Confessions of an Orthodox mother and father of an LGBT child

Thank you so much for your compelling article about the experience of Orthodox parents of LGBT children (“They just want to be regular people,” November 30).

As long-time members of the Bergen County Orthodox Jewish community and parents of an LGBT child, we wanted to add our personal perspective.

We’ve been so impressed by the outpouring of support offered in recent months by Bergen County Orthodox Jewish communities to individuals and families who feel marginalized because of the challenges they face.  Recent stories about the support offered to those dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse make it clear that the Orthodox community knows how important it is to stand with those who are suffering.  Yet there is one group long marginalized that has not benefited in the same ay from our community’s support.  As a community, we have quietly, but definitively, forgotten about the suffering of our LGBT children and their families.

Our child came out to us almost ten years ago.  Since then, we have searched within our community for support groups but have not yet found them, and waited for public calls for inclusiveness by our leaders but (with rare and welcome exceptions) have not yet heard them.  During that same period, there has been a sea change in the way society as a whole relates to LGBT individuals.  Ironically, the outside world accepts our children as G-d created them, while the community in which they were raised seldom acknowledges their suffering and often makes them feel unwelcome.

The one organization that works to create for Orthodox LGBT Jews and their families a sense of acceptance and belonging is Eshel.  For us, going to the Eshel parent retreat is a breath of resuscitating air when we are choked with loneliness.  Once a year we can be open and honest about our family’s reality instead of pretending or being silent.  And we eagerly look forward to the inaugural meeting of Eshel’s New Jersey parent support group next month.

We recognize how complicated the LGBT issue is for a believing and observant Jew.  Science has proven that “recovery” is not an option for the LGBT Orthodox individual and there is no clear and agreed upon “solution” at this time. But we also know that the community in which we grew up, in which we raised our children, is kind and good and will someday find a way to include us.   We hope that there will come a day when Eshel is unnecessary – when LGBT Jews and their families can find all the support they need in their local Orthodox communities.  But until then . . . Eshel is our source of comfort and a ray of hope.

Bergen County

Republicans are more civil than Democrats

I read Daniel Edelman’s op ed piece (“The great rabbis in political Orthodoxy,” November 30) with great interest. Firstly, since I do not know who the 10 rabbis mentioned in the article are, I must give it to the anonymous shul that they are worthy as great rabbis of the 20th century. Without knowing anything else, I must also give it to Mr. Edelman that not mentioning Rabbi Soloveitchik in that company, must have been a blunder on the side of that same anonymous shul. The other rabbis that Mr. Edelman has mentioned by name were obviously important people but by and large and they are either not in the same stature as Rabbi Soloveitchik or considered to be more marginal.

As for Rabbi Meir Kahane, many of us do not share Mr. Edelman’s opinion of Rabbi Kahane as a racist. The fact that the Knesset did declare him as such could be better understood as a collusion (the Hebrew word ‘Qnunya,’ which I really wanted to use, has much dirtier connotation) between both the Israeli right and the Israeli left, to remove a very potent rival. I have never been a Kahane supporter as he was too nationalistic and to mystic to my taste, but I witnessed firsthand the political campaigns of both Rabbi Kahane and his coward and vicious rivals.

Since by and large your publication represents the left side of the Jewish community, let me share with you an eyewitness observation. Most Jews, even in the Orthodox community, vote for Democrats. But the ratios change among the various Jewish groups. In the Reform community, the ratio of Democrats to Republican easily approach the percentage point that it could be considered Collective Obsessional Behavior (otherwise known as Mass Hysteria) while in the Orthodox community, things are more relaxed and you hear different points of view discussed in a much less threatening atmosphere. Support for that candidate or the other would not cause you to be ostracized. Your chance to hear unfounded declarations presented as real news is much lower and in most cases you could refute such declarations.

So, despite the blunder of not mentioning Rabbi Soloveichick ahead (or even instead) of Rabbi Kahane, I still give the Orthodox community much higher marks in civility and diversity.

Ze’ev Atlas

Another opinion on Jared and Ivanka

The November 30 letter to the editor by Ben Chouake, M.D (“Jared and Ivanka Kushner: A ‘blessing and honor’ to Jews) implies that Jews should be proud of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump just because they practice Judaism. However their action and policies should make all Americans ashamed. He neglects to recognize that they are totally unqualified for the positions that they hold, are the greatest examples of nepotism in the history of our government, support positions that are not only abhorrent to Jewish values but all human values, and have used their position to enrich themselves now and in the future.

There are few if any examples in history of people with no political, governmental, academic, or public service background and experience being appointed to high positions in an administration. Never have a husband-and-wife team who are directly related to the president been given high positions in the White House.

It is hard from the record to determine in what policy positions beside relations with Israel where Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have played a major role. Did they help create a tax cut that saves themselves and their families millions at the expense of the middle class and greatly expands our national deficit? Did they create an environmental program that eliminates regulations designed to protect our environment? Do they support the denial of global warming? Do they support the elimination of health care for many and the denial of a woman’s right to choose? Do they support an immigration policy that separates children from their parents and denies or delays the entry into the United States of parents, spouses, and children of American citizens, regardless of age, based on the country in which they were born? Do they support the assault on a free press and an independent judiciary?

Perhaps most importantly as it relates to Jewish values, do they support the statements of Donald Trump mocking women for their appearance and intelligence, implying that his political opponents are criminals who belong in jail, making a joke of the names of his Jewish opponents, publicly humiliating members of his own party the day after the election for their defeat and making fun of their names, or calling vast segments of our society liars?

