Thursday, July 31, 2008

"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." - Randy Pausch

At the risk of sounding overly inspirational with the quotations that I often use in the title....too's my blog. I believe in these inspirational sound bites. I believe that we can always learn something from every situation which falls our way. I do not view the world through rose colored glasses. Far from it. My family and the few friends that I have claim that I am one of the most cynical people in the world.

My wife is in Israel studying at a women's seminary in Jerusalem for the summer. A few days ago she attended a shiur by a rav who shall remain nameless. At the end of the class, she introduced herself. She told the rabbi that during this past year, her daughter was a student of the rabbi's wife. She went on to tell him about the class which his wife taught in which she opened up a discussion about homosexuality. This was done without any guidance or structure, but as a free discussion. Coming from their sheltered Orthodox Jewish backgrounds, these eighteen year olds proceeded to bash homosexuals.

This class was held in the first two weeks after the girls arrived in Israel. It had also just been two weeks since our daughter found out that her older brother is gay. My daughter was terribly distraught over this turn of events and she had promised her brother that she would not yet share what she knew about him with anyone. She had no one to talk to and no one to turn to.

After hearing the story, the rabbi responded that it is a shame about these gay guys. He continued to tell her that most of them go off the derekh because they are gay. She responded by saying that homosexuals have no choice in what they are, just as the rabbi could not become gay if he so chose.

What she wanted to say to him was that they leave the religion because of people like you and your wife.

I would have used a few more expletives.

To explain the quote in the title. Randy Pausch was born in 1960 and he died on July 25, 2008 from pancreatic cancer. He taught virtual reality (VR) at Carnegie Mellon University and he gave his last lecture in September 2007. I first heard about him a few months ago. I was moved by his positive outlook in spite of the fact that he was given less than a year to live.

His final lecture was titled "The Last Lecture". He opened the lecture by stating that his father taught him that when there is an elephant in the room you should confront it.

Nice segue "nopeanuts". Right? I've been thinking about what you wrote about my son's peers and our peers who are afraid to approach us. I don't think they are waiting to take their cues from us. That is overly optimistic. They just don't know what to do with themselves. Homosexuality, especially in the Orthodox Jewish world, is taboo, just like depression and cancer was, a few generations ago. Wife abuse does not happen in the Orthodox Jewish community either.

Randy Pausch said that the elephant should be confronted. We have been telling our friends on a one by one basis. It is an emotionally trying experience each time, for us as well as for the listener. For those people who don't know what to do with themselves when they are around us, I have no answer. That blanket email outing our son provided the information, provided the truth. But as Jack Nicholson shouted in A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

I watched Randy Pausch's last lecture on YouTube the other day. I will take my cues from how he lived his life and the legacy he has tried to pass on to his children. He used a few more phrases in the lecture which I would like to use now and at a later date.

He said that 'brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things." The Orthodox Jewish LGBT community is being shut out by a high security brick wall. One day that wall will be breached.

Randy Pausch also recommended "Not to bail. The best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap."

Don't allow people, such as the rav and his wife, to say whether you have or do not have a place in the community. It is not their place to say so. Maybe the brick wall is there for a reason. It gives you the opportunity to show your dedication to what you believe in.

Saul David

PS. Google "The Last Lecture".

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Life, Lemons and the Road

As our children were growing up, I hung motivational posters around the playroom. My favorite one was "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." When the kids were faced with challenging situations, I would remind them of this particular poster.

When I first started this blog, one of my friends suggested that this was a case of life handing us lemons, and this blog was my way of making lemonade. I disagree. I never felt that we were handed lemons. I do not believe that we were forced to turn something sour into something sweet. But I could not find a suitable phrase to describe this particular journey through these uncharted waters.

On an airplane last night, I was seated next to a woman who explained to me that she travels the world training managers of Fortune 500 companies about customer service. We discussed the current negative state of the economy and the changing business environment. She explained that her job is to break down negative attitudes and develop a culture that fosters change. I asked how she does this and she explained that negativity and resistance to change are only frames of mind. She emphasized that once the decision is made by the corporation to instill a culture that encourages change and refuses to accept any form of negativity, the corporation is emboldened and begins to thrive.

I asked if she thinks that the same holds true on a personal level as well as on a business level. She told me that she became a widow with a three year old daughter, twenty years ago, and she has recently survived breast cancer. She has been unwilling to be negative with her lot in life and has made positive changes. She said "it's all good."

As we parted ways she offered me some advice.

She said "remember...The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you refuse to take the turn."

I heard what she said. I listened to her words. I found my phrase.

We could have refused to take the turn. But we have chosen to travel this road with our child and the rest of our children.

Last night I learned so much from a perfect stranger. Imagine what we can learn from those we know and love.

Yihye Tov.

Saul David

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Enquiring Minds Want to Know"

NoPeanutz said...

"Enquiring minds want to know"

...Surely you cannot deny that an openly gay and shomer mitzvot homosexual is a curiosity in the Orthodox community. Especially in the case of someone you know personally.

Because these people (frum gays) are so hidden secretive and locked away, and also because of the possibilities that their lifestyle presents (rethinking of halachic norms?) I do not fault those mentioned in this post who express curiosity or fascination at your son's lifestyle.

