Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rochel Pinson Z"L — her namesake makes an elated uncle of 7

On Tuesday March 27th, the miracle of life graced my family yet again. Over the past month, my family was lucky to see the birth of twin boys from my brother and his wife, and now, the birth of my niece, Rochel, my oldest sister’s third child.

When my all of my nieces and nephews were born, it was very exciting. But, in the sake of all honesty, nothing was quite as exciting as the past month when twin boys and a beautiful baby girl entered our lives. For starters, twins are awesome. I can sit for hours just staring at my nephews, amazed by the fact that there are actually two of them two little precious, adorable babies that I just wanna be the best possible uncle to.  And now, there’s Rochel, or as I decided to call her, princess Rochel.

My twin nephews were named after their great grandparents. The older one, Lev Ahron, was named after my sister-in-law’s grandfather. As far as I know, it was the first namesake that their family has had; his wonderful wife whom we all refer to as Grandma, desrbied Leib (Lev Ahron) as a wonderful kind hearted man. The second twin, Binyomin, was named after my father’s father. Aside from my oldest brother, there never hasn’t been another Binyomin Levin named after my grandfather. If you ask anyone that knew my grandfather from the old days, Binyomin Levin was one of the kindest people out there and unfortunately died at the very young age of 43. Both of my nephews are absolutely the cutest babies I’ve ever seen. I do say that about almost every baby, especially my nieces and nephews, but legit; they’re heaven. Out of respect for my family’s privacy, pictures of my nephews and niece will remain private unless I’m given permission otherwise. While you may not be able to see their faces, I’m sure you can visualise some of what I’m saying and perhaps kvell along with me at the joys of babies and the way their presence graces our lives in so many ways.

My niece Rochel comes just about four short months after my brother-in-law’s mother Rochel passed away long before her time. Rochel Pinson (originally Drizin) was probably one of the kindest, sweetest and incredible people that I have ever known. When our families were connected by my sister marrying her son, she had taken a great interest in me and was always so supportive and welcoming of me no matter what. I went through a period of time where I was outcast by many in Crown Heights, and I felt that sting very often in lots of different places. But, with Rochel Pinson, there was no such thing.




At her funeral, I cried like I never cried before. I stood near my mother and cried on her shoulder, inconsolable, heartbroken and distraught. She was young, she was sweet, she was kind and she was fabulous. The world suffered a great loss that day. Rochel Pinson was a hero. Until this day I don’t know the right words to say to my brother-in-law and his family that can possibly communicate how deeply the loss of their mother has affected me personally.

From the day I found out my sister was pregnant I had a sneaking suspicion that she would be having a girl. So far with my sister, I was right all three times, and, equally perfectly, my sister’s two older children Tzvi, and Ella  were given names of the most honorable people in my family, my grandparents Tzvi and Helen Eichler. Last week, before my sister even had her baby, I dreamed that I was holding a baby girl, I saw her, I felt her, I hugged her and she was princess Rochel. I knew in my heart that she would be a girl. I was thrilled when we got the call that my sister gave birth to a nine pound beautiful baby girl; princess Rochel had entered the world.

I know that my niece is going to be the second of many to carry the great name of Rochel Pinson a woman that has touched the lives of many people, and that is indeed a great legacy to carry. But like my other nieces and nephews, they take good example from their parents, and I know it with absolute certainty that Rochel the daughter of my sister Sara, born just four short months after we lost Rochel, also a daughter of Sara will be a shining light to many people and a ray of hope and consolation to all of us who so deeply miss dear Rochel.

Rochel, wherever you are, you must know how much we miss you everyday. I look at your picture from time to time and feel like picking up the phone and calling you just to say hi or stop by your house as I used to do frequently. You left behind a legacy that sets a really high standard, but you taught us well; just by being the genuinely kind and caring person you were, you’ve inspired me to take your legacy and use it to give hope to others just as you had given me hope when I was 17 and thought that no one accepted me. You welcomed me with open arms, in the same way you always did, asking me how I was doing and wanting to hear all about what was going on in my life. I love you dear Rochel, and I miss you so much.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sometimes, you Gotta Give 'Em Hell

Lately, I been thinking a lot about the name and goal of my blog giving people hope, helping to create a brighter future for others in our communities and trying to send the powerful and life changing message that, just because some people might reject you for who you are, it is not you who needs to be changed. Molly Resnick’s behavior was something I could not be silent about. Such behavior is something that no one should have to tolerate silently. Such attitudes must be addressed and stood up against. I believe, sometimes, you Gotta Give 'em Hell.

