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Hazon, what is ‘normal’?

To ensure a happy, nurturing, loving family for a child, start with love, and leave the parents' sexual preferences out of it
Giant poster hung on a Jerusalem hotel February 13, 2009 by the Hazon movement for a 'Jewish Agenda.' Following complaints, the hotel removed the poster several hours later. The slogan says 'Mother and Father - Family. The courage to live normally.' (Twitter)
Giant poster hung on a Jerusalem hotel February 13, 2009 by the Hazon movement for a 'Jewish Agenda.' Following complaints, the hotel removed the poster several hours later. The slogan says 'Mother and Father - Family. The courage to live normally.' (Twitter)

Rant. Because it’s 2019. I’m a Modern Orthodox Jew. And I’ve had enough of in this case Jews choosing who is Jewish and who isn’t. Who can be part of the community and who can’t. Who is “normal” and who isn’t.

I saw a billboard, put out by the organization Hazon, shared numerous times this week by Israel advocacy groups and organizations rightfully condemning the message that was displayed throughout Jerusalem in time for tomorrow’s Pride Parade (although fortunately has been taken down throughout the city today):

“Father + Mother = Family. The courage is to be normal.”

However, today I saw it shared twice by FB friends who openly agree with the message.
Perhaps I am naive to think that when it comes to what I perceive as black and white issues we normally agree, but I am quite surprised.

First of all, I’d like a definition of “normal.”

If we are going by the 20/19th century (and backward) definition as suggested by this poster, well, American women, I suggest you start handing over a lot of your rights as voting certainly isn’t “normal”.

Owning properly isn’t “normal.”

Filing for rape while married isn’t “normal.”

Reproductive rights aren’t “normal” (oh, right sorry were talking 19th century. Still waiting for that right. Forgot)

Anything a person had to fight for or was invented wasn’t once “normal.” Owning a washing machine wasn’t always “normal.”

Additionally, the handicapped weren’t and in some cases aren’t considered “normal.”

Blacks weren’t and in some cases aren’t considered “normal.”

Jews weren’t and in some cases aren’t considered “normal.”

Need I continue?

Naturally as a self-identified progressive human, when I see someone deciding what is and isn’t “normal,” I immediately question their stance, as “normal” isn’t for anyone to decide.

Because “normal” is subjective.
Ever-changing.
Fluid.

And if you are going to be strident about maintaining the “normal” of yesterday, you will be stagnant in all areas of life.
I pity you.

Right, now to the lovely “Father + Mother = Family” line:

Again, what is “family”?

I can assume based on this blatant attempt at defining such a personal term, “family” in this case is father work, mother home, children happy. White picket fence mandatory.

So what about children with divorced parents?

Children with a deceased parent(s)?

Children from an abusive home?

Children with an addict parent(s)?

Children raised by grandparents?

Children who have a stepmother/father?

Do they come from the “normal family” structure this poster almost dictatorially demands?
After all, they do have one biological father and one biological mother. In most cases they are being raised by a man and a woman.

But I doubt Hazon would make billboards condemning this non picket- fence family structure.

Or what about children that were fortunate enough to come from “normal,” but don’t have a relationship with their father as he came home late every night?

Or have an exhausted mother?

Or for whatever reason aren’t happy, even though that is an implied part of the mandate?

If we take the message further, is the billboard implying that it is better for a child to be neglected, live in foster homes, be sent to an orphanage or remain extremely vulnerable on the streets than be adopted by a straight couple, a single man/woman, two loving fathers, or two loving mothers?

If a child can have a happy life with a mother and a father, why can’t they have a happy life with two mothers or two fathers?

It’s an equation I simply don’t understand.

This is not to say that homosexual parents are better than heterosexual parents. But it is to say if man and women are given the right to have children without any questions asked about their background, intentions and a review of their resume, why can’t father-and-father or mother-and-mother also be granted this?

I don’t want to sound holier than thou, so I will admit to something that I am not proud of.

Although I fully embrace the LGB, I have a difficult time with the T.

That doesn’t mean I question the transgender community or their validity, it just means that at this point in time, I don’t feel comfortable.

When I thought about what exactly it is that makes me uneasy, it all came back to my standards and my “norms,” not anything they themselves were doing. The transgender community exist and are of zero physical harm to others.

It is my mentality that is the issue, not their lifestyle.

I can either respect that not all people feel connected to their assigned gender or work to change my perspective.

But I don’t believe that building a violent front against them is right or moral.

This billboard which incites nothing but bigotry is anything but the two options I just mentioned.

I don’t believe in agreeing because “you’re forced to,” but rather understanding that every human on this planet is just trying and deserve to live their best life and you, as a co-planet-dweller, must see everyone as an equal is a core value of mine.

As it is in Judaism.

From a Jewish point of view, yes, there must be boundaries within religion and yes, the mitzvot were set in place for a reason. And yes, I do have my personal boundaries set in place (topic for another conversation). But even within these boundaries, I still maintain a respect for a person who may go against what I hold so dear and would never seek to shame them or their choices.

I believe Judaism is ever-growing. I mean, if you identify as Modern Orthodox as most of you do, then clearly you agree at least to some extent.

Although I am aware of the halachic implications, if a homosexual couple want to remain in the faith and raise a Jewish child, who am I to excommunicate them from the tribe?

The same way I’m not the person to go around stoning those who don’t keep Shabbat.

In this day and age, that’s God’s business and God’s business only.

It’s not my place to humiliate, embarrass or dictate. If I feel such a strong desire to get involved, I can choose to kindly educate if the person wants to listen or remove myself entirely from the situation and That. Is. It.

Quite frankly, the people who do decide to take God’s work upon themselves, probably need to review all 613 mitzvot as there is certainly at least one they can do better. I would assume in the department of man and his friend. But that’s just a hunch.

As Rabbi Ralph Genende recently wrote, “If we spent as much energy trying to bring Jews in as we do trying to keep them out, our community would be stronger.”

So if you can have children, because that’s apparently “normal,” so can Joe and David or Sara and Rachel.

The same way you don’t need to justify it or show your credentials before conceiving, neither do they before choosing the route they choose to take.

And if we continue to intimidate and bully those who make decisions that we disagree with, Judaism will become an insular and isolated cult and no longer the vibrant religion I value so much.

So before anyone goes preaching about “normal,” think about your personal life as I am sure there are plenty of lifestyle choices you’ve made that don’t fit in the subjective box of the status quo.

How would you feel if you saw a billboard about that personal choice financed by an organization set on abolishing that choice?

Happy Pride Month to all those who are working toward a world of equality, tolerance and love. You don’t have to agree with everything, but you always need to be compassionate and kind. Always.

About the Author
Lottie Kestenbaum was born to British parents and grew up in New Jersey. To add to the identity crisis, Lottie made aliyah in August 2012. Hello tri-citizenship! She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Holocaust Studies at Haifa University and living in Jerusalem. Yes, it is a shlep. No need to mention it :-)
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