Part Two of a two-part story of a gay rabbinical student in the Reform Movement. Yesterday Ari shared his place in the history of openly gay rabbinical students. Today Ari delves deeper into navigating his identities. You can also hear from Rabbi Elianna Yolkut on her journey from the closet to the pulpit on Rabbis Without Borders.
In 2008, I made the decision to enter rabbinical school as an openly gay man. The decision was in some ways very easy and in some ways very difficult. My concerns centered on one main question: what would my gay and Jewish community be like? After my initial year at Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Israel, I received some less than ideal news: my new home would be at the HUC campus in…Cincinnati.
This had not been my initial choice and I was none too pleased, having been born and raised in New York. But, I thought, “I am sure that I will not only be welcomed with open arms, but I will find a loving community who can help model for me being a gay rabbinical student, and subsequently a gay rabbi…right?”
I soon discovered, at least for my first year, I was the only openly gay student on campus; my therapist always tells me that it’s important to note openly gay, because you never know, and I do appreciate her optimism. Somehow by default, I became a halutz (a pioneer), the very identity I had hoped to avoid when I chose to be a gay rabbinical student in the Reform world, as opposed to the Conservative one.
In Cincinnati, I had to actively think about how to navigate all of my identities with a limited support network. In a conservative Midwestern city, I found myself working with even smaller–and sometimes even more conservative–congregations as their student rabbi. How would I come out to my student pulpits? Should I use them as bully pulpits to advocate for the causes that I find important and meaningful? How do I seek out a solid LGBT Jewish community outside of the school, when school takes up most of my life? And of course the biggest question: am I a gay rabbi, or am I a rabbi who is gay?
These two sentences may sound alike, but they could not be more different, as I discovered a few months ago in trying to craft a personal statement to send out to congregations to apply for possible rabbinic positions. In my personal statement, I told a story of building a relationship with a congregant in a community in Northwest Florida who was initially hesitant about having an openly gay rabbinical student; the fact that I had not yet mentioned my sexuality to that community, but rather had been outed by my predecessor is a whole other story. I wrote that over the two years I served there, we grew to form an incredible relationship, and that I hoped to have shifted his perspective if only a small amount.
The story I told for my personal statement was met with a resounding and near universal opposition. I was told that it foregrounded my sexuality too much: It showed me as “the gay rabbi” more than “Ari who is gay”…and also holds many other identities and traits, of equal value and import. While this is certainly true, it felt strange to hear from – mostly straight – friends, colleagues, and teachers that it would behoove me to “tamp down the gay.” In a recent article in Slate.com, gay writer J. Bryan Lowder lamented how some public figures have taken to coming out by stating that being gay is only but one small part of who they are, not their whole essence. Lowder believes, as do I, that this emphasis diminishes the value of coming out and acting as a role model to fellow LGBT people.
As I round the bases towards my eventual finishing of this program, I have no more answers to that quandary than I did when I started. I think sometimes you just have to be a halutz, taking the lonely road for the sake of those who will one day follow. It can be challenging, but at least it creates some pretty great stories.
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Deciding to become a rabbi is a momentous decision. For a gay man, the decision is even more fraught. In the first of this two part-series, Ari Naveh provides an intimate look at his decision-making process for picking a rabbinical school.
In 2006, after years of debate, arguments, and failed attempts, the Conservative Movement (finally) voted to allow the admission of openly gay students into their flagship institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City.
Among the ‘liberal’ seminaries—including Hebrew Union College, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Hebrew College—JTS was the last to make such a decision, and the vote was met in most circles with joy, celebration, and the feeling of great relief. Now openly gay prospective rabbinical students who were raised in the Conservative Movement, or who found meaning in its tenets, could learn to become its leaders in the hallowed halls of the world-renowned and historically impressive institution.
Having known that my life’s ambition was to attend rabbinical school in some capacity, the JTS decision was monumental for me. While I was raised in the Reform Movement, I felt drawn to many of the tenets of Conservative Judaism. It was incredibly heartening to know that I now had the full breadth of non-Orthodox options available to me.
