Friday, December 19, 2014

Another Challenge to Being the Inclusive and Caring Jews and People of Faith we are


Response to “Warning: Hollywood’s Coming For Your Home and Children!” by: Robert C. Avrech

I, as a Halachically observant Jewish parent, am somewhat at a loss after having read the article “Warning: Hollywood’s Coming For Your Home and Children” by Robert C. Avrech [This can be found at ]. While I am acutely aware that individual authors do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the entire Orthodox Union in this magazine; even within the wide range of Orthodox thinking, this article does not reflect well on the organization, either in content or tone.

The repeated diatribe against LGBTQ members of our larger general and more specific Jewish community by Mr. Avrech is insulting, offensive and against more than a few Jewish standards, including not to judge another, respecting all whom G-d has created, and to not embarrass another, just to name a few. Our medical community has made it quite clear that homosexuality is a function of who one basically is and should and cannot be placed in the same category as “social and psychological cults,” political positions, families that are held “together [by] murder, rape and plunder.” While I agree on the importance of the family that is stressed by Mr. Avrech, for me this type of thinking on the part of family is reprehensible.

I would make the same point of his error in collapsing too many dynamics into one category for his attack on Feminism and all other elements that he collectively demonizes in his virulent and offensive attack on everything with which he disagrees while protecting and whitewashing so much else. I do believe in moral standards and living by an ethical system. In that spirit, since when did Fonzie and his very permissive behavior represent good ole’ family values?

The subtitle of this article is “Postmodern Hollywood is a landscape of shifting morality where the traditional family is seen as a hateful, antiquated institution comparable to Jim Crow.” Among many other things the author laments the gay couple in “Modern Family” and the fact that “homosexual radicals” have pressured A&E to cancel Duck Dynasty because “the far left has demonized Phil Robertson, the family patriarch as a homophobe because he supports traditional marriage.” We need to remember that the “patriarch” was called “homophobic” NOT because he “supports traditional marriage” but because he compared homosexuality to bestiality and other vile stereotypes.

Media often reflects the reality of our lives and should rightfully include those members of our society who are single parents, gay couples, medically impaired children, divorced, widowed, blended families, working mothers, and so many other dynamics Mr. Avrech does not consider as part of his understanding of family values.

He states as follows: “Today it is militant homosexuals who drive the agenda. Tomorrow it will be sharia-yearning Islamists demanding sitcoms about happy-go-lucky polygamists.” To call this overtly and supremely offensive does not even begin to address the problem with such flawed reasoning. In fact, there are shows about polygamist and plural marriages that represent people living a different way and one may find these to be respectful and informative, though not part of one’s landscape.

The problem of most concern is that this magazine is specifically circulated to a segment of the Orthodox Jewish population that generally considers itself educated and enlightened. Within our Orthodox community we have LGBTQ individuals who are working hard enough to reconcile their religious belief with the reality of how Ribbonu shel Olam created them. We are parents, siblings, friends, and relatives of these children and adults; and we strenuously object to having our beautiful children and family members told that they are sexual perverts not unlike pedophiles and those who practice bestiality. This is exactly the type of speech about which our texts teach “life and death are at the mercy of what we say.”

I, along with many others, feel that this article is irresponsible and does not in any way reflect the foundational Jewish values and teachings that inform how we address challenging issues in our lives. Clearly, there are many for us as observant Jews -- adopted kids, hearing impaired members of our community, "lefties" about whom the Talmud has what to say, and so many others. We as Jews learn to address these issues that may challenge our sensibilities and sensitivities with responsibility and remembering that we are all made BeTzelem Elokim and that G-d makes us the way G-d makes us for reasons that G-d has. Maybe, just maybe, this is intended to challenge all of us to check our prejudices at the door and truly see and appreciate and value each other. This is true whether we are raised by single parents, if we are LGBTQ, if we have various medical limitations, if we are divorced, and so forth.... that is not about American Hollywood and the Religion of Television and Sitcoms... its about life!

Dr. Sunnie Epstein and a group of anonymous ESHEL Parents

Please note that this letter reflects the thoughtful processing and input of no less than eight different ESHEL parents and families

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As We Light the First Candle of Hannukah

Tonight Jews across the world begin an eight-day celebration to mark the victory of the Maccabbees over persecution, destruction of sacred places, and the horrid discriminatory practices of Antiochus that threatened the very life of our ancestors in so many palpable ways. We celebrate their bravery but not their bravado! In the moments of our joy, it is incumbent upon us to remember that as their own trajectory continued, the Maccabbees later lose their own focus and fade from history.

While songs will be sung, Latkes and Sufganiot baked and eaten (oh the cholesterol that lasts as long as the oil in the Temple!), gifts exchanged, lights lit and admired, it is incumbent upon us as ethical and caring Jews to consider the too-many unrighteous wars waged in our world that are precisely about persecuting others and taking away what we consider the basic right of practice.

The reprehensible massacre of 132 children in Peshawar today, the hostage situation in Sydney earlier this week and the other (way too many) incidents of ongoing and unbridled hatred we continue to see in our world is beyond understanding and will definitely cloud the joy of Hannukah for me tonight. We as Jews are taught that we cannot and do not celebrate the loss of life, similar to the outcry from the Hindu world today at the loss of their most precious children. That is why we diminish our cups of wine on Pesach as we recall simultaneously the miracle of the Ten Plagues as well as the necessary loss of life because of them, which we solemnly recall. And yet, there are too many of those who do celebrate exactly this excessive force for what they call “righteous causes” all around us in our world today with personal calls of “jihad” (without the requisite authority, it must be remembered) and so much else.

I often explain that we have to be careful in teaching about the Maccabbees and the other wonderful story of miraculous victory for Jews that we celebrate in just as many colorful and joyful ways in Purim. If we have to fight a battle for our own well-being and protection it is to be done in moderation and with restraint, never losing site of the “other’s” suffering. While many will disagree with me, I always hope and pray that Medinat Yisrael and her leaders would hold her to the same standard; and I do believe that this is the case most of the time. Our foundational beliefs tell us to do so. We are to defend life and to respect others and their lives simultaneously. This is not the religious teaching of extremists who scream way too loud and get recognition on the front page too often in our world today.

Let us remember not to forget our need to discipline ourselves and fight for truly righteous causes in terms of our beliefs; not those that are declared in a sense of self-righteousness. Hanukkah can teach us and remind us about restraint as well as victory for noble causes.

Hag HaUrim Sameach!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why I Am Reluctant To Throw Books and Papers Away…

So we have just completed a most grueling two weeks of going through the traumatic process of waterproofing and updating our basement, in which my office is located. It has been a very emotional process going through the books, papers and evidence of my professional life from the past four decades. It has been a pensive, nostalgic and humbling process and at moments I marvel at how far we have come and other documentation reminds me how things are still so broken in our world. That being said, the thousands of people I have worked with, the so many communities I have been involved in and the too many students to even count are all in my memory and on the pages before me. No wonder I can’t throw anything away. It’s not junk, it’s a part of me and what I have accomplished on this earth, and that is precisely the problem.

My husband, Ken, on the other hand has no problem tossing text books and various papers and other souvenirs of his years in the medical field. Why this difference in approach? He claims I have OCD (which I define as Organized, Conscientious and Dependable, by the way!) but I really think it is something else. As a Jewish Educational professional, I so get that we are the PEOPLE OF THE BOOK! I LIVE THIS EVERY DAY personally and professionally! You never know when a D’var Torah I prepared thirty two years ago will come in handy, or a Shiyur I gave twenty years ago will be relevant to something new I am creating. On the other hand, I did toss about two dozen Hebrew primers. Okay, so I know I won’t be using any of them again.

The woefully out of date history books are another story. I actually loved teaching history and showing my students what life looked like when it ended with a 1968 publication date. It was quite valuable. Nonetheless, I finally parted with my Essrig’s ISRAEL TODAY, since today was a full thirty-five years ago. Klapperman’s HISTORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE however, still looks down upon me in my office, with its publication date of 1956. I did try to dispose of the four volumes, but the faces of my elementary Hebrew school teachers popped up in my head. What was I to do?

And then there are those souvenirs of thirty one and a half years of child rearing. Really, who can toss the twenty five model Seder plates crafted by the cute little hands of your now grown children. What would THEIR children think if they knew that today’s treasured art products are tomorrow’s dumpster feed? So to protect all of our integrity, I am holding on to my children’s projects including a rather curious paper written by our twenty seven year old daughter, Rachie in fourth grade on some type of Himalayan Ibex, thirty one year old Yoella’s attempts at rudimentary handwriting, and twenty seven year old Talie’s first Siddur. For our newly minted college student, Brian, we still have to plow through his things in a cabinet in our family room. Something for a snowy or rainy day.

My husband claims it is the past and time to let go, but wait, don’t I always teach that our past is critical in mapping out our future! To be sure, the past is indeed the past, but it is part of us and always will be. In the meantime, tonight I have to go through the one box my mother had given me years ago. The 50 pages of arithmetic from 3rd grade I will whittle down to a few, but that funny report from Seventh Grade on some weather phenomenon I will keep (maybe our son the meteorologist will want to check it out at some point) and most beloved, I will hold onto two small birthday cards – one from my father’s father, whom I never met, to me on my fourth birthday; and the other from my mother’s mother who died when I was not yet three from my first birthday. I have already traced the writing, touching that place where my past finds its roots – in those who came before me.