Giving 'em Hell might seem like responding to bullying with bullying, but it is not. Loud, public, well-respected but utterly unrespectable voices like Ms Resnick’s cannot be the only ones that are heard. My post about what she did has brought a lot of readers and a lot of attention, especially from within the Chabad movement. I am still impressed that a Chabad Shlucha could not keep silent about it either. Not too long ago, I was dealing with daily bullying and shaming in the Chabad community; I personally never imagined that one of its leaders would come to my defense. People are talking, and things are changing. That gives me hope, and I hope it encourages others.  

Giving ‘em Hope is my only goal, even if sometimes I have to give others some hell. I believe it is necessary to discuss the attitudes and behavior that would shame, embarrass, disenfranchise and harm minorities. Nothing changes unless it is first exposed. A more open dialogue allows for the awareness necessary to put an end to baseless discrimination and attacks against gay people, victims of sexual abuse and the many other groups of people who have suffered greatly.

Yesterday, I challenged someone on Facebook to confront me publicly regarding his very disrespectful messages that I should not discuss certain things. He hasn’t. He had originally reached out to me on Facebook because he heard about my work and wanted help networking with other gay Jews. I gladly helped him and was taken aback by his hostility and threats: "Watch me turn your whole image into a false reality that is you."  Even though he would not show me the same respect, I chose to provide minimal detail regarding who he is in order to protect him. I understand that he was raised in an ultra Orthodox community that taught that everything must be kept hush hush and we must forgive people even if they took away some of the greatest part of our livelihoods; it’s unfortunately very similar to the community in which I grew up. But, the idea of simply forgiving people by remaining silent on behavior and attitudes that harm others is a draconian and barbaric one. That is not forgiving, nor is it forgivable; this idea must be given up. Remaining silent about harm only tolerates and perpetuates the intolerable. It is beyond me how people could be more concerned with insisting that victims should keep quiet and forgive “not sue another Jew” — rather than with not standing idly by while others are harmed.

Today, I want to challenge him to inspire. I believe we must give people hope and empower, console and help them see the brighter and more beautiful future that awaits them despite the seemingly impossible situations that people might find themselves in just because they are different. I invite all of you to share your own stories of hope, to inspire others and to improve or even save just one life.

Sometimes, I feel like I've lived through several life times, but I am only 22. I'm try to engage people in discussion in order to gain a better understanding their opinions and motivations, and ultimately, how to bring an overall positive message that's both hopeful and intolerant of intolerance. Gottagivemhope was born six weeks ago one weekend morning while I was pondering how in the world am I going to say all the things that I feel must be said to gay youth, Orthodox people and everyone generally. I believe we must not only tell people that it gets better, but also actively try to make it better now. So, I started this blog and have seen a response that continues to surprise and inspire me.

Always, I appreciate your comments and feedback, both public and private, and I want to encourage you to share your messages of hope.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chabad Shlucha Condemns Molly Resnick

Earlier today, I was pleased and humbled to receive the following comment on my blog, condemning Resnick’s behavior and expressing concern about gay suicide:

“We as shluchos [emissaries of the Rebbe] are the face of Lubavitch. And our speakers, the men and ladies who we bring out to lecture and speak to our communities, are also the face of Lubavitch. If we put someone up to speak to our community, that means that we endorse this person in every way. Would any one of us knowingly have a TERRIFIC speaker who was known to be a dishonest person?? Of course not! And think of our lady speakers. Would any of us bring out even the best speaker if she wasn't dressed properly? Of course not.

I just witnessed something last week that I cannot be quiet about. One of our very public speakers behaved publicly in a way that was beyond any limit of decency. And, I feel strongly that we cannot ignore it.

I and other members of my family on shlichus [as emissaries of the Rebbe] had Molly Resnick come speak for my community. She's a terrific speaker, and she tells a great story. She can be charming and friendly. (She was, after all, as she says in her own speech, a TV personality and spent years with TV personalities, and we all know just how 'real' they all are!) Yes, she is generally charming and 'nice.' But most of us who have worked with her know another side to her. She is rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate and just plain mean. She is all of this, she says, because she knows what's right and she has no trouble telling you, straight out and without holding back at all, and she's hurt many a person.

Last week she went too far, and this is why I am writing this. (In fact, the reason I am not putting my name to this is because I am a coward I fear her vicious retaliation.)

Let me say this outright: Molly considers me and her to be friends. She and I worked together, and she has spoken for the various shluchim in my family. But she will not speak for me again, ever, in my Chabad house.

Last Friday morning Molly was at a bris at the JCM. There she encountered Chaim Levin. You may have read about or heard of Chaim, he is a Chabad boy who came out recently as gay. He writes about his growing up gay in a frum [Orthodox] community and the torture he underwent. Now let me be clear right here: I do not condone Chaim. I do not condone everything he says or writes. In fact, I disagree with alot of his statements.