Is there a pink elephant? Undoubtedly. Are people fascinated with it? Yes, but only because they have never seen a pink elephant before. And Mr. and Mrs. David are Pink Elephants even more so than their gay son- most adults might know someone who is gay. But how many of them know someone who is gay and shomer shabbat/kashrut (SS/K) and then know their parents and close family as well, that have sworn to support him and accept his very controversial lifestyle?

Most SSKs I know were brought up being taught that being gay is a terrible sin, taught that parents must sit shiva for a gay child, and mourn that child as dead. Troubling (and harmful?) ideas indeed. The Davids' acceptance of their son as gay is a relief for other SSKs as much as it is for the son...that if an SSK thinks that a gay person deserves better than our society teaches, this is not something to feel guilty about.

Do not confuse curiosity and fascination with disapproval.

If these people are friends, then they are probably studying how you are dealing with the issue, in order to calibrate their own confused emotions.

Like it or not, Mr. David, you are thrust in to the role of the professional, someone with more experience and knowledge about dealing with SSK homosexuals in your family than anyone else in your community- from whom everyone else takes their cues. It sounds like what you mistake for judging glares could just be "enquiring minds," not about your sons lifestyle, but about what is an appropriate way to approach him and his family since he has come to grips with his sexuality. Just because somebody screwed up and told the world about your son being gay, it does not mean that everyone she told is as malicious. Also, because this one person abused the privileged information trusted to her, it is fine if you feel betrayed...but it would be wrong to hold it against everyone else for knowing.

Dear nopeanuts,

Allow me to respond to the comment which you posted on July 22nd. You have raised some excellent points.

I do not deny that an ssk homosexual is a curiosity within the Orthodox community. How the individuals within the community respond to this information is the issue. Please remember that my perspective is only as a parent of an ssk homosexual.

The individuals who I find to be troubling are not those who express curiousity or fascination at my son's lifestyle. I am troubled by those who look at my son, not as a person who has chosen to continue to be a shomer mitzvot in spite of the fact that he is gay, but as someone who is not quite as frum as the rest of us specifically because he is gay. I have not yet come across people who are curious or fascinated with my son's lifestyle. At this point in the journey we are viewed as untouchables. They just don't know what to do with themselves.

You may be giving these people more credit than they deserve. They don't know that our son's "parents and family have sworn to support him and accept his very contoversial lifestyle" because they have not been able to muster the courage to approach us and ask. Perhaps they think that we are in a mourning mode. Who knows?

But on the other hand, you may be right. I can only report what I see and how I feel. Perhaps those glares from the other side of the fence are from people who just don't know the appropriate way to respond to this very unique situation.

Your reading of my emotions are almost correct. I do feel betrayed, but I do not hold it against everyone else for knowing now that they know. My fear has always been about those who do not wish my family well. This situation gives those people the perfect opportunity.

But on the other hand, once we get beyond the curiosity and the fascination and even the disapproval, it is up to us to show that it is indeed possible and right to be shomer mitzvot whether straight or gay.

Thank you for your straightforward comments.

Saul David

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Elephant In The Room

Elephant in the room
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The elephant in the room (also elephant in the living room, elephant in the corner, elephant on the dinner table, elephant in the kitchen, and horse in the corner) is an
English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a small room would be impossible to overlook.
It is sometimes used to refer to a question or problem that is obvious, but which is ignored out of embarrassment or taboo. The idiom also implies a
value judgment that the issue ought to be discussed openly.
The term is often used to describe an issue that involves a social
taboo, such as racism or religion, which everyone understands to be an issue but which no one is willing to admit.
The idiom is commonly used in
addiction recovery terminology to describe the reluctance of friends and family of an addicted person to discuss the person's problem, thus aiding the person's denial.
The idiom is also occasionally invoked as a "
pink elephant", possibly in reference to alcohol abuse, or for no other reason than that a pink elephant would be more visible than a normal elephant.

If you refer to the posting entitled "You can no more make amends for the damage your words have done..." which I wrote after Pesach in reaction to my son's outing by one of his oldest friends, I discussed the fact that once words, like feathers, become scatterred, it is virtually impossible to take back what was said.

Since my son was outed by his friend, we have noticed that people have been looking at us kind of funny. This weekend, our suspicions were confirmed.

We invited a couple to our house for Shabbat lunch. This particular couple became our friends because their daughter was a friend and classmate of our son. We sat and talked over lunch and through dessert. Finally, just before they were about to leave I asked "so what has your daughter told you about our son?" The wife turned pale and began to stammer. I went on to say, "look there is this elephant standing in the room, so why don't you just tell us what you know." After regaining her composure, she told us that her daughter found out about our son during Pesach. When pressed, she also told us that she had been fielding calls from people who are not our friends, who, "because enquiring minds want to know", were asking if the rumors were true. Our friends admitted that people were calling them, not out of concern for our son, or for us, but because they were being nosy and cruel.

The next day, we were invited to a Simchat Bat and a breakfast following. The mother of the infant is a friend of my son, so many of his contemporaries, as well as many of our contemporaries, were present at the breakfast. The elephant was looming so large in the banquet hall of the synagogue, that not one of these young adults, who used to spend time in my house, nor any of our contemporaries, had the courage to come over to us to say hello. To those people who we approached, the discomfort could be cut like a knife.
It was as if we had a contagious disease.

So to my son's good friend, who felt it was most important to email everyone on her contact list to report that my son is gay, I offer my deepest gratitude. When the elephant leaves the room, two things remain. One of the remains is the knowledge of who is and who is not a real friend.

Saul David