by JOSH SCHOENBERG ’19 

This article was published in the January 2019 volume of Spectrum: the Maimonides School Student Newspaper 

This is the first part in a series of 2 articles about the LGBT+ experience at Maimonides.  The Maimonides Upper School Handbook, as of September 6, 2018, contains a statement on page 12 about “students with same-sex attraction.”  Among other things, the statement says that a student with a same-sex attraction should feel comfortable talking with Maimo staff, and that “that student will continue to be welcome to participate in the full range of educational, co-curricular, and religious opportunities offered by our school.” The statement also specifies that while “engaging in homosexual activity” is forbidden by Jewish law, “same-sex attraction in and of itself does not constitute a violation of the Torah.”

Further, once a year. Rabbi Huff and Upper School Social Worker, Alex Ross, visit each tenth grade advisory group, informing the students that there are no negative consequences for coming out, and that students should feel comfortable talking to Rabbi Huff or Alex, and that the administration will not tolerate the bullying ofLGBT+ students. Natanya Rosen (’18)—a recent Maimo alumna who, after finding out that there would be no consequences, came out as lesbian in the fall of her junior year—wrote to Rabbi Huff that although “the note in the handbook is nice,” she also thought that the school could do more for LGBT+ students.

Rosen’s sentiment is being felt within the national Modem Orthodox community. Some Modem Orthodox schools have recently adopted the Eshel Pledge, a brief statement that aims to make LGBT+ students at Modem Orthodox schools feel safe and comfortable. It may be found on Eshel’s website.

Eshel—an organization that strives to “create community and acceptance for [LGBT+] Jews and and their families in Orthodox communities”—encourages schools to adopt the pledge. In addition to committing generally to inclusion, the pledge contains six goals that it encourages schools to support: refuse expulsion, prevent bullying, oppose reparative/conversion therapy, support students, encourage integration, and practice open admission. Maimonides already actively incorporates several of these values.

Some students at Maimonides think that the school should take the pledge because, in the words of Rosen, “We need a constant reminder that we are not something that Maimonides wants to keep hidden.” In a similar vein, Jesse Turk (’09) recently helped produce a video on Facebook in support of adopting the pledge which featured twelve Maimonides alumni and parents.

Batya Rose, a Maimonides junior who identifies as lesbian, said that the pledge would help her and “many others” at school. She particularly supports the Open Admission part of the pledge, which expresses that “an applicant’s or a parent’s gender identity or sexual orientation will not have a negative impact on the admission process.” Batya hopes to send her future children to Maimonides, but she wonders what impact her identity will have on their qualification for admission.  Rabbi Steve Greenberg—a rabbi who came out as gay more than a dozen years after he was ordained at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theologicat Seminary and who is the founding director of Eshel—said that “the pledge is important because the handbook can easily be ignored and not read or not even, you know, explored by the students that need most to know what to expect if they come out of the closet.”

 

The reality for LGBT+ students at Maimo has drastically improved from the way it was even a few years ago.  Rabbi Jaffe and Rabbi Huff are committed to making students feel comfortable, and this requires thought and balance. The school already has initiatives in place—the handbook statement and the advisory visits—and they are looking into middle school education of LGBT+issues.

Maimonides is a leading voice within the Orthodox Jewish educational community, so its engagement with these issues is felt beyond the walls of the school itself. At present. Rabbi Huff and Rabbi Jaffe maintain that Maimonides is not planning to take the pledge, though the school aleady acts upon some of its goals. In order to explore the nuances of this developing conversation within our community, future articles in this series will address our school’s admission process, the appropriate approach to engaging middle school students on LGBT+ issues, and the experience of gender and sexual identity for students at Maimonides. 

Editors ‘note: Information for this article “was taken from eshelonline.org and rav.org.

 

 

 

 

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