The Conservative gay marriage debate

On Rosh Hashanah in 1992, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis stood before his Conservative congregation at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino and declared that despite the words of Leviticus, homosexuality is not an abomination. He argued that the same understanding and compassion Jews afford all human beings should be extended to those attracted to others of their own sex, and he told his congregation: 

“More than compassion is involved. Jewish wisdom and the morality of Jewish law are at stake. … Jews have the right, and the tradition, to interpret the text so that it sanctifies God’s name, our lives and that of our children. This is no heresy.” 

Schulweis spoke long before the arguments over gay marriage became prevalent in public discourse. He spoke well after gay pride had been established, but six years before the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay teenager. It was also a year before the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which would bar harassment of closeted soldiers serving in the military, while preventing gays and lesbians from being open about their lives. The rabbi had heard many tragic stories from gays in his congregation, but he did not know how his congregants might react to his words. 

They gave him a standing ovation.

Not all congregations, even ones in the same denomination, work according to the same clock. More than two decades later, just one month ago, Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a letter to his Conservative congregation at Sinai Temple, a prominent Westside synagogue less than 10 miles south of VBS, and told them that the rabbis at Sinai had “unanimously decided that it is in accordance with the great halachic [Jewish legal] principle of kavod habriot, honor due all of God’s creation, to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, once this possibility is afforded by California law.”

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High fives

Jewish embrace of LGBT people recognizes the dignity of all

Attitudes toward same sex marriage in Judaism have undergone a dramatic change in the last quarter century. The prohibition recorded in Leviticus 18 has been affirmed by some, negated by others and reinterpreted by still others. Did the Torah intend loving same sex relationships? Did it understand homosexuality as a fundamental orientation rather than a choice?

For many traditionalists such questions are essentially irrelevant if not marginally blasphemous. That which God has decreed cannot be set aside. For most Jews however, Judaism is a tradition that is both evolving and eternal. The role of women, to take the most obvious example, has changed in dramatic ways in the past century. A female colleague of mine, rabbi of a synagogue for many years, had a young girl approach her and ask, “Can men be rabbis too?”

If you are a partisan of the infallibility of tradition there is no room for accommodation. There are many, however, who would permit the tradition to change in many other ways but draw the line at LGBT acceptance. The question of same sex marriage is admittedly new: it has been a scant twenty-five years since the first arguments appeared arguing for its recognition. But the velocity of social change reminds us of the comment that Hillel once made on a question of Jewish law — go out and see, he said. Trust the people. If you observe what they are doing, you will know what should be done. The rapid acceptance of same sex marriage affirms an American people with open arms.

Those who argue for civil unions but not religious ceremonies, proposing some ritual short of marriage, often ask why a different sort of ceremony is not sufficient. Clarification comes if we turn the question around: the same reason that opponents wish to call it anything but marriage is why proponents demand it be called marriage. A man in love with another man — or a woman in love with another woman — wants love acknowledged and sanctified, not merely tolerated. For many of us this is new and jarring but underneath is something we all treasure: commitment, passion, love.

As a rabbi I cannot countenance sitting before people who can fully love one another and insisting that the Jewish tradition has no place for them simply because they are of the same sex. Surely no people understands rejection and marginalization better than the Jewish people. The Torah repeatedly advises us to care for the stranger precisely because he is strange — that is, we react with suspicion or distance or uncertainty to one who is not like us. Fight against that feeling, teaches the Torah. All of God’s creation is holy and every human being in God’s image. K’vod Habriot, the dignity of all, is a fundamental Jewish principle.

When I sent a letter to my congregation stating that the clergy had unanimously decided to perform same sex marriages I received a good deal of reaction. Some people were angry, some bewildered, some hurt. The letters I most treasure were those from women and men who had felt marginalized, who were grateful that their home was at last welcoming them home. Reading those letters and having those conversations, witnessing the healing after hiddenness and estrangement I could only recall the reaction of my 16 year old daughter when I told her I was sending the letter: “What took you so long?”

What indeed.

West Hollywood rally celebrates same-sex marriage ruling

Thousands of people came to West Hollywood on June 26 to celebrate expanded rights for the LGBT community.

They came in groups, and they came pushing baby carriages. They came wearing button-down shirts, and they came in rainbow tutus. Some wore wedding rings and stood quietly with their arms around each other, while others roller-skated through the spectators.

What they all had in common: happiness, at least for the moment.

The 5:30 p.m. rally co-sponsored by Congregation Kol Ami at the intersection of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards featured L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, among other speakers, and heralded the Supreme Court ruling granting married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as married heterosexual couples, including filing joint tax returns and Social Security benefits for surviving spouses. The courts also upheld the ruling by a lower court deeming Proposition 8, California’s gay marriage ban, unconstitutional.

“I had a lot of anticipation when I woke up,” said Tanya Sussman, who attended the Wednesday night rally.

“Tax season was always a reminder of how much farther we had to go,” she said. “You are always reminded that the law does not see you as the same.”

Still, Sussman said the battle is only partly won when it comes to complete equality for the LGBT community.

“We’re lucky to be in California,” said Sussman, adding that she was “completely overwhelmed” by the ruling.

States that still do not acknowledge same-sex marriage do not have to offer her relationship equal status, even after yesterday’s ruling. Her ultimate goal is equality for the entire United States.

When asked what this has to do with Jewish values, she said, “This is what it’s all about. The Jewish struggle to make things right for everyone, not just Jews.”

Tracy Moore, a member of Beth Chayim Chadashim, said she felt a combination of joy and somber recognition of how much further the country had to go for true equality.

“I felt absolutely ebullient this morning, but the whole thing was mixed, with the way the [Voting Rights Act] was kicked into the rubbish bin yesterday,” Moore said.

“Ebullient” certainly described the scene behind her, where hundreds of Human Rights Campaign flags — sporting pink or yellow equal signs on a red or blue background, respectively — waved as if heralding an army.

“It’s young people whose responsibility it is [now],” Moore said, looking around at the effervescent millennials cheering on the speakers.

“Marriage is not just symbolic, but it is a symbol,” she said, worrying that other urgent causes might not be lucky enough to get the publicity as the marriage equality movement. “There are no catchwords for Social Security or healthcare.”

For one of the younger members in the crowd, Jocelyn Berger, the next step is clear.

“Organize,” she said. “Organize, organize, organize.”

Noting the many organizations that work on marriage equality, such as Courage Campaign, Marriage Equality USA and Truth Wins Out, she emphasized even total marriage equality is not the ultimate goal.

“Beyond marriage, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act is one that is very important,” she said. “This is a symbolic and real victory but [the fight for equality] goes way beyond marriage.”

Los Angeles rabbis respond to Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8

The Jewish Journal invited rabbis from throughout Los Angeles to contribute their thoughts and reactions to the Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage. The following is a sampling of what we have received and we will be adding more as we receive more responses.

Rabbi Ken Chasen, Leo Baeck Temple

I will always remember where I was on the day that marriage equality won its defining victories in the Supreme Court.

The news flashed across the screen on my phone as my congregants and I were ascending toward Jerusalem.  I took the microphone on our tour bus, announced the rulings, and was overcome with chills as the exhilarating sound of joyful cheers erupted spontaneously.  Very suddenly, the 7500 miles that separated us from Los Angeles seemed to disappear… just as a new layer of meaning in our pilgrimage to the Holy City was born.

To be sure, there is so much more work to be done.  There are so many states in the U.S. where same gender marriage remains under legal assault.  There are so many persistent forms of discrimination that continue to diminish the character of our nation.  But today, we can celebrate this reminder of the power found in the relentless yearning to affirm all of humanity as creatures fashioned in God’s image.  Could there be a more redemptive message to find its way to a group of Jewish travelers headed into Jerusalem?

I have made the uphill trek into this golden city many times in my life, but this was an arrival that I will never forget.  May this renewal of hope that the longest battles for justice can ultimately be won lift us ever higher – both at home in America and in our people’s long-treasured home.

Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Close to fifteen years ago I officiated at the Jewish wedding of two lesbian friends. Though legal marriage was not an option, they wanted their relationship to be blessed by our tradition. Both of them, thoughtful and serious students of Judaism,  wanted to create a ritual that was both authentically Jewish and at the same time acknowledged the difference between a heterosexual  and a lesbian ceremony. They carefully reflected on each part of the traditional wedding ceremony, determining what should be included, what needed to be changed and what should be added. Years later they reaffirmed their vows in another ceremony when gay marriage was legal in California. It was in their second ceremony that I first truly understood the significance of the words: “By the power vested in me by the State of California.”

Just last month I officiated at the Jewish  wedding of other lesbian friends, also serious and thoughtful students of Judaism.  Though legal marriage was again not an option because of Prop 8, planning their wedding with them was a very different experience from my first.  They chose to have a ceremony that  was exactly like every other wedding ceremony:  same words, same blessings, same symbols. The only change was that the references to “ bride and groom” were changed to “bride and bride.” I asked them why they were not more concerned about adapting the ceremony and their answer was clear:  “ours is a Jewish wedding pure and simple.  We don’t have to jump through any hoops or make any significant changes. This ceremony is our inheritance.  We want to claim it as ours without apology.”

Because I couldn’t say:” By the power vested in me by the State of California” they went to Washington State to sign a legal marriage license. Now, in response the  Supreme Court’s decision on Prop 8, I can invoke the power vested in me by the State of California and declare them married in accordance with the laws of the State of California and our Jewish faith. Now we are so much closer to the truth of their experience:  a gay or lesbian Jewish wedding, like a Jewish heterosexual wedding, is a Jewish wedding pure and simple. It is the inheritance of every loving Jewish couple.  

Rabbi Jocee Hudson, Temple Israel of Hollywood

A few months ago, I sat alongside two same-sex couples from my congregation, presenting to a room filled with 7th graders.  The couples, both legally married in the months preceding Proposition 8 and parents of young children in our schools, were talking with the students about their lives and experiences of being gay and Jewish.

When it came time to discuss the right to marry, I used my own life as on object lesson.  “I am engaged,” I told them.  They clapped and smiled.  “I am getting married in a Jewish ceremony and all my friends and family are coming.  But, I can’t get legally married, because I am a woman marrying a woman.  I don’t have the right to do that.  I can sign a marriage license as an officiating rabbi, but I can’t sign it as a bride.” 

The students’ looks of confusion, alarm, and outrage told me everything I needed to know about the next generation’s commitment to equality.  What a healing moment it was for me when their eyes met mine.  They are used to seeing me give directions, lead services, teach, speak, and direct.  In that moment, as in so many others, I felt the fullness of the humiliation, indignity, and inequality that yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions now reverse in the state of California.

Next year’s 7th grade lesson is going to be a very different conversation!

On this side of history
by Rabbi Heather Miller

Rabbi Heather Miller, right, and her wife Melissa de la Rama on their wedding, July 21.

What does it feel like
when a human-made law
tells you your relationship isn't worth as much as that of others
even when you've been together 10 years, 20 years, 60 years?
What does it feel like for your religious marriage ceremony to not be backed by your government?

Before today, I couldn't tell you, because I had nothing to compare it to.

But today, on this side of history, I can say
that it feels like sunshine breaking through the clouds.
That the Creator is shining down
renewing the covenantal promise
that we are indeed created in the Divine image.
It feels like a heavy rush hour traffic suddenly clearing
and all road blocks have been taken away.
It feels like we are 10,000 feet up and now free to move about the cabin.
It feels like news that a disease has gone into remission.

One of life's major obstacles have been removed
and instead of our government working against our family unit,
it is supporting it, rooting for us.

It feels like we are marching through the parted waters of the Red Sea,
on our way to freedom.

It feels like people have confidence in our ability to make the world a beautiful place,
instead of begrudgingly tolerating us.

