Be Neither Seen Nor Heard

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I spent the last three days vacationing in Newport, Ri with my wife Adina. One of the major winter attractions are three of the dozen mansions built by late 19th-century millionaires. The Breakers, the Elms and Marble House are estates that would rival anything you could find on MTV’s Cribs, and these were “Summer Cottages” used only 2-3 months per year.
One of the remarkable things about these buildings is the structural and architectural efforts that were taken to keep the servants (at least 30 per home) away from the residents and their guests. In the Breakers, special hallways were created for the servants to refill closets with clean clothing without having to enter the bedrooms themselves. The staff in these homes were meant to be as invisible as humanly possible.
This practice of silencing people continues today. We see it with groups that are deemed unwanted or not important enough to be able to express themselves. This is something that happens in every country, every city and every community. There is always someone trying to keep someone else quiet. Unfortunately, the Jewish community is no different.
The Jewish community has tried to pretend certain things didn’t exist within its confines. Brooklyn Rabbis molest children with little consequence because the community leadership is unwilling to bring in secular authorities. It took many years for domestic abuse cases to be dealt with in the Orthodox community. Today, we have homosexual Orthodox Jews who do not have an entirely safe environment in which to be open and honest about who they are. There has been an effort to keep people from publicly expressing themselves as individuals, and to vilify those who do as activists aimed at bringing down Torah Judaism and its values.
Thankfully, the 21st century is nothing like the 19th century. We don’t have the same limitations in our free society that allowed people to be suppressed and ignored for centuries. The infrastructure we operate within is called the Internet. It is designed to allow for equality and openness of personal and communal expression. It’s our opportunity to jump through the formality, and engage directly with the Lord of the Manor.
Despite the efforts that are taken to silence people wherever they are, whoever they are and whatever their cause may be, they are not the servants in this new world. They will not be silenced.
Be seen; be heard.
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An Open letter:

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Update 3/13/2011: I was instructed by my previous employer that I could not remain an employee of the University if I did not remove this post. I have restored the post below along with the message I wrote when it was taken down.

 

I owe anyone who reads this blog an apology. it is with extreme humiliation that I removed the text of this post a few minutes ago.

my opinions have not changed. I am sorry.

Update: Reinstated letter.

President Joel,

I want to share with you my support for the event Tuesday night, and the pride I felt in being associated with Yeshiva University that night.

One of my close friends was on the panel, and I experienced the depression he lived through without understanding its cause. I had suspected for a while he might be gay, but I was not sure of anything. In the last year I became much closer to him, and he shared with me what he went through and what life was like now. While he still struggles with halacha and how it relates to his sexuality, his depression disappeared when he came out to his friends, and realized that nobody cared. He didn’t need a Rabbi to tell him whether sex with another man was assur or not – he needed his friends to continue being his friend after they knew about his sexuality.

I know you have received a lot of flak for allowing the event to take place, but I think you know the importance of having a publicized and open program about being homosexual in the Orthodox community. There are many closeted homosexuals on campus and in other places throughout the Orthodox community, and YU took a bold stand by saying “there are safe places for you to be open about who you are.” If you saw the movie “Trembling Before God” you may know that the people who were part of the silhouetted dancing in the beginning and end of the film were people who did not feel comfortable coming out when the video was made. This event allowed people to realize that they don’t need to hide in the Modern Orthodox community.

I know that you are in a very tough situation, and I know that you have a very difficult balancing act to make it through this as President of the University. I just wanted to tell you that I support you in allowing events like this to take place, Adina supports this as well, and most of our friends and peers are in favor of events like this.

There may be many donors and board members who are not in favor of something like this happen, but the next generation of lay-leaders and financial supporters recognize that homosexuality should not be taboo, and should not be something the Orthodox community sweeps under the rug and hopes just goes away.

Thank you,

Aaron Steinberg