I wanted to make that clear. And, now I'll continue about what happened.
Molly encountered Chaim. And she attacked him viciously. In public, at a simcha of his family, in front of lots of people. She called him names, said he was disgusting, said he was a disgrace to the Jewish people and that he was harming the Jewish people. Said to his mother HIS MOTHER!! "I can't believe you're proud of your son, would you be proud if he was a murderer?" She said this IN PUBLIC. Molly's outburst (and we all know she has outbursts!) was pure hatred. She compared him to a murderer and to HITLER!!! If she read his articles she knows what he suffered and that he is fragile emotionally. Yet, she still felt it 'right' to vomit this hatred onto him IN PUBLIC! I would like to ask her, what if he went home after his attack and succeeded in another suicide attempt?

Yes, we are facing great challenges from outside and from inside, and the new gay laws are just making things much worse. But, Molly Resnick's attack on Chaim Levin was pure hatred, and she is no better than the hooligans in leather jackets and on motorcycles who beat up boys and cut them up because they're gay. She is no better than these lowlifes.

If all of this was in private, then I would have my own private feelings and thoughts about this 'fantastic speaker'. But it's not in private. It's all in public and we cannot, any more, use her to represent us in any way as shluchos”.

This is one the first times where someone that holds a prominent role within the Chabad movement has written something positive in my defense. While some of this Shlucha’s sentiments regarding homosexuality might not seem progressive, I’m absolutely thrilled that she has taken an interest, that a conversation is starting here in Lubavitch and that people I had lost much faith in are standing up for what’s right.

I understand this Shlucha’s desire to remain anonymous. While a name under such a powerful statement would be really great, I’m thankful for just the comment alone because it highlights the progress that people within my home community are making towards understanding the “gay issue” and why actions like Molly Resnick’s need to condemned.

I invite this brave woman to contact me via email or to call me directly. I’d very much like to hear what she thinks about issues facing many Chabad LGBT people and what she disagrees with me on. Even if we respectfully disagree on most issues, at least we would be trying to understand each others’ positions. She has obviously made efforts to consider mine. I think that is progress. Given the sensitive nature of this matter, her identity would remain anonymous per her request.  

I hope one day that people within Chabad will be able to stand up for what’s right without having to be anonymous for fear of retaliation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Washington Post alludes to sexual abuse at JONAH

The following appeared in the Washington Post last night:

Abuse victims’ advocates turn to the Internet Emily Wax

“We are breaking the silence in the frum [religious] community, and more people are getting online to tell their stories every day,” said Chaim Levin, 22, who was raised in the Chabad-Lubavitch community, an ultra-orthodox branch of Hasidic Judaism. Levin recently began blogging about the sexual abuse that he says he experienced at age 19 at an Orthodox Jewish counseling center in Jersey City. (The center — JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality — did not return calls or e-mail requests for comment.) Levin, who is now openly gay and no longer religious, still lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which is the Hasidic movement’s headquarters.''

“Our goal is to capture the eyes and ears of the world,” said Levin, who earlier this month traveled to Georgetown University to speak about abuse on “Faith Complex,” a campus TV talk show about religious issues."

When this article came out, I was writing my previous post about my actual current religious beliefs. My post also touched on the dangers of reparative “therapy” generally; it all by itself is a repugnant, harmful practice, denounced by the American Psychiatric, Psychological and Medical Associations.

The article, however, alludes to specific abuse I and others have experienced at JONAH. I had gone to JONAH, desperate to change my orientation. I attended JONAH's "counseling" sessions for over a year and a half. During my last session with my life coach, who described himself as "ex-gay", I was asked to remove my clothing and touch myself as part of process that I needed to undergo in order to "heal myself of my homosexuality". He instructed me to step out of my comfort zone and remove my clothing in front of mirror with him in a locked room. He insisted that this was the "work" that I needed to do in order to change an unfortunate and blatant lie told to already vulnerable patients. JONAH still operates today with the very same life coach seeing clients regularly.

I appreciate that mainstream media has brought some light to JONAH and its sexual abuse, but I am disappointed by the lack of detail. Because of lack of awareness, I actually turned to the Internet before I began blogging. Over two years ago, Ben Unger and I discussed in a video what happened to us at JONAH in the hands of Alan Downing:





I hope the Washington Post will consider doing a follow up piece exposing what going through "ex-gay" therapy was actually like for me and many other young people who come from both religious and secular backgrounds.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Is Chaim Levin an Orthodox Jew?

