June, 2011, Illinois legalized civil unions, which grant some of the rights of marriage to same-sex partners. But gay rights activists said that did not go far enough.

All prominent Democrats in Illinois have endorsed gay marriage, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn.

A key issue to be resolved is whether Illinois should allow religious groups the option of declining to perform same-sex marriages. New York granted such an exception in 2011 in order to secure the votes to legalize gay marriage there.

A bill introduced in the Illinois House offers such a religious exemption.

Last week, at least 260 Illinois Jewish and Protestant leaders published a letter supporting same-sex marriage.

“There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the letter said.

A survey of Illinois voters by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling late last year found 47 percent would allow gay marriage, 42 percent opposed and 11 percent not sure.

The poll of 500 Illinois voters from Nov. 26 to 28 had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

In addition to the three states which voted in November to legalize gay marriage, six others allow it – Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire, plus the District of Columbia.

Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Todd Eastham

Jewish groups ready to weigh in as Supreme Court considers same-sex marriage


With public acceptance of same-sex marriage growing, liberal Jewish groups are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that they have long opposed.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases related to same-sex marriage: an appeal of a federal court ruling that struck down a California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, and one of the federal court rulings invalidating provisions of the act, known as DOMA, which prevented federal recognition of same-sex unions.

Since DOMA was passed in 1996, Jewish groups such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women have been among the liberal religious groups arguing against its provisions. At the time, they were pushing against the widespread perception that religious groups almost by definition were opposed to same-sex marriage.

That is no longer the case, said Rabbi David Saperstein, the Religious Action Center’s director and a witness during congressional hearings on DOMA.

[Related: A more modern view of homosexuality]

“There is an increasing religious consciousness across an ever wider spectrum that providing legal protection and religious sanctification to two people who want to create their lives together reflects our highest values,” Saperstein told JTA.

Saperstein said the RAC was planning to file or sign onto an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage.

Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council of Jewish Women, said that recent victories for same-sex marriage in state referenda vindicate NCJW’s activism against DOMA.

“We saw in the last election popular support for marriage equality, with wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington, and voters in Minnesota rejected” a law that would have entrenched the ban on gay marriage in that state, she said. “We've seen tremendous popular support, and we see it’s growing.”

Orthodox groups, active also during the 1996 congressional hearings before the passage of DOMA, are considering amicus briefs since the Supreme Court agreed last week to consider the two cases.

Orthodox groups have opposed same-sex marriage, maintaing that marriage should be defined as union between a man and a woman. They also have expressed the concern that the push for same-sex marriage will end up infringing upon their religious liberties.

“We do plan to file and let our views be known in reference to DOMA and Proposition 8,” the California referendum that banned same-sex marriage and that was overturned by a federal appeals court in January, said Abba Cohen, who directs the Washington office of Agudath Israel of America. “We don't know whether we'll file on our own or with others — it’s too early for us to make that decision.”

The Orthodox Union was still considering whether to file, said Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for public policy.

An array of liberal Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, NCJW, Hadassah, Bend the Arc, and a number of Reform and Conservative bodies had joined in an amicus brief filed for the lower court appeal of the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, in which the widow of a New York woman is appealing the taxes levied on her late wife’s estate that would have been exempted had she been married to a man.

Now that the Supreme Court is considering the cases, the groups and others are considering whether to join others in amicus briefs or file on their own.

Marc Stern, the associate general counsel for the American Jewish Committee, said his group would file a brief backing same-sex marriage but cautioning against a ruling that would be too sweeping and compromise the rights of religious institutions that oppose it.

“You could imagine theories that would lead to that result that would preclude the possibility of protection of religious institutions,” he said.

A more modern view of homosexuality


The American Modern Orthodox community has just entered uncharted territory. Last week, our largest rabbinic organization, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) formally withdrew its support of JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality). JONAH has long been the Orthodox community’s address for reparative therapy, a process that is intended to cure people of their homosexual attractions and to replace these with heterosexual ones. The recently announced lawsuits against JONAH brought by four of its former clients, accusing JONAH of both fraud and abusive practices, was apparently the last straw for the RCA. 

Strictly speaking, the RCA’s statement rejects only JONAH. It, in fact, goes on to say, “We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide by the values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients [and that these professionals] should be able to work on whatever issues [their] clients voluntarily bring to their session.” This is, of course, indisputably correct. But the statement’s acknowledgement of  “the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation” represents a paradigm shift. It is a rejection of the very premise that JONAH and all reparative therapy is built on, namely that sexual orientation is subject to change, and that any client who works hard enough at it can become heterosexual. This may not strike many readers as being a revelation at all. But through this RCA statement, the Modern Orthodox community has formally crossed into a brave, new world. 

