By Jeri Kagel | Guest Columnist
I sat on the JNF Southeast board of directors for two terms until about two years ago. I knew I was the token lesbian on the board, but I believed the regional director, Beth Gluck, who told me that JNF wanted to attract more intown Jews.
I have been a vocal supporter of JNF to many in Congregation Bet Haverim, even as some have voiced disapproval of various JNF actions in Israel, and I have hosted a table for friends and CBH congregants at the annual Hirsch Breakfast. Until this year.
Having lived in Atlanta for over 30 years, I knew of Dr. Stanley’s homophobia. I knew he was not quiet about his views and that, as past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta, through his large congregation, his radio broadcasts and his Internet presence, he has been a powerful and persistent opponent of the LGBT community.
Surely he wasn’t the only possibility this year. I called Beth, a good-hearted and well-meaning person. After I told her about Dr. Stanley, she apologized and said she did not know his views on homosexuality. She said she wanted to do something to accommodate my hurt. She and Alan Lubel, co-president of JNF Southeast, felt bad for me personally because, as Alan said, I was “part of the JNF family.”
I could tell that neither saw the larger picture. Neither understood that the decision was a direct affront and marginalization of LGBT Jews and their allies.
I told Beth I was going to send email to let other Jewish people know JNF was honoring Dr. Stanley. When she asked if I would also tell people that she wanted to do something to balance out that decision, I told her that when she told me what JNF would do, I would reach out to all and let them know.
I also told her that I understand when an organization is so focused on its own mission that it is unaware of things outside that mission. I mentioned LGBT organizations that schedule events on Jewish holidays. I told her of organizations and individuals who do or say something homophobic because they don’t know. I also assured her that we LGBT people are used to people making mistakes and that we are forgiving.
It feels as if that conversation happened a very long time ago. I am so grateful to The Temple, Temple Sinai, Ahavath Achim, CBH, SOJOURN and all in the greater Atlanta Jewish community who understand what JNF’s decision truly is. Your thoughts and actions have warmed my heart. Hearing how many believe, thoughtfully and Jewishly, that JNF must change its decision or do something to affirm and embrace Jewish LGBT supporters of Israel has been incredibly gratifying.
Nothing has come from JNF. Neither Beth nor Alan nor the JNF board has responded in open, inviting or meaningful ways that indicate understanding of the dismay or horror at the decision to honor Dr. Stanley. JNF has not offered to do anything to indicate a respect for, or a desire to honor, LGBT Jews and their allies who support and care about Israel.
We have gone to Israel and taken our children. We have planted trees. We have argued on behalf of Israel. We have donated to JNF in Atlanta and throughout the world. We deserve not to be forgotten. We deserve not to be left out. We deserve not to have to watch JNF honor someone who says that we can’t go to heaven, that AIDS is our punishment from God, and more.
JNF in Atlanta and at the national office in New York and a few Atlantans seem to see this in black-and-white terms: If you support JNF/Israel, you have to support this decision and this breakfast; if you don’t support the decision, you don’t support JNF. That argument is reminiscent of the “love it or leave it” arguments people made when young people voiced opposition to the Vietnam War.
I’m sorry, but there are complexities to relationships. I can support JNF but say no to this breakfast. I can take a stand on this issue.
We are not your enemy. We are not advocating that folks no longer support JNF. We are only talking about this decision.
JNF has dug in its heels. Communications from JNF talk about how Dr. Stanley has supported Israel. I reply that other Jewish and non-Jewish clergy also support Israel and could have been honored.
What may have started as a mistake has become an intentional and ugly decision. JNF’s communications convey a sense that the group can’t make everyone happy. This is not about people being unhappy. This is about JNF ignoring outspoken homophobia and what so many rabbis are calling bigotry. This is about ignoring Jewish values. This is about the disingenuous suggestion that we can separate one aspect of a person from another. How often would we want a secular organization we are involved with to honor someone who is virulently anti-Semitic?
JNF has also suggested that critics don’t support the right to free speech. But no one is trying to silence Dr. Stanley or change his ideas (I’ve learned not to bang my head against a steel wall). I am fond of an anonymous quote I once heard: “Along with the freedom of speech comes the responsibility to listen.”
Dr. Stanley has the right to spew his homophobic rhetoric at his church, on the street corner, in Israel and on the Internet. But we have a responsibility to listen. JNF has either not listened or does not care. Either way, it is time for JNF to do something to rectify the decision.
I trust that the JNF powers in Atlanta are not homophobic, yet they are immoveable about this decision. Beth told me in our first conversation that JNF did not want to embarrass Dr. Stanley. She had compassion for him. What about showing compassion for those of us in the Jewish community who want the right to love whom we love? What about welcoming LGBT Jews who support Israel and JNF?
JNF has shown no compassion for us, for our allies, or for the underlying Jewish values that created Israel, including providing a safe place for all Jews.
Now JNF is willing to meet with us at a gathering put together by the rabbis at The Temple.
I believe in building bridges and healing relationships. I’ve done that for a living. I’ve done it with many organizations and individuals in a variety of relationships. I’m glad JNF wants to come to this meeting, but JNF should understand that it is not up to us — the ones you have discriminated against — to continue to reach out to you. It is time for JNF to reach out.
Coming to the meeting is not enough. Defending yourself is not enough. To move toward healing, JNF must make amends. You are smart people. You can figure out what to do.