Wednesday, April 22, 2009

CFE Leaders Featured in "Weathering the Storm"

Inspired by Margaret Mead's quote, ""Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has" this video message features Pastor Samuel Chu (CFE Interim Executive Director), Rabbi Denise Eger (CFE Founding Member) and the Reverend Susan Russell (CFE spokesperson.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CA Faith for Equality to Go Viral in New YouTube Video

April 20, 2009 – LOS ANGELES – Three California Faith for Equality (CFE) spokespeople appear in a new, soon-to-be-released video, WEATHERING THE STORM, which promotes marriage equality.

CFE Interim Executive Director Samuel Chu, Rabbi Denise Eger, one of the founders of CFE and the Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA. provided faith voices to the video which also features same-sex married couples with children, parents and their newly out lesbian daughter and celebrities. Eger and Russell are also members of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion Council, which will help promote this video.

This video was produced to counter the lies and deception in a commercial produced by the National Organization for Marriage. Speaking out against that commercial last week, Pastor Samuel Chu said “It was immensely misleading in claiming that marriage for same-sex couples dictates what is taught in schools, affects people’s health choices, or curtails religious freedom. Marriage equality is about ending discrimination and extending equal protection to gay and lesbian families, not about subverting any family or school system whose beliefs and freedoms are to be protected in the same way.”

The producers of WEATHERING THE STORM are a group of friends with entertainment industry contacts who were so upset by the commercial that they were moved to action and pulled this project together in three short days.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CA Faith for Equality Leader Denise Eger to Head Board of Rabbis

From the April 15, 2009 "Jewish Daily Forward:"

Los Angeles — When Denise Eger assumes the leadership of this region’s local rabbinic association, she’ll be making history — twice over.

On May 11, Eger will become not only the first woman to lead the Board of Rabbis of Southern California — one of the nation’s largest rabbinic boards — but also the board’s first openly gay or lesbian president.

Eger, 49, serves as the rabbi of West Hollywood’s gay-and-lesbian-oriented Reform synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami, and has been active on the local board of rabbis for more than a decade. She also has been outspoken on issues of gay and lesbian rights in the Jewish community and beyond — most recently fighting against Proposition 8, California’s anti-gay marriage ballot initiative.

Eger’s ascension to the presidency is a milestone for the 72-year-old association, whose members include Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox rabbis.

“It’s a remarkable development,” said longtime Jewish communal observer Gerald Bubis, founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion. “It shows everybody’s maturity in the process that a person who happens to be a woman and happens to be a lesbian would become president.”

The board’s presidency rotates every two years between the movements. Having served as a vice president for the Reform movement for the past six years, Eger is next in line to lead the professional association. A past president of the board, Yosef Kanefsky — a left-leaning Modern Orthodox rabbi — served as chair of the nominating committee. Eger’s election was secured March 17, when the board’s membership vetted her nomination.

Eger is not the first gay or lesbian leader of a North American board of rabbis. The Board of Rabbis of Northern California, which includes San Francisco, has an openly gay president, Allen Bennett.

In an interview with the Forward, Eger said that her ascension to the presidency has profound personal significance. Back in 1992, she explained, when she founded Congregation Kol Ami, an Orthodox rabbi who then served as president of the rabbinic board made disparaging comments about her in a local Jewish newspaper. In the intervening years, Eger has worked to forge better relationships between colleagues from the different movements — despite sharp ideological differences — and has committed herself to interfaith outreach work.

“I’ve really just tried to do my work and serve the Jewish community,” she said. “Now, to be able to be president of the board of rabbis, I think, speaks to the work I’ve done building bridges.”

While rabbinic boards are meant to promote collegiality among rabbis from the different movements, Orthodox participation has waned in recent decades. Southern California’s board of rabbis today counts fewer than two-dozen Orthodox members, out of a total membership of more than 300, according to the board’s executive vice president, Mark Diamond. Of the major urban Jewish population centers, only New York’s 800-member board of rabbis has maintained equal representation among Orthodox, Reform and Conservative rabbis.

Observers say that the shift can be attributed to the rightward drift of Orthodoxy, as well as to the increasingly leftward leanings of the Reform and Conservative movements.Orthodox Judaism forbids homosexual behavior as well as female rabbinic ordination.