This question has been knocking on my door for the past couple of months.

Some journalists have identified me as an Orthodox Jew, while others have described me as no longer religious as in today’s Washington Post article. I have tried to be clear I identify as simply “Jewish”. I am Jewish, and I’m proud of it. I’m connected to this identity, and I always will be. This why I choose to wear a yarmulke in public or during interviews. I wear a yarmulke as symbol of religious pride, not to suggest affiliation with any sect or movement. I’m Jewish and I’m gay; I am equally proud of both.

I am reluctant to talk about my current religious beliefs and levels of observance. I believe ones religious convictions and practices are between them and God. More importantly, my current religious beliefs and practices would not negate what I experienced growing up Chassidic in Crown Heights attending the best Lubavitch yeshivas (schools). It would not bear on the seemingly hopeless conundrum that gay youth face in Orthodox communities. It would not diminish the problem nor efforts to give hope.

Nonetheless, “Well, you’re not Orthodox anymore, so why should people take example from you or listen to you?” is often the first question I hear from people in the community I grew up in. While such questions are based on faulty premises, the answer is simple. What I experienced growing up gay in the Orthodox community is just one story of many. The communities’ children still face abuse, bullying, isolation, depression and risk of suicide, and are still being told that homosexuality is a sickness that can be cured through reparative “therapy”, despite its having been denounced by the American Psychiatric, Psychological and Medical Associations. Scientific research has clearly demonstrated that such practices are ineffective and harmful. A 2002 study, for example, revealed that, out of 202 participants in an ex-gay program, only 8 described themselves as being cured, 7 of whom were employed as counselors for the program. The program itself classified 176 as “failures”. Of the 202 participants, 155 reported significant, long-term harm as a result, including depression and suicidal thoughts, deteriorating relationships with family and friends, and complete loss of religious faith. Out of a misguided understanding of faith and complete disregard for science, this is what is still being recommended to gay Orthodox youth who are already vulnerable.   

I do believe one can identify as both gay and Orthodox. Personally, I can no longer label myself as Lubavitch, Chassidic or even Orthodox. With the Lubavitch understanding I grew up with, I do not consider myself Orthodox today mainly because I don’t practice Judaism the way that I used to. But, at the end of the day, no one keeps all 613 commandments given to us by the Torah (if you know someone that does, please do send them my way because I’d love to learn from them) not even the self-appointed promoters of the Torah, who would hate, oppress, embarrass, insult and harm fellow Jews for being gay, give pernicious advice to those already vulnerable and stand idly by while lives are in danger. I do still however identify with the Lubavitch Chassidic Orthodox community. It is the community I grew up in, and I hope it can be more welcoming to its gay members. I hope that my bringing awareness to the problems can help remedy them.

I survived abuse and bullying as Lubavitch boy in Crown Heights. I underwent dangerous “ex-gay” therapy because I thought changing my orientation was possible and would be the only way to reconcile myself as Jewish person. I had never encountered a gay Orthodox Jew, or even anyone who was just Jewish and gay. Until I was 21, I was degraded just because I am gay, even though I was on a hopeless mission of trying to change my orientation.

I have never attacked anyone’s religious beliefs or values, nor advocated for changing halacha. I have simply asked that people open their eyes to what is happening and realize that gay people exist and are being harmed in Orthodox communities.

Orthodox Judaism is my home, my roots; it is where I come from. The camp song we used to sing every Shabbos when I was a kid said “No matter where you may roam, you can always come back home”. Home to me is my parents’ house in Crown Heights, the place where my journey started.

I try to serve God in the best way that I can. I believe my efforts are consistent with Torah values. I am advocating that people who want to remain religious should be encouraged to do so. Whether they remain as observant, however, they should not lose their families and hope.

There is hope. By bringing awareness to the problem and sharing my story, I want to offer more hope to gay youth and their families, irrespective of their personal level of religious observance.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rising from the ashes — finding life in a hopeless place

Thanks to my readers, my blog has just gone over 22,000 hits. I started this blog a little over five weeks ago, and the incredible response seems like a dream.

The past few weeks have been crazy, exciting and even turbulent. But, even within negative encounters, there is much hope.

Harlan Ellison wrote “I know that pain is the most important thing in the universe. Greater than survival, greater than love, greater even than the beauty it brings about. For without pain, there can be no pleasure. Without sadness, there can be no happiness. Without misery there can be no beauty. And without these, life is endless, hopeless, doomed and damned.”

Without pain we cannot truly appreciate what we’ve gained. Without pain there is nothing to hope for, to strive toward, to fight for.

And, I am fighting.

