Martyr v. Advocate and the Sound of Silence
I have not written for a while for The Blogs, but the silence of my keyboard has not been reflective of my voice or actions these last few months. You see, I am often the one who receives the sound of silence in response to what I say, or post, or email to others within my community. Truth be told, I am not interested in making others feel comfortable, or simply letting them be, while they exist in their world of inaction or inability to right the wrongs that they must. You see, I am an advocate — a passionate, tenacious, sink my teeth into it, kind of advocate. Most recently, however, someone quite confused by my advocacy, called me a martyr.
I would like to analyze both of these words — martyr and advocate. Martyr is defined by Merriam-Webster as follows: 1) a person who is killed or who suffers greatly for religion, cause, etc. or 2) a person who pretends to suffer or who exaggerates suffering in order to get praise or sympathy. Advocate, on the other hand, is defined there as follows: 1) a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy or 2) a person who argues for the cause of another person in a court of law.
Well, I am not dead, so I guess the first part of that definition of martyr is not apropos. Nor do I believe that I suffer greatly for religion. In fact, I actually suffer because of it, at the hands of others; namely, rabbis and community members who continue to allow homophobia a place in my community; whether it be by inaction, complacency or direct involvement in spreading hate. That is why I advocate. It is what I do for a living, as a prosecutor in courts of law, and what I have been forced to do for my life and the lives of other LGBTQ Jews in my community, and through The Blogs, for LGBTQ Jews around the world, who seek a place in the Orthodox community. And it is not lost on me, in the definitions of the word advocate, that each begins with the words “a person who argues.” Yes, I am a person who argues, but never without just cause or an important reason. We Jews have been commanded to seek justice all the days of our lives, and that is what I do. That is what propels me forward as I work in the trenches of prosecution and similarly, when I see injustice in my personal life. I am an advocate, not a martyr.
Fighting against injustice towards one’s fellow human being must always be a cause that, as Jews, anyone of us must take up. It must be done, however, with only truth as a weapon. So no, I am not a martyr, for I do not pretend to suffer or exaggerate my suffering to obtain a benefit of praise or sympathy. I do not want nor do I seek praise from others, and as for sympathy — even the sympathy of silence does nothing for me or other LGBTQ observant Jews. So I write and I advocate; and I do so by telling the truth. A truth many do not wish to hear, or some even hope to silence. Because, yes, I step on some toes, as do others greater and far more learned then me.
Take the recent case of Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who tried to find a place for us LGBTQ Jews in the Orthodox world; and the outrage he received in the wake of his kindness. As Rabbi Haim Ovadia wrote of the controversy and Rabbi Dwek’s attackers in his drasha, “Pious Hypocrisy” (June 9, 2017) (Full text of the drasha here.) “Let the attackers say clearly and unabashedly, that they have been waiting to target the rabbi who threatened their base of power and control, and they have latched into homophobia to promote their cause.” That too is what happens in my community. I exist in a world where rabbis and their followers are too blind to see, or worse, refuse to see the harm they cause others in their quest to maintain power. Yes, I have rocked the boat, I have challenged the seat of power and I have received nothing in return from them but the utter sound of silence, and an attempt by others to silence my protests, hoping that I would go away. But I will not, because I am an advocate — one who argues for the cause of pikuach nefesh.
But almost as bad, is the fact that there are those who think that if they quietly protest, or simply argue behind closed doors in an attempt to come to my aid — that, that is sufficient. Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely not on the same level as those who actively seek to harm us, by egging on the rabbis in the spreading of homophobic actions. But you see, it is not sufficient at all. Not even close. It lulls those who lodge their hidden and closeted protests, into a false sense of having done something good enough — a feel good sense of “I stood up,” or “I tried,” or even “I tried several times.” You see, behind closed doors in matters of pikuach nefesh, these efforts are meaningless. Because no one hears your advocacy, no one is given the opportunity to come together with others and say to the rabbis in one collective voice — we do not want a shul that allows this, or a rabbi or rabbis who do this. We do not want any part of it and we want to find rabbis who are courageous, who are kind and stand up for LGBTQ Jews, who do not judge their fellow Jews, and recognize that only Hashem can judge us all.
Yet somehow, the reality is that I am judged, and I am ostracized each and every day that I do not have a shul membership, a shul to call my own, for me and my family. Let’s just remember why that is; because I dared to hyphenate my name to obtain protections under the law for myself and my partner. Of course, I do not need to rehash that, but I must include why this is still a very relevant problem for me even three years later. And yes, it has been three years and the sound of silence from my community rabbis has been deafening and constant. This is my reality, and my family’s reality, even as someone had the audacity to question our suffering by wanting to know how I am a harmed on a daily basis. Well, here is how.
I do not have a shul that I can sponsor or give tzedakah in my name, because gay shaming trumps hyphenation. I do not have a shul that I can daven in to Hashem every Shabbos, because around me, if I were to do so, would be people who do not want me there; because their rabbis have not led them away from such a sentiment — in fact they have instilled it in them. If I were to stand there it would be in discomfort knowing that I am less than, a separate class — the non-member, not by choice, but one everyone is aware that was removed from the shul membership list; removed, by rabbis who have dug in their heels in their quest for power, rather than a love of one’s fellow Jew, and an actual understanding of Halacha. It is what Rabbi Haim Ovadia, aptly called, “Pious Hypocrisy.” They turn away from all who sin, such as those who publicly violate Shabbat, because their money talks. They find loopholes for those who break laws, or mistreat their wives, because they say that no two witnesses actually saw these events; and the list goes on and on.
Somehow, there are rabbis who are okay with sending the message that attacking, shaming or excluding the most vulnerable in their communities is okay. But there are consequences as they say; for every action, there is a reaction. Just look at the long term results of Rabbis suppressing our voices, our feelings, our freedom to live as Hashem made us. You need look no further than the recent article by Esther Azar. Sorry Rabbis: Gay Men Can’t be Happy with Women — I Married One and I know. And as you attempt to push us back into the closet, or silence us, you find yourselves looking at community after community with young people battling addiction, depression and suicide. Rabbis, their blood is on your hands.
And even when in my own community, while attempting to stop these rabbis and their followers from taking the community down such a bloody path, I reached out a few months ago, to one of the rabbis of another shul, and all I received was stone cold silence in return. I reached out in attempt to say, life is so short. Please, rethink your position of going along with the other Rabbis, simply because they are Rabbis, even though you yourself had expressed disagreement to me regarding the decision they made. And I had good reason to try. In my world of prosecution, we call it a change in circumstances.
My partner and I are about to take in two teenagers who have gone completely off the derech, whose mother has terminal cancer, and who hope to come live with us and attend a Jewish school. I reached out and said, let us be members, so that we can show them a world filled with a love of Judaism. Let us be members so that we may daven in a shul that says, we want you, we want them, we want you at our member and community events, we will embrace you and we will embrace them. The rabbi’s response: silence. Weeks and months have gone by and all I am left with is silence. And mind you, the email address has not changed and I have never failed to receive a response from him before, as we argued back and forth about this travesty over the last several years. But I hear his silence loud and clear with every day that passes. And I hear his message even clearer: Rabbinic power is more important than my family and three Jewish children living under my roof. “Pious Hypocrisy” indeed.