It feels like justice.
It feels like intentional, sincere hugs and cheers.
It feels joyous, empowering and deeply affirming.

It feels like we are a true part of the community and that we are blessed.

Rabbi Heather Miller serves several congregational communities in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008, she majored in Peace and Justice Studies and Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. She and her wife, Melissa de la Rama, were named the 2013 Liberty Hill Foundation “Leaders to Watch.” Learn more at

Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Beth Chayim Chadashim

Today the chupah is up and reservations are once again being accepted!

I remember like it was yesterday — how blessed I felt and how busy I was — during the short window of time ( 4½ months) in 2008  when same gender marriage was legal in California.  And I well remember too how it all came to an abrupt and teary halt in November 2008 when Prop. 8 passed in California. 

Of course not all has been resolved with today’s interesting U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  Much remains to be done (including work to overcome some of the Court’s other decisions earlier this week).  But we can stop for a moment anyway from the ongoing struggle — stop to say a shehekhiyanu and celebrate this step forward.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, 5 sisters — Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah — boldly step forward to plead their case for justice, and in so doing help change their society (Numbers 27:1-11).   How many plaintiffs, how many attorneys, how many brave souls through the generations followed in their footsteps, stepping up to make a case for justice?  We are their descendants and beneficiaries — and today we as a nation grow stronger because of them.  Mazel tov to us all!  Let the weddings begin!

Rabbi Denise L. Eger, Congregation Kol Ami of West Hollywood

Today is a true historic day! A moment when you can feel the chains of bondage breaking. The Supreme Court has ruled that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act is dead.  The Gay and Lesbian married couples cannot be denied federal rights and benefits. And Proposition 8, the hateful ballot proposition in California that went into affect in November 2008 taking away the right to marry is also history.  The court ruled that the people who sponsored Prop 8,who took the case to court when the State of California Governor and Attorney General refused to sponsor the court case, had no standing to do so.  Thus Prop 8 is dead.

While the Supreme Court avoided ruling on a sweeping marriage equality platform across the United States, the ruling means that now in 13 states (including CA) and the District of Columbia where marriage is legal, the Feds must recognize that marriage in the over 1138 rights and benefits and privileges at the Federal level. 

These include according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, the opportunity to sponsor a foreign born spouse for permanent resident status the same as heterosexual couples.  There are over 24,700 bi-national same-sex couples who can finally get out of limbo.

The Death of DOMA means that gay and lesbian couples no longer have to pay higher federal taxes on health care provided by an employer in the private sector.  Straight married couples do not pay income tax when the husband or wife is enrolled in their spouse health plan.  Gay couples have paid over $1000 in taxes previously.  The Death of DOMA means that surviving widows will be able to access survivor benefits through Social Security.  At present no gay and lesbian married couple could.  The Death of DOMA means  that couples will be married no matter where they go as the full faith and credit clause stands! 

The marriage equality fight isn't over in the United States. There are many places where gay men and lesbians cannot legally wed.  And there are 33 states in the US where you can still be fired for being gay!  That is why it is time for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to pass the House and Senate.  The marriage equality and adoption rights must still be fought state by state.

We aren't full citizens yet. But today for sure… a little more.  My congregants are celebrating tonight even as we understand that full equality is not yet here for everyone.  The gutting of the Voting Rights Act still puts our country at great risk. We must live up to the promise of liberty and justice for all.  Even as we celebrate today, the state of Texas is moving to make it more difficult for people of color to vote and only yesterday tried to take away women's reproductive freedom. Until all are free-no one is free. 

But for today I will rejoice a little even as there is still work to be done.

I am grateful to God for this day.  A day of blessing for sure. A day where we feel God's justice showering down upon us and encouraging each of to continue the work of Tikkun Olam-repairing a broken world.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, B'nai David

With today’s decision, America becomes truer to itself and to its founding values. In order for this nation to truly be a sweet land of liberty, it must bestow the protections and privileges of citizenship upon all citizens, without regard for creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. President Washington promised the Jews of the United States of America that they would live in a land which “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”.  And as Jews, we can appreciate the Supreme Court’s affirmation of this principle today.

Significantly, today’s decision does nothing to infringe upon the right of each religious community to practice according to its own beliefs. This too is an expression of the protections and privileges of citizenship being bestowed equally upon all. Within the Orthodox Jewish community, religious marriage will continue to be only between a man and a woman, for this is the sole definition of marriage that our religious tradition gives us. And at the same time, our community will continue the sacred work of balancing our dual commitments – our commitment to read the entirety of the Torah as God’s word, and our commitment to embrace as deepest theological truth, that God created all people in His image.

Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro, Temple Akiba of Culver City

Many years ago, a couple arrived about a half hour late for their wedding appointment.  The bride to be said, “Would you believe we had to wait an hour in line to get our wedding application?”  The groom to be said, “It's insane having to go through that to get married.”

At once, they both looked at me and blushed.

For some it takes an hour.  For others it has taken years.  Today, however, we move forward as equals.

Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood

I could not be happier to learn of the Supreme Court decision today ruling unconstitutional a 1996 law denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples and clearing the way for California to legalize same-sex marriage. This decision enfranchises all loving couples who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of committed marriage relationships that heterosexual married couples enjoy in California. As a Rabbi who believes in the sacred character of love between committed partners regardless of whether they be same gender or heterosexual, I consider this to be an affirmation of all that is truly important for the perpetuation of Jewish family in today's world.

ADL welcomes Supreme Court decision on DOMA

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) welcomed today’s landmark decision by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor declaring Section 3 of the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutional.  In its 5-4 decision, the Court found that same-sex couples who are legally married are entitled to equal treatment under federal law.  ADL filed amicus briefs in both cases.

The Court’s procedural ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case arising from the challenge to California’s Proposition 8, should be interpreted to allow same-sex couples to marry in California.

Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director issued the following statement:

We have long believed that that the principle of equal treatment under federal law means equal treatment for all.  The Court’s landmark decision in Windsor affirms the principle that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to all of the federal rights, protections and benefits of civil marriage.   

The Court’s second decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry is good news for same-sex couples in California.  We welcome that result and will continue to work towards the day when all states in the nation will allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. In this 100th anniversary year, we rededicate ourselves to ensuring, in the words of our founding Charter, “justice and fair treatment for all.”

The League had filed in both cases on behalf of a broad, diverse group of religious organizations – emphasizing that there are many different religious views on marriage and that no one religious understanding should be used to define marriage recognition and rights under civil law. ADL was joined on the briefs by Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Bend the Arc – A Jewish Partnership for Justice; The Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Women of Reform Judaism; Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST); Hadassah – The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.; The Hindu American Foundation; The Interfaith Alliance Foundation; The Japanese American Citizens League; Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN); Keshet; Lutherans Concerned/North America; Metropolitan Community Church; The National Council of Jewish Women; Nehirim; People for the American Way Foundation; The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Truah: Rabbis for Human Rights-North America; and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

The law firm Ropes and Gray LLP prepared the Windsor friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of ADL; the Perry brief was prepared by the law firm of Hogan Lovells US LLP.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

Feeds and reads: Jewish responses to same-sex marriage decisions

Much of the Jewish world is celebrating today’s Supreme Court ruling on two same-sex marriage cases.

But two Jewish groups aren’t joining the party. We devoted a separate post to the brief response of the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel. The Orthodox Union weighed in with this longer and more balanced take which, while noting that that Judaism “forbids homosexual relationships and condemns the institutionalization of such relationships as marriages,” concludes thus:

We also recognize that no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic and we do not expect that secular law will always align with our viewpoint. Ultimately, decisions on social policy remain with the democratic process, and today the process has spoken and we accord the process and its result the utmost respect.

The Orthodox Union is proud to assert its beliefs and principles in the public forum, and will continue to do so in a manner that is tolerant and respectful of all of our nation’s citizens, but which is also authentically based upon our sacred ancient texts and time-honored traditions.

Beyond the Orthodox world, though, the rulings were cause for celebration. At Tablet, Wayne Hoffman wrote a poignant response which he ends, “Why is today different from all other days? Today I am legally married. Truly. At last.”

At the heart of the DOMA case is Edith Windsor, a Jewish widower who was forced to pay extra taxes because the federal government did not recognize her marriage to the her partner, Thea Speyser. New Yorker contributor Ariel Levy was with Windsor when the news broke and captured emotional pictures that you can see here.

The Twitterverse has blown up in response, and so far, perhaps this subject line from an email from Bend the Arc takes the cake: ”Now Everyone Can Marry a Jewish Doctor”


Jewish Community Relations Council celebrates Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality

JCRC Supports Supreme Court Decision on Proposition 8 in California and Defense of Marriage Act; This is a Historic Day for Civil Rights and Equality in the United State.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013, The Jewish Community Relations Council, 121 Steuart Street, San Francisco – The Jewish Community Relations Council applauds the Supreme Court’s decisions to strike down the key provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act and leave standing California’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. These are landmark decisions for the State of California and the United States as a whole, and an important step toward ensuring equality, liberty and justice for all American citizens.

JCRC President Jerilyn Gelt and Executive Director Rabbi Doug Kahn celebrated the decision, saying: 

 “The organized Jewish community overwhelmingly supports marriage equality out of an abiding commitment to civil rights in our society and therefore applauds today’s Supreme Court decisions as a major step forward. The Jewish Community Relations Council has advocated for same-sex civil marriage for many years as an essential step to eliminate discrimination faced by same-sex couples.   We are also committed to maintaining the right of religious denominations to set their own requirements for religious marriage.   

The Court’s decision that will permit same-sex marriages to resume in California will, we believe, lead to many more states recognizing that denial of such rights is incompatible with our society’s commitment to equal rights for all citizens.   The Supreme Court’s companion decision striking down the key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act eliminates a major barrier to equal rights protection.   

It is bittersweet that the ruling comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to significantly weaken the Voting Rights Act – an act that has played an historic role in safeguarding one of our society’s fundamental rights.   Today, however, we join with many communities in celebrating the end of discrimination for same-sex couples seeking to marry in our state.”

Rabbinical Assembly celebrates Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage

In response to the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions today calling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and dismissing an appeal supporting an anti-gay marriage law in California, the Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization for Conservative rabbis, released the following statement:

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, RA executive vice president, said,

Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our Movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.

RA president Rabbi Gerald Skolnik added,

On behalf of the 1,700 rabbis of the Rabbinical Assembly, I Join with Jews across California and the United States in acknowledging today’s Supreme Court decisions as opening the way for loving and committed same-sex couples to enjoy the rights and privileges of marriage. This is most clearly modeled in the case of Edith Windsor, a Holocaust survivor who enjoyed a loving relationship with her wife of many decades, and had been unable to inherit her partner’s estate as her spouse.

The Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative rabbis. Since its founding in 1901, the Assembly has been the creative force shaping the ideology, programs, and practices of the Conservative movement, and is committed to building and strengthening the totality of Jewish life. Rabbis of the Assembly serve congregations throughout the world, and also work as educators, officers of communal service organizations, and college, hospital, and military chaplains.  More information is available at


L.A. Jewish LGBT community reacts to same-sex marriage decisions

Leaders of the area’s Jewish LGBT community rejoiced today after the Supreme Court ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, was unconstitutional. The court also paved the way for a return of same-sex marriage to California in a separate case by dismissing an appeal to Proposition 8 that banned such marriages.

“It’s a historic and wonderful day,” said Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform congregation serving gay and lesbian Jews in West Hollywood. “It means marriages are restored in California It means federal protection.”

Kol Ami is a sponsor of a rally tonight in support of the rulings. It will take place at 5:30 p.m. at San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards.

