A Brave New World?

In 1993, I received official notification that I was selected as one of several individuals to receive the City of Chicago’s Human Relations Award at its annual luncheon for my creation of the ”School to School” program instituted by the Commission. I was informed, as they were aware that I practiced the Jewish dietary laws, they would make the special effort to provide a kosher airline’s dinner for me. This accommodation prompted me to come up with what I thought was a wonderful suggestion, which would highlight the diversity of Chicago’s population and the unity and fellowship we all sought through the work of the Human Relations Commission.

I put a call into the Commissioner who I knew quite well, presenting my suggestion. To enhance the message of the Human Relations Commission at its annual luncheon. It would be helpful to arrange that, no matter the cuisine, the luncheon be prepared in the hotel’s kosher kitchen and it be a vegan lunch. Then, vegan, vegetarian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian, etc. all would break bread together. I even came up with a theme for the luncheon – “The community that eats together, stays together.” I found the Commissioner’s response astounding “You people have to learn to compromise a bit.” And while I understood that the general practice in American society was to follow the attitude and sentiments of the majority, while at the same time making an earnest effort to accommodate the minority, I felt providing a kosher vegan lunch at the Commission’s annual gathering was far more than a mere accommodation. It was underscoring the very essence of what a Human Relations Commission is all about.

Recently, newspapers across the country, reported on the historical decision of the Chicago Public Schools, CPS, I believe, the third-largest public system in the United States, to allow claimed transgender students to use the girls bathrooms and locker rooms. No doubt this includes the showers as well. “CPS, like much of the country, has become far more aware of the needs and experiences of the transgender community,” said Janice Jackson, the chief education officer for CPS. “The guidelines released today will help ensure every student and adult in the CPS family can participate in an environment of complete tolerance and respect.”

“Under the updated guidelines, students and employees have a right to be addressed by the ‘name and pronoun’ that corresponds with their gender identity. Students and employees also won’t be required to obtain court orders or gender re-assignment to modify their official records to correspond with their stated identities, and students’ requested names and genders will be added to other information contained in a district database. Information about the student’s legal name and biological sex shall be kept confidential in the ‘legal alert’ field of a district student database,” the guidelines say.

When I was a student at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, there was a sanctus sanctorum in public high school – the girl’s locker room. Many a teenage boy expressed his desire to “pierce the veil” of this otherwise restricted locale. There were those who actually made the effort which resulted in their being expelled from school. Given the decision of the CPS and my own personal experience, I surmise there will be many more “trancegender” teens “outing” themselves in Chicago high schools. In a school system that is already chaotic, in a school system which is notorious for not educating its students, in a school system which employs metal detectors, police, and an emergency bell system in each classroom so the teacher may call for assistance when violence regularly breaks out in the classroom, this new set of guidelines will only add to the mayhem and the system’s further demise. As you may know, Chicago boasts one of the largest percentages of school age children attending parochial, private or charter schools in the nation. The only one good result of these guidelines may be the savings the CPS may have with regard to the number of individuals employed as truant officers to ensure mandatory attendance at school.

It would appear the new American norm is the majority must not only accommodate but submit to the desires of the minority, even when those desires run contrary to the general view of society. Perhaps given this new norm I should demand of the Human Relations Commission, that its future luncheons be Glatt Kosher or Chalav Yisrael. Why stop there? What about public facilities such as museums, parks and playgrounds that have restaurants or food kiosks? They should accommodate the needs of the observant Jew as well. No more “brown bagging” lunch for me! And what about the road stops provided on the national highways? Well I remember feeding my children in the car in the carpark on a rainy day. Now we can all go into the Howard Johnson’s, replete with a mashgiach tmidi, a full-time kosher supervisor, and sit down to a fine kosher lunch. After all, if the majority must accommodate the needs of the minority, why are Jews not equal to transgender individuals in this accommodation.

About the Author
Retired and residing in Jackson, New Jersey, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz was the rav of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Chicago. During his nearly five decades in the rabbinate he led congregations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. He served as an officer, Executive Committee member and chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
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