Standing up to Our Challenge

Published Oct 24, 2010

These last few weeks have seen a flurry of media stories on the suicides of young Americans following acts of hate and harassment for their presumed sexual orientations. In tandem with this reported epidemic, hatred aimed at individuals based on their love blossomed overtly in our national Jewish communities, serving to unite and divide.

On October 10, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino addressed a gathering of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, hoping to find common ground in a speech rooted in hate, racial fear, homophobia, and Paladino’s self-professed “anger”. Late last month, the New Jersey Jewish Standard created an uproar about an act of love when the paper announced the October 17 nupitals of two Jewish men, Avi Smolen and Justin Rosen. Following outcries from various Jewish individuals and groups, the Standard announced a ban – and a subsequent reconsideration of that ban – on future same-sex marriage announcement, stating that “the issue clearly demands debate and serious consideration.”

Amidst all the articles and posts decrying the Standard’s decisions, Avi Smolen was quietly interviewed by New Voices on October 6. In response to the question, “What does [the public’s response] say about the power of those who protested the ban on same-sex announcements?” Smolen remarked: “The Standard’s reaction to all of the pressure speaks volumes about the support of the greater Jewish community for inclusion and pluralism. This is not just an issue for the gay community. This is an issue for people of all different backgrounds.”

Over the past 3 weeks, a variety of Jewish voices have taken up Smolen’s challenge to engage with these issues as a human concern for love and inclusion: In the Jewish Week, Jeremy Burton of Jewish Funds for Justice wrote about his experiences as a queer Jewish youth in light of Paladino’s hate-mongering; Yoav Sivan of the Teaneck-Patch offered some divrei Torah on the power of the speech-act, linking the Standard’s controversy to Bereshit; and Pursue wrote a post about the manifestations of covenant in our communities and our relationships, and asked for “our commitment to our society as a place for all people to be loved.” Pursue also joined Keshet in asking Jews around the world to sign the following pledge:

“As members of a tradition that sees each person as created in the divine image, we respond with anguish and outrage at the spate of suicides brought on by homophobic bullying and intolerance. We hereby commit to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities. As a signatory, I pledge to speak out when I witness anyone being demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. I commit myself to do whatever I can to ensure that each and every person in my community is treated with dignity and respect.”

What actions do you want to take? Consider:

Signing the pledge.

Getting uncomfortable with the issue.

Acknowledging the need for “an ongoing analysis of violence that lasts longer than our brief memory of the deaths of a select grouping of queer youth.”

Learning to ask the right questions:[youtube=]

Being inspired: [youtube=]

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