According to Eger, the ruling gives married LGBT couples 1,138 benefits that were previously denied to them, including Social Security benefits for surviving spouses, the ability to file tax returns together and hospital visiting rights for spouses.

Other examples abound.

“Let’s say there is a binational couple,” Eger said. “A heterosexual couple can apply to have one spouse have permanent residency status in the United States. [LGBT] people were hanging in limbo, where one spouse was forced to live in their country of origin while other, say, finishes school here in America.”

Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s oldest gay and lesbian synagogue, pointed out that the court’s rulings do not address prohibitions against gay marriage in other states and that prejudice remains. But, she said, “It will take us a long way.”

Edwards’ congregation on Pico Boulevard has been involved in many of the efforts to bring about marriage equality, including Equality California, GLAAD, and the Courage Campaign.

To celebrate today’s court rulings, BCC has planned two events. On Friday night, a chuppah will be placed on the bimah as a symbol. Two days later on June 30, David Codell, who was involved in the litigation for the 2008 California Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, will speak from 2-4 p.m. The event will be streamed live on the Web at

Codell, who received BCC’s Humanitarian Award this year, is currently the visiting legal director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

“These are exciting steps forward. The court’s ruling invalidating DOMA is monumental. It enables same-sex couples to finally experience equality under the law,” Codell told the Journal.

“Exactly 10 years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not make it a crime for gay people to have intimate relations. The progress in 10 years is remarkable. Today the court recognized that the families that same-sex couples formed are entitled to the same dignity as other families.”

Codell predicts that it will take some time to determine how today’s ruling will apply to same-sex couples in states that do not currently recognize same-sex marriage. In California, however, same-sex marriages could resume in as little as a month. Even then, there are more important decisions to be made.

“Is the Supreme Court’s decision effective as of now, or is it retroactive to the date a couple was married?” Codell asked. “It will likely take time to sort out these questions.”

Both Eger and Edwards already have begun scheduling same-sex marriages. Edwards says that many people planned their marriages after the election in 2008 and then got “left out.”

Eger said, “The Supreme Court did not give us a sweeping marriage ruling, which means we have to continue to fight for equality… but I believe we will be successful.”

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.

Supreme Court issues two major rulings expanding gay rights

The Supreme Court upheld the federal rights of same sex couples in states that allow same sex marriages.

The first of two rulings Wednesday struck down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which mandated that federal laws abide by a definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman. The ruling, a 5-4 split along ideological lines, requires the federal government to abide by the laws of individual states in its dealings with couples from those states.

In a separate ruling, the court ruled that individuals who sought to reverse a California Supreme Court decision that had overturned a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage had no standing. A number of Jewish groups had filed friends of the court briefs on both sides.

The DOMA lawsuit had been brought by a Jewish woman, Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay federal taxes on the estate of her late wife, Thea Spyer, who was also Jewish, despite the fact that their Canadian marriage was recognized as legal by the state of New York, where they resided.

[From our archives: The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage]

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” Anthony Kennedy wrote in an opinion joined by the four liberal judges, including the three Jewish justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. “It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper.”

Liberal Jewish groups were rallied by Wednesday’s decisions, which came a day after the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had mandated federal review of any changes in voting laws in areas and states where racial discrimination had been pervasive. Groups like the American Jewish Committee, the Reform movement, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Anti-Defamation League pledged to lobby Congress to reinstate the key language that would reinstate such review.

AJWS president Ruth Messinger applauds Supreme Court ruling on DOMA & Prop 8

American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger released the following statement today after the Supreme Court ruled in two cases related to marriage equality.

“We applaud today’s historic decisions by the Supreme Court to strike down discriminatory laws as a major victory for equal rights for LGBTI people in the United States,” said Messinger. “We believe that this is one of the necessary steps to ensure that the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected everywhere in the world.

“Too many people in too many countries are ostracized, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives and loving others of the same gender. In 76 countries, people can be arrested for having sex with someone of the same gender and in five countries the punishment is the death penalty.

“As the Jewish voice for LBGTI rights worldwide, we are proud to support LGBTI activists in Cambodia, El Salvador, Haiti, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Uganda and elsewhere. These defenders of human rights stand up for the dignity and rights of every person, and they put their lives on the line to defend the human rights of the LGBTI people,” said Messinger.

AJWS is the eighth largest funder of LGBTI rights worldwide. AJWS has granted nearly $5 million to support advocates for LGBTI rights and currently funds 50 organizations promoting the rights of LGBTI people in 18 countries.  

About American Jewish World Service:

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is the leading Jewish organization working to promote human rights and end poverty in the developing world. We support more than 400 grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia and the Americas that promote the rights of women, girls and LGBT people; rebuild societies torn apart by war and natural disasters; and seek to secure access to food, land and water. In the United States, we mobilize our supporters to advocate for U.S. policies that help create a just and equitable world. We are inspired by Judaism’s commitment to pursue justice and repair the world, and we believe that Jewish history teaches us to respect and fight for the rights of others.

Jewish groups ride roller-coaster week of Supreme Court rulings

A slight bump up on affirmative action, a plunge on voting rights, and on gay marriage, the mountaintop: federal legitimacy.

It’s been a week of roller-coaster highs and lows at the Supreme Court for liberal Jewish groups. Their collective pledge: Stick it out.

“These are critical decisions and it’s going to be a fight” on voting rights, said Sammie Moshenberg, the director of the National Council of Jewish Women, one of several groups that had weighed in on the recent cases with friend-of-the-court briefs.

The same tone — vigilance on voting rights, gratitude on affirmative action and gay marriage — informed statements from other groups.

On Monday, the court ordered lower courts to more stringently scrutinize the University of Texas’ affirmative action practices but did not otherwise reverse its earlier decision upholding the right of universities to make race a factor in accepting students.

Jewish groups praised the decision, with the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center celebrating it for upholding “the use of affirmative action, the principle of diversity, and the understanding that race conscious remedies may be necessary to ensure diversity, even as we are aware that the decision’s wording indicates the Court may welcome future opportunities to review and potentially restrict affirmative action.”

Tuesday’s decision on voting rights, a 5-4 call that split the court along its conservative-liberal lines, shocked Jewish groups. The decision kept in place the shell of the 1965 Voting Rights Act but gutted its key provision, which had mandated federal review of any changes in voting laws in areas and states — mostly in the South — where racial discrimination had been pervasive.

All three Jewish justices dissented from the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, which found that the 1965 rules were outdated. In a withering dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that Congress had overwhelmingly reaffirmed the 1965 rules as recently as 2006 and said the court was overstepping its bounds.

The decision drew strong condemnation from Jewish groups and vows to bring the case to Congress, although the likelihood is that current political realities — a Republican House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate — will preclude a review of the 1965 law anytime soon.

On Wednesday morning, the court issued two rulings on gay rights. One overturned a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which mandated that federal laws abide by a definition of marriage as between a man and woman. In the second ruling, the court said that individuals who sought to overturn a California Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage had no standing to sue.

The first case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a Jewish woman, Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay federal taxes on the estate of her late wife, Thea Spyer, who also was Jewish, although their Canadian marriage was recognized as legal by the State of New York, where they resided.

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” Kennedy wrote in an opinion joined by the four liberal judges, including the three Jewish justices: Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, as well as Sonia Sotomayor. “It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper.”

The marriage equality cases had Jewish groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs on both sides, with liberal groups defending the rights of gay couples and Orthodox groups seeking to push back against the California Supreme Court decision.

“Society’s mores may shift and crumble but eternal verities exist,” the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America said in a statement. “One is marriage, the union of a man and a woman. Its sanctity may have been grievously insulted by the High Court today, but that sanctity remains untouched.”

Liberal Jewish groups were elated.

“Having faced prejudice and bigotry throughout our history, the Jewish community does not tolerate unjust discrimination against others,” Alan van Capelle, the director of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that advocates on social issues and that had joined friend-of-the-court briefs in both cases, said in a statement. “Personally, as a gay Jewish man who has long been fighting for LGBT rights, it means so much to see our highest court rule that my family has as much right to happiness and protection under the law as any other.”

Charedi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America on gay marriage

The first of what will likely be many Jewish responses to the Supreme Court’s decision today, the Charedi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America was brief and to the point:

Society’s mores may shift and crumble but eternal verities exist.  One is marriage, the union of a man and a woman.  Its sanctity may have been grievously insulted by the High Court today, but that sanctity remains untouched.

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.

Jewish groups back Obama on gay marriage

Jewish leaders praised President Barack Obama’s statement that he personally supports gay marriage.

“I am pleased that the President has made a decisive statement in support of marriage equality,” said National Jewish Democratic Council chair Marc R. Stanley in an emailed statement. “President Obama has admirably continued to demonstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans.”

For some Jews, the reaction to Obama’s statement was deeply personal.

“Tonight for the first time I’m going to be able to go home to my six month old son and tell him that the president of the United states, Our president, thinks that we’re a family,” said Alan van Capelle, chief executive officer of Bend the Arc. Van Capelle, who is gay, the former executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

The president told ABC News that he supports gay marriage in a May 9 interview.


Jewish groups split on gay marriage ruling

Jewish groups split on a federal appeals court ruling that allows same-sex couples to marry in California.

The 2-1 decision Tuesday by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that said same-sex marriages violated the state constitution. Prop 8 had reversed a decision the same year by the California state Supreme Court that had allowed same-sex marriage.

The National Council of Jewish Women, welcoming the appeals court decision, said it “marks a milestone in the effort to provide full rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

The Orthodox Union said the decision was disappointing.

“While Judaism also teaches respect for others and condemns discrimination, we, as Orthodox Jewish leaders, oppose any effort to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions,” said the umbrella group, adding that it would back an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an apparent bid to head off just such an appeal, the appellate court’s decision was narrowly cast.

Instead of upholding a right to same-sex marriage, as some experts had anticipated it would do, the decision blasted Proposition 8 as a bid to discriminate against a class otherwise protected by existing California laws and precedents.

“Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on gays and lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships,” the decision said.

The Reform movement, in praising the decision, noted its narrow scope. 

“While the decision is narrow, it is nonetheless an important step forward in the achievement of marriage equality,” said a statement by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Jonathan Stein, the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. “As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved.”

Agudath Israel of America, another Orthodox umbrella, faulted the court for avoiding the constitutional implications of recognizing same-sex marriage.

“The court undid the democratic choice of the voters who passed Proposition 8 without even finding that the constitution requires recognition of same-gender marriage,” it said. “There is something very wrong with this picture.”

Agudah called for an appeal of the decision to a fuller panel of the 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

California gay marriage ban overturned, appeal planned

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday found California’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional in a case that is likely to lead to a showdown on the issue in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Proponents of the ban said they would appeal the ruling, and the Protect Marriage coalition that sponsored the ban called the judgment “out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision.” The appeal is likely to keep gay marriage on hold pending future proceedings.

But gay marriage supporters celebrated. Outside San Francisco City Hall, Breana Hansen stood smiling by her partner, Monica Chacon. “We’re so happy. It’s a validation for us as a couple,” Hansen said.

The majority in the 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not address whether marriage was a fundamental right available to same-sex couples as well as heterosexuals. But the two judges ruled that California’s Proposition 8 ban did not further “responsible procreation,” which was at the heart of the argument by the ban’s supporters.

California joined the vast majority of U.S. states in outlawing same-sex marriage in 2008, when voters passed the ban known as Proposition 8.

That socially conservative vote by a state more known for hippies and Hollywood was seen as a watershed by both sides of the so-called culture wars, and two gay couples responded by filing the legal challenge currently making its way through the federal courts.

A federal judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 in 2010, and gay marriage opponents appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage both have said they are ready to appeal the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents of gay marriage have not decided whether to ask a larger 9th Circuit panel to hear the matter, or appeal directly to the Supreme Court, Andrew Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage and a lawyer on the team defending Prop 8, said by email.