But, when it came time to take that next step and apply to rabbinical school in 2008, I couldn’t shake that low-level feeling of unwelcomedness at JTS. With the decision only two years old, being an openly gay rabbinical student at JTS still seemed fraught with a sizeable number of complications.
Did I want to be a halutz (pioneer) for the Conservative Movement, gaining the notoriety and the fame—or perhaps infamy—as one of the first openly gay students in their seminary?
Was I comfortable with carrying that weight on my shoulders, along with all of the academic—and halakhic—requirements?
On the one hand, being a student at JTS was an opportunity to be a role model to many, showing bravery in the face of a slowly changing institution in specific, and a society in general. On the other hand, it seemed lonely.
What kind of community would I be able to foster if I was among the only gay students there? To whom could I turn for support? I weighed those options heavily and realized that loneliness could not beat out bravery. I chose to attend Hebrew Union College, which had a strong history of LGBT inclusion, having welcomed their first gay seminarians way back in 1990. I did not—and do not—regret my decision, as I felt it right to honor my Movement, and join what I thought could be a great and vibrant cohort of openly LGBT students.
Now, almost six years later, I reflect on my decision often. JTS’s momentous decision in 2006 opened the door for many, and demonstrated a change in the tide. While my path ultimately took me to Hebrew Union College and the Reform Movement, seeing the Jewish community opening and redefining the notion of inclusion made rabbinical school that much safer for me.
The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
Check out today’s powerful and brave post on The Canteen from David Furman, who reflects on coming out and his world at Summer camp. If you’re struggling with how to come out, be sure to check out some of Keshet’s resources and stories of coming out on our blog.
I first thought that I might be different when I was in sixth grade. I went to Jewish day school, and I was horribly bullied for being different. My reaction was to revel in the negative attention, to try to act like I liked it…it was the only way I knew to fit in. My only friends were two girls. And by friends, I mean they were willing to hang out with me at school, and we talked on the phone a couple times. Not a couple times a week – a couple of times. One day at school, these girls asked me who my crush was, but I had never really thought about it before. When I started to think about it, I realized it was Danny. I was confused, so I just stuffed it down and lied to make it easier. I said it was one of them.
Years later when I was seventeen, I was searching for something to connect to, a place to feel comfortable. A friend in USYconvinced me to work at Camp Solomon Schechter for the summer. I was hesitant, but I figured, why not? At Jewish camp, I found the home I had been searching for, the acceptance I had been longing for. People loved me, no matter what. In the worst of times, Schechter was my refuge. I would always look forward to summer, for moments of serenity and happiness. I have worked at camp every summer since, and as of four years ago, I work there full time (my dream job).
Let me introduce myself. My name is David Furman, and I am the Assistant Director of Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Washington. And I am gay. I came out one month ago at twenty-nine years old. And I came out on Facebook, so the whole world would know. (I didn’t tell a single person before I posted it on Facebook…scary!)
So why now? And why Facebook?
A new report on LGBT inclusion in the Jewish community was just released and it’s already making waves. The Jewish Organization Equality Index by the Human Rights Campaign is the first-ever index of inclusive policies and practices in a faith-based community and nonprofit sector. (The report is modeled on HRC’s groundbreaking indices in the corporate and healthcare sectors and it was Initiated by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, together with The Morningstar Foundation, Stuart Kurlander and an anonymous donor
The report looked at three areas:
- Organizational Inclusion Efforts: Actions and programs that encourage contributions from the LGBT community and foster diversity and an inclusive environment within the workplace.
- Community/Client Engagement: Programs specifically for LGBT members and clients, including programs and facilities designed for youth and the elderly.
- Workplace Policies: Policies and programs in place that support LGBT employees of the organization.
So, how are we doing as a Jewish community?
The good news:
- 50% of the organizations achieved the top score of “Inclusion.”
- 66% of organizations actively reach out to the LGBT community to attract members or clients.
