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September 28, 2017 / Rabbi Laura

For this, I have nothing to atone

They say you are doing things right when you get hate mail.

Well, I must be doing something right, because I’ve received a very hateful piece of snail mail.  You know its going to be a “good one” when it starts off with

Dear Ms. Winer,

I’m sorry I cannot refer to you as “Rabbi,” but I don’t believe women can serve as rabbis. To do so is misleading.

And that is the nicest part of the letter.

This particularly hateful piece of mail was in response to my comments regarding Brooke Ashjian, the current president of the Fresno Unified Board of Education.  I suppose I could humor us all by quoting his letter in full, but here are just some of the juicier parts:

You of course, are interested in advancing LGBTQ culture, because you represent a queer version of Judaism. In fact, Reform has nothing to do with Judaism. Reform has led millions of Jews astray from G-d. Reform has caused as many casualties as Adolph Hitler. Judaism in Fresno is completely in shambles because of Reform…

Brooke Ashjian is not the evil one. Adherents to Reform are the evil ones. You are evil… You speak heretical words. You have publically misrepresented Judaism by advocating gay culture.  You give credence to the position that radical feminists are full of sick ideas…

One day Reform Judaism will be destroyed and defeated…

You get the point.

But, he clearly misses the point – several of them actually.

First point:  I do not deny Brooke Ashjian – or anyone else! – their personal beliefs.

What I do expect though, is that the leadership of the Fresno Board of Education – when serving in their capacities as leaders – uphold the values and policies of the school district.

When one sits in the School Board chambers, one is surrounded by posters that depict the goals, core beliefs and commitments of this district.  Among the other worthy and admirable statements, included are the ideas that our district is committed to ensuring the safety of all of our students and our district is a place where diversity is valued.  I expect the leadership of this district to uphold those core beliefs in word and deed when doing the work the district. Mr Ashjian has failed to hold himself to these commitments.

Second point:  I will not get into a debate about which is better or more true, Reform or Orthodox Judaism.  Each Jew choses how s/he wants to observe his/her Jewish life.  Rather than arguing about the so-called sins or heresies of different ways of being Jewish, we should be embracing the multiple points of entry into Jewish life and ways of living authentic Jewish lives. Yes, there are different ways to be authentically Jewish!  This has been true for millennia – Judaism has never been monolithic.

As I look back at the letter, the part that is most hurtful to me is this line:

Most people would be thoroughly crushed if they found out their child became a homosexual.

This man’s words tear at my heart.  I KNOW DEEP DOWN IN MY SOUL that all people are created in the image of God, and all people are created in their own uniqueness – whether that means they have blue eyes, or red hair, are short or tall, are gay or straight. Were my child – or my niece or nephew or any child that I am close with – to tell me they were gay I would say, “I LOVE YOU! I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU! YOU ARE PERFECT JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.”

On this day before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement – the holiest day of the Jewish year – I know that with regard to the sins this man accuses me of, I have nothing for which to be ashamed or for which to atone.


  1. Vivien Silber / Sep 28 2017 2:27 pm

    I’m outraged that you received this letter! That another JEW would write such hateful words to you is beyond my comprehension! And you, of all people!

    What can we do to stop this? Must we always be ‘2 Jews, 3 arguments?’

    Shana Tova to you, Rick, your wonderful sons and all the rest of the people you love


  2. normanbroadbent / Sep 29 2017 5:14 pm

    s always, your ability to place such an affront into perspective is meaningful and encouraging to all who value the honoring of all God’s creatures. As someone in my own tradition has stated, “Faith is intended to take away our fear, never our courage.,” I believe William Sloan Coffin had someone just like you in mind.

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