I Am Not Proud of What Was Done to Me, But I Am Proud of Who I Am

10172680_10152410248549809_7254544815864323903_nEarlier this month we heard from Jordan Dashow about how having pride in his queer identity meant having pride in his Jewish queer identity. Now Jordan reflects on being a survivor of sexual assault—and how that experience further defines his identity as a proud LGBTQ Jew.

(Trigger warning: This post discusses issues related to sexual violence.)

It is April 2, 2014, over three-and-a-half years after I publicly came out as gay on Facebook. I am in a classroom at Tufts University, not paying as much attention to the professor as I should be, as I contemplate what I had drafted moments before I left for class. My heart is racing. I am staring at my computer screen, full of white and blue pixels, as my hand hovers over my laptop’s touchpad. It feels like the last few years have all been leading up to this moment. I know people will notice. I know they will talk about it. I question whether I should restrict my post so no one on my limited profile—most of the adults I’m friends with—can see it. I hesitate, yet I make my decision. I click the blue button that says “post.” My status, a call for people to attend “It Happens Here” at Tufts, begins: “3.5 years ago I was sexually assaulted at Tufts University.”

Coming out as a survivor of sexual violence has been a difficult process, and in some ways it has been even more difficult than coming out as queer. Whereas our heteronormative society teaches queer people that there is something wrong with us, our society which is steeped in rape culture—a culture that excuses, normalizes, and at times even condones rape—teaches survivors that not only is the sexual assault partially our fault but that we should hide our identities. For me, knowing who I could confide in about my experiences as a survivor was even more difficult than figuring out who I could confide in about my sexuality.

So do I take pride in my identity as a survivor? It seems like an odd question to ask, especially considering the physically, emotionally and psychologically violent experience that comes with that identity. Yet, it is an important question. Too often survivors, like queer individuals, are expected to remain silent about this part of their identity. And I refuse to be silent.

So yes, I am proud. I am not proud of what was done to me, but I am proud of who I am. I am proud of how I have turned my experience into a tool for advocacy. I am proud that in a society that tells me I should shun this identity, I have found a way to embrace it. To own it. To not be ashamed by it. Because, ultimately, even our negative experiences inform who we are.

As I said in my last post, taking pride in your identity is when you no longer only reveal that identity when it is unavoidable but freely offer up that information because you have nothing to be ashamed of. And when it comes to being a survivor, we shouldn’t be the ones who are ashamed. Our assailants should be.

But why even talk about this? It may seem odd to be discussing my identity as a survivor in a post about Jewish queer pride but for me, it could not be any more appropriate. I am writing this post in May, a month after Sexual Assault Awareness Month, although it will be posted during LGBT month. For me, those two months are inextricably linked.

At the end of the day, our identities do not exist in a vacuum. My queer identity is shaped by my identity as a Jewish survivor. My Jewish identity is shaped by my identity as a queer survivor. And my identity as a survivor is shaped by my identity as a queer Jew. I cannot separate these identities from each other nor can I separate them from any of my other identities. The fact of the matter is, I cannot truly have pride in my Jewish queer identity if I do not take pride in my identity as a survivor as well. 

So let this LGBTQ Pride month not just be an opportunity for us to take pride in our LGBTQ identities; let it be an opportunity to take pride in all of our oppressed identities. You do not need to love the experiences that gave you those identities or resulted from those identities; however, I do strongly believe that we need to have pride in ourselves, and that is only possible once we reject the stigmas society has put on our oppressed identities and have taken ownership of them for ourselves. So let this LGBTQ Pride month be an opportunity to recognize that all of our identities inform our queer identity, and let’s take pride in that. Because that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Sexual Assault Resources:

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Organization Members are LGBT anti-violence organizations across the country. This list includes organizations listed by state, alphabetically, with support for survivors of sexual assault, partner abuse, and hate violence.