The 9th Circuit’s rules allow at least two weeks before a ruling takes effect, so same sex marriages cannot immediately resume in California, court spokesman Dave Madden said.


The 2-1 decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals featured two judges appointed by Democrats ruling against the ban, while a Republican-appointed judge dissented.

In the ruling, Judge Stephen Reinhardt focused on the unique circumstances of Prop 8 in California.

“Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable,” Reinhardt wrote, “it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently.”

“There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted,” Reinhardt wrote.

Backers of Prop 8 had said that it would advance better child-rearing, but Reinhardt said the only effect of the measure was to deny same-sex couples the right to describe their relationship as a “marriage.”

“Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California’s interest in childrearing or responsible procreation,” he wrote, “for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples.”

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins joined Reinhardt’s opinion, while Judge N. Randy Smith dissented from the main constitutional findings.

“The optimal parenting rationale could conceivably be a legitimate governmental interest” for passing the gay marriage ban, wrote Smith. “I cannot conclude that Proposition 8 is ‘wholly irrelevant’ to any legitimate governmental interests.”

About 40 of the 50 U.S. states had outlawed gay marriage before a California state court ruled in 2008 that a ban was unconstitutional, leading to a summer of gay marriages. But California voters that November decided to change the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and woman.

It provoked some gay rights activists to take a matter that had been waged on a state-by-state basis to federal court, essentially staking the entire agenda on one case. Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies – attorneys who represented George W. Bush and Al Gore, respectively, in the legal case that decided the 2000 presidential election – joined forces to take on Proposition 8 in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen as a more conservative body than the lower courts that have been considering the case. Should the high court eventually decide to hear the case, much may depend on Anthony Kennedy, a Republican-appointed justice who has written important pro-gay rights decisions but has not explicitly endorsed gay marriage.

Six states – New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa – allow gay marriage, as does Washington, D.C.

In addition, New Jersey and Washington state are considering legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, and gay rights activists in Maine say they plan to bring the issue to voters in a referendum in that state.

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

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

State Court Upholds Prop. 8

On Tuesday May 26, 2009, we stood in Leimert Park, together with clergy of many faiths, awaiting our fate, awaiting a verdict on our humanity.  Outrage, sorrow and a renewed sense of purpose swept across the crowd as news spread that the California Supreme Court had made a Solomon’s choice – upholding as legal the marriages entered into by same-sex couples last summer while preserving the travesty of justice that is Proposition 8.  In effect, the Court had abandoned its constitutionally designated responsibility to protect a minority from having its most basic civil rights put up for populate vote.
Like the Israelites who received the blessing of Torah at Mount Sinai yet continued to wander in the wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land, LGBT Californians and our struggle for Marriage Equality live on.  Another day of justice delayed, justice denied.
What a difference a day makes.

Last year, on May 15, 2009, the California Supreme Court courageously embraced its legacy as a leader in the pursuit of justice, equality and civil rights.  The Court wisely recognized that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, have the fundamental right to official recognition of their families. The Court proclaimed that any restrictions on access to the civil institution of marriage are impermissible forms of discrimination prohibited by the California Constitution just as they did when, in 1948, California was one of the first states in the nation to overturn laws against interracial marriage. 
It was the first of many historic days last year.

On June 17, 2008, California began issuing marriage licenses free of discrimination.  The two of us stood that day in a long line that snaked in front of West Hollywood City Park. We will forever remember the sights and sounds of that day:  Groups hovered in clusters, LGBT Jews under a Chuppah blowing the Shofar, parents with their children, traditional white wedding dresses dotted the lawn. Couples together for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years became unlikely newlyweds.  One of us, the rabbi, officiated many weddings that beautiful day.  The other and her wife served as witnesses, smiling so hard our faces hurt, singing Mazel Tov and Simin Tov until we grew hoarse.

The days between June 17 and November 4 filled California with a euphoria that transformed millions. 18,000 couples married. 36,000 people, each of us touching wider and wider concentric circles of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors.  We became part of a giant wave of inclusion, justice and most of all hope.  Our families were finally able to protect and honor one another with all of the same rights and responsibilities as loving couples everywhere.

Each day was a gift.

Then came Election Day.  Some angry, some in shock, we went about our lives- walked our dogs, waited in traffic, worked, bought groceries, paid bills –wondering as we met neighbors, co-workers and strangers who among them had used the power of the ballot box to strip us of our civil rights.  Parents struggled to explain to their children how some people, a slim majority, had decided their family did not deserve the rights and recognition as other families.
From then on, we began to count the days to the time when the California Supreme Court would restore our dignity and quality.  If only the counting of those days had yielded the same blessings as the counting of the Omer.

Now that the Court has failed to live up to its Constitutional promise of equality and dignity for all, what can we as Jews do?  We can roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We can reach out to other communities of faith to explain why the calling of b’tzelem elohim requires us to recognize God’s image in all people.  We can speak out from the bimah, in the press and on the streets about how our heterosexual marriages have been unaffected by the loving union of our LGBT friends, family and colleagues.  We can tell the tale of how dangerous it is to give people the absolute power to strip a minority of its civil rights, knowing all too well the dark road down which a society can run if given such authority. 

And we can remember that, although Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the voting public, young people of all races and religions opposed it in overwhelming numbers.  May that generation carry us forward into a time when all people who love and seek to build a life together will have the full and equal legal right to do so. 

Elissa Barrett
Executive Director, Progressive Jewish Alliance

Rabbi Denise Eger
Congregation Kol Ami, President – Southern California Board of Rabbis

Judaism and Same-Sex Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synagogues Working to Be More Open to Gays


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The will of the people, the light of Chabad, the gift of ‘The Goldbergs’

Proposition 8

Thank you for printing Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s eloquent piece (“Proposition 8 and ‘The Will of the People,’” Nov. 28). While I fully respect the concept of the will of the people, I understand that America ensures that when the will of the people seeks to discriminate, violate or abrogate rights of some people in the name of others, that we have instituted a court system of judiciary impartiality to safeguard those rights.

If we left it to the will of the people, would we ever have ended segregation in this country? Would women have gained the right to vote?

Of all people, we Jews should understand that the will of the people is not always what is best in any given time. Thankfully, our Constitution established a system of justice that isn’t, or certainly is not supposed to be, driven solely by the will of the people.

Sometimes the will of the people doesn’t know what is best for all people in a given situation. We depend on judges, who, according to the Torah, are not supposed to take bribes and should administer justice fairly and with righteousness. Lets hope that this happens with Proposition 8, as Yaroslavsky says — soon and in our day.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

My husband and I picketed the Mormon church on Santa Monica Boulevard 11 days after our legal wedding (Letters, Dec. 5). Our signs said, “I Love My Husband,” and our picture made the L.A. Times.

The Mormon Church chose to make war against our marriage. We were married by a rabbi at our synagogue.

What about our religious rights? I don’t feel sorry for the Mormon Church or for the businesses being boycotted because the owners donated to Proposition 8.

Barry Wendell
West Hollywood


“I’m a Chabadnik,” Rob Eshman writes in “Open House” (Dec. 5). In sympathy, I davened the last two Shabbats with my Northridge Chabad, where my husband, Marcel, z’l, served as baal korei (master of reading).

I met the Rebbe in 1970, when he gave me a dollar, but I did not know who he was that fall day on Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. Foolishly, I spent the dollar on gas to get back to Queens.

I then had a Chabad wedding in L.A., and later my daughter, Aviva, met her husband, Brett, at a Chabad Shabbat dinner with Rabbi and Chani Backman in Boston. When my husband had cancer treatments out of town, we called Rabbi Minsk and his wife at the Newport Chabad and they invited us over for Shabbat dinner.

Staying in different hospitals, where I knew no one, there was always a Chabad rabbi that would go with a smile and a bracha to visit Marcel. Chabad Rabbis Schwartzie, Rivkin, Spritzer and Korf visited. Chabad Rabbi Bryski sent Shabbat meals to me via his mother-in-law for the first cancer surgery, and had the Rebbe send us blessings.

I may also be a Renewal Jew, but I sure know where I can find chesed, loving kindness. I’m a Chabadnik.

Joy Krauthammer

Thank you for that very touching, moving and powerful editorial.

Rabbi Moshe Bryski
via e-mail

No Money

In “No Money, No Cry” (Nov. 28), David Suissa pointed out that the current economy presents nonprofits an opportunity to explore ways to do more with less.

David cited a hypothetical example of a Holocaust memorial struggling to raise the money to build a new museum.

I’m pleased to point out the extent to which David’s example was, in fact, purely hypothetical. L’havdil, the real Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, successfully meets its benchmarks in its $20 million capital campaign.

Construction continues apace at the site in Pan Pacific Park for the new museum. This construction could not have begun had we not been able to demonstrate to the city of Los Angeles full funding for our construction needs.

We invite David and the entire community to attend the gala awards ceremony and screening on Jan. 29.

Mark A. Rothman
Executive Director
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

‘The Goldbergs’

I got such a kick out of the Gertrude Berg TV show on your Web site.

Aunt Tilly, as my mother called her, was my grandpa’s first cousin. Today of all days, I’m wearing a bird pin that Aunt Tilly bought at Tiffany’s as a gift when my mother stayed with her in her Park Avenue apartment.

My great-grandmother was a source of inspiration in creating Molly’s character for the radio show, which, as you probably know, was the original soap opera. Anyway, thanks for the memories.

Bonnie Somers
via e-mail

Dose of Spirituality

Last Friday my family sat in our hotel room in Jerusalem glued to CNN and watching the horror in India. Unfortunately, at 3:45 the bulletin flashing across the screen stating that 5 people were killed at the Chabad House brought total gloom to Jews around the world. Even though it was drizzling, my son suggested that we daven Kabbalat Shabbos at the Kotel. Arriving at the Kotel, I finally realized the feeling that I had hoped for. Soldiers dancing with boys from YULA and Skokie High Schools. Charedim dancing with Chasidim and soldiers singing “AM YISROEL CHAI.” The davening was intense and the dancing invigorating.

As we walked back to the hotel that night I came to two realizations.

The first is that the next time I visit the Kotel, I should bring more shekels. The poverty level being very high in Israel, I should think more of helping these people than them interrupting my davening.

The second realization is that throughout history hate mongers have tried to destroy us. These acts of violence do not make us weaker but in fact make us stronger and more united. These acts show me how resilient we are as a people and giving some like myself an overflowing feel of spirituality.

Richard Katz
Los Angeles

‘Milk’ captures doomed life of gay, Jewish politician

The trailer


Harvey Milk often carried a sign with those words on marches during his activist days in the 1970s, his nephew Stuart Milk says. The first openly gay man in the country to be elected to public office “was not religious or observant, but Harvey absolutely identified himself as a Jew,” he said.

The San Francisco County supervisor, who was murdered in his City Hall office in 1978, also enjoyed conversing in Yiddish with Sharyn Saslafsky, who would come into his camera store in San Francisco’s Castro district as a customer or just to shmooze.

“Although neither of us spoke it fluently,” Saslafsky recalls, “we had fun using Yiddish to tell stories, laugh and talk about different things. We would use it interchangeably with English, correctly or incorrectly.

“We would also talk about Yiddishkayt, about what Judaism stresses,” she continues. “That was clearly very important to Harvey. I believe his concern for justice, fairness, equality and ethical behavior came from his Jewish background.”

The fact that he was Jewish is mentioned only briefly in the recently released biopic, “Milk,” which focuses instead on the personal and political events that occurred over the last eight years of Milk’s life.

