Saturday, December 17, 2011

On a LIGHTer note . . .

Gingerbread lattes in visually seductive red cups, Michael BublĂ© crooning renditions of classic holiday songs and the joy on the faces of cheerful gentiles . . . it’s all enough to sweep even the most observant Jew into the “tis the seasons” and eggnog induced stupors.  I’ve fallen prey to the seductive commercialization of the holidays more than once.  The idea of a warm hearth and brightly decorated home usually trigger my nesting emotions.  (I promise, I’m going somewhere with this). 
As a university freshman I briefly dated a nice young Jewish man a year my senior.  Though our relationship was destined to fail, he loathed orthodoxy, this dalliance with romance—my first—was great.  I found expression for emotions I had never before been able to release.  Particularly vivid from our time together is when I took my then boyfriend to my German club’s holiday Kaffeeklatsch.  Proudly I introduced him to my professor as “mein Freund.”  “Ein Freund,” my professor corrected me.  The possessive “mein” made my statement mean he was boyfriend as opposed to simply a friend.  I knew what I had said, so I smiled and gently reiterated my statement.   I think she was slightly shocked, but she accepted it and the festivities continued.  That relationship ended a short while later on a particularly warm December 25. 
I’m embarrassed to say that the very next year I fell prey to the very same mistletoe infused emotions.  This time I went a bit further and attempted to date a non-Jew.  I both smile and cringe when I recall that our first date was spent building a gingerbread house.  He was sweet, charming, looked adorable with a Santa hat on and wished me a Merry Christmas.  Talk about destined to fail. 
It’s these experiences and others that make me appreciate the lessons of Chanukah. Falling into the trap of hedonism and the simple of thrills of secular life is so easy.  Admittedly, standing behind our windows, kindling our Chanukiot  and knowing that, even though Chanukah  may not permeate every aspect of society like Christmas does, we stand on a greater path is sometimes a challenge.  Sometimes we just need to pull ourselves out of the holiday haze and remember the sacrifice of the Maccabees and what it stands for.  I only really learned to appreciate Chanukah because of the relationships I attempted.  I succumbed to the holiday spirit and found that nothing lay there for me.  I came to understand that those eight little lights (and countless sufganiyot) represent a purpose and a meaning that has survived millennia, despite the prosecutions and unyielding temptations. 
I still smile at the sight of a wreath hanging on a door and the Starbucks red cups make me giddy, but I now know that my future resides in something greater. 
The first night of Chanukah is Tuesday, 20 Dec.  Light with pride. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Some much needed Mussar

I had earnestly hoped that that when I had the time to post it would be a Dvar Torah filled with inspiration and warmth.  Thanks to a bit of commotion in the Jewish world (and a bout of insomnia) I’m again writing before I intended on not exactly on the topic of my choice. 
A few weeks ago R’ Steven Greenberg, author of Wrestling with G-d and Man, director of Trembling Before G-d and self-proclaimed gay Orthodox rabbi officiated at a gay orthodox wedding.  In the aftermath of this occasion a group of 100 orthodox rabbis from across America organized the signing of a latter condemning the ceremony. Source .   R’ Greenberg, in response, claimed that the ceremony was not a wedding and was not intended to be one because it lacked KiddushinSource .  Yet actions speak louder than words and the circumstances fo the ceremony place it within the context of a wedding.  The ceremony contained a chuppah, both men exchanged rings, smashed glasses and wore kittles . . . looks a lot like a wedding to me. Source .
I’m not against gay marriage—I plan on getting married myself.  I’m against people trying to find loopholes in halacha and wordsmithing their way out of a difficult situation.  I also believe that other strains of Judaism (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist) are free to do what they want with gay weddings.   Source.   I, however, do not subscribe to that interpretation of Judaism and don’t think anyone would try and label it as “orthodox.”
The next even of significance was the presentation of letter—shall we say a contra-Statement of Principles—that held nothing back as it blasted Jewish gays in demanding that they undergo reparative therapy and seek Teshuva for their misdeeds.  Source (you can ignore the op-ed and read the actual letter at the bottom).  This made my blood boil  for a number of reasons:
1)       Its suggestions are ignorant and scientifically rejected
2)       It seems to have been in the works for well over a year but cowardly kept separate until enough signatures were gathered (note the date on R’ Kamenetsky’s signed copy as well as the request that the contens be kept secret until enough signatories were amassed). 
3)       One of the primary supporters—R’  Shmuel Kamenetsky—is a man I was raised to revere and this causes me to question his status as a Gadol HaDor.
(UPDATE, 1/5/12 the complete list of signatories can be found here)
After all this I stumbled upon yet another article, this one from a rabbi at Brown University I had previously not heard of.  source .  While I don’t agree with all of what he writes, his main point is striking and I place 100% of my support behind it: Orthodoxy is shattered.   As the bearers of Hashems eternal truth in this world we—via our rabbinical leadership--  are failing in our mission as we hide behind letters, allowing ourselves to flee from confrontation as we fail to establish a uniform response to the issues that plague our society—or in many cases, any response at all.   I weep for the days of the Sandhedrin or the Shoftim.   Even if those scholars of old would chastise me, or worse, for my sexuality, I long for the days when G-d’s will permeated every aspect of Jewish life as it found embodiment on the lips of men and women wiser and more spiritually connected that I can ever hope to be.  Orthodoxy has failed.  We have succumbed to the divisive effects of Galut and are a flock of lost sheep.  
I believe you can be orthodox and gay.  I believe you can be orthodox, gay and a rabbi.  I believe you can be orthodox, gay, a rabbi and celebrate the companionship of a same-sex couple.  I don’t believe that the tradition of orthodoxy was meant to be bastardized by and vast number of rabbis who would seek to use the Torah to promote their own points of view that they dare not challenge. 
A man whose wisdom and guidance I cherish and view as a return to the tradition that is all-but-lost recently told me that, to him, the sexuality of the man davening next to him is irrelevant.  I hope we can all relate to the message in his poignant and simple truth.