The Network/La Red hotline provides emotional support, information and safety planning for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and/or transgender (LGBQ/T) folks, as well as folks in SM/kink and polyamorous communities who are being abused or have been abused by a partner. They also offer information and support to friends, family or co-workers on the issue of domestic violence in LGBQ/T communities. You don’t have to leave or want to leave your relationship to get support. The hotline is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 1-6 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to midnight. Call 617-742-4911 (voice) or 617-227-4911 (TTY).

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: Find “live help for sexual assault victims and their friends and families” at the RAINN national sexual assault online helpline. It is free, confidential, and secure.

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Posted on June 20, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

How Being the Rabbi’s Gay Son Taught Me to Be a Good Dad

raj-castro-pic-1

The author with his son

There’s a great post on Kveller that many of us can probably relate to.

Jon Raj shares his fear that as the son of a respected rabbi, he felt, “…I had to be better than most in order to uphold what a rabbi’s family “should be.” And that meant hiding the fact he was gay for many, many years.

You can read the full post here.

 

Posted on June 19, 2014

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Ask Asher: The Pride Edition

Introducing “Ask Asher” – Keshet’s new advice column! Each month we’ll be answering your questions and doling out advice. Have a question about LGBTQ life? Jewish life? LGBTQ Jewish Life? Ask Asher! Send your questions to AskAsher@keshetonline.org and you might be featured in our next column.

asherQ.How can I celebrate Pride if I’m only out to certain people?”
Asher: You don’t have to be completely out to go to Pride. People of all sexual orientations and identities attend (including straight people), so you don’t have to out yourself if you’re not ready. Bring some friends who know for support, and have fun!

Q. “I don’t want to march alone at Pride. Is marching with Keshet at Pride a good first date?”
Asher: Bringing a date to Pride is like bringing a boxed meal to an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you’re in a relationship already, by all means, bring that lucky guy or gal, but if you’re single, wouldn’t you rather take a look at the spread first?

Pride is an excellent opportunity to meet people; bringing someone on a first date to the parade will seriously hamper your ability to engage with others, regardless of whether or not they are romantic prospects.  If you can, organize a group of friends to march with, so no one will get jealous when you start to talk to new people. Oh, and the people at Keshet are awesome and super friendly, so if you need someone to march with, you should contact them. Have fun!

Q: “I just came out, and it’s a big deal. I don’t want it to be a big deal. I don’t want to march in a parade just because I’m gay. How do I deal with the whole idea of Pride month?”
Asher: No one is forcing you to march in any parade. If you don’t want to “deal with the whole idea of Pride month,” just don’t participate in any Pride-related activities or events. There is no “right way” to be LGBT; you can be as much or as little of a part of the community as you’d like.  That said, your strong resistance to Pride is just another way of making a big deal out of it (which is okay, by the way).

So, how do you deal with being out? You don’t, because you can’t change it; you do the things you love with the people you love, and eventually you won’t feel like being out is such a burden. Happy Pride!

Pride-image_FINAL-500x500Q: “How do I involve my Jewish community in celebrating Pride?”
Asher: Try contacting the leaders of your faith community and ask them if they’d like to participate in Pride.

I recommend already having a specific plan in place (such as marching under a banner or holding a Pride-related service), so that you can present a full-fledged idea (which will be easier to get behind than just saying “Let’s do something for Pride!”). Good luck and have fun!

 

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Posted on June 18, 2014

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See How Boston Celebrates Pride

This weekend Boston celebrated Pride and Keshet marched through the streets with a rainbow chuppah. Take a look at a few of our favorite moments from the parade—including a proposal. (And, check out our list of pride events happening throughout the country—let us know how your community is celebrating! Be sure to download some of our signs and check out our Pride resources!)

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Posted on June 17, 2014

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Pack Your Bags & Hit the Road for Pride

pride-2013It’s June, which for many means it’s vacation time. Things slow down at work, the kids aren’t at school, and the opportunities are endless. If you’re looking to fit a little Pride celebration into your vacation, look no further. We’ve got the lowdown on Jewish organizations across the country, and how they are celebrating LGBT pride. (And, if we’ve missed anything, let us know!)