Prior to that period, Milk, born in 1930, had played high school football, served in the Navy, worked on Wall Street, dabbled in the theater, been a Republican and led an essentially closeted life until he settled in San Francisco. There he transformed himself into a progressive gay activist at a time when violence and discrimination against gays were commonplace.

Many Hollywood filmmakers, including Oliver Stone, have contemplated making a movie about Milk. However, it wasn’t until a young writer named Dustin Lance Black finished a spec script based on extensive research that the project began to move forward.

Cleve Jones, one of Milk’s protégés, sent the script to Gus Van Sant, who enthusiastically agreed to direct the film and who brought the screenplay to Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks, the team that produced the Oscar-winning film, “American Beauty.” Jinks, like Milk, is gay and Jewish and says they were on board immediately.

“I thought the idea of this ordinary man who was not raised to be a politician, and who was not a particularly good politician initially, becoming a tremendous leader at a time when leadership was so necessary was a spectacular story. I found it powerful and so moving. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to be part of it, and as I was going through the script, I started thinking about actors who could do it, and I kept going back in my mind to Sean Penn. Fortunately, he said ‘yes’ pretty quickly, in about three weeks.”

The movie is already creating Oscar buzz, particularly for Penn’s extraordinary performance in the title role. Filmmaker Rob Epstein, whose documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk,” won an Oscar in 1984, particularly admires what he calls the tenderness of Penn’s portrayal.

“It’s not an impersonation,” observes Epstein, who knew Milk and who is also gay and Jewish, “but it’s a representative, composite portrait of his interpretation of Harvey, and I was very impressed by that. I also appreciate the intimacy of the film and the gentleness of it. That surprised me. This was Gus’ take on the story, and until I saw it, I couldn’t envision what it would be.”

“Milk,” which makes use of archival news footage that shows gays being rousted from bars by the police, is a narrative that begins in November 1978 with Milk, as he did in real life, tape recording a final testament, presciently anticipating that he might not live to see his 50th birthday. The story then goes back eight years to New York, where he begins an affair with Scott Smith, 20 years his junior, and sorrowfully notes that he is 40 years old and hasn’t done anything important.

Seeking a fresh start, the two move to San Francisco and open their camera shop in the Castro district, a neighborhood that eventually becomes a haven for gays. The year is 1973, and the couple faces open hostility and discrimination.

Milk forges an alliance with the Teamsters Union, which is pitted against Coors Brewing Co. in a labor dispute, by persuading gay bar owners to boycott the beer. In return, the union agrees to send gay drivers out on jobs.

Feeling that leadership is lacking in the gay community, Milk launches his first of four political campaigns as an openly gay candidate with a bid for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He loses. After two more unsuccessful tries for public office, Milk finally wins a board seat in 1977.

The film is careful to stress that once elected, Milk became a supervisor for all the people, promoting such causes as inexpensive child care facilities and free public transportation, as well as advocating for seniors, minorities, labor and other powerless groups.

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

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

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

Milk’s last major battle, stirringly depicted in the film, was his successful campaign against Proposition 6, known as the Briggs Initiative after its sponsor, state Sen. John Briggs. The measure sought to ban gays and their supporters from teaching in the state’s public schools.

Little did anyone on the film know that it would be so relevant in the wake of Proposition 8, the recent state ballot measure that was successful in banning gay marriage, Jinks says.

“We wrapped production in March 2007, and gay marriage wasn’t legal in California until May. Proposition 8 wasn’t on the radar until well after that, so it’s been eerie that there are so many similarities between what happens in the film and what’s happening now in 2008.”

In addition, the movie highlights Milk’s insistence during the campaign against Proposition 6 that gays come out to everyone they know.

“There was a particular philosophy behind that tactic,” Jinks says, “the philosophy being that people were voting against gays because being gay was scary to them. They didn’t know what it was.

“There were all these scare tactics being used by the opposition,” he continues. “Harvey was saying that voters should be made aware that they already knew gay people. He felt it was the responsibility of gays to say, ‘Here I am. I’m actually your doctor. I’m actually your schoolteacher. I’m actually your lawyer. I’m actually your son.'”

It was also a matter of authenticity, says Stuart Milk, who will never forget the time he spent with his uncle in 1975, just after the funeral back East for Harvey Milk’s father. Stuart Milk, who is gay, was 15 at the time and had never come out. He merely told his uncle that he felt different, and, without bringing up the issue of being gay, his uncle gave him encouragement and support. Stuart Milk describes it as a beacon of spiritual advice that touched him to his inner core.

“He told me that when anyone tries to hide who they are or their authenticity, whether it concerns their religion, their background or their ethnicity, the world is lessened,” Stuart Milk recalls. “And he used a Native American phrase: ‘You are the medicine the world needs. No one else can duplicate that.’

“His words set me on a path, and I realized that those who feel different, whether they’re gay or they’re Jewish in a Christian country, are providing a tremendous benefit. They’re making their community and their society stronger through their differences, not through their sameness.”

That conversation created a deep bond and began a dialogue that continued long distance, but Stuart Milk never saw his uncle again.

On Nov. 27, 1978, a trembling and traumatized Dianne Feinstein, now a United States Senator, addressed a bevy of reporters:

“As president of the Board of Supervisors, it’s my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor [George] Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed. The suspect is Supervisor Dan White.”

White and Milk had been at odds for months before the shooting. White had resigned but wanted to rescind the resignation, and Moscone had refused to re-appoint him to the board. Vivid archival footage of Feinstein’s announcement appears early in “Milk.”

As information about the murders spread, Epstein was in a store getting coffee. He went immediately to City Hall and then to the home of Harry Britt, who would succeed Milk on the Board of Supervisors, while a candlelight march was beginning.

“Another friend and I felt there should be a Jewish service, as well,” Epstein says, “and we contacted Temple Emanu-El, the big Reform synagogue in San Francisco. That set in motion the Jewish service that took place soon afterwards.”

His uncle’s murder was devastating for Stuart Milk, who learned of it when someone knocked on the door of his college dorm room and gave him the news.

“I have had other major losses in my life,” Stuart Milk says, “and with each loss we suffer, a door opens for us to change the way we view life. So with Harvey’s death, I stepped through that door, and I came out to people in my dorm and to other people at school. A week later, I came out to my parents. My father took it well, but my mother reacted as I think most Jewish mothers would. She cried.”

Stuart Milk has seen “Milk” several times and has nothing but praise for the way it depicts his uncle.

“I think the film does a wonderful job of portraying Harvey’s hopes and dreams, as well as those of the people who were there to support him,” he says. “I thought Sean did a tremendous job of showing Harvey’s unique ability to inject a slightly sarcastic, but good-natured sense of humor into some very serious and solemn occasions. All of the performances are very strong.

“I’ve also gotten to know Bruce and Dan, the producers. Their passion and commitment to presenting Harvey as he really was and to having his message continue to a new generation is simply amazing.”

Prop H8, gratuitous, immature, Islam

Proposition 8

I have read the articles about how gay couples are distraught at the passage of Proposition 8 (“Where’s the Struggle,” Nov. 21). How about an article from The Jewish Journal about how devastating it is for faithful Mormons to see their temple property trashed? Why not publish pictures showing signs reportedly held by demonstrators that read, “Mormon scum”?

It has been reported that donors to Proposition 8 are being blacklisted, rocks have been thrown through church windows, businesses are being boycotted and a book sacred to Mormons was found ablaze on a front porch.

Hmmm. Scapegoats, temples attacked, book burning. Does this sound familiar to Jews? Many who share these views — the majority of Nov. 4’s electorate — are hiding their yellow signs and bumper stickers supporting Proposition 8 for fear of being outed and attacked verbally and physically. The vocal minority is on the rampage.

John Gable
via e-mail

Although religion plays a significant role in our culture of marriage, it is not an issue of law regarding Proposition 8 (“Where’s the Struggle,” Nov. 21).

For myself, I am fine if gays are able to marry, and I am sure that I would not even notice, aside from the media extravaganza. My interest here is in the surprising dialogue uttered by political leaders, state Supreme Court justices, highly regarded law professors, pundits, journalists and everyone else who seems to have little understanding of the basic nature of law.

The equal protection clause does not mean that all people and things are equal, as in the same. The law does not intend to make all people and things the same, nor is it capable of doing so.

The equal protection clause means that the law will be applied equally to all citizens. My American Heritage dictionary, copyright 2001, defines marriage as the civil union between a man and a woman, as husband and wife. A civil union is a contract by law. In Western culture, marriage has been defined as between a man and woman across continents for centuries, meaning that it has long-standing precedence in law.

Our culture has evolved, and now we recognize a new kind of civil union between two people of the same sex. A union between two people of the same sex is dramatically different than a union between a man and a woman.

I am not saying anything here about one union being better than the other or one is good and the other bad, but I am saying that they are dramatically different, so where in our Constitution does it say that you have a right to legal nomenclature, which has long standing in law, of meaning something other than you wish it to be?

Homosexual couples under civil union and heterosexual couples under marriage, which means civil union, have equal actionable rights, meaning the law is applied the same to both unions. The legal terms applied to the two unions are different, because they are different types of civil unions, not the same in nature, but treated equally in applied law.

A civil union between a man and woman is the only existing union of two people that is capable of producing a child, in and of itself. No other type of union is capable of producing a child within the bounds of the legal union, with the child being of the DNA of the man and woman of the union, which is very unique, different and therefore not the same. No religion is necessary here, as this distinction is a matter of biological science.

The gay activists say that the discrimination is from the stigma of the term and that it is a term that means second-class citizen. People seem to have no understanding of what discrimination in law means.

All humans and government institutions discriminate in the course of daily life. Discrimination means to identify and classify according to difference. If you have a table full of apples and oranges and you identify which are apples and which are oranges, you are discriminating by difference.

Discrimination in law means that classification is used to cause harm by applying law unequally. Where did the legal term, “civil union,” come about this perceived stigma? The term marriage means civil union, so why doesn’t the term marriage carry this perceived stigma?

It is because the perceived stigma is not of the term but of the homosexuality. The law is a series of rules, not an emotional rendering of how people feel. Both unions enjoy equal application of the law, which is all the law is required to administer.

And what about the second-class citizen argument? Well, we have class licenses in law, meaning that different classes of licenses have differing applications of law. The state of California civil union law for homosexual couples is not a class license.

If a gay couple has all the rights of law as the heterosexual couple, and then they have the term marriage, will that make them a heterosexual couple in the eyes of the public and government? Of course not, which is why this debate is so silly and serves as another example of why we the people are really not very sophisticated, even at the highest levels of authority.

Victor Kodiac
Marina del Rey

A Moderate Proposal

Rob Eshman laments not having space to do justice to the views of Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi David Wolpe in their debate at the Wilshire Theatre (“A Moderate Proposal,” Nov. 21). If he would have left out the totally gratuitous description of what Hitchens was drinking, he would have had more space to write something useful.

Jim Freed
Santa Monica

Christopher Hitchens is not a bad guy, but he is immature; he needs to grow up (“A Moderate Proposal,” Nov. 21). I hope some day he does. I’m praying for him.

Irene Dunn
North Hills

Reaching Across Divide

“There are some anti-Jewish attitudes in the Muslim world — Firestone said,” as reported in your article, “Mosques, Synagogues Reach Across Divide,” which gushes over ‘twinning’ under the name of confronting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism together (Nov. 14).

Some? Is the good rabbi deaf or blind? Just get on the Internet for God’s sake, and it is not a pun. “Death to the Jews,” “Death to America,” “Death to the infidel” are broadcast daily on Al-Jazeera and other places.

In these dialogues, the underdog is helping the other side to become even more powerful. Islam is not only a religion but a dictatorial, tyrannical political system. They are not preaching love, understanding, freedom, equality, women’s rights or democracy, only jihad to take over the world. Not my words, theirs.

