Monday, October 17, 2011

Rest in Peace

During the autumn of 2010 the world witnessed a stream of isolated but tragic events: the suicides of gay youth around North America.  These teenagers, truly children, took their own lives because they could no longer deal with the difficulties that came as a consequence of their sexuality, their homosexuality.  
Initiatives and movements sprung up to offer support to gay youth and decry the events.  The “It Gets Better” YouTube video series remains the most famous among them.  For a short while we, the gay community and its allies, dared to believe that our collective support conveyed the message that life would indeed get better for gay teens facing taunts or ridicule from their peers or inner struggles. 

We were wrong

On September 18th, 2011, Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14 year old from Buffalo, NY took his own life.

On October 14th, 2011, Jamie Hubley, a 15 year old from Ottawa, Canada followed suit, also taking his own life. 

Both of these young men were active bloggers who just wanted to be accepted for who they were.  The death of both these boys is the direct result of the intolerance, the bigotry, that permeates our supposedly liberal society. 
I’m sad and angry.  These deaths should not have occurred. 
The reason these tragedies strike so close to home is because not all that long ago,* a long time before YouTube and the “It Gets Better” movement, I too contemplated “escaping” the life that seemed to present me with nothing but hardship.  Obviously, I chose a different path, but that doesn’t stop the memories from haunting me to this very day.  I spent some time today reflecting on what stopped me from committing suicide.  At first, I couldn’t find an answer.  Upon further contemplation I realized that I was lucky.  In my teenage years I happened upon a few token individuals who either listened to my cries or simply lived and led by example. Though no one  could guarantee that everything would be okay or removed the pain I felt, they let me know that the choice was mine and that in time I could build the life I wanted and deserved.  I wish these boys could have had the same luck. 
Please, preach acceptance and love.  Reach out to your friends, or your friends kids, or a random stranger you encounter who seems to be struggling because of their sexuality and let them know that you will do your best to help them with whatever you are able.  Let them know they are loved.  Let’s rally together to ensure that the deaths stop here and now. 
It is customary in the Jewish tradition to perform certain Mitzvot, good deeds, in honor of the deceased so that their souls are elevated to higher levels of Heaven.  One such custom is to donate charity.  Please join me in donating a few bills to a local charity in memory of these two young men. 

*By “not all that long ago” I mean nearly a decade ago. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Not far from the apple tree . . .

On Rosh HaShana we read the story of Akeidat Yizhak – the Binding of Isaac.  This title begs the following question: If this was a test for this father, Abraham, why is called “the Binding of Isaac”? The storybook version of this biblical episode would have us believe that when the two men reached the top of the mountain where Abraham intended to fulfill G-d’s command and sacrifice Isaac, Abraham simply bound his son and prepared to complete this seemingly impossible task.  This over simplified version of the tale omits one crucial aspect.  Our rabbis teach us that, as he lay down to meet his maker, Isaac begged his father to be tied down.  Isaac did not intend running from his fate, he was 100% committed to the endeavor, but he feared that his body would unintentionally flinch during the ceremony and if any part of his body was blemished the sacrifice would be rendered impure.  Thus, as much as this was a test for the father, it was Isaac’s binding – his choice to remain devout to his faith – that was also being tested.  We each face our own challenges in life, and I firmly believe that the bond between parents and children is especially strong when it comes to tests of faith.  
When I first began coming to terms with my sexuality, one of my primary concerns was the result my coming-out would have on my parents’ stature in our community.  I feared that my parents would face criticism and would be judged harshly and I wanted no harm to befall them.  They say that an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that’s true.  I know that my strict adherence to my faith is because of the lessons I learned in my parents’ home.  I learned to love G-d, the Torah and the Jewish community as a whole, even when I do not understand or disagree with some aspect contained within any of those three.  Eventually I came to realize that, so long as I adhere to the principles set out for me by my parents, I will not disappoint them and they will not be ashamed, regardless of what anyone else may think or say.  
Over the past few weeks I’ve been grappling with the issue I presented in my last post.  Frum gay Jews comprising on aspects of their faith or observance because of their search for a significant other.  Now, for the purposes of full disclosure, there was a time when I myself believed that I could date someone less observant (or even non-Jewish) and that I would still be able to build a nice, Jewish home.  I abandoned that thought process when I returned to the moral compass set out for me by parents.  I set myself straight – pun intended – when I realized that conceding aspects of my identity and my observance was no way to build a future. 
 The dual test of Isaac and Abraham serves as a model for the  relationship between parents and gay frum children.  The struggle of being gay and frum is not an individual struggle.  The test this presents affects both the gay individual as well as his or her parents.  While our parents must accept us for who we are and trust us to make wise decisions, we should reciprocate by guiding our lives in a manner consistent with the morals they set out for us. 

Gmar Chatimah Tovah.  I wish you all a happy and health New Year and hope you will be inscribed only in the book of blessing and good fortune. 

P.S. Parents: If you are  interested in joining Tmicha, the online support community for parents of orthodox gay children, e-mail