California:
JUNE 22, 2014 Rainbow Shadows: Celebrating Family with Shadow Puppets
SAN FRANCISCO
In honor of SF Pride Month, join shadow puppeteer Daniel Barash for a performance and puppet-making workshop that celebrates family in all its diversity.

JUNE 25, 2014 LGBT Rights in Africa: A Voice from the Frontlines
SAN FRANCISCO
AJWS Global Circle and The Young Adult Community at Congregation Emanu-El
invite you to join us for an evening of appetizers and activism.

JUNE 27, 2014 Pride Freedom Seder at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav
SAN FRANCISCO
Join Congregation Sha’ar Zahav for our Seder and celebrate Pride Weekend with us, as we read the words of our community from our own Pride Haggadah.

JUNE 27, 2014 Shabbat Picnic at Trans March
SAN FRANCISCO
Join Keshet and Glitter Kehilla for a Shabbat picnic at Trans March. Come meet some new folks, eat some tasty food, and celebrate Trans March!

JUNE 27, 2014 Congregation Beth El’s LGBTQ Pride Shabbat – with Chardonnay!
BERKELEY
Celebrate summer and LGBTQ Freedom and Pride at our festive Shabbat evening. Come at 5:30 pm for the first of our seasonal Chardonnay Shabbats – enjoy a glass of wine or juice, refreshments and schmoozing!

JUNE 27, 2014 Pride Shabbat at Congregation Netivot Shalom
BERKELEY
Congregation Netivot Shalom invites you to celebrate their inclusive community. At this Shabbat, they’ll celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community. Please bring a kosher potluck item to share.

JUNE 29, 2014 March with Keshet in the Pride Parade!
SAN FRANCISCO
Like LGBTQ Jews? Like Keshet? Show your support by marching with us at Pride! RSVP for more details.

Colorado:
JUNE 20, 2014 Pride Musical Shabbat Service and Picnic in the Park
DENVER
Join your friends for Keshet’s annual Pride Shabbat Picnic at Cheesman Park. This year Pride Shabbat will be co-sponsored by our friends at B’nai Havurah, the Denver JCC, and Judaism Your Way!

JUNE 22, 2014 March with Jewish Community Pride!
DENVER
Join your friends at Keshet and many other local Jewish community organizations to show your pride and support of the LGBTQI Jewish community!

Illinois:
JUNE 22, 2014 Out of the Closet Concert
SKOKIE
Enjoy a unique musical program of music from American singers, lyricists and composers who are both closeted and out of the closet.

Massachusetts:
JUNE 21, 2014 Pride Shabbat
BROOKLINE
Join us for TBZ’s 4th Annual Pride Shabbat. Friday night service at 6:30pm and Shabbat morning at 10am. This event is open to both TBZ members and the community at large.

New Jersey:
JUNE 20, 2014 Gay Pride Shabbat Services at Temple Emanu-El
EDISON
Shabbat Celebration with compelling stories, incredible music, and meaningful prayer.

New York:
JUNE 27, 2014 Pride Kabbalat Shabbat Service with Guest Speaker Hon. Bill De Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York, introduced by CBST member Cynthia Nixon
NEW YORK
Pride Shabbat is at the heart of New York City’s Pride celebrations! Come early to get a seat!

Pride-image_FINAL-500x500JUNE 28, 2014 Pride Shabbat Morning Services and Pride Multi-Generational Picnic
NEW YORK
Join CBST for our Pride Shabbat Morning Services – Liberal Format on Saturday, June 28, 29 Sivan at 10am, at 57 Bethune Street.

JUNE 29, 2014 NYC’s Gay Pride Parade
NEW YORK
The LGBTQ Jewish community along with their families, friends, and allies will be marching in the NYC Gay Pride Parade under the Mosaic of Westchester Banner. Please join us in the celebration!

