On gay teenage suicide and Judaism


The tragic death this past week of a Rutgers University student was widely reported around the world. This case was the suicide of 18 year-old Tyler Clementi,  whose roommate allegedly videotaped him during a sexual encounter with another man and broadcast it on the Internet, both outing and humiliating a quiet, bright, young person with but one, simple, keystroke.


The news, the very same week,  reported  the suicides of some four gay students (these are only the cases that made the news)  after they were mercilessly bullied at school; this may be a sad sign of how little has changed for many teens.


Statistics show that teen age suicide is three to four times more likely in the LGBTIQ community. Too many of these youth, caught in a struggle over their own sexuality, feel that they must hide it from those who are the very people who ought provide a warm support system - family, friends, clergy, employers.


Kids are coming out at an earlier age today, but they still are likely to face harassment, ridicule and have the snot beat out of them.


How bizarre that we live in a world that too often tolerates, frequently in the name of religion, excluding others - even harming them - because of the people they love.


So what does this have to do with Judaism in general, and Masorti in Israel, in particular?


Too often I have heard that this is a North American issue. Wake up! It was not so long ago that several teens were viciously and violently attacked at their own Tel Aviv center.


Other Gay community centers have been vandalized. Statements made by authoritative rabbis (as well as religious leaders of other faith traditions) have been scandalous in their opprobrium.


Israel is a society with some of the most progressive legislation in the world regarding gender protection. But hatred, prejudice and bigotry are still all around us. The newspapers advertise "psychological services" to Gays offering "Change Therapy." This false advertising, rejected as ineffective, and even perhaps harmful by every mainstream psychological and psychiatric organization, must be rejected as fallacious and misleading.


The general community must end the harassment. Religious leaders of all denominations must take the lead by speaking out. Our Jewish tradition is clear: "All people were created in the image of the divine." Our Gay youth must know that our synagogues, communities and our rabbis welcome them.


I do not expect all observant Jews to accept homosexuality. But I would demand that the Gays feel safe within our communities and find compassion.


Several leading rabbis abroad  have sent out open letters to all of their youth letting them know that there are actually more people in the world who support their right to be who they are than not. This has become a hot issue on Facebook.


In an act of poor timing, the New Jersey Jewish Standard, a local Jewish newspaper in Jersey, announced, "We set off a firestorm last week by publishing a same-sex couple''s announcement of their intent to marry... The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future."


The desire to please those who have experienced "pain and consternation" by the newspaper may cause even greater pain for those who are gay and their friends and family.


Barring announcements from a non-ideological publication may be tantamount to  telling every young gay person, darn it, we shouldn''t have shown support for gay people, because it offends some ignorant, insensitive members of our community.


(The newspaper has subsequently apologized for apology).


The Masorti Movement in Israel is inclusive. We do not discriminate in hiring. Our youth group teaches acceptance and reviles bullying. Many of our rabbis stand ready to perform commitment ceremonies. I know this is so in the Reform Movement and it is now finding its way into the Zionist Orthodox world.


We pray, as part of our liturgy "Haverim Kol Yisrael" (all Jews are welcome) - now let''s live it.