30 September 2010

Letter to Our Youth

To the Young People in Our Community.

I'm your Rabbi.  As such, I am occasionally asked to share a few words or thoughts when bad things happen to good people.  In this case, I want to write some words, directly to you, about Tyler Clementi's tragic suicide last week.  If you haven't read about it, you can read the story here from today's New York Times.

Tyler was secretly filmed having a sexual encounter with another guy on the Rutgers campus and that scene was broadcast on-line, to his own humiliation, which authorities think was the major factor in deciding to take his own life.  Rutgers University, where Tyler was a talented, quiet and kind student, and the local police, are in charge of an investigation, the results of which we'll keep reading about in the coming days.

But I want to address you directly, whomever you may be.  If you're gay or straight or bi or transgender or you just don't know, as a Rabbi in the community, I care about you as a person made in the Image of God.  It really truly doesn't matter what other people think about your struggle to be who you are in the process of becoming.

At our synagogue, in our community, and hopefully in each and every one of our homes, what matters is that you are welcome to be who you are.  And during a confusing time like this when a young person takes his own life like this because the pain and suffering of having been humiliated is beyond what he can bear, you need to know that no matter how badly you may feel about things going on in your own life, you always have someone to talk to, a community that will accept you, support you, and love you for who you are.

Tyler Clementi took his own in part because we still live in an imperfect world that judges people and attempts to hurt people, even kill people, for being lesbian, gay, bi or transgender.  That's sick, I know.  It's morally grotesque that we live in such a world that would harm people because of who they would love.   But you know what?  There are actually more people in the world who support your right to be who you are than not.  It may not seem that way, sometimes.  You may feel an incredible loneliness or confusion or anger at being different.  But in our synagogue and in our community and in our schools, we accept you and want you to always feel welcome and protected and honored and respected and loved.

Tyler Clementi also took his own life because his peers, besides reflecting a disgusting prejudice, also worshiped their technology.  Young people live in a world of too much access to too much instantaneous entertainment.  And with a webcam and a laptop and an internet connection, college students at Rutgers created their own bizarre "reality tv," without thinking about the moral and ethical and criminal implications of what they were doing to another human being.  A click and a laugh; and now someone with so much potential is dead.  And that, plain and simple, is wrong.  Technology can save lives but it can also be a tool for evil.  So take stock next time you're ready to click so quickly.  Think and feel before you act.

I'm straight.  But did you know that the man who told me to go be a Rabbi was gay?  And did you know that during my first year in Rabbinical school my Israeli roommate was gay?  I have a gay step-brother.  And lots of gay and lesbian and bi and transgender friends.  We all do.  Some came out easily; others struggled for years; others are still in the closet.  That's because we live in a society that doesn't accept sexual diversity so easily.  Yet.  One day maybe, we'll be able to say, "Who cares?  It doesn't matter!"  But because prejudice and bigotry about sexuality still exist, the point of that is to say that when a young man takes his life in the way that Tyler Clementi did, we are all affected.  We are all connected.  Whether we attempt to deny it or not.  And as the Jewish tradition teaches, we are all responsible for one another.  Which means that if you're reading this and you're sad or angry or confused or devastated or scared and you need someone to talk to, be in touch.  And always remember that you have a Rabbi and a community who care about you and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.

In friendship,

Rabbi Andy Bachman


Michelle Lynn-Sachs said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Andy, this is great. Now how can we make sure that the right audience sees this?
Sandra Hartog

Jeff Zoldan said...

So right on, Andy!

Andy Bachman said...

Thanks all--Sandy, feel to share widely and after this week, let's convene a community conversation about making sure we're all sending the right messages to our kids.

Miriam said...

I really appreciated reading your letter. Adolescence can be such a difficult journey, and many do not even consider their rabbi as a source of support and counsel. I hope more rabbis will make it known to our teens that they can be someone that will listen to them, no matter what they bring to the table.

Amanda said...

Excellent, well said. I thought the same thing Sandy did...can it be emailed out to all Academy and 7th and 8th graders (we should have their email addresses via Yachad), and perhaps there is some way to target families who we know have kids. And we've also tried to keep in touch with the kids in college, they could probably use a letter like this also.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this beautiful post Rabbi. It has made it's way to Gawker.com, Facebook and it is my prayer that your words and the message it inspires spread and resonant far and wide. Again, many thanks, Your Catholic Message Spreader!!!!

Seth said...

I stumbled upon this on Gawker, and just felt compelled to say:

Living in North Carolina and identifying as part of the LGBT community hasn't always been easy. I live in a fairly liberal area of the state, but homophobic and transphobic attitudes are never that far away.

It really encourages me and warms my heart to see straight allies (especially religious leaders) decide to stand with this community and say, unequivocally, that love is not something to be feared or hated. That we need to value and appreciate every human and that we need to say to every single kid, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, that they are loved. And that they have worth.

Rabbi, thank you for writing this. It's entirely possible that your wonderful perspective will save a kid's life... or at least make those teenage years (which are generally awful for everyone) just a little bit better. Which is much, much more than most people do.

Much respect and gratitude.

Rebecca said...

I have to thank you this letter made me smile and brought a tear to my eye. Even though you didn't directly say it you letter seems to allude to making those erased by hetro-normativity and general dislike visible again. As someone who identifies as bi and has a boyfriend I feel like no one in the queer or straight communities value me because I'm not (fill in blank) enough... It's nice to be included I just wish more people would be inclusive to all.
Let all the erased be visible and the silenced be heard.
Ken Yehi Ratzon

jazzrabbi said...

Andy -
Beautifully written message...thank you for expressing these thoughts, which I hope many of us share with the people of our communities.

michael said...

Kol HaKavod, Rabbi! With allies like you, there is no stopping the march toward true equality for everyone!

mamainwaiting said...

thanks you for your comments. I too was outraged by this story and very saddened.

According to the NYTimes, Rutgers was planning a "Civility initiative" to start just when the tragedy happened. It struck me that at PS321, they start first grade with teaching children how to be civil and kind - And at Rutgers, they still have to teach these lessons.

Of course all this new technology has created more complex issues but still - It's so disheartening that people use their computers, webcams etc. to humilaite other people.

I guess this could be considered a "teachable moment" but so sad that someone had to end their life due to feelings of shame.

Chris Ann Moore said...

Thank you-beautiful

Liza Bruna said...

Thank you for your words, Andy, we are lucky to have you in our community. Let's use the internet for healing and to support all the LGBT teens out there who may not feel safe or supported in their communities.

Bruce Weiner said...

Well said. Thank you.

mark said...

Thank you so much for your message. As a gay man I truly appreciate it! I do know that there are actually more people in the world who support your right to be who you are than not. We are just bombarded with negativity from rappers and bigots that profess that our lifestyle is wrong. I respectfully disagree.