Texas:
JUNE 28, 2014 Marching in Houston Pride Parade
HOUSTON
Keshet Houston will be marching in the 2014 Houston Pride Parade for the first time. People from across the Jewish community are invited to join us!

Washington:
JUNE 27, 2014 Pride Shabbat at Temple Beth Am
SEATTLE
TBA is delighted to host this year’s city-wide Pride Shabbat! Open to the entire Jewish community, and is a celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Jews, with their friends, allies, and families. 

 

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Posted on June 16, 2014

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A Story of Fatherhood

Colin & Stella

Colin & Stella

Growing up Colin Weil never doubted that he’d have the family he wanted—a husband and kids.

When I called Colin last week, I explained to him that Keshet was looking to celebrate gay, Jewish dads for Father’s Day. “Great!” was his animated response. “I love celebrating, and I love being celebrated!” His enthusiasm didn’t dwindle as we chatted away about how he became a father, his co-parenting story, and how he has begun showing Jewish values and LGBT pride to his young daughter.

Colin’s story of fatherhood is rooted in a pride of his own LGBT identity—and he appreciates how lucky he is. Coming out to his family in the late 1980’s could have gone poorly, but his family and friends have always accepted him. Colin joked that his mom, Sonya Michel, a women and gender historian who co-wrote The Jewish Woman in America alongside Paula Hyman and Charlotte Baum, would have been disappointed if she didn’t have a gay son.

When Colin hit 40, he was single and ready to seriously think about kids. Over the next few years he considered surrogacy, but found it wouldn’t be the right fit for him. Three years later a mutual family friend introduced Colin to a single, straight woman who was also contemplating having children. They were set up on, what Colin called, a “blind co-parenting date.” Over the next few months they emailed, called, met, and even went to couples counseling as they thought about becoming co-parents. Their daughter Stella was born in February of 2011.

Colin shares custody of his daughter. He lives in New York City’s West Village, which he calls “pretty much a Nirvana” for being a gay, Jewish parent. He’s spent the past few years exposing his daughter to aspects of LGBT culture, while also immersing her in Jewish traditions. His lullabies for Stella have ranged from rock n’ roll, to children’s songs, to traditional Jewish melodies. Every Shabbat they light the candles together. Stella’s mom comes from an interfaith background herself—so Stella is immersed in aspects of Jewish traditions, celebrates Easter and Christmas, and benefits from having a mother who identifies as a bit of a Jew-bu.

Colin’s co-parenting situation might seem unique—it did to me. Well, until he put it in terms that are really quite easy to understand, “it’s as if we got divorced before ever getting married.” When I asked Colin if his family had been accepting of his parenting choices he told me that they very quickly accepted his decision. After all, parenting was always part of his plan. “I never stopped assuming that just because I was gay that I wouldn’t have what the rest of my family has—kids.”

In honor of Father’s Day, AmazonSmile is donating an extra $5 to Keshet for any purchases made before June 15th. Click here, and any purchase made through Amazon will help support Keshet!

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Posted on June 13, 2014

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Why I’m Proud, but Wary

In June of 2001, when I was 16 years old, I went to my very first New York City Pride Parade.

Pride-image_FINAL-500x500Having just come out less than year earlier, I was equal parts excited and anxious about the spectacle that I was about to be a part of. Excited because this would mark my first foray into one of the most seminal events on the gay calendar, but anxious because I had no idea what it meant to participate in it.

I was so new to the community, and so very, very young that I really did not have any concept of what it meant to be proud. I mean, I had slowly developed a community of friends through this incredible organization called Pride for Youth, which hosted a weekly coffeehouse for LGBT teens every Friday evening, and which I credit sincerely with helping me to develop and cultivate my own identity. Without Pride for Youth, I would not be anywhere near able to have any pride in who I am, let alone be able to write about it in a national blog. So I saw the Parade sort of as an opportunity to show off this new, still very fresh identity, and to share in a day of celebration with other people of that same—or similar—identity.

