Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Rabbi Shmuley Won’t Invite me on the Bimah of the West Side Jewish Center

Nate Klarfeld

You have to have been living under a rock to not hear of the antics of octodad Jon Gosselin, his Jewish nanny, his soon to be ex wife Kate and the reality show “Jon and Kate Plus Eight.” You also were under the same rock if you haven’t heard of, been a part of discussion, or have an opinion on same sex marriage. What do the two have to do with one another? Enter “America’s Rabbi” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; advisor to Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and thousands of dedicated readers through his best seller “Kosher Sex.” And a few weeks ago Rabbi Boteach invited Jon Gosselin to the Bimah (altar) of the West Side Jewish Center in New York.

Of course I must remind my gentle readers that I myself am an out and proud Jewish gay man, happily partnered, with high self esteem for both myself and my community. I attend a gay shul, light Shabbat candles with my partner, and put on a Seder that would make both my Bubbe and event planners proud. I was raised as an orthodox Jew, complete with a Bar Mitzvah in a shul with a wall between the men and women, married a woman under a chuppah, and went to the mikveh before I wrote the last words of a Torah I helped dedicate to a synagogue in my father’s memory. My late father, Ely Klarfeld, owned a kosher butcher shop and catering company in St. Louis for 30 years. I have seen the joys and underbellies of Judaism and for these reasons I feel compelled to voice my rage over Rabbi Shmuley and Jon Gosselin.

Let me start with a quote from Rabbi Boteach on Jon Gosselin said from the Bimah (altar) at the West Side Jewish Center “In the case of John Gosselin my reading of him from many conversations with him and many counseling sessions is that he’s a man with a good heart who sincerely wants to correct many of the mistakes he’s made having gotten carried away with fame.

After this Gosselin told the audience of 50 guests and 75 reporters, "I am sorry for doing the things that I did." He spoke openly about his indiscretions since splitting with wife Kate, which include three reported flings, saying, "I want to apologize to Kate in private. I'll apologize to her for openly having relationships in the public eye.

The 32-year-old dad, who recently claimed he is "half-Korean and half-Jewish," went on to say that he was "troubled to learn that the media has accepted as true the scurrilous rumor that I would appear in a reality television program with Nadya Suleman."

For those of you with a moral compass who still have their lunch in their guts I want you to imagine if Jon Gosselin were gay. If it were a Jewish male nanny he was schtupping on the dining room table while the kids slept, would Rabbi Shmuley have reached out to this man with a good heart? Don’t bet on it. Rabbi Boteach has evaded the question of supporting same sex marriage, upholding orthodox law that treats it as an abomination. It is true that Rabbi Shmuley has said that the uproar about same sex marriage is a smokescreen for not facing the true problems of heterosexual marriage; he would uphold the ideal of fundamentalist Jewish law that would accept the gay man but ask him to be celibate. Hate the sin but love the sinner is abhorrent to me. I do not sin in loving my husband. Why aren’t the Hasidim (fundamentalist orthodox Jews) protesting outside Red Lobster? Shellfish, pork, marrying a non-virgin, allowing illegitimate children inside a church or temple, boys with undescended testicles are all abominations according to the Bible. (By the way, who checked the males’ testicles?) If the orthodox Jews can pick and choose, if the fundamentalists Christains can, why can’t I. According to my studies, the definition of marriage in the Bible is one man and as many women as he can afford including daughters. Pretty much of an “Ick Factor” to me. I choose the parts of the Torah that taught me to think, see both sides of issues, Tikun Olam (fix the world) and have compassion and not judge.

My partner and I are active in Gay and Lesbian community work here in Ft. Lauderdale. We have run support groups, taught safer sex education, HIV awareness, and counseled the youth groups at high schools and Jewish Day Schools. Our hearts go out to the young men and women who still live in fear of coming out. One third of all youth suicides have to do with conflicts of sexual identity. We have heard of orthodox Jewish families who after losing a son or daughter to gender identity suicide, refuse to name another child (traditional in Jewish families) after the gay one for fear or shame or both. We get anonymous emails from Yeshiva students wrestling with questions and conflict, as well as having symptoms of STD’s from furtive engagements.

All this leads me back to my original question. Would Rabbi Shmuley Boteach have put Jon Gosselin on the Bimah if he were gay? Would he still be a man with a good heart who sought redemption? No, I think not. Rabbi Shmuley put him up there because it’s good for business, whether it be getting the word out or getting his name out. My late father told me once that if Rabbis could get away with it, they’d make a pig kosher. From the picture above, it looks like Rabbi Boteach already has.

Have a peaceful week.

Nate Klarfeld

(Rabbi Boteach sells Bobbleheads of himself at $14.95 plus shipping and tax)

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