A Click and a Laugh — and a Death

In an Open Letter About a Recent Teen Suicide, a Brooklyn Rabbi Assures Youth They Can Find Acceptance for Their True Selves

By Andy Bachman

Published October 01, 2010.

To the young people in our community:

I’m your rabbi. As such, I am occasionally asked to share a few words or thoughts when bad things happen to good people. In this case, I want to write some words directly to you about Tyler Clementi’s tragic suicide last week. If you haven’t read about it, you can read a story about it here.

Tyler was secretly filmed having a sexual encounter with another guy on the Rutgers campus. That scene was broadcast online, to his own humiliation, which authorities think was the major factor in deciding to take his own life. Authorities at Rutgers University, where Tyler was a talented, quiet and kind student, and the local police, are in charge of an investigation, the results of which we’ll keep reading about in the coming days.

But I want to address you directly, whomever you may be. If you’re gay or straight or bi or transgender or you just don’t know, as a rabbi in the community, I care about you as a person made in the image of God. It really truly doesn’t matter what other people think about your struggle to be who you are in the process of becoming.

At our synagogue, in our community, and hopefully in each and every one of our homes, what matters is that you are welcome to be who you are. And during a confusing time like this, when a young person takes his own life because the pain and suffering of having been humiliated is beyond what he can bear, you need to know that no matter how badly you may feel about things going on in your own life, you always have someone to talk to, a community that will accept you, support you, and love you for who you are.

Tyler Clementi took his own life in part because we still live in an imperfect world that judges people and attempts to hurt people, even kill people, for being lesbian, gay, bi or transgender. That’s sick, I know. It’s morally grotesque that we live in such a world that would harm people because of who they would love. But you know what? There are actually more people in the world who support your right to be who you are than not. It may not seem that way, sometimes. You may feel an incredible loneliness or confusion or anger at being different. But in our synagogue and in our community and in our schools, we accept you and want you to always feel welcome and protected and honored and respected and loved.

Tyler Clementi also took his own life because his peers, besides reflecting a disgusting prejudice, also worshiped their technology. Young people live in a world of too much access to too much instantaneous entertainment. And with a webcam and a laptop and an Internet connection, college students at Rutgers created their own bizarre “reality TV,” without thinking about the moral and ethical and criminal implications of what they were doing to another human being. A click and a laugh — and now someone with so much potential is dead. And that, plain and simple, is wrong. Technology can save lives but it can also be a tool for evil. So take stock next time you’re ready to click so quickly. Think and feel before you act.

I’m straight. But did you know that the man who told me to go be a rabbi was gay? And did you know that during my first year in rabbinical school my Israeli roommate was gay? I have a gay step-brother. And lots of gay and lesbian and bi and transgender friends. We all do. Some came out easily; others struggled for years; still others are still in the closet. That’s because we live in a society that still doesn’t accept sexual diversity so easily. Yet. One day maybe, we’ll be able to say, “Who cares? It doesn’t matter!” But because prejudice and bigotry about sexuality still exist, the point of that is to say that when a young man takes his life in the way that Tyler Clementi did, we are all affected. We are all connected. Whether we attempt to deny it or not. And as the Jewish tradition teaches, we are all responsible for one another. Which means that if you’re reading this and you’re sad or angry or confused or devastated or scared and you need someone to talk to, be in touch. And always remember that you have a rabbi and a community who care about you and accept you for who you are. No matter what.

In friendship, Rabbi Andy Bachman

Andy Bachman is the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. He originally posted this piece at www.andybachman.com.



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