The Road We’ve Traveled

The Obama campaign has released this 17-minute documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about President Obama’s first three years in office and the tough calls he made to get our country back on track. If you recognize the narrator’s voice — that’s Tom Hanks.

There are a couple of minutes about the auto bailout, since they are probably assuming that they’ll be running against Mitt Romney who famously wrote Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.

Democratic Party is Improving Their Messaging

 

Here, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks frankly about our the cause of our national debt and leads with her values.

Next, the DNC releases a hard hitting video highlighting the inappropriate cheering during the Republican presidential debates and notes none of the candidates said anything.  

Taking Account: The Aftermath of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

– by Sgt. Brian Kresge, Jewish Lay Leader of the 56th Stryker Bridge

Editor’s Note: Jewish tradition calls for an accounting of the soul cheshbon nefesh during the High Holidays. Now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer in effect, we can openly discuss the issue of homosexuality in the military. In this spirit, Sgt. Brian Kresge shares his regret at getting one of his friends kicked out of the army under DADT.

In 1996, I was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, just north of Anchorage, as part of a separate parachute infantry battalion.  Two years before, I had become ba’al t’shuvah coming out of Fort Benning to the 101st at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.  This continued in Alaska, working with the “Frozen Chosen” of Chabad Lubavitch in Anchorage.

This cast me, sadly, an odd-man out in my unit.  The request for special accommodations often put me at odds with my leadership.  They weren’t anti-Semites, they just were of the mindset that if the military wanted to bother with family or religious matters, they’d issue them to you.  I was regarded as a solid performer, a good shot, and a great infantryman, but the needs of faith compromised that at times.  The requests for kosher rations in the field and even exemptions from duties on Shabbos in garrison were met with disdain, and almost 17 years of having to repeatedly answer for a kippah in uniform never got old.

I made fast friends at my Alaskan duty station with an amiable fellow from Richmond, Virginia.  His fondness for smoking a pipe (an indulgence we shared) and flannel shirts made him look like he escaped from a porch on a hovel in Appalachia.  An infantry company only has a few non-infantry personnel, be it supply, or in this guy’s case, the unit Nuclear, Biological and Chemical specialist.  As such, grunts enjoy a branch-specific chauvinism that doesn’t view non-grunts as of sufficient military merit, thus he was equally an odd-man out.

Adam, my friend, was also gay.  He had a boyfriend in Anchorage who often came to visit him in the barracks, alternately dressed as a man or woman, but because of Adam’s 1950s woodsman appearance, no one gave it a second glance.

More after the jump.
My squad leader, a storied staff sergeant who helped write the book (literally) on long range surveillance operations, was a raging homophobe.  I, however, liked him because out of all my leadership, he looked out for me, in part because I never made him look bad in terms of my abilities.  His squad had the highest physical training average, the best marksmen, and we won squad competitions.  He was the best leader I worked for in the active duty Army.

There was a cycle when we enjoyed a number of back-to-back operations that separated us from kith and kin for a good period of time.  First Wales for a unit exchange which lasted over a month, then several weeks at the Northern Warfare Training Center (then at Fort Greeley), followed by weeks in the field.  We were arctic paratroopers, after all, winter operations were our bread and butter.  My squad leader and others at his level began to get cabin fever, and took to tormenting and humiliating junior enlisted as means of entertainment.  Adam began to inhabit the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality to escape from that.  I was at least insulated.  No one wanted to be seen picking on the unit Jew.

Unfortunately, my squad leader found Adam and another soldier in a compromised position.  It was really nothing more than two of them emerging from a bathroom buttoning their trousers, but it was enough for him to demand the launch of a DADT investigation.  Gay or not, the accusation and call for investigation were out of line.  Ultimately, the commander made the matter go away.

Adam, however, was filled with indignation, and filed a complaint against my squad leader, who perceived this to be career ending.  I liked Adam, he was a good friend.  A decent squad leader, though, engenders a certain amount of loyalty on the part of his subordinates.

I told him Adam was indeed gay.  While he was incensed that I hadn’t come forward before, he was relieved that someone could save his career, though I seriously question if it was ever in danger.  I went before the unit commander and told him about how Adam came out to me, and about his boyfriend, who as it turned out, was under age.

