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countering the untrue

October 26, 2011

As the GLBT portal of the 16th Street J, The Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach and Engagement (GLOE) engages metropolitan Washington’s GLBT Jewish community by sponsoring original programming and fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment at the Washington DCJCC.

My colleague in Washington D.C., who like me works to break down obstacles in our communities paths to living Jewishly, responds to the article, “Bridging the gap between faith and sexuality” (WJW, Oct. 20) in the brilliantly written (and re-posted below) letter. This article that my colleague writes about seems to express a limited capacity as to the centrality of Judaism in the lives of many that are outside of a hetero-normative experience.

I too have a limited capacity to understand how the role of Judaism can not be central to my life. Proudly I am as Jewish as I am a proud Lesbian, American, Feminist and ally to identities that are created in the image of the divine, צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים‎‎; t’zelem elohim, but are not my own. Judaism helps to make meaning of my life, help me understand the inexplicable and it gives me some structure to the chaos around me. This afternoon, the chaos around me can be read simply through the blatant disregard for LGBT Jewish identity in this passive Editors response to my colleagues letter, “WJW had no intention to take a position on this issue.”

This evening I am speaking on a panel hosted by Spectrum, Marin’s LGBT Center. We will be talking about how different religions handle biblical prohibitions against homosexuality and on the role religion plays in helping make meaning of our LGBT lives. I anticipate questions about how LGBT Jews continue to look beyond words written in Torah as well as how it is that so many LGBT Jews continue to love a community of cultural relevance, faith and spirituality when some continue to foster feelings of marginalization for LGBT Jews and our steadfast allies. I have a few answers to these questions, including boasting about how extraordinary our local Jewish Editorial staff is, but I would prefer to give them in person, so if you are up for a conversation please join us.

Meanwhile, read this letter as it has been ‘cut and pasted’ from wjw: “What GLOE works to counter everyday. As a proud member of both the Jewish and GLBT communities in Washington, I was hurt and outraged to find that Washington Jewish Week seems to state that these communities are mutually exclusive. As the director of GLOE, a program of the DCJCC, I know that they are not.

The article “Bridging the gap between faith and sexuality” (WJW, Oct. 20) stated “While the Torah strictly prohibits homosexual behavior” as a fact without question. Such a qualifier does a tremendous disservice to all GLBT Jews and undermines the effort to build a more inclusive community.

With close readings of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the latest data on the science of sexual orientation, and a sympathetic, accessible, and ecumenical approach to religious faith, Michaelson makes the case that sexual diversity is part of the beauty of nature, and that the recognition of same-sex families will strengthen, not threaten, the values religious people hold dear.  Jay Michaelson’s book, God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality, discusses the common misconceptions around this supposed biblical prohibition. Since this book, its author, and the surrounding program at the DCJCC were the topic of the article, I found it incongruous that the piece introduced Michaelson’s thesis with a dogmatic interpretation of the Torah. Even more importantly, the biblical imperatives towards love, community, justice, family, and saving a life, both vastly outnumber and outweigh any other verses one might “strictly” quote. WJW is an important voice in our community and the articles, images and words it chooses to print carry significance. That phrase, which betrays a bias toward exclusion, has repercussions throughout the community. I worry your readership will see this factually-stated interpretation and believe it to be true. Further, I am horrified to think of the closeted gay kids in our Jewish community whose parents receive this paper. Seeing an article in a Jewish paper that speaks to a gay and Jewish identity is a rarity for them. When they read beyond the headline, that “who you are is strictly prohibited in the Torah,” it only serves to shame them and to alienate them from Judaism – something GLOE works to counter every day.

Your statement was not just untrue – or even simply an unfortunate misphrasing – but rather, it highlights the bigotry that still exists within the Jewish community, and the lack of value placed on our lives as GLBT Jews. Haley Cohen, GLOE Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement Washington DCJCC”

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