Thursday, February 20, 2014

With thanks to our wonderful family and community of ESHEL and the Jewish Exponent for publishing this. Here is the link:

Don’t Exclude Our Gay, Orthodox Children February 19, 2014 By: Sunnie Epstein

As a Modern Orthodox Jew and a Jewish educator, I have written, spoken and taught about homosexuality and our need as a community to address this issue within the framework of halacha, or Jewish law, for many years. I had already been an advocate for the LGBTQ community for decades when our daughter Rachie, one of our four children, came out more than four years ago.

Why? Because I feel that as religious Jews, we have a moral imperative to ensure that all members of our community are safe, valued and healthy. We are taught to use the midah of compassion here, as we do for so many other issues.

When Rachie was 22 years old, she called me and my husband, and in the course of our conversation, basically said, “Mom, I am seeing someone I really care about, and this person is a woman. I am gay.” Neither of us were surprised. I asked her if she was happy and if this was a true expression of her core personality. My husband, Ken, just reminded her to stay safe and not do anything dangerous.

As an educated person, I am certain that biology and “how we are wired” is just the way G-d makes us. Furthermore, I am aware that 10 to 15 percent of any community is on the gay spectrum, and there is no exemption from this reality in the religious Jewish community.

My husband and I firmly believe that as shomrei mitzvot, or Torah-observant, Jews, we have an obligation to accept, protect and value all human beings who are created in the image of G-d, betzelem elokim. G-d makes us as G-d chooses and we are not to stand in judgment nor are we to exclude those that G-d creates, for every human being is designed by G-d, and to allow any such exclusion is to directly insult G-d as well as the person excluded. Halacha teaches us this.

Of course, many in our community and extended family do not see it this way. Rachie has not been able to see herself associated with anything “Orthodox,” though she is observant and engaged Jewishly in profound and meaningful ways.

However, this has changed recently, due to her involvement in ESHEL, the Orthodox LGBTQ community that is named for the tent into which Avraham and Sarah invited all who came by. Rachie —and the rest of us — now has a home for her religiously observant, gay self.

I am deeply saddened by any community that judges and pushes our daughter away. Any community that does not fully embrace and value Rachie is the one that loses, for she is a gifted young lady and an observant and knowledgeable Jew. I often la¬ment how our observant communities are sending away some of our exceptional people who could contrib¬ute so much and would — if only they were embraced and valued instead of judged and excluded.

Now that Rachie is committed to spending her life with her beloved Liz, our main challenge is how we as a family navigate our Orthodox community. We are making some decisions that are seen as compromises to some but allow us to more successfully achieve our goal.

For example, in planning a Shabbat Kiddush for the couple, we will do this at our home with friends and community members, rather than at our synagogue, to ensure that those present want to be part of the celebration. We will plan their wedding with the same approach, knowing that some relatives and friends will not attend.

As time goes on and we come to terms with the reality of all members of our observant world, our hope is that more of our community will learn to see and accept and value each of our children for who they are and the sexuality they were born with.

Sunnie Epstein and her family are active members of ESHEL, which is planning a Parent Retreat March 7-9 at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa. Contact the author at: shulisrose@ or Miryam Kabakov at:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Terrorists, Bedouins and Irrational Equations

So there I was sitting minding my own business, ready to move on to the next activity and someone went up to the lectern and announced that there was an important message that needed to be shared. The individual then went on in quick succession to speak about the Terrorists that are keeping Jews from certain places in Israel and the Bedouins who are also attacking…….. and I quickly could listen no more! I was horrified. WHAT?!?!?!?!? Another irrational equation? I won’t even go into the details of the context of the statement, which were problematic in and of them selves, but to hear this equation was beyond painful.

News Flash! Not all non-Jewish elements in Israel are Terrorists and not all Jewish elements in Israel are noble and correct. Having spent time in Bedouin villages, meeting and talking with Bedouins, having a daughter who has treated them in the hospital in Be’er Sheva and spent time accepting their hospitality, I object! After discussing the situation with a Bedouin chief about their community and his pained explanation of how all of their youth proudly served in the Israeli army until recently escalating actions against the Bedouin, I object! After seeing the repeated destruction of Al Araqeeb continually through the last several years and the impact of this on hard working individuals, I object! As a religious Jew who is dedicated to Israel being the best that Israel can be, I object!

Okay, now stepping back a bit, I acknowledge that the person who spoke feels passionately about aspects of this person’s commitment to Israel and I do not question this passion, its honest roots and its integrity. That being said, once again, I find myself suffering from the effect of irrational equations. ALL ARABS ARE NOT TERRORISTS and all non-Jewish elements of the Israeli fabric of its varied population ARE NOT THE ENEMY! In fact, as hard as it is to hear, sometimes, Israel itself falls short.

Sadly, the situation regarding the Bedouin is precisely one of these situations. Note this excerpt from a report issued by the Knesset of the State of Israel:

“Nowadays the state is restricting Negev Bedouins to settle within the city of Rahat and 6 other towns. Thousands of Bedouins, who do not own land, moved to these places of residence with the encouragement of the state. The remaining Bedouin population of the Negev lives in dozens of unrecognized settlements, bearing no municipal status and facing demolishing orders. These facts create great tension between the Bedouin populations and state authorities.”

For the full discussion of this issue go to the following web site to learn about this group and the Israeli government’s actions:

This problem is tied up with so many issues, including internal strife amongst the different tribal elements of the Bedouin, their attempts to deal with modernity, their own attitudes towards their woman, and so much else. For the record, there are wonderful efforts to help the Bedouin and to work with them in which many Israelis are involved. Sadly, not all Bedouin accept these overtures from Israeli organizations due to mistrust and a lack of understanding of their own internal issues. To be sure, it is a difficult and frustrating situation. HOWEVER, to broad brush this complicated and multi-faceted problem as “just another group of terrorists” is NOT an appropriate or helpful response from a member of our community in a public forum.

As for the equation of Arabs with TERRORISM, here too, there are clearly some Arabs and Moslems, and yes, some Jews and some others in our many different groups who are more invested in self interests or causes they take on for their own benefit, that they do not act for the good of all. That being said, can we all please remember that there are HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS Arabs, Jews, Christians, Israelis, Druze, Bedouins, Moslems who are working together and building bridges of cooperation in medicine, education, land use and so many other areas of concern that will benefit us all!

Let us focus on that and not irrational equations!