Adam was discharged under Chapter 14, incompatibility with military service.  It wasn’t a dishonorable discharge, but it did mean the benefits he was a year shy of earning were now gone.

My reward, sickening as it was, was an enhanced reputation as a soldier who “did the right thing.”  My advancement came at the expense of a good friend, one I lost forever and to whom I would apologize given the chance.  The under-aged boyfriend notwithstanding (especially in a unit where many guys had 16 and 17 year old girls in their barracks room more often than not), Adam did nothing to merit the humiliation and discrimination, and I wronged him grievously in my betrayal of his confidence over what would have amounted to a negative counseling statement for my squad leader.

While I don’t find homosexuality compatible with Torah-observant Judaism, one could see as a service member, DADT was always an imperfect policy.  It was easily weaponized based off of rumor and speculation.  When I left active duty, I believed that the less frequent interactions with the military under the National Guard would entail less scrutiny into personal lives.  However, here in the Pennsylvania National Guard, a chaplain from Lancaster–clergy from a liberal denomination–was targeted under DADT by an anonymous chaplain superior who we do know was from a more conservative denomination.  The matter was dropped, but certainly it could have humiliated the chaplain involved, not to mention compromised his civilian ministry.  Meanwhile, they protected the anonymity of his accuser.

And the policy wasn’t just useful to those with an anti-gay agenda.  I performed duties full time at my Guard unit’s armory a few years ago during a mobilization.  We had a soldier transfer in from Minnesota.  He was gay, though not openly.  His boyfriend dropped him off and picked him up from drill.  What was important to me, taking attendance, was that he showed up and did his duties for the weekend.  I had other soldiers, some combat veterans, being AWOL or failing drug tests, and you could have heard crickets chirping for volunteer opportunities.  He volunteered and did a great job as part of the National Guard security presence in Washington, D.C. during President Obama’s inauguration.  When he transferred to Texas to be closer to family, his jaded boyfriend came to the armory and dropped off gear he left behind, obviously hoping that outing him would land his ex in hot water.  The irony of DADT being wielded by a jilted lover wasn’t lost on me.

Informed by my experience with Adam, I wasn’t about to bite.  The kid was a good soldier.  He’ll deploy with the Texas Army National Guard, if he hasn’t already, and he’ll show his mettle in the service of this country in Iraq or Afghanistan, and his performance will have nothing to do with his sexuality.

My great-uncle, of blessed memory, was a Marine and fought at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.  He was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star.  He expressed sentiments regarding gay Marines he fought alongside back then.  “If they were gay Marines, I would actually call them Marines that were gay,” he said to me, the distinction lurking in the organization of his phrase, “and anyway, history won’t mention anything other than that they were Marines.”

For my part – my military credentials – I served from 1994 – 2011 with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Alaska, and with the Pennsylvania National Guard as part of the now disbanded 28th Infantry Division Long Range Surveillance Detachment (LRSD) and the 56th Stryker Brigade.  I was also the 56th Brigade’s Jewish Lay Leader, as endorsed by the Aleph Institute, the military and prison service organization that was created to answer a call from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to serve Jews in those circumstances.  In my civilian occupation I am a programmer and author.

Taking Account: The Aftermath of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

– by Sgt. Brian Kresge, Jewish Lay Leader of the 56th Stryker Bridge

Editor’s Note: Jewish tradition calls for an accounting of the soul cheshbon nefesh during the High Holidays. Now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer in effect, we can openly discuss the issue of homosexuality in the military. In this spirit, Sgt. Brian Kresge shares his regret at getting one of his friends kicked out of the army under DADT.

In 1996, I was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, just north of Anchorage, as part of a separate parachute infantry battalion.  Two years before, I had become ba’al t’shuvah coming out of Fort Benning to the 101st at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.  This continued in Alaska, working with the “Frozen Chosen” of Chabad Lubavitch in Anchorage.

This cast me, sadly, an odd-man out in my unit.  The request for special accommodations often put me at odds with my leadership.  They weren’t anti-Semites, they just were of the mindset that if the military wanted to bother with family or religious matters, they’d issue them to you.  I was regarded as a solid performer, a good shot, and a great infantryman, but the needs of faith compromised that at times.  The requests for kosher rations in the field and even exemptions from duties on Shabbos in garrison were met with disdain, and almost 17 years of having to repeatedly answer for a kippah in uniform never got old.