- This is a bit of a mixed bag, but encouraging. 65% of the organizations with a non-discrimination policy include “sexual orientation” in their policy. Only 30% of those also include “gender identity or expression.”
But, not surprisingly, the report revealed that there is a lot more work to be done.
- Only 33% of the organizations that serve youth have an anti-bullying policy.
- 59% of participating organizations have not completed diversity or inclusion training.
- 51% do not provide LGBT-specific programming.
- 79% have not specifically targeted LGBT individuals in employee recruitment efforts in the past three years.
Check out the #JLGBT page where you can download the report, grab some infographics, and find lots of ways to get involved (both on- and off-line). You can also follow the discussion on Twitter using #jlgbt.
I’m a white gay Jewish man. Up until a few years ago, I didn’t even know what “cisgender” meant.
Three weeks ago, I went to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany with a group of LGBT Jews. At Sachsenhausen, gay men or those accused of being gay were forced into isolated heavily guarded barracks in order to prevent “infection” of other prisoners. These men were tortured, castrated, and used in scientific experiments.
Their families denounced them. They had no support network for food or care. When a gay man entered the camp his life expectancy was ten weeks. For Jewish homosexual men, it was a week. When the guide told us this kernel of information, as a group of mostly gay men, we were stunned. How could people do this to each other?
Later on in the week, one gay man reluctantly asked me, “Why do we have to include the ‘T’ in LGBT?” It sounded like a chore. I almost choked on my curry.
And then the next question: “Why should a gay man care about trans issues?” Gulp. “What is a gay man’s responsibility to trans people?”
This wasn’t light dinner conversation. No one intended to be rude. It just wasn’t obvious. He knew to include the “T” but didn’t know why. To satiate their hunger for an answer, I put down my fork.
After reviewing all the arguments in my mind, the complexity was reduced to this:
While I am a trans ally, it’s really that I’m a human ally. Trans people are people. I firmly believe that every person should live with full dignity and have full access to opportunity regardless of whether or not they fit within society’s restrictive and rigid binary code for gender or sexuality. I firmly believe people should feel safe expressing themselves fully in their community. Every person deserves the right to be visible and heard. As a human ally, I want a world where my future children see every person treated with respect and are taught to do the same. I want my children to live and succeed, not just exist and recede into seclusion. They shouldn’t feel alienated, be called freaks, or attacked for being true to themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to be a human ally. Trans issues resonate with me more strongly as a gay man. Not only can I understand a feeling of terror at the thought of telling my friends and family about my “dark, deep secret,” but I can identify with feeling oppressed and repressed. In middle school, I was taunted for having a “high-pitched” voice. In high school, I was made to feel like an outsider because I didn’t play a sport, which didn’t conform to preferred gender norms. This type of homophobic gender policing is directly connected to transphobia. It is tied to a fear of gender variance.
Fortunately, as a gay man, I can identify with a sweet relief of having a safe and welcoming environment where I can relate with others who’ve also felt this way. I understand how much stronger I feel when I’m surrounded by allies who are willing to walk with me.
I care about Trans Day of Remembrance because I have lived with the fear of being other and because I have glimpsed what it feels like to have a supportive community. I’ll hold a lit candle for trans people who’ve faced violence, been murdered, or committed suicide just because they refused to be invisible. In my mind, as a Jew, I will remember the denial of humanity which resulted in 6 million Jews murdered and countless more for being “other.” I will praise those courageous enough to be visible and my fellow allies who refuse to compromise on protection from abuse and discrimination.
I ask you do to the same. It is scary to speak up and to be an effective ally is hard work. It’s worth it; for the sake of seeing a society in which each person is guaranteed the right to live a dignified life with the ability to make choices about their own body, health, and pursue happiness as they see fit.
Thank you for walking with me. I feel stronger already.
Marriage equality is on the ballot in four states this November – Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine – which could transform the landscape of equality in the United States. Because this is such an important issue, this High Holiday season a number of rabbis chose to use their pulpits, or have congregants use them, to encourage support of local measures. In this series, we’ll share with you one sermon from each state voting on marriage equality, and hope their words of Torah inspire you. You can read the previous sermons for marriage equality from Washington, from Maryland, and from Minnesota.