And we should worry about Islamophobia?

They need to change first; then we sit down to talk.

Dr. Robert Reyto
Los Angeles

Lying to Bubbe

I just read the letter, “Thou Shalt Not Lie,” responding to Teresa Strasser’s column about lying to her grandmother about her husband’s background (Letters, Nov. 14). The letter writer was outraged at Strasser’s deceit, and he only got it half right. The real moral failure here is with the editor-in-chief, Robert Eshman, for running the column in the first place and goading such writers on.

Evidently, he relishes such misadventure and, by publishing the piece, endorses it.

Albert Malevich
Hancock Park

Warrior Mom

I enjoyed David Suissa’s article, “Warrior Mom” (Nov. 14), very much, particularly because I know Esther Kandel personally. Our families have been friends for four generations.

The article reminded me of what happened to Esther Kandel’s great-grandmother, who was also named Esther. Her husband went to America to seek a better life, leaving his wife back in Russia. The First World War broke out before she could join him.

Alone with three young children and also pregnant, there was no way of communicating, let alone get any financial help for five long years. She supported her family on her own, smuggling cigarettes across the border, which was very hard and dangerous work.

Eventually, a year or two after the war, they were reunited in El Paso, Texas. I am sure her namesake would have been very proud of her courageous and fearless great-grandchild.

Hadassah Gourarie
Los Angeles

No Money, No Cry

Yes, it’s time to get creative, but stretching a buck is nothing new for Levantine Cultural Center (“No Money, No Cry,” Nov. 28). For years, we have presented cultural arts programs that bring Arabs, Muslims and Jews together to listen to music, watch films, contemplate the ideas of authors and imagine the Middle East/North Africa not an embattled region but as a constellation of communities with a great deal in common.

And we’ve done it with less than $100,000 a year. Our funding has been strictly grass roots, perhaps because major donors are still scratching their heads, trying to figure out how their Jewish, Arab, Iranian, Armenian or other specific agenda is represented by a pancultural organization that eschews national identities for a shared dialogue of civilizations.

The Levantine Cultural Center is not a Jewish organization per se, although there are several Jews on our board and advisory board. Yet we have managed, with very little money, to prove the viability of a broader agenda that serves the interests of a Jewish community that seeks peace with Israel’s neighbors.

We view the current economic crisis not as a time to retreat but an opportunity to expand our partnerships and welcome new members and supporters to the table.

Jordan Elgrably
Artistic Director
Levantine Cultural Center

Peace Process

Now that a mensch will be moving into the White House, I hope that Judea Pearl’s words are brought to his attention (“It’s Time for Words to Lead the Peace Process,” Nov. 21). In my opinion, Obama must cajole the United Nations into passing a resolution proclaiming that the world body will not allow the State of Israel to disappear.

Then, why must the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish State” if Israel considers itself a democracy? If 80 percent of the citizens are Jewish, isn’t that enough? Eighty-eight percent of Ireland’s citizens are Roman Catholic, but I have never heard democratic Ireland called a “Roman Catholic state”.

The degree of hatred now on both sides may preclude any hope for a peaceful two-state resolution, but I think Pearl’s words could help make a miracle.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

Like poisoned mushrooms sprouting after a toxic rain, the Nov. 21 edition of The Journal contains two articles urging that more energy be put into the fictitious peace process by Israel and the incoming Obama Administration (“New Administration Must Pursue Mideast Peace“).

Some readers may recall Faisal Husseini, a “Palestinian moderate” who died in 2001. Before his death, Husseini openly said that Oslo was simply a Trojan horse, and that this ruse had succeeded in gulling the Israelis.

Despite all that has happened since the “peace process” openly collapsed in 2000, nothing seems to faze the naifs in the Israeli government or their ideological confreres who write in various Jewish publications. It’s as if the British government had insisted on continuing talks with the Nazi regime, while German bombs were falling on London in 1940-41.

Let’s all clap our hands if we believe in the “peace process” and the “two-state solution!”

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

India Deaths

The deaths of Rebbe Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, as well as the nearly 200 killed in Mumbai, remind us of the perilous nature of zealous terrorism. We’ve seen these enemies before; we will see them again; we will continue to be bombarded, bombed, shelled, shot at and beaten, but we will not be overwhelmed. We hadn’t for centuries; who’s to say we will be.

The events in Mumbai are impossible to grapple with, and we feel impotent, immobile in the face of it. Are we supposed to pray and say, “All is in His hands?”

There is a need to be cognizant of our prayers but more forthright in our steadfastness and strength about what we believe to be right in the midst of tyranny and oppression.

Some find solace in prayer; some find solace in quiet mediation. Words can’t surmise the feelings of loss in this tragedy, but maybe the passage from Psalms help us feel reassured:

“They are brought down and fallen, but we are risen and stand upright.”

Why should we let terrorists win out when we know there are those who are selfless, like the Holtzbergs, who gave their lives to better others?

The lives of Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife will now embolden and inspire their 2-year-old son, Moshe, an orphan. He will learn the nobleness of living a rewarding life in the midst of immorality, chaos and danger.

“Lord, deliver us; may the King answer us on the day we call.”

Fear may be the easiest emotion to feel now, but I feel it should be steward-determined resoluteness in the face of these harsh realities.

The sophistication of evil cannot defeat the simplification of human decency.
Violent terror has killed hundreds, millions, perhaps billions, over centuries of our people.

The rabbi and his wife were giving people. The names we do not know from this massacre were businessmen, locals and tourists who all espoused their freedom.
Let us not extinguish that flame of hope that symbolizes our common core decency.

Jared Feldschreiber
Los Angeles


Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino was incorrectly referred to in Circuit (“Schulweis Gets ADL Daniel Pearl Award,” Nov. 28) as rabbi emeritus. He continues to serve as an influential and active pulpit and teaching rabbi at VBS, as he has since 1970.

In “Diller Awards Recognize Teens’ Extraordinary Efforts” (The Jewish Journal Giving Guide, November 2008), the correct name of the chair of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards selection committee is Barbara Rosenberg. The age range for qualified nominees is 13-19. Nominations are due Feb. 17.

Proposition 8 and ‘the will of the people’ — an historical perspective

Californians are acutely aware that to many political observers, our initiative and referendum process remains a mystery at best and a menace to democracy at worst.

Take the hard-fought battle over a proposed discriminatory amendment to our state Constitution. It has been called the most bitterly fought issue in the nation’s most populous state, generating more intense public interest than the presidential election on the same ballot.

It posed the question, “Can the people override a previous action intended to end unequal treatment between citizens and amend the state Constitution expressly to permit such discrimination to continue?”

Even some minority communities, despite their own bitter experience, split on the issue. After intense internal debate, the Mexican Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles ultimately endorsed the amendment as a matter of individual rights and personal choice.

Further complicating matters, the amendment itself was confusing, with a counterintuitive “yes is no/no is yes” construction that led some people to vote against their intentions, codifying discrimination instead of eradicating it.

A costly advertising campaign helped ensure the measure’s approval, touching off a new round of anger and recriminations when it was immediately challenged in court. After all, the people had spoken. Time for us all to move on.

Astute readers may have guessed that I refer not to Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage prohibition that voters narrowly approved on Nov. 4. I’m recalling instead a similar controversy from another era, one of the seminal anti-discrimination battles waged in California 44 years before.

In November 1964 — the same presidential election when liberal Lyndon Johnson handily defeated conservative Barry Goldwater — California voters reversed field and passed Proposition 14, a constitutional amendment intended to counter the Rumford Fair Housing Act enacted the year before. Strongly supported by then-Gov. Pat Brown and carried by Assemblyman W. Byron Rumford, Northern California’s first black legislator, Rumford prohibited most racial discrimination in housing.

A well-funded coalition of realtors and landlords, intent on protecting white neighborhoods and their attendant property values from feared black incursions, immediately mounted a campaign to amend the state Constitution and guarantee property owners’ continued ability to deny minorities equal access to housing.

After a heated battle, and editorial support from some leading newspapers, the measure passed with 65 percent of the vote. As the head of the archconservative California Republican Assembly explained, in that Cold War era, “the essence of freedom is the right to discriminate…. In socialist countries, they always take away this right in order to complete their takeover.”

But Proposition 14’s passage was only the beginning, not the end. The measure’s opponents were bloodied but unbowed, and quickly filed suit. As the issue ground through the courts into 1965, the Watts Riots soon engulfed South Central Los Angeles, further shaking the city’s racial complacency to its very core. By the spring of 1966, the California Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision rejected Proposition 14 as a violation of the state Constitution’s equal protection and due process provisions.

The Rumford Act and Proposition 14 became a central issue in Gov. Brown’s re-election campaign that year. One would-be Republican challenger, William Penn Patrick, thundered that Brown’s “hand-picked Supreme Court” had overturned the will of 4.5 million Californians, declaring that the real issue was not race relations, but the abolition of property rights, “the cornerstone of freedom.” Patrick’s opponent in the Republican primary, Ronald Reagan, ultimately prevailed and went on to victory in the fall by dodging the issue, taking no stand on the fate of Proposition 14 but supporting modification or repeal of the original Rumford legislation.

Proposition 14’s days, however, were numbered. In June 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court again struck down the measure, this time as a violation of federal equal protection and due process guarantees, among the most fundamental of our constitutional rights. Its most fervent supporters vowed to fight on, but by then — with urban unrest sweeping the nation’s major cities — the more pragmatic conservative politicians increasingly realized it was a lost cause.

Gov. Reagan himself plainly recognized that the times were a-changing. In a spring 1968 press conference, he vowed to veto any legislative attempt to repeal Rumford, and would also oppose any fresh ballot initiatives to eliminate it. The law had taken on symbolic importance with minorities in California, he explained, conceding that “they have got some just grievances.”

For all the white-hot political heat generated at the time by the Rumford Fair Housing Act, the efforts to override it and the epic court battles that followed, the matter now seems little more than a curious relic of a bygone age. And so it will be, I believe, with Proposition 8’s attempt to similarly deny equal protection and due process to another persecuted minority in California today.

It is barely 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the kind of state anti-miscegenation laws that once barred the type of union that produced our current president-elect. Long after the courts have similarly struck down Proposition 8, and same-sex marriage prohibitions have rightly joined Jim Crow laws on the ash heap of history, our children will look back with wonder at how it could ever have been otherwise. May that day come soon.

Zev Yaroslavsky is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and represents the western portion of the county. He was an opponent of Proposition 8.

Satire, Hitchens, Rotbart and fear

Moderate Proposal

I am disgusted at Rob Eshman’s opinion piece exposing author Christopher Hitchen’s drinking to the public (“A Moderate Proposal” Nov. 21). It’s not only disrespectful but irrelevant to the story and serves only to show Eshman’s lack of decency and tact — an irresponsible reporter who doesn’t care about the consequences of what he writes.

My proposal would be to apologize.

Talar Toprakjian
via e-mail

It Can’t Happen Here

Over Shabbat, I read Rob Eshman’s column as I do every week and was further infuriated, as I had been for weeks, at the Mormon Church (“It Can’t Happen Here,” Nov. 14). What the print edition does not point out is that Rob’s article is a work of satire, though this is indicated on the Web site edition. There is no indication that this is an opinion piece nor that it is false.

Maybe I wasn’t getting the inherent satire, but my fear is that many others did not, as well. My friends and I, and I imagine many people who read the print edition, will take this article at face value as fact and not fiction and perhaps lash out.

An article like this is quite dangerous and plants seeds of hate. Once the rumor feathers have been spread to the wind, it’s near impossible to collect them all.

