Remembering And Feeling Sad

By all reports, Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood, New Jersey was a young man of great promise and enormous talent.  Can we imagine what desperate feelings Tyler might have been experiencing as he drove to that spot on the George Washington Bridge? Can we imagine secretly having our most intimate moments photographed and sent viral over the internet? Can we imagine being 18, just starting college and finding out your roommate “spied” on you with a hidden camera to make the pictures into a “joke”?  How desperately sad for Tyler and his family and indeed for all of us.

What could have made these two young college students think this cruel idea was a “funny prank”?

We’ve all asked each other the most appropriate questions. We’ve written and talked about how in our State gay folks do not have all the same rights as the rest of us do!  We comment on people who think being gay is a choice which can be “cured”!  We know how some in our community still think they can bully and torment others, snicker and make them the brunt of awful jokes. Tyler Clementi’s suicide is being discussed in the national media.  The higher incidence of suicide among gay teenagers is dissected.  A new blog by Perez Hilton called “It Gets Better” was announced on CNN (and even on Fox News), and is designed  to reach out to gay teens.

People are asking should the two idiots who dreamed up this horror be prosecuted under hate crime laws. Should our laws be re-written or changed?   We know that Garden State Equality has been working with Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini and Valerie Vaineri Huttle to re-work our anti-bullying law to make it more appropriately stringent.

How will we work to build a community where these laws won’t be so necessary? This week I don’t have very many answers.  As an affilliated Jew in the Bergen/Hudson area, I receive a weekly newspaper which I greatly respect:  The Jewish Standard. Last week they printed their first engagement announcement of a gay couple. This week, they announced that they will not do “this” again. Their editor’s note said they received many letters of condemnation as well as letters of support, but because of the sensitivities expressed by a strong segment of leaders in our religious community, they do not want to divide the community or offend these sensitivities. That is certainly their editorial right to do so. But coming in the same week as Tyler Clementi’s suicide, it makes me even more sad.

So here’s a letter to the Jewish Standard, written by Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, a member of our Teaneck community:

Letter & rest of diary after the jump:

Dear Ms. Boreson & Mr. Janoff.

I was incredibly dismayed and saddened to read this week’s editorial stating that you would no longer run announcements of gay weddings and commitment ceremonies because of the pain and controversy it has caused in the traditional Orthodox community. Have you considered the other side of this issue? What about the pain you are now causing gay individuals and their friends and family members by taking this editorial stance?

I do not understand how you can take this stance and run such a statement the very week that a Rutgers Universality students threw himself off of the George Washington Bridge because his roommate publicized his gay affair? The shame that the GLBT (Gay , Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) community still feels because of their sexual identify is the cause of high suicide rates and depression among this group. By taking your editorial stance, you have now added to the centuries of shame heaped upon this group.

In addition, your statement that, “We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue not to run such announcements in the future,” strikes me as an odd statement coming from a newspaper. Is not the very mission of a newspaper to print news? Since when would a paper shy away from printing a story simply because it is controversial? Two weeks ago you printed a cover story on Gloria Steinem. Would you have printed this story in the 1970’s when she was more of a controversial figure? As a female, Conservative rabbi, I owe her and the feminist movement a great debt of thanks for their work. Without their “controversial” writings I would not today be an ordained rabbi and full time working mother.

Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu

Director, Rabbis Without Borders

CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

Thank you Rabbi Sirbu.  You said it better than I could. No, it will not be easy to change the hearts and minds of people who believe they “know” what is “normal” and they know exactly who and how God wants us to love. My only answer is that Tyler Clementi’s desperate choice and his death cannot be in vain. We will continue to work. We will continue to strive until all the citizens of our state and nation have all the rights to which they are entitled! My grandchildren and, indeed all our children, need to grow in a community where they are free from being bullied because of who they are – their gender, their ethnicity, their religious beliefs, or anything else – either in cyberspace or in the playground. So let’s not let any of this keep us from the work at hand.  

There are a couple of other thoughts to which I will now turn.  So here’s a few post scripts from last week’s column:  I was surprised at the varied reaction to my “Open letter to Ms. Winfrey”.  First to the comments which indicated I was not respectful to Mayor Booker by saying he must “stay” in Newark to see  through this important reformation of the Newark schools.  Mayor Booker is a national celebrity which can be a good thing. It certainly helped to bring that very generous challenge grant to Newark. I was reminding the Mayor that this will be an intensive and singleminded effort without too much room for distractions. Cory Booker is young, energetic, charismatic, brilliant, articulate and “in demand”.  I loved having him on the campaign trail when I ran with Jon Corzine in the last election. Having aspirations for higher office is not a negative. But I did want to remind the Mayor,( and all Newark’s leaders) that this will take enormous cooperation, alot of discipline and focus to make it a really grand and positive reform. I’m rooting for Cory, and all of our children in Newark.

I also did not imply there was anything wrong with the bipartisanship shown by the Mayor and Governor Christie in pledging together to improve opportunities for all our children in Newark. That is a good partnership, and I applaud them for it. However, since I’ve never hesitated to criticize my own party for its excesses, I also feel quite free to remind others that when Ms. Winfrey embraced our Governor, he was  the same Governor who was responsible in that same week for denying access to health care to lots of poor women who also need and deserve opportunities. Sorry if I offended anyone by pointing that out.

Today we are having a Senate Health, Human Services & Senior Services Committee hearing at Eastside High School in Paterson to talk about the rising numbers of youngsters who are qualified, but not covered under our Family Care program. We expect Congressman Pascrell to also join us. I am hoping many of Eastside’s students will attend to see their government in action. On Thursday, we will have another hearing at UMDNJ Dental School in Newark to call attention to the good work they do and the importance of oral health to our overall health. Their clinic provides great dental care to a very hard to service group of developmentally disabled children and adults. If you’re in the area, stop by at either hearing.

Good luck to Senator Buono and the Legislative Oversight Committee
who are  also meeting on Thursday to find out exactly how and why our children lost $400 million of federal assistance for the “Race to The Top” application. They will use their subpoena power to summon Bret Schundler. And yes, we are entitled to find out!

Keep Your Voices Heard!


Comments (5)

  1. Rosi Efthim

    This letter makes excellent points. Publishers never know whose confidence and sense of acceptance they feed when what they publish looks forward and not backward.

  2. Babs NJSD

    At Beth Mordecai, a conservative synagogue, the story was covered by New Jersey Jewish News (NJJN). Although it appeared on their on-line edition, I was disappointed not to find the story in my print edition that is mailed weekly to my home.

    I contacted the reporter who was a bit embarrassed to tell me it was in the Metro-west edition, but the publisher deleted it from my home edition for fear of upsetting the large orthodox community in my area.

    Upon hearing that I was tempted to run out and have a bacon cheeseburger for lunch and dust off my full faced sculpture of Beethoven!

  3. deciminyan

    Comments on the Jewish Standard’s web site are overwhelmingly in opposition to their policy.


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