This week, we bring you the sermon Rabbi Rachel Isaacs delivered on Rosh Hashanah at Beth Israel Congregation in Waterville, Maine. Learn how to get involved in the fight for marriage equality in Maine by visiting Equality Maine.
I remember one day in rabbinical school I was having Shabbat dinner with a professor and his friends. One of the women who was sitting at the Shabbat table had converted to Judaism decades ago and had raised three Torah-observant Jews. When discussing why she was so committed to raising her kids with such strong Jewish identities she said, “You need to give your kids religion at home, otherwise they’ll catch it out on the street.” Her statement has stuck with me for years. Is Judaism really like chicken pox? Better to get it early and at home — otherwise, you may contract a much more noxious version of faith at a later age. While her words may have been a little crass, I think that they were deeply true. Religion can be an amazing, healing, resonant influence in our lives that provides us with deep roots and a clear, ethical, beautiful vision of what the future can be. However, faith — when taken to extremes, religion — when it asks you to defy your instincts, Judaism — when it brings you to hurt and exclude others — can be very dangerous. Continue reading
Marriage equality is on the ballot in four states this November – Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine – which could transform the landscape of equality in the United States. Because this is such an important issue, this High Holiday season a number of rabbis chose to use their pulpits, or have congregants use them, to encourage support of local measures. In this series, we’ll share with you one sermon from each state voting on marriage equality, and hope their words of Torah inspire you. You can read the previous two posts in this series here and here.
Rabbi Aaron Meyer delivered this sermon at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Washington on Rosh Hashanah . Find out more about how to get involved in the fight for marriage equality in Washington, as well more information on the Jewish Coalition for Marriage Equality in Washington, at the Temple De Hirsch Sinai resource page.
“Your attention please: would Aaron Meyer please report to the Guidance Office – Aaron Meyer to the guidance office.”
Me?!? Me, who still held his mother’s hand to cross the street when I was 15? Who didn’t even think about kissing a girl until college? The only type of guidance I needed was which book to stay at home reading on Saturday night! I slowly trudged down the hall, one foot after another, my mind whirling with all of the possibilities of the moment, before finally I stopped at the closed door to the Guidance Office. After a timid knock, I entered and did my best to disappear into a corner – no small feat when you are as tall as I.
Marriage equality is on the ballot in four states this November – Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine – and this High Holiday season a number of rabbis are choosing to use their pulpits, or have congregants use them, to encourage support of these initiatives. Over the next few weeks leading up to the election, we’ll share sermons from each state voting on marriage equality. We hope their words of Torah inspire you. You can see the first post in this series, here.
This week, we bring you the sermon Rabbi Harold Kravitz delivered on Rosh Hashanah at Adath Jeshurun Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Minnetonka, Minnesota. See below to learn more about Jewish Community Action (JCA), the organization mobilizing the Jewish community in Minnesota around marriage equality, and how you can get involved.
A privilege I have as a rabbi is getting called by people who want to tell me about their engagement and ask if I can officiate at the wedding. Sometimes the calls are from young people I have watched grow up in my twenty-five years as a rabbi here. Sometimes the calls are from one of the parents asking about dates, but the couple doesn’t know yet!
The calls are invariably touching. I may have officiated at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Actually, I am now at the point that I may have been at their baby naming. Our son Gabe, who married Yael a year ago August, may have the distinction of being my first such wedding. I look forward to many more of those in the years ahead.
Since my entire career as a rabbi has been in Minnesota, I have always done weddings here within parameters set by the MRA, the Minnesota Rabbinical Association. For the last 60 years, or so, the MRA policy has been to only do weddings in a synagogue, a home, or a park. It is an unusual policy. I know of no other community with anything quite like it. The rabbis who originally established it were concerned about what they saw happening in hotels and wanted to set a more appropriate tone for Jewish weddings. I really believe that this policy is one of the things that has contributed to the special strength and quality that has long distinguished the Minnesota Jewish community.
