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September 13, 2017 / Rabbi Laura

Open Letter to Brooke Ashjian

Dear President Ashjian,

I was not able to share my full thoughts with you at tonight’s Board of Education meeting due to the fact that you cut public comments down to 1 minute per person.  So, I offer them here for you.

My name is Laura Novak Winer and I am a Jewish educator and a rabbi. My 25+ year career focuses on education of our youth and children. For the last 15 of these years I have been at the forefront of work on educating youth to develop a sense of sexual ethics and healthy, age-appropriate relationships with their peers, as well as on equipping parents and faith leaders with the tools they need to teach their children, congregants and parishioners to have these conversations with their youth through the lenses of their faith.

I believe that there is a time and a place for sexuality education in the home, in our places of worship AND in the public school. As adults committed to providing public education for all of our children we hold a collective responsibility to provide for the intellectual, social-emotional and physical growth of our children.

Tonight I am here, Mr. Ashjian to comment about your leadership as the president of this school board. Mr. Ashjian, I appreciate that you have a clean voting record. Yes, you follow the laws of this state regarding what types of education we are required to provide our children.

Yet, just as important are your words when you speak in your presidential capacity. As the president of this board, you have to represent the needs and interests of the greater Fresno Unified School District in both your deeds and with your words. You represent its mission, its values and its goals. Of course you have your own personal opinions about how, when and where sex education should take place. I do not deny you those opinions. But, when you sit behind this microphone, and when you speak in your capacity as the president of this board, you represent this district.

Your words in recent weeks have been hurtful to many in our community. As a Jew, I was personally and deeply offended by your comparison of the LGBT community and its allies to the Ottoman Turks. As a Jew, I understand your familial history. Yet your analogy is flawed! The LGBT community – like your family and mine were – are the unjustly disempowered. They were hated by the Turks and the Nazis just like our families were.  Today, the LGBT community and its allies speak out in an effort to attain rights and acceptance, rather than  deny those rights from others. As a mother, a rabbi, an educator, and a member of the Fresno community I was deeply offended by your comments to the Fresno Bee about your perceived dangers of comprehensive sexuality education.

You have spoken hateful and hurtful words, which cannot be taken back. The impossibility of undoing damage done by harmful words is underscored in a tale about a man who went through his community slandering his neighbors”

One day, feeling remorseful, he begged his rabbi for forgiveness and said he was willing to do penance. The rabbi told him to take several feather pillows, cut them open, and scatter the feathers to the winds. The man did so, but when he returned to tell the rabbi that he had fulfilled his request, he was told, “Now go and gather all the feathers.”
The man protested, “But that is impossible.”

“Of course it is. And though you may sincerely regret the evil you have done and truly desire to correct it, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it will be to recover the feathers.”

Mr. Ashjian, as the president of this board, I urge you to consider what kind of leader you intend to be for our district. I hope that you will be one who find a way to heal the wounds that you have created for our LGBT youth and their families. I hope you will find a way to make amends to those who have been hurt, not by your voting record, but by the words you say as president.

Thank you.

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer


  1. / Sep 14 2017 4:57 am


  2. Sarah Stegall / Sep 14 2017 9:05 am

    Brava! Thank you for speaking up to defend our vulnerable young people!

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