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June 8, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 8, 2012 VIEWPOINT HERITAGE encourages readers to send in their opinions for the Viewpoint column. They must be signed; how- ever, names will be withheld upon request. Due to space limitations, we reser-ve the right to edit, if necessary. Opinions printed in Viewpoint do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the paper. For Jewish transsexual teaching at Yeshiva University, no easy path to being a daughter By Joy Ladin NEWYORK (JTA)--Ifyour mother has never seen your face--if you have never had a face to be seen--if, in a sense, you have never been born--do you have a mother? If your. mother has always called you'%n,', can you ever really become her daughter? For most of my life, I couldn't begin to ask such questions. My sister, three years my junior, was the only daughter in our family. And though I hated being a boy, I could be messy, dirty, ruthlessly self-centered, in- careless of others to the point of rudeness--behaviors my sister could never have gotten away with. I hated myself for deceiving my family, and it broke my heart thatthey were so easy to deceive. I felt utterly alone, and as so often when I was a child, my estrangement from the world around me drove me to the Torah. There, I found someone I recognized as the direct ancestor of my own unbearable tangle of love and lies. In a passage I read over and ove, Jacob serves his blind, aged father Isaac his favorite dinner as a prelude to receiving his blessing. There's scene of filial devotion: Jacob is impersonating his twin brother Esau, who older by a moment, is his father's heir. Esau, a vigorous, hairy, hyper-masculine hunter, is his father's favorite. Jacob is a smooth-skinned, domestic, almost feminine Lest his blind father become suspicious, Jacob conceals his smooth fore- arms under hairy swatches of fresh-killed kid-skin that will make his arms feel as hairy as Esau's. If his father recognizes that the manly Esau is really the feminine Jacob, Jacob will be cursed instead of blessed. Like Jacob, I wasn't the boy my parents meant to bless with food, shelter, cloth- ing, love. Under the skins of masculinity the pants and shirts I hated, the roles and games I forced myself to play--was something too smooth, too soft, too feminine to be loved like the male "twin" I pretended to be. Like Jacob, I found deception heartbreakingly easy: As long as I kept my hair short and wore pants and shirts, no one could see the girl cowering beneath. going for him that I didn't have: a mother, Rebekah, who knew him for who he truly vas. It was Rebekah's idea that Jacob masquerade as Esau because she knew he was destined to transmit Abraham's spiritual legacy to future generations. She sees that Jacob is a first-born trapped in a second-born's body, and that only by flouting law and love can he become the person he was meant to be. Not only didn't my mother know who I truly was, I was sure that the moment she suspected, I wouldn't have a mother at all. But for four-and-a-half de- cades, my skins never slipped. The first time my mother and I really talked, I was 46, sitting on a box in a dim, cool basement storage room, surrounded by old tax returns and broken computer equipment. An underground room for unwanted things was the perfect setting for the moment I'd been avoiding my whole life--the moment when I would finally tell my mother that I wasn't her son. I had lived that moment in dreams and nightmares, fan- tasies and wishes. Now I was I dialed her number and waited. Hundreds "of miles away, my mother's phone rang. Don't answer, I whis- pered, as though ifI couldn't complete this call I would somehow avoid this conver- sation. She answered. "Hello. Jay?" "Yes," I told her, "it's Jay. I need to tell you something, Morn: Something hard. But first, you have to promise me that what I tell you won't affect your relationship with the children. You'll stay in touch with them, right?" "of course. I'm their grandmother--nothing is going to change that." "Good," I said. "Because soon I'm--I'm moving out. This will be hard for the kids, and they need you to stay in their lives." "Of course," she said. "I'm so sorry." I wished she would ask me why I was moving out, but she didn't, so I took a deep breath and recited thew0rds--even I found them hard to believe-- that I'd practiced. "Morn, our family is break- ing up because I'm a trans- sexual and I can't live as a man anymore." PAGE 5A revelation--the most honest thing I had ever said to my mother--seemed to stretch for years, years we had lost, years we now might never have. I thought I was ready to Iose her. But in that pause, when truly motherless years were only a breath away, I real- ized that I had never stopped clinging to the hope of her. "I've heard about this," she said at last. Her voice, rich and low, trained for a radio career she had never had, was thick with feeling. "I know that you have to be who you are, and no matter what that is, you will always be my child." The air above my head felt empty. The sword that had always dangled above me, the terror of what would happen if my mother discovered what I was, was gone. My voice rose to the pitch I had made my own, and for the first time in my life, we really talked. Joy Ladin is a professor at Yeshiva University. This article is excerpted from her new book, "Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders" and has been reprinted with permis- sion from the University of different to my appearance, only one problem with this But Jacob had something about to live it in the flesh. The pause that followed my Wisconsin Press. Respect haredi life while offering criticism By Kenneth Jacobson NEW YORK (JTA)--A re- cent article by Israeli journal- ist Yaron London headlined "We Need Fewer Haredim" and two major pieces in The New York Times about the haredi approach to sex abuse cases highlight the challenge and the need to address serious issues emanating from the haredi world without demon- izing an entire community. Questions of avoiding ste- reotypes of large groups while not rationalizing bad behavior by some are constantly on the Anti-Defamation League's agenda. Moreover, when part of the Jewish community is under scrutiny, it raises par- ticular concerns for us about that segment's relations with the rest of the community and the impact on broader views of Jews. Finally, when the behavior of a sector of the Israeli public has an impact on the larger Israeli public, that too is a matter of deep concern to us. On the face of it, criticism of individuals, if accurate, would seem legitimate. Generalizing that criticism to a whole group, on the other hand, would not. But with haredim it is not so simple. As one can see from the issues discussed--sexual abuse, service in the Israeli army, secular education in Israel--criticism of the haredi world goes beyond iodividual behavior and enters the realm of the broader