One of the best things about being a prosecutor, besides getting to wear the white hat or fight crime, is the ability to develop a very thick skin. I can truly say that in my nearly 18 years of doing so, I have been called things I have never heard of before, nor are they fit to print — criminals are very creative! So as I scrolled through the comments on my other posts I realized that some people hope I will cease and desist; that my voice will be quashed, the taps on my keyboard silenced, and my words vanish into the annals of the internet. But my answer is no. Most respectfully, no. You see my friends, there is a reason that one of the most eye-opening slogans to come out of the gay rights movement is the “Silence = Death” one. Because it does.
When I spoke last month at the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), one of my fellow panelists was this beautiful young man. Every time I think of his words and his pain, I know mine and that of the countless others in the frum LGBT community. He said the following, “This is the only Judaism I know, and I thought that if there is no place in Judaism for me, then there is no place in life for me.” This is the reality with which the frum world must come to terms. Turning away, silencing our voices, closing the closet door, excluding us equals death; spiritual, and too often, physical.
We use our energies just to fight to stay alive rather than using all of our energies to focus on our relationship with Hashem and our Jewish way of life. That is why so many of the LGBT frum Jews leave — they choose life, and exist elsewhere, because the fight is too draining, too painful. Why stay where we are not welcome? And my question is, why are we not welcome when so many others are, no matter what sin they choose? And that is the difference between us and them. People choose to sin, to eat treif, to violate Shabbat, to commit crimes, to harm others, etc. Trust me, no one chooses to be gay. And silence is just not an option for us, because it kills us.
I learned that quickly through my journey with breast cancer. I learned that talking about it with others helped me and helped them. One of my dear friends at work even joked, “It is the most well-publicized diagnosis in the history of breast cancer.”
How did that come about? Well, I quickly realized that people’s reaction was fear, or to whisper, or their eyes tearing up. I also quickly realized how important early detection was for me, and that so many of my friends my age had not gone for mammograms, or sonograms, or even had BRCA genetic testing. So I decided to create a Facebook group called some “Some good news some bad news,” where I tagged every woman I could think of, chronicled my journey, and posted whatever I could find about the disease. (Hakarat Hatov (recognition) must be given to Sharsheret, for all the information they provide and the amazing work that they do. May the Neshama of Rochelle Shoretz z”l have an aliyah!)
Many of my posts included stories filled with humor; for laughter is truly the best medicine. At the end of my radiation treatment, amidst the Iran Deal last summer, I wrote about how I gave my Radiation Oncologist a neon green T-shirt that read, “Who needs Iran, my patients get nuked at LIJ.” And I posted a picture of it. I wrote about the moments of laughter and moments of pain. I wrote about listening to music throughout my treatment; songs like “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, that gave me strength. I learned from the radiation techs that certain songs were not to be played, as I saw one of them leap up and rush to turn off Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” I asked him what was his problem with Billy Joel, and we laughed. Humor made me get through, as did not remaining silent.
The group grew to about 250 women, with friends adding newly diagnosed friends, and other friends getting tested. Then one day I got a message that made me realize why silence was not an option. My voice, my story, may have even saved a life; because I had written about the importance of insisting on a sonogram, they found breast cancer in my friend and she told me that it was caught at a very early stage. I am happy to report my friend is doing well, with surgery and treatment behind her.
The Talmud teaches us that whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. This is an often cited verse when it comes to violating Shabbat, in order to save a life. What people most often forget is the first part of that verse. “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.” And so silence is not an option. For we Jews know about the necessity of standing up to our oppressors; from the days of Egypt, the days of pogroms, the Holocaust and modern day hate filled Muslim fundamentalists wishing to wipe Israel off the map. But what saddens me most, is when our oppressors are from within our own communities. Those rabbis and community members who hope we would drown in a sea of hatred and homophobia; those who would be willing to destroy another’s soul by providing no place for us in the only world we know; making us feel as if there is no place in life for us.
I spoke with a friend yesterday. A rabbi’s wife and a kind neshama. My daughter and hers are dear friends and she too told me of wrestling with that reality; with her child coming home and telling her that my daughter had two moms, to which she merely responded, “Well, that’s different.” She was not in the business of teaching her child to hate, or to destroy another Jewish soul. And she said to me recently, “I have learned two things from having gay friends; 1) that it is not contagious and 2) that no matter how much you belittle, ridicule or insult gay people, it does not make them become straight.” She gets that being gay is not a choice.
And to all those out there who think it is, who think I am pushing something in your faces, or that I choose to be gay, or live a gay lifestyle, I say this: You know what you can choose, you can choose to be a better person. You can choose to be kind. You can be a saver of lives, not a destroyer of souls. You can open your hearts, not harden them like Pharaoh. And if not, then feel free to pass over my blogs; to go on to the next The Times of Israel blog that suits your needs, or, even simpler — just turn off your computer. I, however, prefer not to stick my head in the sand. I prefer not to be silent. I prefer to live.