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Class of ’97 won’t have gay old time

Tensions are high among alumni at the Yeshivah of Flatbush after the administration barred alumni from bringing same-sex partners to a high school reunion in December. Before the 10-year reunion for the class of 1997, the high school division of the Modern Orthodox yeshivah – located at 1609 Avenue J – sent a letter to former students it suspected would bring same-sex partners back to the reunion. Posted on the blog Jvoices, the letter read, in part: “As previously stated to you, we welcome your attendance and look forward to your participation. However, your partner cannot attend.” The stance did not sit well with many alumni of the prestigious private Yeshivah, who believe the policy to be an intolerant and selective interpretation of Jewish law. Opponents point to the fact that the school allowed students married outside the Jewish faith, as well as those who have girlfriends and boyfriends of the opposite sex to bring significant others to the reunion. These relationships are technically not sanctioned by Jewish law, or halacha. The reunion policy even encouraged alumni to bring fiancés, even though these relationships are not halacha-recognized either. “For them to single out gays and lesbians is totally hypocritical,” said Nachshon Rothstein, a member of the class of 1998 whose 10-year reunion is coming up next year. “They are taking what could be considered a legitimate stance and applying it to just one case. If they were consistent, we would back off. We would say, ‘That’s your position as a parochial school.’ But it’s far from that,” Rothstein continued. The administration could not be reached for comment by press time, but in a letter from the school to the Jewish Daily Forward, Executive Vice President Dennis Eisenberg said: “There are standards of halacha that guide the Orthodox community. All of our graduates are welcome to attend the reunion but only those involved in recognized halachic relationships may register as a couple.” But Rothstein claims that, “In terms of ideology, they’re contradicting themselves. Rothstein and other alumni have drummed up support for their cause by starting a group on the social networking site Facebook. The group – of which Rothstein is a moderator – is called “Open Flatbush Reunions” and currently has a membership of over 325 people as of press time. In addition, opponents of the ban have accumulated 100 signatures on a petition from many of the school’s distinguished alumni. Rothstein and others believe that activating the school’s alumni – which includes such notables as Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Avrech, Jewish scholar and author Joseph Telushkin, the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein, and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi – is the best way to get the administration to change its mind. Opponents hope that the school realizes that it is risking its respected name because of the policy. If the policy persists, they hope, many alumni will threaten to withhold financial contributions. “We’re hoping that it makes enough of a financial impact that it might make sense [for the Yeshivah to chance its policy.] Part of the name of the school is how it’s represented outside of the school,” Rothstein said. Rothstein said that one of the reasons for the school might have taken such a strong stance against same-sex couples is because its student body has a more conservative bent than it has in the past. “Nowadays, the large majority of the student body is members of the Syrian-American Jewish community living in Brooklyn. When it comes to homosexuality, they’re very clear on not accepting it whatsoever. That’s certainly an influence,” he said. Another factor, many believe, is the recent controversy surrounding the school’s former principal, Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer, who resigned in 2005 after coming out as a gay man. Stadtmauer said he no longer considered himself Orthodox. He recently signed the petition. “I personally think [the Stadtmauer incident] is why they took such a strong stand against homosexuality. They don’t want to be labeled as the gay Yeshivah,” Rothstein said. Rothstein said that in addition to being a selective interpretation of Jewish law, the school’s position on gay couples contradicts the primary tenets of Judaism. “We learned important values in our education,” he said. “If you embarrass someone, it’s as if you’ve shed their blood. And it’s important to welcome guests. These values go back to Abraham – his tent was open on all sides.”

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