I made fast friends at my Alaskan duty station with an amiable fellow from Richmond, Virginia.  His fondness for smoking a pipe (an indulgence we shared) and flannel shirts made him look like he escaped from a porch on a hovel in Appalachia.  An infantry company only has a few non-infantry personnel, be it supply, or in this guy’s case, the unit Nuclear, Biological and Chemical specialist.  As such, grunts enjoy a branch-specific chauvinism that doesn’t view non-grunts as of sufficient military merit, thus he was equally an odd-man out.

Adam, my friend, was also gay.  He had a boyfriend in Anchorage who often came to visit him in the barracks, alternately dressed as a man or woman, but because of Adam’s 1950s woodsman appearance, no one gave it a second glance.

My squad leader, a storied staff sergeant who helped write the book (literally) on long range surveillance operations, was a raging homophobe.  I, however, liked him because out of all my leadership, he looked out for me, in part because I never made him look bad in terms of my abilities.  His squad had the highest physical training average, the best marksmen, and we won squad competitions.  He was the best leader I worked for in the active duty Army.

More after the jump.
There was a cycle when we enjoyed a number of back-to-back operations that separated us from kith and kin for a good period of time.  First Wales for a unit exchange which lasted over a month, then several weeks at the Northern Warfare Training Center (then at Fort Greeley), followed by weeks in the field.  We were arctic paratroopers, after all, winter operations were our bread and butter.  My squad leader and others at his level began to get cabin fever, and took to tormenting and humiliating junior enlisted as means of entertainment.  Adam began to inhabit the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality to escape from that.  I was at least insulated.  No one wanted to be seen picking on the unit Jew.

Unfortunately, my squad leader found Adam and another soldier in a compromised position.  It was really nothing more than two of them emerging from a bathroom buttoning their trousers, but it was enough for him to demand the launch of a DADT investigation.  Gay or not, the accusation and call for investigation were out of line.  Ultimately, the commander made the matter go away.

Adam, however, was filled with indignation, and filed a complaint against my squad leader, who perceived this to be career ending.  I liked Adam, he was a good friend.  A decent squad leader, though, engenders a certain amount of loyalty on the part of his subordinates.

I told him Adam was indeed gay.  While he was incensed that I hadn’t come forward before, he was relieved that someone could save his career, though I seriously question if it was ever in danger.  I went before the unit commander and told him about how Adam came out to me, and about his boyfriend, who as it turned out, was under age.

Adam was discharged under Chapter 14, incompatibility with military service.  It wasn’t a dishonorable discharge, but it did mean the benefits he was a year shy of earning were now gone.

My reward, sickening as it was, was an enhanced reputation as a soldier who “did the right thing.”  My advancement came at the expense of a good friend, one I lost forever and to whom I would apologize given the chance.  The under-aged boyfriend notwithstanding (especially in a unit where many guys had 16 and 17 year old girls in their barracks room more often than not), Adam did nothing to merit the humiliation and discrimination, and I wronged him grievously in my betrayal of his confidence over what would have amounted to a negative counseling statement for my squad leader.

While I don’t find homosexuality compatible with Torah-observant Judaism, one could see as a service member, DADT was always an imperfect policy.  It was easily weaponized based off of rumor and speculation.  When I left active duty, I believed that the less frequent interactions with the military under the National Guard would entail less scrutiny into personal lives.  However, here in the Pennsylvania National Guard, a chaplain from Lancaster–clergy from a liberal denomination–was targeted under DADT by an anonymous chaplain superior who we do know was from a more conservative denomination.  The matter was dropped, but certainly it could have humiliated the chaplain involved, not to mention compromised his civilian ministry.  Meanwhile, they protected the anonymity of his accuser.

And the policy wasn’t just useful to those with an anti-gay agenda.  I performed duties full time at my Guard unit’s armory a few years ago during a mobilization.  We had a soldier transfer in from Minnesota.  He was gay, though not openly.  His boyfriend dropped him off and picked him up from drill.  What was important to me, taking attendance, was that he showed up and did his duties for the weekend.  I had other soldiers, some combat veterans, being AWOL or failing drug tests, and you could have heard crickets chirping for volunteer opportunities.  He volunteered and did a great job as part of the National Guard security presence in Washington, D.C. during President Obama’s inauguration.  When he transferred to Texas to be closer to family, his jaded boyfriend came to the armory and dropped off gear he left behind, obviously hoping that outing him would land his ex in hot water.  The irony of DADT being wielded by a jilted lover wasn’t lost on me.