Matt Rutta
Bel Air

As a regular reader of The Jewish Journal, I would like to apologize to Rob Eshman for all my fellow readers who failed to recognize his Nov. 14 editorial as satire.

Labeling a satire as satire, as some suggest, defeats the purpose of satire, which is to shock, ridicule, denounce or deride social conventions — conventions such as, say, marriage being permitted only to us heterosexuals.

Was the editorial unfair? Yes. Was it demeaning? Most certainly. Did I cringe?

You bet.

However, it merely used unfair and demeaning words to expose the unfair and demeaning treatment of human beings that is Proposition 8, an act that, in stripping away a fundamental element of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for a minority group, will join anti-miscegenation and Jim Crow laws as among the low points of American majority rule.

Jonathan Freund
Los Angeles

The Internet edition of this column (“It Can’t Happen Here,” Nov. 14) has the following comment after two lines, which makes it look like a possible afterthought: “Yes, this is satire.”

No such proposition is in the works or even a gleam in any group’s eye. The Jews have not been singled out for discrimination, just homosexuals. So why worry?

The printed newspaper does not include this comment. The paper was handed around at our Monday night poker game and no one found it funny, nor did anyone assume it was satire.

We live in a crazy world, where there are stories about what is happening in the South and the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, etc. I was about to contact the American Jewish Committee about this column, as impossible as it seemed and as untrue as it appeared to all of us.

The fact is that people contributed $22 million to the Mormon Church and took a tax deduction, and they are singularly responsible for the passage of Proposition 8, so anything can happen in this crazy country.

Is it satire or is it not?

Harold L. Katz
via e-mail

Apology for the Jewish Vote

I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight after reading parts of your Nov. 14 issue (“I Apologize for the Jewish Vote for Obama“).

Dean Rotbart frightens me with his tunnel-vision apologies — no wonder there is so much anti-Semitism.

Do clear-thinking people — here where we sometimes manage to behave like a democracy — really believe that Jews and Israel are all that matters?

Frightening, yes, but what an exciting time to be living. I applaud the diversity of your publication.

Corrine Sutila
Los Angeles

Rotbart’s admonition that voting for Barack Obama is tantamount to voting for nuclear holocaust is sadly analogous to those among the tribe of Ephraim during our slavery in Egypt, who miscalculated the 400 years of exile commencing with the covenant and not the birth of Isaac.

They were just 30 years off the mark, and their intent was pure, albeit misguided. They paid for their miscalculation with their lives, slaughtered by the Egyptians.

Woe to those among us who heed the words of our misguided brethren, making public apologies to the likes of Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and not having the wisdom to discern that sometimes the multitude gets it right.

Daniel Goodman
North Hollywood

Dean Rotbart’s screed may be the most outlandish and repulsive article that you have published in The Journal. Who deputized him to speak for any segment of the Jewish population, whether they voted for Barack Obama or John McCain?

Rotbart is quite wrong when he states that he and his like-minded compatriots did not “act soon enough and forcefully enough” to prevent four out of five Jews from voting for Obama. He and his friends did quite enough.

What they did not take into consideration was that Jews would be more aware and informed about the issues they were considering and the gutter hyperbole put forth by Rotbart and his neocon friends would be rejected.

Thomas Fleishman
Valley Glen

Dean Rotbart, did I miss the memo appointing you to be the official spokesperson for the American Jewish community? If there was no such appointment, then you have unmitigated gall to presume the right to apologize to anyone on my behalf.

If anyone is owed an apology, it is President-elect Barack Obama. You, the McCain/Palin campaign and the Jewish Republican Coalition (or whatever their name is) spread the most vicious lies about him. In fact, your opinion piece is nothing less than a continuation of the McCain/Palin campaign’s lashon hara (malicious gossip).

You should be ashamed of yourself.

Andrew C. Sigal
Valley Village

An article in the Nov. 21 Giving Guide (“Weathering the Storm”) incorrectly reported that Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s historic sanctuary was closed indefinitely last month because it was “structurally unsafe.”

In fact, Rabbi Steven Leder said, the damage is cosmetic. An e-mail sent to the congregation after a foot-long piece of plaster fell from the ceiling said the sanctuary was closed voluntarily until “proper testing and mitigation can be completed.” Previously scheduled services have been moved to the Koreatown campus’ Piness Auditorium.

The Journal regrets the error.

The spirit of Jonathan Swift, Rotbart should apologize


It Can’t Happen Here

I was shocked by Rob Eshman’s article wherein he found an unnamed organizer telling him that a coalition of blacks and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews (“It Can’t Happen Here,” Nov. 14). I immediately went to my spiritualist, and he put me in contact with that great English satirist, Jonathan Swift, so I could get his opinion on the article and on Proposition 8.

As a Westside liberal Democrat and Barack Obama supporter who voted yes on [Prop.] 8, I needed assurance that my position was correct. Swift agreed with me that homosexuals should have all the contractual rights and obligations that heterosexuals get when they enter into a marriage contract. Swift also agreed with me that the word marriage should not be changed in its meaning and that some word should be found for homosexual contracts.

He also agreed that modifying the word marriage to include homosexuals, in fact, changes its meaning, thus giving confusion to the English language. It would be the same as if we eliminated either the word homosexual or heterosexual from English and applied only one of those words to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

I hope that Mr. Eshman, who is a journalist and words craftsman, agrees with my position.

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Your very poor attempt at satire was the most appalling article to come out of this newspaper, particularly since you decided not to include the disclaimer in the printed copy of the paper. I suggest you grow up and take it on the chin.

Proposition 8 did not pass because the majority of Californians did not agree with it. Smearing other minority and religious groups is a shameful act that is not becoming of us Jews. I’m sure our Mormon and African American friends agree.

Dalia Moghavem
Los Angeles

By concocting a story about a black-Mormon coalition conspiring to ban Jews from marrying each other, Rob Eshman tries to scare the 8 percent of Jews — and 52 percent of Californians — who voted for Proposition 8 into changing their minds about gay marriage. With all the subtlety of an after-school special, he attempts to teach us a lesson in intolerance. The comparison, however, is ridiculous.

The op-ed piece’s anti-Jewish conspiracy fantasy — labeled as satire on The Journal’s Web site but, irresponsibly, not in the paper — does not lend legitimacy to the argument that homosexuals’ legal rights have been trampled upon by the passage of Proposition 8.

Those rights are secured by domestic partnership laws. For those against Proposition 8 because of church-state separation issues, then I’ll counter that gay marriage should never have been voted on and passed by the California Supreme Court. Once it was, the church-state line had already been crossed, and the people of California needed to be heard.

Through our democratic process, Californians have spoken. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman. I guess if gay rights activists, the ACLU and Rob Eshman disagree, then democracy be damned.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

In your Nov. 14 “It Can’t Happen Here” column, you failed to make an important point. If the proponents of an anti-Jewish marriage initiative want to outlaw Jews marrying Jews, should they not be condemned for failure to propose — using the same “logic” — that Mormons not be allowed to marry Mormons, blacks not be allowed to marry blacks, Christians not be allowed to marry Christians, etc., etc?

Do those advocates — using any degree of common sense — think their biased proposal can, under any circumstances, be constitutionally upheld?

Joseph Ellis
Woodland Hills

Your editorial, “It Can’t Happen Here,” mocked the passage of Proposition 8 and its ban on same-sex marriage by suggesting that one day Scripture might be used to ban Jews from marrying Jews.

However, the ban on same-sex marriage has nothing to do, necessarily, with either Scripture or equal rights. The demand for same-sex marriage, with its eligibility to adopt children, denies the biological reality of male-female differences and ignores children’s developmental needs, which same-sex marriages could never provide, no matter how loving the two dads or two moms might be.

It is bigoted to deny that men and women are different and that these differences are precisely what children need from their parents as role models and as sources of male and female nurturing. Yet, ironically, by rejecting the other gender as sexual partners, homosexuals validate these male-female biological and psychological differences.

No homosexual couple has ever, or could ever, produce a child, and only traditional male-female marriage reflects the undeniable, biological reality of male-female differences, with their necessary psychological consequences for children’s healthy development. Biology trumps social agendas, and adults’ desires are secondary to children’s needs.

Bob Kirk
via e-mail

The people of California have now spoken twice, and they’ve made it resoundingly clear that they don’t want gay marriage. The majority rules in this country.

Your protestations simply sound like sour grapes.

Charles Zucker
via e-mail

In “It Can’t Happen Here” Rob Eshman erroneously stated that the Mormon Church gave $22 million in support of Prop. 8. That number is an estimate of the amount members of the Church donated to Prop. 8 at the urging of the Church. Also, the column was satirical, or, rather, was an attempt at satire.

Political Apology

As an open-minded Jew and Green Party member, I would like to apologize to other open-minded Democrat and Green Party Jews for Dean Rotbart’s fear-mongering and hate-inspired article (“I Apologize for the Jewish Vote for Obama,” Nov. 14).

Rotbart needs to realize that the Jews of today are not the scared and uninformed Jews of the past. Jews of today use the Internet, communicate with all religions, including Muslims, and still manage to love Israel and care for other Jews.

Saying that Jews in America do not care about Israel because of an Obama vote is ridiculous. More Jews chose to vote for Barack Obama because he is against the war in Iraq, wants to help the poor and middle class and is far more intelligent than both John McCain and Sarah Palin combined.

Rotbart wants us to feel guilt, regret and fear; the very emotions that the conservative party and our past presidential party have been trying to make us feel for years now. I’m happy to say that we voted for change, and the days of Jews being stuck in an uninformed past are over.

Rotbart, kindly leave your racist views out of The Jewish Journal!

Rob Joseph
Los Angeles

I want to let Dean Rotbart know that he should not include me in his apology to the most reactionary forces in America for my proud vote for President-elect Barack Obama.

Those of us who voted for Obama are actually following a political philosophy that has been a central part of Jewish life in America. Jewish immigrants started many of the labor unions in this country; they supported the civil rights movement and social programs to help the poor.

Mark Elinson
Los Angeles

As one of the nearly eight out of 10 Jews who voted for Barack Obama on Nov. 4, I strongly reject Dean Rotbart’s apology on my behalf. I voted with hope, pride and confidence for a candidate who represents the best in what America is and what America can become.

How dare Rotbart reduce my vote to political correctness and voting for the feel-good candidate.

While The Jewish Journal can and should print the opinions representing a range of views, I would urge The Journal to stop short of providing space, and thereby legitimizing, this type of hateful speech.

Ronni Hendel-Giller
Los Angeles

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and gave demagogic credence to the poisonous venom that spews like raw sewage from the convoluted minds and mouths of conservative television and radio hosts.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and embraced hatred, bigotry and fear, while eschewing the traditional Judaic values of love, acceptance and hope.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and want the continuation of the war in Iraq, a war that has left Israel with more enemies and fewer choices and options to chose from.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and abandoned the majority of non-Jews who elected a president that carefully addresses the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio and seeks to end the Wild West shootout that has become the Republican substitute for thoughtful diplomacy.

And finally, I apologize for Rotbart and his ideological cousins at the RJC, who believe that in Orwellian doublespeak, a fact is an epithet and a falsehood is the truth.

Marc Rogers
Sherman Oaks

I have never written a letter in response to an opinion piece before, but I was so troubled by what you wrote, I felt compelled to respond.

Your assertion that those of us who voted for Barack Obama don’t have good sense or the intellectual maturity is condescending and elitist. Your fear of Obama is nothing more than Republican talking points that I have heard bellowed from every host of a FOX News show. Get a new narrative — this one clearly didn’t work.

Your veiled comparison of Obama to Hitler was the last straw. Obama is not even president yet, and the reason why we are “teetering perilously on the brink of catastrophe” is because of President Bush, Dick Cheney and all the other neocons that John McCain embraced in his campaign.