I am fighting because I recall when I was bullied and felt hopeless and alone. I had believed that I had nothing to live for. I lost years being ashamed of who I am. I spent years undergoing traumatic “therapies” in order to attempt to change my orientation so I could fit in and be accepted by my family, friends and only community I had known.

I am fighting to shed light on the struggle of gay Jews in Orthodox communities in an effort to spare others the pain I survived. Despite our differences, Molly Resnick once wrote “Light one match and the darkness recedes.Save ONE life and it is as if you saved the universe.”  During the past few months I had the privilege of bringing to light the precarious reality faced by those who grow up frum and gay.

No one ever believed that the Jewish Press, one of the most religious conservative newspapers in the world, would publish an article even remotely supportive of gay people. Yet, it allowed me to tell my story in response to a negative opinion piece on the Gay Orthodox It Gets Better Video and my participation in it. It did this despite threats from its advertising partners. Furthermore, it made very clear that the Jewish Press will not be silenced and will stand up for the rights of people at risk of being put into potentially life threatening situations.

It has gotten better. This gives me hope, and I hope it inspires others. It certainly inspires me.

Many people have questioned how I can handle such tireless work, frequent conversations about gay rights, clarifying many misconceptions about gay people, and, most difficultly, talking about some of my most personal and painful experiences. I believe that hope starts with the telling the truth light one match and the darkness recedes.

There is much darkness to confront. 212 rabbis, doctors, licensed therapists and other “professionals” signed a “Torah” declaration mandating that gay people undergo “therapy” to cure homosexuality, despite the condemnation of such practices by every professional medical and mental health professional association. Research has demonstrated that such practices are dangerous and ineffective, putting patients a much even greater risk for trying to hurt themselves when this “therapy” doesn’t work. After reparative “therapy”, I was still gay and had found myself even more broke than before, alone and hopeless. My story is just one of many.

But, it got better. I am proud to be Jewish and gay and privileged to participate in a cause that is bringing about real change.

The shift within the Orthodox community has been nothing short of groundbreaking. Many rabbis have come out publicly and privately to support this cause. Ten years ago, we would have never believed that rabbis (plural!) would even acknowledge that gay people exist within Orthodox communities. Now rabbis are actually condemning the dangerous practices of reparative “therapy”. These rabbis advocate for nothing but the same compassion, understanding and love for any Jewish person coming to them for solace and comfort, towards gay people who are navigating the difficult and seemingly conflicting issues of reconciling who they are both as gay and Jewish.

It is getting better every day, despite negativity and pain. And, because of the negativity and pain, I appreciate the changes I am seeing so much more. I am still here despite the pain. And, because of it, I am committed to fighting. Some people may be uncomfortable with hearing about pain, but it is an integral part of hope.

When Pandora opened her proverbial box of suffering, the last thing to emerge was hope. By coming out and opening up with my story, I have seen hope emerge, and I want to share that hope with others.

My mother, my hero

This is my mother, the most incredible, powerful, and perfect person I know.

Mom you will always be a part of me; you've taught me what real bravery is, and I'm so proud to be your son. 


Love always,

-Chaim


If you feel like you want to let my mother know how much her bravery has inspired you feel free to send an email or Facebok message and I'll pass it on.

I know how much it would mean to my parents if they actually heard from you, the people that hopefully inspired, and even gave more hope to.

Thanks,

Chaim Levin
chaim89@gmail.com
clevin@facebook.com
@chaim89

Monday, March 12, 2012

Urgent: Regarding the recent online bullying that's been targeted against members of the LGBT community and our allies

URGENT: As many of you know, recently many members of the Jewish LGBT community have been getting harassed by a pathetic cyber bully that seems to have a lot on his hands. Law enforcement is finally stepping in and legal action will be taken against this individual in the very near future.

WHAT WE NEED FROM YOU: If you have received any emails from any email addresses like "hashem.echad@yahoo.com" "chaim.levin@rocketmail.com" "ex_jqy_member@yahoo.com" and any other emails that you would consider offensive or hateful. Please FORWARD as many emails as you can to this address: sugarmagnolia1082@me.com .

To the unfortunate soul that's behind all this, I hope that you suffer the consequences for hurting hundreds of people in the name of "god". My community will not tolerate abuse or bullying from someone as evil as yourself.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Molly Resnick - how it went down

At the bris of my twin nephews, I had the great displeasure of coming face to face with true hatred and intolerance; I came face to face with a woman who shamelessly tried to publicly ridicule me at my own family event. I had greeted Molly Resnick, a woman I had known for years. When she realized who I was she laid into me. I didn’t initiate a conversation with her about my life nor her son’s scathing editorial about me and the work I had done to prevent LGBT teen suicides. I did not intend to create any commotion, and I’m deeply sorry for what happened. I did feel the need to respond though, and I hope my family and friends can understand this and appreciate how out of line and disrespectful Ms. Resnick was.