Still, some leaders of Southern California’s board of rabbis said they did not think that Eger’s presidency would deter more Orthodox rabbis from joining. “The Orthodox rabbis who have not joined have sadly voted with their feet, and I don’t think the first female or first lesbian president of our board is going to change anything,” Diamond said.

For their part, Orthodox rabbis who do count themselves as members of their local rabbinic associations said that they participate because promoting unity is more important than agreeing on matters of Jewish law. “For me, the klal yisrael piece trumps the ideological factor,” said Michael Balinsky, an Orthodox rabbi who serves as executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, referring to the notion of unity between all Jews.

The Chicago Board of Rabbis, which counts roughly 200 members, first had a woman president dating back at least six years, according to Balinsky.

Daniel Bouskila, rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, a Los Angeles Modern Orthodox synagogue, noted that an Orthodox rabbi would have just as many ideological differences with a male heterosexual rabbi from the Reconstructionist or Reform movement as with a lesbian rabbi. “This is not a red line that’s being crossed,” said Bouskila, who also serves as a vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

If anything, the board’s Orthodox representation will only increase under Eger’s watch, according to Diamond. “I cannot think of a colleague at the board more committed to other rabbis, and more committed to the klal yisrael work we do,” he said of the incoming president.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CFE Denounces Tax Day Inequity

CFE Press Release

April 15, 2009

“As we rush to the post office to send in our tax dollars today, let us remember those gay and lesbian families who pay their taxes lawfully and faithfully, yet have been denied equality under the law by a majority of voters in California,” said Samuel M. Chu, Interim Executive Director of California Faith for Equality and a Presbyterian pastor. “Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have equal responsibility under the law, but not equal rights. I speak on behalf of a diversity of faith leaders committed to equality and our respective faiths all agree that to take away the rights of any minority group, as did Proposition 8 here in California, is wrong.”

Rabbi Denise Eger, of Congregation Kol-Ami in West Hollywood and one of the founding members of California Faith for Equality said, “Gay and lesbian married couples face continued discrimination at both federal and state levels. While some couples can file in their states as ‘married,’ they are required to file on the federal level as ‘single’.

Eger, President of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis added, “Federal law treats same-sex couples as strangers, thereby denying them the 1,138 federal rights, benefits and protections available to heterosexual married couples. This is not only an affront to the dignity of their families, but to those couples who want to pay their fair share. They continue to be penalized and discriminated by this unequal treatment”.

“California Faith for Equality will continue to be a powerful and uniting force for equality for all LGBT persons,” said Chu.

CFE Takes On "Bald-Face Lies" in Anti-Marriage Equality Ad Campaign

CFE Press Release

April 8, 2009

Los Angeles, CA – “A conservative group purporting to ‘protect marriage’ and ‘the faith communities that sustain it’ has resorted to a radio and television ad campaign of disinformation and deceptions aimed to incite unfounded fear,” said Samuel M. Chu, Executive Director of California Faith for Equality (CFE) and a pastor at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. “These ads are nothing but bald-face lies.”

“This week, the National Organization for Marriage has invoked the same scare tactics religious conservatives used in the Prop 8 campaign here in California. Their ads feature actors who claim to be real people, concerned doctors, parents and teachers and their message that same sex marriage will harm children, families and churches is patently untrue.

“I speak for a broad and diverse group of clergy and religious leaders who are extremely disturbed by these ads. We believe a foundational value of faith is truth. These ads are immensely misleading in claiming that marriage for same-sex couples dictates what is taught in schools, affects people’s health choices, or curtails religious freedom. Marriage equality is about ending discrimination and extending equal protection to gay and lesbian families, not about subverting any family or school system whose beliefs and freedoms are to be protected in the same way.”

“CFE opposes this ad campaign and will organize our constituents to lead the charge against these erroneous claims. We will hold the National Organization of Marriage accountable for their misleading and manipulative tactics to spread unfounded fears in our communities and misrepresenting the broad spectrum of faith communities who supports not only equal protection for gay and lesbian families, but the protection and freedom of all religious and minority groups. This ad campaign will not succeed.”