Truth be told, however, save for getting a bit…closer with a friend of a friend (sorry mom!) I don’t remember much about that parade, except feeling…overwhelmed.

So many scantily clad, unbelievably beautiful bodies gyrating to ever-pulsating music, balloons and rainbows as far as the eye could see, cheering, clapping, and dancing. I certainly felt swept up in the extreme joy that pervaded all of lower Manhattan, but I’m not sure if I felt pride. It all just seemed so…surface, as if the ecstasy of the moment betrayed a sense of apprehension underneath; dancing because as gay individuals, we didn’t have the rights to do much else.

And, in the summer of 2001, we very much did not. There was scant representation of LGBT characters in media, if at all, hate crimes legislation had just stalled in the US Congress, as the specter of Matthew Shepherd’s gruesome death still loomed large, and marriage equality was prohibitively, if not laughably, far into the future. We needed the exuberance of the Pride Parades to remind ourselves just how fabulous we were, since the rest of society didn’t quite get it yet.

13 years later, and our communal status has grown exponentially. Our rights as US citizens are at an all-time high, with 19 states—and the incredible District of Columbia—giving full equality in marriage to LGB citizens, states like Maryland signing unprecedented anti-discrimination legislation into law, and signs that gay is fast becoming “the new normal.” With every passing year, we have more to celebrate, as the rest of society catches up with our own community’s realization of how awesome we are.

Ari NavehCertainly this is reason enough to be proud. To that, I would respond with a very qualified yes. Just as many in society recently—and spectacularly—instructed a certain Princeton undergrad to check his privilege, I urge us all to check our pride. Not because it may lead to arrogance, or haughtiness—we’re not doing quite that well yet—but lest it lead to complacency. Our accomplishments are great, and ever-growing. Gay representatives, judges, senators, and football players are amazing, as are bearded Eurovision winners, and they will help round out models of all shapes, sizes, and genders for LGBT youth. But the recent Supreme Court rulings leave me hesitant at best for the Hobby Lobby case, and what will amount to legally sanctioned LGBT discrimination if the Court rules for Hobby Lobby. Do we run the risk of being too busy celebrating, and not fighting?

With each step forward we take as a community, society seems to mandate that we take about a half step back. This is of course a vast improvement from my first parade in 2001, when any small inch forward resulted in blocks of pushback, but we must forever pepper our pride with action. We need pride, it fuels us forward, ever closer to each other, and to the rest of the world. May our pride remind us that our work is never done.

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Posted on June 11, 2014

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Why We March

This year will mark the 9th year that I have been marching in the Cadillac Barbie Indy Pride Parade in Indianapolis. My son had been out a few years and I took the plunge by joining other members of my PFLAG chapter to march in the parade. I have to say that I was not prepared for what I would witness that morning.

Matthew & Annette

Annette & her son Matthew

But as I marched in Pride that first year, I learned that not all LGBT people are as fortunate as Matthew. Before the parade started, people began lining the sidewalks along the parade route. At the appointed time, my group began marching. One of the women walking with me was another Jewish mom. She was an “old-timer” and I was a novice.

We walked very slowly down the street behind our PFLAG banner. I was smiling and waving, and then I heard a roaring sound. As the crowd noticed our banner, they began cheering and shouting—”We love you PFLAG—thank you—thank you!” I looked around and realized that it was LGBT adults who were doing the yelling and cheering. I looked at the woman I was marching with and even though she was smiling, she had tears streaming down her face.

I knew that too many LGBT young people faced scorn and isolation from their parents, and were bullied by their classmates. But until that moment, I hadn’t understood that the LGBT adults who lined the sidewalks were still suffering from the pain of rejection from their parents—many of whom were not alive anymore. That pain never went away.

And then I realized that we—the supportive parents of LGBT children—represented the parents that these people never had.

I kept waving and smiling, but now I, too, had tears running down my face.

