Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Story, by Pinchas Giller

Received by email, reprinted with permission:

It was around 1978. I was sitting in a supplementary Rabbinics course given in the YU semikhah program by Rabbi Israel Miller. As I recall, he told us that for the following week’s lecture, he would have, as a speaker, somebody who had been instrumental in the Anita Bryant campaign in Miami. In Florida, you see, there was a referendum to restrict gay rights in employment, housing and so forth. It was a coalition of the Catholic Church and the Evangelicals, with the figurehead being a woman named Anita Bryant, who was a rather saccharine singer who also represented the Florida citrus growers cooperative.

Anyway, I raised my hand and opined that it seemed like a very stupid idea for Jews, who until recently been a despised minority in this country, to go ganging up on the gays, who were presently a despised minority, and that is was anathema to go in with the Christians, who were our traditional enemies. It was no big “gay rights” thing on my part, I just expected that the pendulum could always swing back and that now that they were “coming for the gays” we should make a precedent that citizens didn’t get deprived of rights.

I was not a fashionable liberal fellow traveler gay rights advocate. Then, as now, I just saw nascent anti-semitism everywhere

I asked Rabbi Miller, “so do I have to be a right wing Republican to be an Orthodox Rabbi and cozy up with the goyim, because it’s not worth it!’

Rabbi Miller looked at me and said “Im ain ani li mi li.”

At that moment, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the brighter lights of the Rabbinical school, the kind of clean cut, personable bright young guy who they were already grooming for greatness out in the shteller world, already having been given a plum pulpit in between Manhattan and Queens. “I understand you, Pinchas,” he said. “I used to be like you. I used to have issues of social justice as the most important thing in my religious life but now I know that defending the Orthodox movement is the most important thing.”

And I knew, at that moment, that there was no room for me in the professional rabbinate in American and that I should just go on ahead and make aliyah and go into chinuch, because, as a normal left-wing ‘70’s Ba’al Teshuvah, I just didn’t belong in that world.

A few years later, I ran into the young martinet in a vegetarian restaurant on the East Side. I was just married, and my wife & I were all young and fuzzy in our Yerushalmi sweaters and sandals. He was in a three-piece suit and looked immaculate and trim. I told him that I was teaching Yahadut and Tanach in a chiloni high school in Yerushalayim.

“Oh, that’s nice,” he said, “The perfect thing. For someone like you.”

And who was that young martinet? Why, Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the erstwhile “first Gay orthodox Rabbi.”

“So what?” says my wife. “He was in the closet to himself as well as to the world.”

But to me, of course, an old grudge is an old friend, and I'm still resentful.

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