As a family member, I was talking to the many people who had come to celebrate this big event. I was chatting outside the main hall where people were gathered, when I came face to face with Molly Resnick. Her son, Elliot Resnick, had been a waiter at my childhood camp and a friend who I thought understood me because I was different.  But, he became one of my harshest critics. He authored the June op-ed in the Jewish Press castigating me as self-indulgent and shameful for participating the “It Gets Better” project. In increasing awareness of bullying and suicide of LGBT teens, these videos are intended to give hope to LGBT teens. The Jewish Press allowed me to respond to Mr Resnick this past January; my honest and sincere account of growing up gay in the Orthodox community was made public.

I had known Ms Resnick as a kind, charming and friendly woman with a fine background in journalism. She is the founder and director of a group called Mothers Against Teaching Children to Kill and Hate (MATCKH) and is widely known as an activist against violence and hatred. However, I was disappointed to learn several months ago that the homophobic apple does not fall far from the hypocritically hateful tree. Nonetheless, I greeted and thanked her for sharing in my family’s joy and happiness, saying respectfully I hoped we could look past our differences as we celebrated my nephews’ happy moment.

“I think you’re atrocious and what you’re doing is disgusting and wrong,” her venom took me completely by surprise as she continued: “you’re self-indulgent, shameless, a disgrace to your family and to your community,” adding “you are causing great damage to many people and you are too careless to realize it.” She was lambasting me loudly in front  of many other people and was not stepping down. After the initial shock and horror, I wondered if she had any sensitivity to the fact that I actually lived through the harsh reality that  she would rather deny, that I spent almost two years trying to change myself and that I had attempted suicide. Overwhelmed, I was able to ask whether she cared about the teenagers and confused souls who might hear her hateful message and be pushed closer to suicide.

“No I don’t. It’s not my problem,” she deigned. I asked her how she could be so heartless and intolerant.

“I’m intolerant towards people like you just like I'm intolerant to Hitler, murderers and heroin addicts,” she spat, “and what you’re doing is  just as bad as all those things.”

I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of so many people at my nephews’ bris. She was heinous, merciless and wholly inappropriate. A woman of her stature and an activist against violence and hatred should know how to behave in public. And, yet somehow, she was still able to condescend further from the dirt to add, “Listen, I know way more about this than you do and have been reporting about this since before you were born.” She is apparently unaware biased reporting hardly compares to actual experience and represents propaganda not journalism and that her behavior undermined any pretense to professionalism she might have. She must be aware that her son’s own newspaper backed my experience over his vitriolic propaganda. Five women who had heard what she said to me came over to see whether I was okay and to tell me about her extremist and radical rap sheet and not to take her seriously.

I am really lucky to have a mother like mine. After leaving Resnick in utter disbelief, I told my mother what Ms Resnick had said. My mother immediately went to Resnick, “With all due respect, this is my son. I love him and accept him unconditionally. You have no right to call him such things and try and embarrass him the way that you did.” Ms. Resnick said, “As far as I know, you were ashamed of your son. That’s what I heard, and for good reason. How can you not be ashamed of him for being gay?! I know you really are. You’re just saying that you aren’t”. Politely and eloquently, my mother told her that she is not ashamed one bit of me in any way and that she loves me and accepts me no matter what. My mother also told Ms Resnick that her son was way out of line writing such a disgusting article about me and not having even the basic decency to actually call me once over the past ten years.

My mother’s bravery and respectfulness despite the Ms Resnick’s rude behavior and hurtful words at my family’s celebration was truly impressive. I wish I could have been as graceful as my mother. I had found myself at loss for words. I could have responded better. In reaction to being called an angry rebel who’s trying to destroy the Jewish community, I had called Ms Resnick a homophobe. That was unnecessary of me. I trust that she and everyone else was already fully aware of her hatred, and her behavior only demonstrated how deeply intolerance is rooted in some people’s minds, no matter how inconsistent it is with Judaism or simple compassion and decency.

I have developed a pretty think skin and do not require an apology. However, I believe Ms Resnick should apologize to those she offended by her behavior, if she is indeed a leader and advocate within the Jewish community.

Some people over the past 24 hours have discouraged me from acknowledging this incident to simply ignore Ms Resnick and not be dragged down by one person’s radical homophobic views. However, I don’t understand how such insensitive and despicable behavior could be ignored. It was wasn’t just directed at me, but at a community of people. While this incident honestly caused me much emotional strain, sitting silently would merely condone such people who believe that their views are in line with “Torah values” have the right to spew such hateful venom in public. This woman had audacity at my family’s celebration to try to shame and humiliate me and my mother who has come a long way to accept me. The words of people like Ms Resnick make their way to younger people and harm.

