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.