If this is not the definition of loshen harah, then what is?

To state that “the Kushner family involvement in the White House required a huge sacrifice of their personal lives” simply is not true. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have used their governmental positions to travel around the world at taxpayer expense to promote their business and financial interests —whether it’s Jared’s trips to Saudi Arabia to wine and dine with his financial supporters, including the crown prince, and to encourage Saudi officials to stay at the Trump hotel in Washington, or it’s Ivanka travelling to China to obtain patents for her goods and businesses.

It should be noted that in 2017, while ostensibly in government service, Ivanka Trump earned a $3.9 million profit from the Trump hotel in Washington. Together she and Jared reported $82 million in income. That is probably enough money to pay for kiddushes in every shul in America from now to eternity.

Melvin R. Solomon
River Edge

Demagoguery in the Age of Trump

Among various types of demagoguery, two stand out in the Age of Trump — whataboutism and blaming the messenger (i.e. the press). Both types were prominently displayed in the letters printed in the November 30 issue of the Jewish Standard.

One letter, by Susan Eberstein (“Abraham Foxman is wrong”), illustrated the illogic of whataboutism. In criticizing Abraham Foxman for calling Trump a demagogue, Ms. Eberstein never actually responds with any evidence that Trump is not a demagogue. Rather, she cites statements by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Senator Dianne Feinstein and mentions unruly students at college campuses. All these, of course, are irrelevant; they do not prove Trump is not a demagogue, they just prove that Ms. Eberstein hasn’t addressed the statement by Mr. Foxman.

The other letter, by Dr. Ben Chouake (“Jared and Ivanka Kushner: A ‘blessing and honor’ to Jews”), excoriates the New York Times for printing an article called “Are Jared and Ivanka Good for the Jews?” In his letter, which blames the messenger but does not address the message, Dr. Chouake says that the Times article “cited partisan Jews who criticize Ivanka and Jared Kushner as being bad for the Jewish community because of their participation in the Trump Administration.”

From this sentence and the rest of his letter, I gather that Dr. Chouake did not read the article in the Times, but only the title and maybe the first couple of paragraphs. The Times article cites various people, some supportive and others critical of the Kushners’ role in the Trump administration. Among those supportive are Rabbi Haskel Lookstein; Ari Fleischer, the press secretary to President George W. Bush; and Morton A. Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America.

The subject of the article, however, was the views many American Jews hold about the Kushners. Despite Dr. Chouake’s sycophancy (“In any shul I have attended, there would be a line of members grateful to pay for a kiddush to honor the Kushners”), other Jews have different, even negative, opinions about them. I dare say that the same shuls would have lines of members heading out the door if the Kushners showed up.

I found Dr. Chouake’s comment, “It is improper that the New York Times would be willing to write such a mean and dishonest column about them,” offensive. The article was neither mean nor dishonest — it clearly described the debate in the Jewish community about the role of the Kushners. This statement tells me a lot more about Dr. Chouake, that he believes it improper for newspapers to publish articles that do not praise the Kushners, that these Hofjuden are somehow above criticism.

Dr. Chouake obviously believes that, simply by mentioning the Times, he will get some sort of kneejerk reaction from certain members of the Jewish community. Blaming the messenger, however, does not refute the message. Rather than showing the Times’ bias, it shows Dr. Chouake’s.

Richard J. Alexander

Thank you, Matt

My wife and I would like to express our hakoros hatov (gratitude) to Matthew Halpern and to his shul, Congregation Beth Sholom in Livingston for emulating Avrohom Avinu, who always had his tent open on all sides to invite guests in, when he opened the door to his shul to us and to anyone else who was stuck on the roads locally at about 10 one Thursday evening, during the relatively small snow storm that no one will ever forget (Matthew Halpern, “Welcoming the stranger, riding out the storm together,” November 23).

There were two other ladies already there, and one more came later. We all were welcomed to come in, relax, use the facilities, have some warm drinks, make ourselves comfortable, watch TV, and he even provided blankets and pillows so my granddaughter and her friend could lie down and rest, for as long as necessary, until the totally gridlocked roads were cleared and we would be able to go home.

We had picked up my granddaughter and her friend from the Kushner Academy in Livingston at 4:30 p.m. for the usually 20 minute drive home to West Orange, and five hours later we were virtually at a standstill on Route 10, and still 3+ miles from our house.

Luckily, we were almost by the driveway to the shul, and we decided to drive in and see if, by some miracle, perhaps someone would be there and they would let us in.

And then, B”H, when we drove around the back, we saw the light on in the office, and as soon as Matthew saw us from his window, he immediately came to the door, opened it, told us to come in and make ourselves comfortable, and to stay as long as necessary — which could’ve been all night.

Luckily, my daughter’s friend’s father, who is an ex IDF paratrooper and a trained paramedic, as a four-wheel drive Jeep, is very experienced in driving on ice, and knew all the back roads. He came to get us.

He got to us about 1 a.m. and we were home in about 15 to 20 minutes, via back roads, which most people dared not attempt to traverse, since they were very hilly and very icy, virtually impassable for most normal drivers with normal cars.

Hashem sent us two malachim to get us home safe and sound, and a lot earlier than many other people, and without having to spend most of (or all of) the night in our car, as many did, or abandoning it, as many did, or getting into any accidents, as many did.

So, once again, a huge yasher koyach and thank you to Matthew, and to his shul, for his wonderful act of chesed.

Charlie Aptowitzer
West Orange

read more: