Archive for February, 2010

Asking and Telling

February 28, 2010

One might be tempted to consider Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, a film about a lesbian teenager trying to start a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) at her pluralistic Jewish day school and all that that entailed for her, her family, her classmates and her teachers, dated or passé given what has transpired since it was made in the earlier part of the past decade. But that would be a mistake, because even though the film Trembling Before God about gay Orthodox Jews made a splash almost ten years ago, the Conservative movement has begun accepting openly gay and lesbian individuals to its rabbinical school, Israel’s military boasts an “ask and tell” policy, and matters involving LGBT inclusion have risen higher on the Jewish communal agenda, there has yet to be an appreciable trickle down effect into Jewish education.

Unlike most public schools, many Jewish day schools have yet to establish GSA’s. Few,even ones that tout their inclusive, pluralistic natures or are located in areas with liberal constituencies, have not yet  figured out how to best address issues of sexual identity and orientation. I believe this avoidance is at its core due more to a reluctance than a mere lack of time. I am embarrassed to say that somehow, even as a Jewish educator who has worked in and with Jewish day school high schools in recent years, I never learned of Hineini, nor did I ever engage in any serious effort to discuss the topic with which it deals with my colleagues – let alone my students.

Ironically, now that I am not working directly with students and educators, I stumbled across this important film and resource. I know that it is easier to be on the outside looking in, to have stepped out of the trenches of the daily teaching grind. But it is this view from the balcony rather than from down on the dance floor (that’s a reference to the Ron Heifetz‘s theories of adaptive leadership) that enables me to see that the time in which all Jewish schools will have to confront what it means to have non-heterosexual students within their communities is, if not already here, then coming extremely soon.

It will no longer be enough to look the other way and say nothing. A policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” doesn’t work well in the military, and it certainly isn’t fit in a setting which is designed to nurture the next generation and help them grow into confident, proud and committed Jews. It would be wrong to minimize the challenge that LGBT inclusion presents to traditional Jewish schools and curriculums, but it would be even more so to minimize the risk to the continuity of the Jewish people if we were to act in a way which would potentially turn away a tenth of our members. The world is different now. The younger generation will either vote with their feet or dig in and demand change. My hope is for the latter, but I can’t say my money is on it.

No longer should a young Jew (or any Jew) recite the following religious texts and think that by virtue of their sexual orientation, they are neither the “other people,” the “any person,” nor the “creation” that deserves to be fully accepted by their religious and cultural community and live with dignity within it:

Rabbi Eliezer says: Let other people’s dignity be as precious to you as your own.(Pirkei Avot 2:15)

Ben Azzai taught: Do not disdain any person; do not underrate the importance of anything – for there is no person who does not have his hour and there is no thing without its place in the sun.(Pirkei Avot 4:3)

Blessed are You, Eternal God, who makes Your creations different. (Traditional liturgy)

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Please Drink Responsibly

February 28, 2010

My friend and colleague Debby Jacoby sent me this clever Purim gag, which she created using a little computer magic. It’s the page of the Talmud (from Tractate Megillah) on which it is written that we should intoxicate ourselves on Purim to the point of not being able to distinguish (ad d’lo yada) between “arur Haman” (the cursed Haman) and “baruch Mordechai” (the blessed Mordechai).

I think this is brilliant, and while I am on the topic of creative ad d’lo yada images, I should also share these other ones (all Absolut-inspired) I found on the web:

Wishing everyone a Happy Purim, full of merriment. But please drink responsibly –  and if you or others are not walking to shul or Purim parties, remember that friends don’t let friends drive drunk.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Limited Sex In The City

February 25, 2010

Allison Josephs is “one Orthodox Jewish woman breaking down stereotypes about religious Jews and offering a humorous meaningful look into traditional Judaism.” Or in other words, she is Jew in the City‘s frum equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw. Although I may not feel that strictly halakhic Judaism is for me, I’ve got to hand it to Josephs for explaining the practices and clarifying common misconceptions of Orthodox Judaism in an engaging way for the internet-surfing public.

What the "Sex and the City" logo would have looked like had Carrie Bradshaw decided to dress according to the laws of tsnius (modesty).

We don’t all have the time or inclination to seek out answers by reading books on Judaism or by striking up a conversation with our local Orthodox rabbi, scholar, or even neighbor. So, it’s very convenient to be able to click on a YouTube video and have Josephs explain to you in a couple of minutes why, for instance, Orthodox women cover their hair after they are married, Orthodox couples may only have sex two weeks out of the month, Orthodox Judaism is not (in her view) sexist, and kosher food is neither holy nor necessarily healthier than other fare.

Just as Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw personalized the love-seeking young, single career woman for millions of viewers, so does Josephs have the potential to connect with people who would otherwise have no inkling that Orthodox Jewish women can be intelligent, funny and interesting professionals, instead of stereotypical baby-making machines, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Jew in the City is not likely to reach as many viewers as the show that inspired it, but with her saavy use of technology and social media, Josephs’ crusade (okay, not the most apt choice of word…how about campaign) to debunk myths about Orthodox Judaism is sure to garner a significant number of fans.

So, sit back and relax. Enjoy being schmoozed at by your newest (and maybe only) Orthodox girlfriend (more videos can be found on her website):

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.