Informed by my experience with Adam, I wasn’t about to bite.  The kid was a good soldier.  He’ll deploy with the Texas Army National Guard, if he hasn’t already, and he’ll show his mettle in the service of this country in Iraq or Afghanistan, and his performance will have nothing to do with his sexuality.

My great-uncle, of blessed memory, was a Marine and fought at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.  He was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star.  He expressed sentiments regarding gay Marines he fought alongside back then.  “If they were gay Marines, I would actually call them Marines that were gay,” he said to me, the distinction lurking in the organization of his phrase, “and anyway, history won’t mention anything other than that they were Marines.”


For my part – my military credentials – I served from 1994 – 2011 with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Alaska, and with the Pennsylvania National Guard as part of the now disbanded 28th Infantry Division Long Range Surveillance Detachment (LRSD) and the 56th Stryker Brigade.  I was also the 56th Brigade’s Jewish Lay Leader, as endorsed by the Aleph Institute, the military and prison service organization that was created to answer a call from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to serve Jews in those circumstances.  In my civilian occupation I am a programmer and author.

US Joins Israel Today in Allowing Gay Soldiers to Serve Their Country

– President Barack Obama

Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed.  As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love.  As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.

More after the jump.
I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans.  Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to Members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform who showed that they were ready to move forward together, as one team, to meet the missions we ask of them.

For more than two centuries, we have worked to extend America’s promise to all our citizens.  Our armed forces have been both a mirror and a catalyst of that progress, and our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans.  Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals.

Your Representative: Working Hard or Hardly Working

– DocJess

Welcome to the start of the 112th Congress.  In addition to getting more paid vacation time then any other group of people, including union workers and even most part time workers, Congress generally doesn’t meet Monday or Friday. That’s 102 scheduled vacation days (exclusive of the Monday/Friday deal) with adjournment on 8 December, leading to an additional 16 days off. Strikes me as obscene. If I owned a company and paid someone in the neighborhood of $250,000/year in salary, benefits and perks (exclusive of the office budget) – I’d expect that person to work more than he/she took vacation. But maybe that’s just me. You can see the full calendar here.

Then again, this might be a good year for gridlock, given what the House led by the Tan Man and his DeMint-led cohorts in the Senate want to do.  
On their agenda:

  • Repeal healthcare. And no, this won’t happen.
  • Repeal safe and legal abortion. This might happen.
  • Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. NOT gonna happen.
  • Debt ceiling? The tea baggers are already up in arms about what the lame duck Congress did, and they do not want to raise it. Hopefully, cooler heads amoung the Republican intelligencia (sole member: Karl Rove) and the GOP members who have been around long enough to want to come back for an additional term will prevail.
  •  Spending bills: remember there’s no budget, just a continuing budget resolution that will need to be renewed/reviewed/reconsidered/beaten with a stick in February.
  • White House ethics trials.

Adapted from DemConWatch.

DADT Repeal is now Official

Today was filled with historic votes:

  • the 9/11 Health Bill was passed unanimously by the Senate,
  • the Senate ratified the New START Treaty 71-26, and
  • President Barack Obama signed into law the repeal of the United States Defense Department’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Video:

“Many of you probably remember the exchange earlier this year when Lt. Dan Choi gave Harry Reid his West Point ring and said he wouldn’t take it back until DADT was repealed. Today, Reid gave him the ring back. Powerful video.” (John Marshall – Talking Point Memo)

Reaction by the David A. Harris (NJDC) to these three historic events follows the jump.

The Invocation at the DADT Repeal Signing was given by Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff.

Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff is a consultant on interfaith values and interreligious affairs; a former line officer who served in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, followed by assignments with Naval Intelligence before attending rabbinical school; a retired Navy Chaplain who earned the Defense Superior Service Medal for his work with military and civilian leaders throughout Europe, Africa, and the Mid-East while serving as the Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command;  and a former National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee.  From June 2005 to June 2006, he served as  Special Assistant (for Values and Vision) to the Secretary and Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. Air Force, with the equivalent military rank of Brigadier General.  Headquartered in the Pentagon, this appointment took him to Air Force bases in more than ten countries around the world, including those in Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  On June 16, 2006, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne presented him with the USAF Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service–the highest award that the Air Force can present to a civilian. In addition to rabbinic ordination, he has three masters degrees, in International Relations, Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs, and Rabbinics, and a doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rep Todd Platts (R-PA) were the only Republican Congressmen in attendance.
– David A. Harris

Senate Passes 9/11 Health Bill

The Senate voted to pass a bill that would “cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.”

The New York Times reported:

The vote, passed by unanimous consent, came soon after a deal was reached between conservative Republicans and Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York Democrats agreed to changes demanded by the conservative lawmakers, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost and prevented the bill from advancing in the Senate. After drawing criticism in recent days from Democrats and Republicans alike, the Republican senators backed down.

NJDC, alongside so many others in the American Jewish community, was a vocal advocate for health care reform in our country. We applaud the Senate for taking yet another step forward in improving our health care system and honoring the brave men and women who risked their lives to save the lives of others. NJDC also thanks Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their unwavering commitment to see this important bill passed.

START Treaty

Today’s ratification of the New START treaty by the Senate is yet another step forward in securing our country and helping to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. While the treaty’s effects on strengthening the U.S.-Russia relationship are significant and monumental in their own right, the New START treaty will ultimately bolster the ability of the United States and Russia to jointly confront Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

With Iran at the top of the pro-Israel agenda, NJDC was at the forefront of urging the American Jewish community to lend a voice to the debate over the treaty. In mid-November NJDC issued a statement to community leaders saying ‘The time has come for those in the American Jewish community who care deeply about confronting Iran to help pass START now. We can do no less, and we have no time to wait.’ We are proud that our communal effort helped to shine light on the importance of ratifying this crucial treaty.

We commend President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for their leadership in making New START a top priority, and we applaud the Democratic Senate leadership – working together with key Republicans, including Senator Richard Lugar – for pushing forward the effort to ratify the treaty despite opposition and excuses from a small Republican minority who defiantly stood against the recommendations of our military leadership. Ultimately, Senators on both sides of the aisle understood the importance of ratifying this treaty for our own security – and that it will help to continue our efforts to protect the global community from a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Signing

With the East Room and other key real estate at the White House taken up with holiday decorations and tours, this morning’s presidential signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 has been moved a few blocks away to the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The auditorium is packed with a who’s-who of the leadership within the gay rights and civil rights communities, and a wide array of figures who were essential in bringing about this long, long overdue policy change-including many key members of the House and Senate. The moving opening invocation-delivered by Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff-reminded us all of the many who had served before who had to hide their identities. President Barack Obama received nothing short of a star welcome, replete with chants of “yes we can” and shouts of thanks from the gathered crowd. The President spoke about the critical and historic nature of this moment, and he praised at length all of those who helped to bring this moment about-including the leadership of our military, and especially Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who was on hand for the signing. As the President said just before signing, we are not a nation that says “don’t ask, don’t tell”-we are a nation that believes all are created equal. And as he firmly declared to cheers as he completed his signature, “This is done.”

Much ink has been spilled about the state of relations between President Obama and the GLBT community-perhaps as much as has been used in writing about relations between the White House and the Jewish community. But this morning the President made good on yet another key campaign pledge, as he helped our nation make another significant stride forward in civil rights and equality. Before long, openly gay and lesbian service members who wish to stand in defense of their country will be able to do so-making this a good day indeed.

Today’s vote to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving openly in our nation’s armed forces is truly historic. The repeal sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. We applaud President Barack Obama for shining a bright light on this issue, and we commend the leadership of both the House and Senate for protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.

This legislative step was a demonstration that good policy-doing the right thing-can also make for good politics. Indeed, Saturday’s vote to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” is truly historic. This step sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. President Obama-and the House and Senate leadership-are to be commended for shining a bright light on this issue, and for their leadership when it comes to protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. And when history looks back at the naysayers who tried to block the march of progress-those like Sen. John McCain, who would not accept the verdict of the top leaders of today’s military, let alone the voices of the clear majority of those serving both in and out of uniform-it will not be kind.

Congress Ends “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

Today’s 65-31 vote to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving openly in our nation’s armed forces is truly historic. The repeal sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. We applaud President Barack Obama for shining a bright light on this issue, and we commend the leadership of both the House and Senate for protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.
Marc R. Stanley is the Chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council. David A. Harris is NJDC’s President and CEO. Rep. Jared Polis is a Democratic Congressman from Colorado.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Didn’t Reform

Reactions to Senate’s failure to end Republican filibuster to legislation to reform United States military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

– Rabbi David Saperstein

Senators have failed to support the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have dedicated their professional lives to the defense of our nation.  Refusing to repeal the misguided “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy rejects the views and entreaties of Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen.  It also ignores the views of the overwhelming majority of service members whose opinions were solicited in the Pentagon’s extensive study of the impact of repeal and who said such action would not negatively impact unit cohesion.

The military’s code of honor is tarnished when service members are required to lie about their identity.  And as people of faith, we are pained by this affront to the dignity of those in uniform, each of whom, gay or straight, embodies the spark of the Divine presence in every person, and each of whom should be a source of pride for all Americans.

No doubt the courts, which have already shown a willingness to challenge this policy, will soon overturn it in recognition that we cannot in good conscience continue to ask the members of our Armed Forces to fight on behalf of a country that refuses to recognize their basic dignity and rights.

Even as we are deeply disappointed by today’s Senate vote, we know that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy’s days are numbered. We look forward to the future when this policy will be a mere memory of a sad and discredited chapter in our nation’s history.


Open Letter to Senator McCain from four Arizona Rabbis

Dear Senator McCain:

We, along with a delegation of retired military flag and general officers and retired military chaplains, recently requested a meeting with you in Washington DC to discuss the future of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. After multiple follow-up calls and an extended period without hearing any response, we were informed by your Chief of Staff, Mark Buse, that your office was “not able to accommodate [our] request as the Senator’s schedule is full.” Mr. Buse did, however, note in an email (attached) that he would ensure that you personally saw any information we wished to convey.

More after the jump.
To that end, and on behalf of our synagogues and congregants, and the Reform Jewish Movement of which we are a part, we write to express our great disappointment in your unwillingness to meet with us.

Even more so, we are deeply disappointed by your opposition to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We believe that the policy is antithetical to the values of justice and compassion on which our nation was founded. We note, as well, the recent support for repeal expressed by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the overwhelming majority of military service men and women.

You have heard the testimony from military leaders and other such experts making clear that while there will be an initial period of transition, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not have an adverse effect on the Armed Forces (in fact, legislative repeal is preferred to that through judicial action). Just as the arguments against President Truman’s decision to racially integrate the armed forces proved to be false, so will be those made against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Our military today remains the finest force known in history; it is stronger because its members reflect the faces of the people it defends.

As a Movement, we spent significant time exploring the biblical texts and teachings that eventually helped guide us to welcoming gay and lesbian clergy and members as full participants in our congregations. Let us assure you that as spiritual leaders from the largest Jewish denomination in North America, we are firm in our belief that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the right and moral action.

Allowing gay and lesbian service members to continue to contribute to our nation’s security while living their lives according to the standards of honor so prized by the military reflects our understanding that every man and woman is created in the image of God. The spark of the divine is present in equal abundance in gay and lesbian men and women, as it is in those who are heterosexual.
We feel strongly enough about the importance of this issue that we sought the opportunity to visit with you in Washington at your convenience and these are the sentiments we would have preferred to express to you in person. We regret that you did not feel that such a conversation would have been worthwhile.

We respect your service to our nation throughout your military and congressional career. But we respectfully disagree with your defense of a policy that forces men and women who, like you, wish to serve, to do so while hiding their identity. This is a policy that is long overdue for repeal and we urge you to allow such repeal to proceed with all due haste.

Sincerely,

  •  Rabbi Charles Herring, Temple Kol Ami, Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Rabbi John Linder, Temple Solel, Paradise Valley, Arizona
  • Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
    Congregation Or Chadash, Tuscon, Arizona
  • Rabbi Andrew Straus, Temple Emanuel, Tempe, Arizona