haredi com- munity's beliefs, attitudes and policies. That, I would argue, does not automatically disqualify it as stereotyping an entire community. When it is the prevailing view of the community, and most of its members adhere to that view, it is acceptable to criticize from the outside. On the other hand, there must be specialcare and sen- sitivity taken when addressing group behavior. That's because the phenomenon of spillover from s.peaking about par- ticular issues to a broad-based attack on the very essence of the community is too easy and too common. Take the case of London's article. He rightfully ex- presses indignation about the deleterious effect on Israeli society and the sense of fair- ness among the Israeli public when haredi leadership insists on mass exemptions from military service in Israel's mostly citizen army, when they refuse to educate their youth in secular fields and, connected to that, deny op- portunities to their young to prepare properly to participate in the Israeli workforce. These matters affect every Israeli and emerge from decisions, in effect, of the whole haredi community. However, rather than lim- iting his comments to areas where change is necessary and whether it can be made in coordination with haredi lead- ership, London embarks on a full-blown attack on the entire community, employing unfair and derogatory terminology in describing their society and culture--even suggesting, as in the headline, that we need "fewer of them." This kind of approach must be condemned, as it should be in an all-out assault on any community. More specifically, it results in a diminution and near absence of respect for the many positive and wonderful values that characterize haredi life. Devotion to family, commit- ment and rigor in transmitting- Jewish tradition and heritage to their children, piety, devotion to learning, the centrality of moral values--all of which in their own way contribute to Israel and the Jewish world--don't seem to matter here. The line between charac- terizing individual and group behavior is important to draw, but it is not sacrosanct. Yet great care must be taken to avoid group stereotyping when it is necessary to express con- cerns about group behavior. Another area of concern is between the right of a group to observe its own religious values and cultural mores and when those values and mores negatively impinge on the rules, regulations and values of the larger society." Abuse among the Orthodox: Badnews, good news By Yoel Finkelman Jewish Ideas Daily their neighbors harass them to prevent their going to the police, claiming a religious prohibition on giving Jews up to secular authorities. In- deed, the official policy of the Haredi organization Agudath Israel of America is thatschool teachers or administrators who suspect abuse must ask a rabbi before going to secular authorities, New York State laws notwithstanding. But there is also good news: Even as denial and stone,vail- ing continue, the Orthodox conversation about abuse is gradually changing; and so is people's behavior. Mental health professionals informed me that Orthodox parents, who in the past would have tried to deny abuse or keep it hush-hush, are now defend- ing victimized children more actively. True, some school principals and community leaders continue to put pres- sure on parents to keep silent; but many Orthodox communities have sprouted activists who serve as "go= to" people in cases of abuse, while organizations like JSafe provide additional resources for concerned communities and individuals concerned. The Bais Yaakov girls' high school in Baltimore has even published a child safety pro- tocol for both school staff and parents. But positive change cannot occur without education; and three recent but very differ- ent books that attempt to tackle the horrors of sexual, emotional and physical abuse among Orthodox Jews suggest that education is becoming First, the bad news: Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse occurs in Orthodox Jewish communities. Next, the worse news: Though there is no evidence that Such abuse occurs more frequently among the Ortho- dox than in other populations, two recent front-page New York Times stories are just the latest piece of evidence that Orthodox communities are often in denial and worse. Rabbis and communal leaders often seek to save the com- munity from embarrassment and, in doing so, protect the perpetrators. If children com- plain of being abused, their parents may silence them, or, if their parents complain too, more available, if not exactly commonplace. In the first book, "Abuse in the Jewish Community" (Urim), Michael J. Salamon, a psychologist with vast ex- perience in treating Orthodox Jewish abuse victims, has written a readable guide for laypeople. Salamon offers definitions of abuse and describes signs that should indicate to parents, teach- ers, and school officials that abuse might be occurring. He provides basic information about available methods of treatment and discusses the unique cultural conditions in the Orthodox community that make prevention and treat- ment so difficult. Critically, the book explains without Abuse on page 19A The fact that haredim turn to their leading rabbis as the arbiters of all kinds of mat- ters is not only a way of life but one to which they are entitled; surely it brings many benefits to families and the community. There even may be instances in sexual abuse situations that individuals would want to speak first to their rabbis. However, what seems clear from The New York Times articles and others on the sex abuse issue, the haredi leadership does nothing" to educate its- people to prevent, persecuting those who go to law enforcement to report sex abuse crimes, nor do they condemn those who engage in the persecution of people in their community who do go to the police. Under these circumstances this is no longer a matter of community mores. Indi- viduals are being victimized twice, first by the abuser and then by a community that either stands by or tacitly en- courages their further abuse by persecutors. Intervention and condemnation from outside are warranted and necessary. Of course, the line be- tween respecting cultural differences and preventing abuse of rights that should belong to every member of society is not always easy to draw. When laws are bro- ken or fundamental rights violated in the extreme, it is not difficult to say that the outside community must stand up. Here, too, as with individual and group condemnations, great sen- sitivity must be exercised in not telling a flourishing, successful and praiseworthy community that its way of life is unacceptable. There are no simple answers here. Calling attention to prob- lems is necessary if it is done with civility and respect for a way of life that'is well serv- ing hundreds of thousands every day. Kenneth Jacobson is the deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League. THE B00YP'rIAN CONN{-C'rlON