This morning, a 14 year old girl in Vancouver Washington committed suicide because she was bullied non stop for being gay. While she did not hear Ms Resnick’s words, I have no doubt that she heard similar ones and that similar attitudes contributed to and legitimated the bullying she experienced. This ultimately is the issue. It is not a matter of pride, honor or even having the last word. Unfortunately, there will always be radicals, and people like Ms Resnick will never have compassion for other human beings. We cannot however sit quietly and condone such tirades.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kirk Cameron: If I were your son, I'd want to stay in the closet

Dear Kirk Cameron,

This past week looks like it was a big one for you. It was for me too. You see, while I may not have been a featured TV star in the 1980’s, some people have been noticing me  lately for the work that I’ve been doing, as someone who grew up deeply religious and gay, a survivor of so called “ex gay” therapy, and ultimately came out to save my own life, literally to save my life, and as is evident by now and through the feedback on my recent articles, other people’s lives as well.

I’m 22 years old, fairly young, and while some people think that’s the biggest reason not to voice my opinion, “because older people know better”, I have to share something with you. When I was 18, I went into “ex gay” therapy on my own volition without explaining to my parents why I was really going to this “therapy”. As is well documented at this point, I faced extremely abusive practices conducted under people who claimed to know how to “change me”.

This past Friday night you told your five children, millions of children worldwide, that if they come to you to honestly share a part of their lives, they face potentially serious rejection that can lead them to suicide, depression, or other emotional problems. These problems can also be because of the rejection that they faced by their friends, parents, community and in this case, maybe even their former idol, Kirk Cameron.

Do you really think people are attacking you because they want to infringe on your right to free speech? No. This isn’t an issue of free speech. The issue is the poisonous and dangerous message that you tell the entire world when you say things like:I think that it's - it's - it's unnatural. I think that it's - it's detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization." You are spreading such a hateful and intolerant message to so many people, gay youth, friends and family of gay people. Even worse, you are giving permission to parents to put their child in a situation where they don’t accept them for who they are.

Although I’ve been making quite a lot of noise in the blogosphere over the past several weeks, I wasn’t interviewed by Piers Morgan or any other national TV station about my message. Maybe that’s because my message is too simple: give people hope. It’s sad that you were able to utter such hurtful comments. If I were as lucky to be as influential as you I’d strive to send a positive message, a genuine message of love and tolerance. Most importantly, if I had kids, I’d let them know that I loved them and accepted them the way they are. Even my own parents finally found their way without compromising on their religious beliefs. Today they love me and accept me as I am, even though I never believed they would. Tou had the chance to use your faith to help you love people more, but unfortunately you chose fear. You now join the ranks of all those people standing on the wrong side of history in denying people the right to live equally, fairly and with basic human dignity, and spreading this dangerous and volatile message to so many questioning and confused people out there.



In case you haven't seen Kirk's interview on CNN, here's the video



In Defense of Pearl Perry Reich - my post on Frumsatire

Frumsatire published this guest post earlier this evening. I'm so proud to stand up for what I believe in.

http://www.frumsatire.net/2012/03/05/defending-pearl-perry-reich/#comments


In defense of Pearl Perry Reich

by HESHY FRIED on MARCH 5, 2012 · 
Guest Post by Chaim Levin
In the recent, very heated debates over the legitimacy of Pearl Perry Reich’s claims of abuse by rabbinic authority, many people have criticized her use of the word “cult” in describing her former ultra Orthodox community. Although I don’t think it’s necessary to use such loaded words against a whole group that may include others like her, the truth is the beliefs and practices she’s referring to do NOT represent Judaism as a whole, not even Orthodox Judaism. Like the 212 rabbis that signed a “Torah” declaration that mandates all gay people attempt dangerous and irresponsible conversion or reparative “therapies” and simply ignores conclusions of medical and mental health professionals and the harm to people to those attempt to “change”, the rabbinic and community authorities that Pearl Perry Reich criticizes are standing on the wrong side of history, abusing their power to force others to conform to their beliefs and standards. The people that are behind this great injustice against mothers like Pearl are akin to those that spit on children in Israel, orthodox Jewish children that aren’t dressed as modest as certain extremists would likel; it’s a certain form of extremism that attempts to literally force people to accept what they believe as the only truth.
The really insidious part about maligning and dismissing Pearl Perry Reich and others like her who speak out against abuse as simply angry, hurt and unreasonable “victims” is that it only deflects attention from the more important points: Abuse does happen to people all the time, and we can’t ignore it. As someone who suffered abuse of power, I have been angry, and many people still lambaste me as someone who’s just angry and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously. But, isn’t only natural to be angry about abuse and injustice? I cannot fathom how some are not infuriated by outrageous abuses of power and injustices. Instead their fury is misdirected at the people who have been abused by authority and have the courage to speak out. Survivors may very well be rightfully angry, but that does not diminish their claims. Nor does the fact that the truth may make some people “look” bad. If we were truly concerned about how we might “look” we would want to prevent abuse in our communities, and we certainly would not tolerated it or condone it by trying to discredit the brave survivors courageous enough to tell the truth, to call out the ones who hurt them and to call for justice and change.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Taking off the mask for Purim: My first article in the Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chaim-levin/orthodox-jew-coming-out-for-purim_b_1310830.html