Marriage equality is on the ballot in four states this November – Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine – and this High Holiday season a number of rabbis are choosing to use their pulpits, or have congregants use them, to encourage support of equal marriage. Over the next few weeks leading up to the election, we’ll share sermons from each state voting on marriage equality. We hope their words of Torah inspire you.
This Rosh Hashanah Jamie Heller delivered this powerful and personal (and yes, humorous!) sermon at Kol Shalom in Rockville, MD. The Hellers are long-time Keshet leaders and supporters – Jamie’s son Daniel is on the Keshet board and Jamie’s wife Debbie is a founding member of the Keshet Parent & Family Connection. See below to learn more about Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), the organization mobilizing the Jewish community in Maryland around marriage equality, and how you can get involved in this effort.
Shana Tovah. Thank you, Rabbi Maltzman, for the honor of allowing me to address all of you this morning.
I want to start, by pointing out that not all problems are that difficult to solve.
One such example occurred just yesterday when my wife plugged a power strip into itself instead of the wall and then could not figure out why her computer wasn’t working.
An example of poor planning was the vacation I purchased on CheapCarribbean.com only to find upon arrival that the hotel and our room were still under construction.
Or the ill effects of hasty planning when I tried teaching our youngest son to parallel park by using our three cars. I accidentally parked two of the cars too close together so when he attempted the impossible task of wedging the third car in between, he damaged not only his self-confidence, but all three of our cars at once.
Unfortunately, not all problems are this simple to solve. Some pertaining to relationships, health, family and, career are truly hard. The one which I want to talk to you about this morning looks hard, but will be easy and obvious in hindsight. I want to talk to you about a civil rights issue.
Civil rights are the rights that belong to each of us as individuals because we are citizens of the United States. They promise us equal protection under our laws and freedom from discrimination. Sounds pretty simple, right? Continue reading
The High Holidays – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – can be the most synagogue-centric of the Jewish calendar year. They’re also among the most-well attended, even by those who may not otherwise go to synagogue.
Many interfaith couples and families, along with adults raised in interfaith homes, don’t feel welcome in Jewish organizations. And since many LGBTQ Jews feel excluded from Jewish communal organizations, it’s a double challenge for Interfaith LGBTQ Jews. This might be one of the reasons LGBTQ Jews are more likely to interdate and intermarry than their straight peers. But it’s also a reason why our organizations must ensure that every member of the Jewish community is welcomed and included this holiday season – and all year long.
Here are four easy steps your organization can take right now.
1. Update your website.
- State explicitly on your homepage that your community includes and welcomes both LGBTQ and interfaith families and looks forward to engaging them in all activities;
- Use photos that reflect your community’s diversity.
2. Create a Welcoming Policy Document.
- Start the policy with a statement of inclusion;
- Let interfaith LGBTQ families know what their membership status will be;
- Let partners and spouses who are not Jewish know if there are restrictions for leadership positions.
3. Make your inclusion visible.
- Add an Organizational Affiliate Badge from InterfaithFamily.com to your homepage, in your links section, or on your about us page.
- Put a Safe Zone sticker on your door or your website.
- Mention the “I” Word: when creating publicity materials for your Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, events, and programming. Don’t forget to explicitly invite “interfaith families,” and “LGBT families.” (InterfaithFamily’s studies have found that 72% of our users find it “important” that a synagogue say its programming is “for interfaith families” in marketing material.)
4. Don’t assume.
- We all have different levels of Jewish knowledge and hurdles that match, so:
- Translate all Hebrew/Yiddish language;
- Avoid terms like “non-Jew” to describe a partner who isn’t Jewish (I can only speak for myself, but I do not identify as a “non-Christian”);
- Provide easy access material (like our booklets), for visitors and others who might want a refresher; locate them near main doors as well as in low traffic areas.
For more information on making your synagogue welcoming and inclusive to all types of interfaith families, check out InterfaithFamily’s Resource Center for Program Providers.