Monday, June 10, 2013

Inconsistencies, rainbows and lobster-eaters

One of the things I have always prided myself on, as a parent, is consistency. 

What I mean, I say, and what I say, I mean, and those things rarely change over time.  The negative flipside of this is that I have been accused of obstinacy, but there you go – let’s call it consistency and think of it as a Good Thing for the time being.

Because last month I was accused by one of my almost-grown children of inconsistency, and I was horrified. 

The issue, apparently, was not with anything I’d done – directly.  But, whereas my children have always learned here that we love and care for gay people the same as we would for ANY people, the school I chose to sent this child (hereafter referred to as “it” to avoid awkward him/her constructions for the sake of anonymity) to was actively condemning homosexuality and offering negative and bigoted messages to its students, calling homosexuals “those people” who were “chayav skila” (deserving of stoning).

Interestingly, this child didn’t accuse me of inconsistency for sending it to a school where teachers and students refer to darker-skinned people as “schvartzes,” though they probably do most happily.  The gay issue was foremost in its mind (and - since I know what you’re thinking – I have had long, friendly and open conversations with this child, who is most decidedly straight; oops, I may have just inadvertently given away which child this is).

And yes, I felt ashamed.  I chose the school, after all.  How could I send my child out into a world where not everybody believes, as we do, that we must cherish everybody created in Hashem’s image?  Actually, these teachers probably would say they cherish the people and condemn only those acts the Torah itself condemns, but honestly, that kind of talk doesn’t really seem cherishing, does it?

But was I inconsistent???

I mean, really, this is an important thing to me.  I have never had money to give my kids, and as a BT, I feel like my Yiddishkeit is kind of second-rate compared to some of their friends’ parents, and I sure as heck have no fashion sense, but I have always tried to offer some sense of moral compass instead – the legacy, perhaps, of their grandparents’ secular humanism, blended to perfection with my own Torah values.

The bigger question is, how responsible are we for the messages our kids hear from their teachers and school administrators?  And how obligated am I to speak out if what they say contradicts what I think of as basic human decency?

(In this case, the child only told me months or years later, so I am off the hook, I hope, but let us also remind ourselves that this is a yeshiva/bais-yaakov type environment where, as a BT, I would not feel comfortable dictating matters of hashkafa to the administration…)

Let me make it clear – I do believe the Torah condemns certain specific sexual acts.  It also condemns lobster, and I don’t see folks picketing Red Lobster.  It also condemns witchcraft and sorcery, and I don’t see everyone in the frum world lining up to throw stones at Penn & Teller.  Homosexuality has become one of those things that you must speak out against, vociferously, or it’s obvious to everyone around that you have been misled by liberal special-interest groups, which do not have the Good of the Jews at heart.

I don’t think it’s my job to stop everybody from doing everything I believe the Torah forbids.  I’ve seen what happens under fundamentalist regimes of various kinds and fear it enough to be grateful Hashem didn’t put me or my ilk in charge of running the world.  I do think it’s my job to let the kids know what I believe, what we believe, what the Torah says most clearly.  And then to show them, with love, friendly words, hugs, openness and acceptance, the way to treat anyone who is marginalized by society.  To me, there’s no conflict.

(Well, yes, those individuals must still reconcile their desires with the Torah’s messages, if following the Torah is important in their lives.  The world has come a long way on this in the last couple of decades, and there are better resources for gay people who want to live a life of Torah, but this still involves some important conflicts.)

On the other hand… I don’t know how many hands I’ve used up already, but anyway… if I am trying to be utterly consistent, how can I go along with a school that teaches bigoted and irrational ways to treat individuals who are just as much b’tzelem elokim (in God’s image) as I am?  How can I continue sending them cheques each month?  As this child pointed out, we show our tacit acceptance with cold, hard cash.

There is no perfect school.  Even in Israel, but especially in Toronto, we would never have found a school for people exactly like us.  (Well, that kind of school is called homeschooling, and I do that, but this particular kid had not much interest in it.)  And learning to live with people who aren’t exactly like us… isn’t that the other side of the tolerance and diversity coin?  The same central moral belief that I’ve always – consistently – tried to teach my children?

Just as we reach out and embrace gay people, magicians and lobster-eaters, maybe one of our trials here in this imperfect world is to embrace bigots and annoying people.  To see people in the yeshiva world, rabbis and teachers, even, who are just plain Wrong and not leap up at them to wring their necks.  Just to quietly draw our kids aside, in the privacy of our home, and say, “you know they’re wrong about that, right…?”

Maybe it’s consistent after all.  And maybe not.  What do you think???

2 comments:

  1. "...maybe one of our trials here in this imperfect world is to embrace bigots and annoying people."

    I never thought of it like this, but you make a great point here. I have had similar crises of trying to reconcile my own feelings with church doctrine. Thank you for having the courage to write about this. You are not alone in your way of thinking.

    Peace and Laughter!

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  2. Thanks for the feedback. It really does mean a lot... :-)

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