Life is too short. It is definitely too short to harm others. And yet, people do it every day. What is worse, is that we somehow lose the kind ones in this world too early. Less than two weeks ago the world lost a prosecutor who fought the good fight, who wore the white hat, and every day of her 30 year career, sought justice for the voiceless.
It was a big blow for me as well, on a personal level. She was my boss, my colleague, my friend and my cancer buddy. Yup, I actually had one of those. We both were diagnosed the same week, with the same type of breast cancer, but in the end, hers was worse than mine. But she was beating it. Through the chemo, the radiation and the surgeries, she had it beat. Until she didn’t; when taxed too much, her wonderful, kind heart gave out. What a loss for our office, for her family and her friends. Really, for a world that is left a bit darker, with one more light extinguished.
So it left me wondering about why we were all put here in the first place. Why am I here? Why do bad people exist? Why do good people leave this world much too early? Why does hatred proliferate? Why do we need to have a war on crime? Why do we have wars based on religion or race? All of these questions, and so many others matter to me, as I enter the High Holy Days and reflect upon the year ebbing away, while I look towards the next one. This past year was the year that I fought cancer, the year that my daughter entered high school, the year that I became a leader to my young assistants, and the year that I spoke out against hatred and discrimination, of which I myself was a victim.
But I think what bothers me most, is hatred or discrimination perpetrated by those who should know better, by those charged with caring for the children of Israel, by those leaders who possess knowledge of Torah and Halacha, but choose to contort it to make other Jews feel less than; to me this is beyond reprehensible. Especially when I think of how each of us stands before G-d on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur hoping that this year too, we will be inscribed in the Book of Life.
And so I ask each of us to self assess and think: What have I done to make this world a better place? Have I brought kindness into the world? Have I protected the voiceless? Have I spoken up for the bullied? Or have I harmed someone? Have I hurt my fellow human being? Have I denied a fellow Jew a place to call a spiritual home, by the sin of exclusion? Have I brought darkness into the world rather than light? Have I shamed the heart of the Torah that preaches love for one’s fellow Jew, in the name of G-d? Thus, sullying his name and making my loving, benevolent G-d, into an angry and hateful one.
I am afraid for them; for those who stand before G-d burdened with their sins against man. Sins that even G-d does not forgive, as we know when the sinner issues no apology, or makes no attempt to right what wrong they committed against the person they harmed. I try to forgive. As I write these words, I feel my anger dissipate. In fact, I feel ashamed that there are rabbis out there who harm other Jews, and who lead communities to join them in committing that harm. We Jews are supposed to be a light onto the world, and oh how I am saddened when we fail to shine!
But I keep forging ahead, because I believe that out there, there are those who preach kindness and inclusion. Who do not fall prey to arrogance, or a sense that justice must be relegated to a place behind rabbinic egos. And I, and everyone out there, is witness to the about face rabbinic leadership took when 300 rabbis signed the Proclamation Regarding Child Safety in the Orthodox Jewish Community. A proclamation in which they recognized the errors that rabbinic leaders have made throughout the years, when they failed to report sex abuse, or worse, interefered with the reporting of sexual abuse within our communities, to the governing authorities. (I find it interesting to note that both rabbis involved in my exclusion did not sign that proclamation; to my absolute disappointment, but not surprise.)
In fact, having encountered this issue of rabbinic interference myself, I was aghast at the attempt by a rabbi to slow down the process of reporting, by a victim in my own town; something I would not allow or of which I would be a part. I am glad that there are rabbis out there who now see that prior communal and rabbinic responses failed and harmed victims of abuse, even causing some to take their own lives. I am glad to see rabbis recognizing that we must not stand idly by while our fellow Jew’s blood is being spilled; that this is an issue of Pikuach Nefesh. And yet, I am saddened by how long this realization took for so many.
It is akin to the failure to recognize the harm rabbinic leaders do to the LGBT Jew, simply because they are uncomfortable with the realization that we do exist. Making believe that we do not exist, or telling us to remain closeted, or shaming us when we give voice to our need for inclusion, is no different than harming a victim of abuse, because the silencing of voices in pain is no different. In fact, these rabbis and community members simply victimize us, and for the victims of abuse – they victimize them again. Silence is never an option. And yet they request of G-d that he judge them kindly. But what kindness have they shown us? What kindness have they shown them?
But do not despair, my readers, for there are rabbis out there, and even as I learned recently, a rabbah, who are kind and welcoming. Leaders who challenge the status quo of silence, who embrace their fellow Jews, who protect the vulnerable, and who bring light into the world. I was privileged to attend a meeting held at The Bayit, in Riverdale, of PORAT; a meeting where four brave souls spoke about their journey as LGBT frum Jews or family members of LGBT Jews. And they spoke, not from the shadows, but in full light, inside of an Orthodox shul. Please watch this important video, it is eye opening and heartwarming. Frum & Gay: Building a Jewish Future Outside the Closet.
And so I look forward to the future, to the new year ahead, to all the new years ahead, with hope and faith. For I know, in my friend’s memory, I will continue to champion truth, that goodness will prevail, and that the voiceless will find their voice. Shana Tova, have an easy fast, and may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life!