Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Do Not Stand Idly By: A Heartbreaking Trend

Any person who has even the slightest bit of compassion in his heart has been stunned and saddened by recent reports of a spate of suicides by young people who were harassed or humiliated for being gay. The added specter of cyberbullying has only increased the avenues for such humiliation. Last week's incident at Rutgers involving student Tyler Clementi was particularly heartbreaking (see background here).

The Jewish community has thankfully swung into action. Keshet is a Boston-based grassroots organization dedicated to creating a fully inclusive Jewish community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews. They have initiated a campaign entitled "Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives"

You can sign on by clicking here and following the instructions. I am proud to announce that, with board consensus, our congregation is now going to be on that list.

In signing on, we understand that, as uniquely horrible as gay-bashing is, this phenomenon of bullying goes beyond even these tragic suicides. Bullying is bad in all cases, whether the victim is gay or straight, whether the methodology is cyberspace or in-your-face. And it's not just about teens, either.

But today we do mourn these tragic deaths: of Seth Walsh, 13 years old, Asher Brown, 13 years old, Billy Lucas, 15 years old, Tyler Clementi, 18 years old and Raymond Chase, 19 years old. May their deaths not be in vain - but may they inspire us all to work harder to make our world a gentler, more tolerant place.

See below how Keshet describes the campaign and which organizations have signed on thus far, and at the bottom a prayer written by a rabbinic colleague that reflects the sadness that we all feel.

As members of a tradition that sees each person as created in the divine image, we respond with anguish and outrage at the spate of suicides brought on by homophobic bullying and intolerance.

We hereby commit to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities. As a signatory, I pledge to speak out when I witness anyone being demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. I commit myself to do whatever I can to ensure that each and every person in my community is treated with dignity and respect.

Campaign launched by
Keshet in partnership with (as of 10.5.10):

Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community
Adas Israel Congregation
The Adventure Rabbi Program
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado
The Anshe Emet Synagogue, Chicago, IL
Bay Area Masorti
Be'chol Lashon
Beth Chayim Chadashim, Los Angeles, CA
Congregation Bet Tikvah, Pittsburgh, PA
The Bronfman Youth Fellowships (BYFI)
California Faith for Equality
Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)
Cleveland Jewish LGBTQ2A Inclusion Project
Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston
Congregation Am Tikva, Boston, MA
Congregation Bet Haverim, Atlanta, GA
Congregation Bet Tikvah, Pittsburgh, PA
Congregation Beth Ahavah, Philadelphia, PA
Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, NY
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York, NY
Congregation Beth El, Berkeley, California
Congregation Beth El Binah, Dallas, TX
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, New York, NY
Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood, CA
Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley, CA
Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, San Francisco, CA
The Curriculum Initiative
The Dobkin Family Foundation
Gay and Lesbian Yeshiva Day School Alumni Association (GLYDSA)
Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement Program (GLOE)/Washington DC Jewish Community Center
Hebrew College
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
Hillel at Stanford
Institute for Judaism & Sexual Orientation, Hebrew Union College-JIR
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center
JALSA - The Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action
Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance
JESNA - The Jewish Education Service of North America
Jewish Communal Leadership Program, University of Michigan
The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group, London, UK
Jewish Gay Network of Michigan
Jewish Milestones
The Jewish Multiracial Network
Jewish Organizing Initiative
Jewish Outreach Institute
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Jewish Transitions
Jewish Women’s Archive
Jews United for Justice
Joshua Venture Group
Judaism Your Way, Denver, CO
Just Congregations of the Union for Reform Judaism
JQ International
Kehilat Hadar, New York, NY
Kehilla Community Synagogue, Piedmont, CA
Kehilla School
Kolenu, Seattle's Young Adult GLBTQ Group
LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation, San Francisco, CA
Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation
Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh
Mechon Hadar
Moishe House
Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House
The Morningstar Foundation
The Natan Fund
Nathan Cummings Foundation
Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue, Jamaica Plain, MA
Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality
New Jersey's Lesbian & Gay Havurah
North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY)
NUJLS: The National Union of Jewish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Students Orthodykes NY
Progressive Jewish Alliance
Rabbinical Assembly
Rabbinical School of Hebrew College
The Rainbow Center, Atlanta, GA
RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Repair the World
Rockville Open House
ROI Community
Ruth Allen Ziegler Foundation
The Samuel Bronfman Foundation
Shalom Amigos, Mexico
ShefaNetwork: The Conservative/Masorti Movement Dreaming from Within
TBS Keshet, Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, MA
Trembling Before G-d Outreach Project
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ)
United Synagogue Youth (USY)
University of Washington Hillel
UpStart Bay Area
The Youth and Gender Media Project
World Congress of GLBT Jews
A Wider Bridge
Women of Reform Judaism
Zeek Media, Inc.
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

As a side note, today the leading Jewish organizations working on behalf of gays and lesbians in the Orthodox world announced a historic new partnership to build understanding and community for gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews. It's called Eshel, after the “Eshel Avraham,” the tamarisk tree under which the patriarch Abraham would welcome visitors. It can be accessed at

A lovely response has been circulated by my colleague Rabbi Menachem Creditor, in the form of a prayer:

Dear God,

I just spoke to a group of your precious children, learning with them from my aching heart about a world that caused at least 5 young people to lose hope, despite the Majesty of being created in Your Image. I wish those 5 teenagers had had a safe place, an affirming community, a place for generating personal hope. I will never stop trying to build and demand that notion of "home."

Being Gay is sacred.
Being Straight is sacred.
Being Human is sacred.
May no more people be hurt for being themselves.


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