Annette Gross has continued to support her son and her community by founding the Indianapolis chapter of Keshet Parent & Family Connection program. The Keshet Parent and Family Connection is a diverse network of parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews across the country who are available to offer support to other parents dealing with any stage of their child’s coming out process. Anyone can join or start their own chapter – visit our website to see more!

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Posted on June 9, 2014

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How Will You Mark Pride Month?

Every June people across the world celebrate LGBTQ Pride. Take a look at some of our resources and prepare for a fantastic June!

I. EVENTS
Visit Keshet’s Pride Events page for a list of Jewish LGBTQ Pride events happening across the United States this June. Be sure to add your organization’s event to our listing!

II. DOWNLOADS
Download your own Pride posters, stickers, and a graphic to help you celebrate and show your pride!

download signsdownload stickersdownload facebook graphic

III. Sermons and D’vrei Torah
Looking for some words of inspiration? Check out these sermons and d’vrei Torah.

Photo Credit: Greg Barman

Photo Credit: Greg Barman

IV. Stories from the Community
This month we will be sharing stories from our community of moments of Pride. Keep an eye out on our blog, as we’ll be updating and adding stories throughout the month. And, if you’re interested in sharing your own story, email Jordyn to set something up!

Posted on June 6, 2014

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I’m Proud because Being Different is Not Just OK – It’s Incredible

At the young age of 5, I started what would be a decade of denial. I should’ve known I was gay when I was in preschool, and I asked my mom if there was a country where I could marry my best friend, Rachel.

I should’ve known I was gay when I put it on my calendar every Monday for five years to “Pick A OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANew Crush.” Every other girl in my class had a crush on a boy, so I would take a look around a classroom and pick the boy that wasn’t picking his nose. I didn’t have high standards.

I should’ve known I was gay when I watched the movie Stranger Than Fiction over and over again just for the one scene when Maggie Gyllenhaal danced in the bakery.

I should’ve known I was gay, and deep down I did know I was gay, but society told me I had to be something I’m not, and I obeyed.

I came out for the first time to one of my closest friends at a convention for my youth group, United Synagogue Youth (USY). She immediately accepted me but I was still slapping myself in the face when I saw a cute girl and constantly praying to G-d to please, Hashem, help me be “normal.”

I came out to a group of peers on April 4th, 2014 at the Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton. I drove up from my New York suburb to Middle Of Nowhere, Connecticut (Falls Village) with my best friend from USY to the Isabella Freedman Center.

ShabbatonTShirt FRONT_FINALWith shaking hands, I grabbed my suitcase and walked into a room with around 50 Jewish teens. Some draped rainbow flags over their shoulders and others chatted about the best challah recipe for Shabbat dinner. From learning about the hardships that other LGBT Jewish teens have endured to doing services on a mountain top, I felt the largest connection to Judaism I have ever experienced and my hatred for myself transformed into an overwhelming sense of pride. April 4th to 6th is the weekend that changed my life for the better.

I came out publicly to the world through a video of me being honored at the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network Awards and am now one of the first “out” people in my grade at school.

Walking into my suburban public school the next day was a nightmare. I feared being taunted, judged, losing the friends I had just finally made.

But it was exactly the opposite.

My day started with a phone call from another Keshet Teen LGBTQ Shabbaton attendee, congratulating me and wishing me luck. I only met that teen a few months ago, but they are now not only a friend, but family. I got messages of support from people in school and people in my synagogue, people who live next door to me, and people who practice Judaism in Africa.

Especially this month, I’m so incredibly thankful for the Jewish community for teaching me that different is not just “ok,” but incredible.

We Jews are all over the place and the sense of family—whether the conversation is about coming out or what horseradish brand is on your seder plate—is so immense and welcoming. No matter what, I know that I am branded with the imprint of my grandmother’s matzo ball recipe and that my rainbow flag is proudly stained with grape juice from my Shabbat dinner.

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Posted on June 3, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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