I hope in the weeks and months to come, your ears will hear what we hear (an intelligent, pragmatic voice in the White House) and your eyes will see what we see ( a world standing with the United States again). Instead of publicly apologizing for the 78 percent of Jews that did see past the fear-mongering, angry rhetoric and lies, you should be thanking us.

Debby Pearlman
via e-mail

Dean Rotbart’s opinion piece, in which he apologizes to Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin for the Jewish vote for Barack Obama, was wildly off the mark and remarkably offensive.

Rotbart and others who share his view need to take a close look at themselves in the mirror. Do they want to continue supporting people like Ann Coulter, who said that Jews need to be “perfected,” and Sean Hannity, who invited Andy Martin, an anti-Semite, as a guest on his show?

While I do not believe Rotbart to be an anti-Semite, nor do I believe that Rotbart thinks that Jews need to be perfected, I do know that the 78 percent of Jewish voters who, according to exit polling, chose the Obama-Biden ticket have no need to apologize.

You do deserve an apology for Rotbart’s use of “the gathering clouds of Holocaust II” and his outright statement that the “nuclear holocaust won” in this election.

Rotbart does need to write an apology letter; he just addressed it to the wrong people.

Marc R. Stanley
Chairman, National Jewish Democratic Council,

I guess Dean Rotbart would have voted for President Bush again if he had had the choice. Talk about hubris. No wonder his insulting viewpoint is considered, if one counts the votes, flawed by the vast majority of the Jewish voters and clearly shortsighted.

Israel needs not only a committed ally in the United States but also a competent ally if it is to achieve all of its goals. Most American Jews seem to agree that what benefits Israel most is a strong and internationally respected America.

Norman Schulman
Beverly Hills

I just read Dean Rotbart’s brilliant tongue-in-cheek apology for the Jewish vote for Barack Obama. The tip-off, of course, was his naming of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Mike Gallagher as deserving of an apology.

These talking heads — with Rush Limbaugh — have committed one of the worst of Jewish sins, i.e., malicious gossip. Rotbart even repeats some of them in his positive take on guilt by association and fear-mongering.

Unfortunately, as Rotbart points out, there are about 22 percent of Jewish voters who will look upon his opinion piece as being serious, which supports President Lincoln’s observation that you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Gilbert H. Skopp

The Kids Are All Right

I wanted to thank Marty Kaplan for his article, because it helps me to believe that maybe others in your generation can look upon mine with kindness and appreciation (“The Kids Are All Right,” Nov. 14).

We have been told our entire lives that we’re indifferent, apathetic, lazy and isolated. On election night, one chant united us in our enthusiasm for the country: “Yes we can.”

Mickey Slevin
via e-mail

Where’s the struggle?

I feel cheated. I’ve always been told that Judaism is all about the struggle — the struggle with God, with ourselves, with ideas.

I’ve been told that Judaism embraces the tension between opposing views; that a key part of being Jewish is the ability to hold onto, even nurture, this tension as a way of refining our character.

So, what happened?

When I see the coarse arguments currently raging over the issue of same-sex marriage, I don’t see any thoughtful or fascinating debates or any embracing of tension. I see two armies shooting at each other.

These two armies have one thing in common: They’re both absolutely sure they have the truth on their side.

Many proponents of same-sex marriage are so sure of themselves that they’ll accuse the other side of “hatred, discrimination and bigotry.” When I saw a neighbor a few weeks ago put up a sign that said, “No to Hate, No to 8,” the first thing that crossed my mind was: If these people can go so far as to accuse the neighbors who disagree with them of hatred, well, they must be incredibly sure of themselves. No inner turmoil there.

I can’t say I’ve reached that state of blissful certitude. That’s because for every heartfelt, passionate argument I hear in favor of same-sex marriage, I’ll hear something that complicates the argument, such as this from Carol A. Corrigan:

“If there is to be a new understanding of the meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of our state and find its expression at the ballot box.”

Corrigan is not a Mormon missionary. She’s a justice of the California Supreme Court. She was one of three dissenters in the decision last May to overturn the result of Proposition 22 from March 2000, when 61 percent of Californians who cast ballots voted that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Corrigan also happens to be a lesbian, who would personally like to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land. But as she wrote in her dissent:

“We are in the midst of a major social change. Societies seldom make such changes smoothly. For some, the process is frustratingly slow. For others it is jarringly fast. In a democracy the people should be given a fair chance to set the pace of change without judicial interference. That is the way democracies work.

“Ideas are proposed, debated, tested. Often new ideas are initially resisted, only to be ultimately embraced. But when ideas are imposed, opposition hardens and progress may be hampered.”

Does that sound like someone who’s full of hatred, discrimination and bigotry?

Similarly, I came across a scholarly and respectful essay from professor Margaret Somerville of McGill University titled, “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage.” The Bible is never mentioned. Instead, strictly from a secular and ethical viewpoint, Somerville delves into the many layers of the issue, always recognizing the opposing viewpoint. And without a trace of self-righteousness, she advances, slowly and carefully, her belief that “society needs an institution that represents, symbolizes and protects the inherently reproductive relationship.”

I would love to see all proponents of Proposition 8 show the same appreciation for the complexity of this issue.

As I see it, the key point is not whether one agrees or disagrees with Corrigan and Somerville, but rather, recognizing that there’s a lot more thoughtful debate on this issue than meets the eye.

Frankly, when I see the increasingly vitriolic attacks being launched against people who exercised their democratic right to vote on a proposition, all I’m thinking is: They’re losing me.

One person who certainly didn’t lose me was Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of the IKAR community. Over coffee at Delice Bakery the other day, she made arguments in favor of same-sex marriage that were compelling and genuinely moving.

What moved me the most was the way she made her arguments — without any hint of anger or condescension, but with kindness, reason and heartfelt anecdotes. She didn’t feel the need to use scare tactics. She was against using words like “hate” to characterize the opposition, because, as she said, that kind of language doesn’t “open the heart.”

My conversation with Brous made me reflect on my own approach. Because I’m driven by curiosity as much as ideology, I have a tendency to immerse myself in both sides of an issue — even if I usually lean one way or the other.

I admit that I’m often tempted to just go over to my side, pick up a gun and start shooting. And sometimes I do. But then I ask myself, does the community need another partisan shooter, or does it need someone who can encourage all shooters to put down their guns and try to speak with the calmness and sensitivity of a Carole Corrigan, a Margaret Somerville or a Sharon Brous?

Maybe that’s the real struggle. Instead of trying to “convert” other people to our beliefs, we should struggle to convey those beliefs in a way that won’t alienate, demean or patronize the other side.

Even when — especially when — we’re absolutely sure that we are right and they are wrong.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

‘Forward 50’ heavy on politicos; Faith groups petition Supremes re Prop. 8

Forward 50 Heavy on Politicos

The Los Angelenos in this year’s just-released Forward 50 list include an Orthodox rabbi who suggested that Israelis should be able to decide the fate of Jerusalem, a rabbi who led efforts to fight Proposition 8 and a Westlake School for Girls graduate who this year was an Olympic-gold-medal swimmer.

The Forward 50, a list of Jewish movers and shakers published annually by The Jewish Forward, is heavy this year on Jews involved in politics, particularly in President-elect Barack Obama’s successful campaign and developing the new administration. Three of the top five standouts are Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s new chief of staff; Penny Pritzker, his national campaign finance officer; and Sarah Silverman, whose video for The Great Schlep encouraged Jews, young and old, to vote for Obama. (The other two members of the top five are kosher activist Rabbi Morris Allen and Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of the dovish lobby J Street.)

“Jews played an outsized role in the presidential election campaign, and, by the looks of it, will continue to do so in the new Obama administration,” Forward Editor Jane Eisner said in a statement. “This was also the year the kosher meat industry faced its greatest legal, consumer and ethical challenges and in the process exposed major lapses in the U.S. justice and immigration systems, prompting rabbis of all denominations to examine the moral dimension of a central Jewish tenet.”

Those honored from Los Angeles, in addition to Silverman, are: Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea, who last fall wrote an op-ed for this paper that broke an Orthodox taboo and said Israel should have the independent freedom to negotiate over Jerusalem; Rabbi Denise Eger, founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform synagogue in West Hollywood, and a leading activist against Proposition 8; U.S. Olympic gold-medalist Dara Torres, who at 41 stole the show in the Water Cube from everyone but Michael Phelps; U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), who became chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after the death of Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos; and, for the third time in six years, Daniel Sokatch, who served as founding executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and left Los Angeles this summer to lead the San Francisco Jewish community.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Faith Groups Petition Supreme Court, Challenge Prop. 8

On Nov. 17, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) joined a coalition of Christian organizations in filing a petition asking the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8, the statewide ban on same-sex marriage.

The petition argues that the controversial ballot measure threatens the U.S. guarantee of equal protection, and was too dramatic a revision of the state Constitution to be passed by voters without Legislature approval.

“The Progressive Jewish Alliance is proud to join with our friends in the Christian community who likewise recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” PJA President Douglas Mirell said in a statement. “We hope our petition will remind the court and other faith communities of the dangers posed when a minority group … is deprived of equal protection by a simple majority vote. If Proposition 8 is allowed to take effect, there is nothing to stop voters from writing religious, racial or ethnic discrimination into California’s Constitution through the next statewide ballot initiative.”

Other signatories of the petition included the California Council of Churches, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. The PJA is the only Jewish organization to take part.

— Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer

Jewish Free Loan Establishes Housing Fund

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has received a $100,000 donation from the Annenberg Foundation to establish a housing loan fund that will offer $3,000 interest-free loans to individuals struggling to pay their mortgage.

The fund is a direct response to the home foreclosure crisis, which, thanks to risky lending and the subprime mortgage meltdown, led to a majority of California homes sold last month being bank-owned.

“Given the current housing climate, it was critical that JFLA establish a fund that can meet the growing needs of our community,” said Mark Meltzer, executive director and CEO.

The housing loan fund will complement JFLA’s emergency loan program, which has provided $3,000 loans to help renters avoid eviction or cover a security deposit and has assisted homeowners with utility bills and emergency repairs.

JFLA has seen a surge in emergency loan applicants this year. The nonprofit plans to raise another $750,000 during the next three years through foundation grants and individual contribution and to increase the average housing loan to $5,000 within the next few years.

Loans are available to people of all faiths. For more information on loan programs or procedures, visit the JFLA Web site at or call (323) 761-8830.

— BG

Resource Guide for Elderly Visitors Available

The Older Adult Task Force is offering a free, quick reference for families who need advice about how to best accommodate older relatives throughout this holiday season.

OATF, a coalition of approximately 40 social service agencies in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, says the guide contains information about social and health services, housing, transportation and financial assistance. Specifically, it highlights commonly asked questions and concerns and then “provides a listing of agencies with their phone numbers that can assist in addressing the relevant issues.”

The coalition has distributed the guide to relevant organizations, libraries, pharmacies, churches and recreation centers. To have a copy of the guide mailed to you, call (310) 394-9871, ext. 411, or send e-mail to A downloadable version of the guide is available at

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Archdiocese, ADL Partner to Educate Teachers

California’s Catholic school educators will be better armed to field questions about anti-Semitism in the classroom, thanks to a three-day conference sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The “Bearing Witness” program delved into the theological and political roots of anti-Semitism, as well as the methods for teaching certain delicate subjects in schools: anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the historical relationship between Jews and Christians. The Rev. Dennis McManus, associate professor of theology at Georgetown University, and Rabbi Eliot Dorff, professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, were among the speakers.

The conference, held Oct. 28-30, culminated with a special Shabbat dinner that included participants, program alumni and ADL leaders. The program is now in its sixth year and has reached more than 1,300 schoolteachers.

— LF