Thursday, January 26, 2012

One Week Later - JFS Update

There were rumours yesterday that the Jewish Free School was going to make a statement with regard to the story in the Jewish Chronicle last week discussing the way homosexuality is referred to in Jewish Studies lessons at the school. Nothing has yet been released.

Meanwhile, here are the latest links to the JC's follow-up stories:

In this leader, the newspaper suggests that the school is bandying semantics. A couple of hours later, the JC online posted a story that refers to the letters written to the school by Alma Smith and Dalia Fleming. You may find it here. Keshet UK is mentioned!

And so we wait to see what happens next.

Monday, January 23, 2012

O Akos, My Akos

Buzsaky is back. Here he is celebrating a stunning goal scored against Wigan at the weekend. He looks rather happy. Not as delighted as we were. Much singing of his special song - 'The White Pele'.

The Jewish Free School

Since early last week, there has been a lot of attention paid to a particular Jewish Studies lesson taught at the Jewish Free School (JFS) with regard to a reference allegedly made to an American organisation called JONAH aka Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (possibly now changed to 'Healing' rather than 'Homosexuality').

The furore began with a front page article in the Jewish Chronicle, that suggested the school might be teaching that homosexuality can be 'cured'.
Read it here

Keshet UK - the LGBT Jewish Forum put out a press release
Read it here

Pink News, an online lgbt website followed the JC, including a response from the headmaster of the school.
Read it here

The London Evening Standard picked up on these stories and printed their version.
Read it here

Meanwhile, the Progressive Jewish movement spokespeople began to express their positions:

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner spoke on behalf of the Movement for Reform Judaism.
Read it here

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein spoke on behalf of the Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism.
Read it here

Other initial responses included:
Adam Wagner on Cartoon Kippah (here)
Dalia Fleming, a former JFS student, responded here. She also writes about her experience here.
The LJY-Netzer weekly Chinuch article
letter from former head girl Alma Smith

Not having been in the lesson myself, I cannot comment on the details of what happened. However, if just one student came out of that lesson feeling confused and unsafe, then I must do all I can to support him/her in working with the school to change that atmosphere.

JFS does not deny making a reference to JONAH. If only they had been prepared to say ooooops we should have researched this organisation properly before including it in the curriculum, then there probably would not have been a story at all. In any case, rather than focussing on one particular occurrence,the question now is how to go forward, to make sure that the entire culture of the school may be developed to create a safe space for our LGBT students.

UPDATE Here is a link to a current Orthodox Jewish perspective from North America on homosexuality.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

One That Got Away

Communication misunderstandings meant that I wrote a short piece for this week's LJ Bulletin to cover a gap that did not exist. So here it is, my secular new year's offering to you:

Parshat VaYechi

“and he blessed Joseph and said, “May God, before whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked, God who sustained me as long as I am alive until this day; may the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac” ... so he blessed them on that day saying, “with you Israel will bless, saying, may God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.’” (Gen. 48:15-16, 20)

The final portion of the book of Genesis begins with the last days of the patriarch Jacob, and concludes with the death of his favourite son, Joseph. Before he leaves this world, Jacob blesses his sons, and also the sons of Joseph. We take particular interest in the blessing of the grandchildren, since it is traditional for parents to make such a blessing at the beginning of Shabbat. And if you are wondering what virtue Ephraim and Manasseh might have had that could supersede the righteousness of their eminent ancestors, please note that they were the first set of Jewish brothers that did not fight with each other!

Eighteen years ago, I was assigned this portion for my Senior Sermon at rabbinical school. Now, as then, my eyes turn not towards the happy children being blessed by loving parents.  We need not worry about such fortunate families. Rather, I see empty places at a Shabbat table. Then, I spoke of the pain felt by would-be parents who had been cursed by infertility and were thus unable to fill the seats with daughters and sons. I learned how this yearning goes back to the beginning of our history, where Israel’s wife Rachel pleads with God to give her a child or else she will die. Then I sat sadly in the synagogue, wondering what to do with my empty hands while parents were invited to bless “their” children. And I studied the sensitive response of the sages, who taught that nurture is surely superior to nature, e.g., “One who teaches a child Torah, it is as if one had created that child” (Talmud Sanhedrin 19b).

Rachel’s prayer was answered, but it is not always possible to grow children oneself. However, Sanhedrin 19b also refers to the five sons of Michal mentioned in the second book of Samuel. The Gemara notes that Michal (the wife of King David) never gave birth, and concludes that although Michal’s sister Meirav was the biological mother of these children, since Michal raised them, they were considered hers. Now, as then, adoption is considered a viable option for those who cannot take the usual route towards parenthood.

If one is able to overcome the genetic demand of the ego to leave some physical presence on the earth, there are so many children today in need of a loving home. Statistics from March 2011 show that in England there were 65,520 children in care of their local authorities. 74% had places in foster homes. 71% were aged between 1 and 4 years old, and 72% were taken from their families of origin because of abuse or neglect. Of these children, 3,050 were adopted. That is 4.7% who found at least one parent able to offer them a home. That is a shockingly low number.

Some rabbis now invite the entire congregation to join in the blessing of the children of the community, and in that moment my hands and heart are full. But the Shabbat chairs are still waiting. There are not that many cute, healthy, blank, unwanted newborn babies ready to be imprinted with our hopes and ideals. There ARE thousands of young children, somewhat injured by their experiences so far, yearning for a chance of family life. What can we do for them?

Jacob’s final act is to bless his children. He understands that a blessing cannot create potential that does not already exist. It can, however, help existing potential to materialise. Who knows what currently lies dormant in these children? We may not be able to adopt them ourselves, but they are part of our community. I believe we have a duty to find a blessing for each and every one of them, so they too may become like Ephraim and Manasseh, both loving and loved.

Statistics taken from and