An Open Letter to JNF on Yom HaShoah

An Open Letter to JNF on Yom HaShoah

By Leanne Rubenstein

Leanne Rubenstein
Leanne Rubenstein

Over 20 years ago I started working in the Atlanta Jewish community with refugees from the former Soviet Union. As a young educator I developed and implemented a Vocational English as a Second Language Program, helping newly arriving refugees get their first job in the U.S. It was the beginning of a journey that led to a 20-year career working with refugees from all over the world.

I have spoken to many groups about the plight of refugees and clearly remember speaking to the Young Leadership Group of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. During that presentation I said: “I often wonder what I would have done if I lived during the Holocaust. Would I have defended my German heritage? Would I have joined the resistance? Would I have fled if I could have — without my family?”

I thank G-d that I have not had to make that choice. Well, sort of.

Here I sit, a Jewish, South African/American, married aunt of seven, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a community member, a refugee advocate. I am asking myself the same questions: What would I do if I lived in Nazi Germany? Have you ever asked yourself the same thing?

Today is Yom HaShoah. Let us never forget. This is what I learned in Hebrew school and again while attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel and again as a German Marshall Memorial Fellow traveling to Berlin and again over 10 years working in the Jewish community.

So on this day, as I remember and honor all of the lives that were lost at the hands of the Nazis, I am writing to you to express my confusion about your choice to honor the Rev. Charles Stanley despite the knowledge that his speech is akin to the speech of Nazi Germany.

From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:

  • Because some Nazis believed homosexuality was a sickness that could be cured, they designed policies to “cure” homosexuals of their “disease” through humiliation and hard work.
  • Under Paragraph 175 of the criminal code, male homosexuality was illegal in Germany. The Nazis arrested an estimated 100,000 homosexual men, 50,000 of whom were imprisoned.
  • During the Nazi regime, the police had the power to jail indefinitely — without trial — anyone they chose, including those deemed dangerous to Germany’s moral fiber.
  • Between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were interned in concentration camps in Nazi Germany. These prisoners were marked by pink triangle badges and, according to many survivor accounts, were among the most abused groups in the camps.
  • Nazis interested in finding a “cure” for homosexuality conducted medical experiments on some gay concentration camp inmates. These experiments caused illness, mutilation and even death and yielded no scientific knowledge.

Here is the “Can a homosexual go to heaven?” video of Charles Stanley. This is in response to a mother asking about her gay son.

At 4:23: “To answer your question, ‘Can a person who is a homosexual go to heaven?’ If they have been saved by the grace of G-d, yes. But as He says, ‘They forsake — that is, they lose their reward — they do not inherit what G-d intends. Not only that, there is no peace, no joy, no happiness, no matter what they say. And medical research has proven — absolutely unquestionably — that a person can be free from homosexuality if they want to. For example, it comes down to abstaining from immoral activities, just like any other single person would.

The persons are single: They have the privilege and the power by the Holy Spirit to abstain from immoral activities. It is a choice a person makes.”

At 5:06: “So, mother, here’s what I would say to you: You have the responsibility to love your son, which I’m sure you do. You have an equal responsibility to be sure that you confront him with the Word of G-d and that you do not succumb to making him feel good by agreeing that he’s OK. Because what that is to do is to deceive your son. And to agree with him would be absolutely an act of disobedience to G-d.”

I am a lesbian, a Jew, an immigrant, a U.S. citizen, a wife, a loved and supported daughter, sister, aunt, friend and community member, and I hope that I will go to heaven. But more than that, I hope that the hundreds of thousands of people who hear Charles Stanley preach will know that they are worthy, they are loved just as they are, they are not broken, and their lives matter.

Facts include:

  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
  • LGB youths are four times more likely, and questioning youths are three times more likely, to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
  • Suicide attempts by LGB youths and questioning youths are four to six times more likely to result in injury, poisoning or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse compared with their straight peers.
  • Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one-quarter report having made a suicide attempt.
  • LGB youths who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

Alan Lubel suggested that members of the LGBT community attend the breakfast to show Charles Stanley the diversity in our community. I look like a typical Jewess — except for my pink triangle.

So, please, ask yourself: What would you do if you lived in Nazi Germany Atlanta in 2015 on Yom HaShoah and you knew that JNF was honoring a man who speaks about the gay community as the Nazis did in Germany? How courageous would you be to stand up against hate?

Now is your chance to be courageous. Remember, let us never forget.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation,” Elie Wiesel said. “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

May this remembrance teach us.

Leanne Rubenstein is the president of the SOJOURN board of directors.

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