This year's Purim marks three years since I started my incredible journey of coming out. Until three years ago I struggled in isolation with my identity as a gay man and an Orthodox Jew. I had spent the previous two years surrounded only by people who rejected themselves as gay and was part of the "ex gay" movement."
My first time attending a Purim event with gay Jews who had reconciled their faith with their sexual orientation and were living honestly and openly was really scary for me. I'll never forget the moment I walked into the LGBT Jewish Purim event at the Jewish Community Center on New York City's Upper West Side. Many of the other attendees were Orthodox or had grown up Orthodox, just like I had. The first 10 minutes were the scariest. I was self-conscious of the way I looked and the way people looked at me. I had constant questions running through my head. "Is the way I'm walking too gay or not gay enough?" "Can people recognize how nervous I am?" "Do they see my hands shaking?" "Are others as uncomfortable as I feel right now?" I couldn't believe that most of these people were gay and weren't struggling to change themselves. They were happy with who they were, and they were gathered to celebrate the holiday of Purim, a time where joy knows no bounds. Purim is marked by traditions of dressing up as in costumes, drinking, dancing and overall merriment.
I was mesmerized by the feeling that took over me as I got more and more into the celebration. 
People greeted me in Hebrew and Yiddish, wishing me "shalom aleichem" (peace be upon you) and "afreilachen Purim!" (Happy Purim). As the evening went on, I started feeling a little more comfortable with myself. Slowly, I started to experience this small but real feeling of joy and peace as I was swept up in the spirit of other self-accepting gay Jews, a community that I never knew existed. I was mesmerized that people were able to accept themselves as they were, as gay people and as Jews -- Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. That night they were one people celebrating the great miracle and joy of Purim.
Many LGBT people relate to the story of Purim on a very personal level because the story of the holiday, the very thing we celebrate, is Queen Esther risking her life by "coming out" as a Jew to save her people. I relate to this story so deeply because I felt like coming out was a risk to everything: my life, my family, my friends, my faith and my future vocation. Everything dear to me. Three years ago, Purim was the first time that accepting myself became a real and tangible possibility. I had just stopped spending what felt like endless time, energy and resources trying to reject the deepest and most basic parts of myself as a gay person. It was three years ago on Purim that I stopped being a victim to the fears of what would happen if I finally gave myself permission to be who I was, even knowing that I might risk losing everything. Although coming out was a difficult and painstaking journey, I know that, like Queen Esther, I saved my own life and saved the lives of others.
Soon after this LGBT Purim event, a small, yet promising, feeling started growing inside me, a sensation that finally made me feel like I had menuchat hanefesh (peace within my soul) and the ability to reconcile who I was both as a gay person and a Jewish person. One of the ways in which we celebrate Purim is to dress in costumes. I mark my coming out and authenticity by dressing as myself for Purim, to signify that Purim was when I started the journey of living authentically.
The community where I was raised encouraged us to learn how to read Megilat Esther (the Book of Esther) for the purpose of reading it for Jews who don't have a chance to hear it on Purim. I mastered reading the Megilah Esther at age 14 and have read it in many settings: Yeshiva, in people's homes in Israel and on the streets of Paris. Just one year after attending my first Jewish gay event, one year after taking of my "mask" as a straight man, and one year after I started living as the real me with pride and authentic happiness with who I was, I found myself reading the Megilah again. This time my voice was loud, clear and proud for my Jewish LGBT brothers and sisters. I continue to read the Megilah for the Jewish gay community and I hope the freedom that Esther and the Jewish people felt because of Esther's brave honesty will reign over everyone who feels like they don't have freedom to be who they are. I pray they will find their voice and be true to themselves because truth and freedom can and will save lives.