[Related: Israel gets same-sex divorce before same-sex marriage]

Any discussion about what the practical implications of this might be needs to be grounded in an understanding — even an appreciation — of the context out of which it emerged. Any of us who grew up in Orthodox institutions in the 1980s or earlier knows firsthand that homosexuality, and, in particular, male homosexuality, was spoken of with disgust and revulsion, and that homosexual slurs were de rigueur. (In our own defense of course, the larger social landscape wasn’t much different.) And even as the campaigns for gay rights and recognition played out over the ensuing decades, Orthodoxy remained largely unmoved and unchanged. There was only one serious grappling with the issue during this period, and that was the essay written by Rabbi Norman Lamm in 1974 which, while utilizing language that is offensive in today’s context, took the unprecedented step of distinguishing between the “sin” and the “sinner,” asserting that while “the act itself remains an abomination, the fact of illness lays upon us the obligation of pastoral compassion, psychological understanding, and social sympathy.”  

Though Rabbi Lamm’s words undoubtedly, and with good cause, arouse anger, pain and resentment in many contemporary readers, understanding why he used them is crucial to understanding the true significance and implications of last week’s developments. The “illness” paradigm for explaining homosexuality (which was, indeed, the American Psychological Association’s paradigm as well until 1973, just one year prior) was Rabbi Lamm’s — and Orthodoxy’s — legal and theological lynchpin. Legal in that it provided access to the legal category of “transgression as a result of compulsion,” a category that elicits a more generous judgment. Theological in that it provided a response to the conundrum that God, who is all-knowing, just and kind, could not possibly prohibit that which cannot humanly be resisted. As long as homosexuality was an illness, a person’s failure to resist its temptations need not be ascribed to a Divine failure, but to an unfortunate human one. Needless to say, the “illness” paradigm also led inexorably to the obligation to seek therapeutic intervention. And while the most modern end of the Orthodox spectrum began to eschew reparative therapy some years ago — see, for example, the July 2010 “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews With a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community” (http://statementofprinciplesnya.blogspot.com/) — the balance continued to insist upon it. (See, for example, the 2011 “Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality” — www.torahdec.org.)

The statement of the RCA however, quietly, boldly and courageously breaks new ground. In recognizing that there is no evidence that reparative therapy is effective, and that there is, consequently, no obligation to pursue it, our community is acknowledging that homosexuality may very well be simply part of the human condition. Accordingly, we have decided that homosexuals should not any longer have to pay the psychological, emotional and even physical price for our theological comfort. We have effectively designated our theological question as a teyku, one whose answer still needs to be determined. But one that will, meanwhile, not prevent us from seeing the human truths in front of our eyes. 

It is not realistic to expect that Orthodoxy will some day recognize homosexual relationships as being equal to heterosexual ones, or to authorize gay marriage, or even to drop the idea that gay sex is a transgression of biblical law. Orthodoxy’s foundational beliefs concerning the Divinity of Torah and the authority of halachah (received Jewish law) preclude such developments. In other words, if the Torah declares a particular action prohibited, it’s not within our authority to say otherwise. But we can regard homosexual acts as we do other forms of nonobservance, as we do, for example, the nonobservance of kashrut, both in the sense that it doesn’t carry the charge of immorality and also in the sense that it doesn’t harm our ability to have a normal familial relationship with someone. The shift from Rabbi Lamm’s “sympathy” to the RCA’s recognition of the reality of sexual orientation can and should bring us to a place in which we can accept our friends and children and siblings for who they are, grant them the dignity and respect that any person deserves, and love them as our own. 

Within our community, it’s a brave, new and better world.


Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (bnaidavid.com), a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Israel gets same-sex divorce before same-sex marriage


An Israeli court has awarded the country's first divorce to a gay couple, which experts called an ironic milestone since same-sex marriages cannot be legally conducted in the Jewish state.

A decision this week by a family court in the Tel Aviv area “determined that the marriage should be ended” between former Israeli lawmaker Uzi Even, 72, and his partner of 23 years, Amit Kama, 52, their lawyer, Judith Meisels, said on Tuesday.

Legal experts see the ruling as a precedent in the realm of gay rights in a country where conservative family traditions are strong and religious courts oversee ceremonies like marriages, divorces and burials.

While Israel's Interior Ministry still has the power to try and veto the decision, it would likely have to go court in order to do so, Meisels said.

A 2006 high court decision forced the same ministry, headed by an ultra-Orthodox cabinet member, to recognize same sex marriages performed abroad and ordered the government to list a gay couple wed in Canada as married.

Same sex marriages are performed in Israel, but they have no formal legal status.

“The irony is that while this is the beginning of a civil revolution, it's based on divorce rather than marriage,” newly divorced Kama, a senior lecturer in communications in the Emek Yizrael College, told Reuters.

He and Even, both Israelis, married in Toronto in 2004, not long after Canada legalized same-sex marriage. They separated last year, Kama said.

It took months to finalize a divorce as they could not meet Canada's residency requirements to have their marriage dissolved there. At the same time in Israel, rabbinical courts in charge of overseeing such proceedings threw out the case, Kama said.

By winning a ruling from a civil court, Kama and Even may have also set a precedent for Israeli heterosexual couples, who until now have had to have rabbis steeped in ancient ritual handle their divorces, legal experts say.

“This is the first time in Israeli history a couple of Jews are obtaining a divorce issued by an authority other than a rabbinical court, and I think there is significant potential here for straight couples” to do so as well, said Zvi Triger, deputy dean of the Haim Striks law school near Tel Aviv.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy

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