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Here’s the thing about Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. The turnout today is not an demonstration of traditional values. It’s an endorsement of bigotry. The fact is, if in 2012 your traditional values cannot accept same-sex marriage or homosexuality in general, then the traditions you value need an update. And today was not an expression of religious freedom. Because, again, if your religion cannot accept homosexuals, then your religion is flawed.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this whole Chick-fil-A foofaraw and replace the word “gay” with “black” or “Jew.” If Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy had spoke out against miscegenation — if he had said that interracial marriage was inviting “God’s judgment on our nation” — would there still have been a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day? I doubt it.

So what’s the difference? Why is it acceptable for homosexuals to be the target of bigotry in this instance? Because of an obscure passage in an old book? Sorry, that’s not good enough.

Freedom of religion? Bullshit. This is bigotry, plain and simple. Check out this story about people turning out to support Chick-fil-A in recent days, saying things like “I’m so glad you don’t support the queers, I can eat in peace.”

Yea, glad are those who hate the queers, for they shall know peace.

And shame on opportunistic, attention-starved conservatives like Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin — who value divisiveness over discourse — for exploiting the unfounded anxieties of our country’s small-minded, over-Bibled bigots that, sadly, still believe this garbage.

And that’s what is so troubling. Not only do so many people in this country still harbor these awful prejudices, but when given the opportunity they will celebrate them proudly. Bully for our freedom of speech, which allows you to so proudly proclaim your bigotry. No one can take that away from you, or any of us.

At the end of the day, Chick-fil-A still has a right to do business. Dan Cathy has a right to be a conservative homophobe. And people have a right to support them both. But don’t hide behind your Bible and don’t pretend this is some  great moral cause. It’s not. Because, honestly, you should be ashamed. You should feel small and petty. You should be embarrassed to hold such vileness in your heart. Just eat your goddamn chicken sandwich and shut the hell up.

More holiday fun from The Plaid Crew. This is a piece co-written by TPC’er Laura and myself. Also, enjoy our close readings of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'” (Warning: language and subject matter may be offensive to some people. You’ve been warned.)

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) is truly a Christmas classic (view a clip here). It begins with Charlie Brown faced with Christmas depression —suffocated by the consumerism that surrounds him. After he is appointed director of the Christmas play, Linus touchingly teaches him the true meaning of Christmas. However, like Rudolph, Charlie Brown finds himself smack dab in the middle of Cold War anxieties, an increasingly religious America, and the rise of feminism.

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Rabbi Douglas Weber

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 12/9/10]
Rutland’s Jewish community may be small, but they have a lot to celebrate.

Thursday, Dec. 9, was the final day of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which is traditionally a time of much rejoicing in Jewish communities – eight festive nights of family, community, music and food.

In addition, 2010-11 also marks the 100th anniversary of Rutland’s Jewish congregation. In October, the Rutland Jewish Center, located on Grove Street, kicked off its centennial year with a celebration and open house.

The yearlong celebration will feature a number of other events throughout the winter culminating in a gala event in May.

For Rabbi Doug Weber, leader of Rutland’s Jewish community since 2005, the centennial is an opportunity for the Jewish Center to open itself up to the greater Rutland community.

“We want to demystify to the general population what Judaism is,” Weber said.

Meeting Weber at his home in Rutland Town early on a Friday morning, he is busy at work in the kitchen preparing food ahead of the Sabbath, which begins at sundown.

“Shabbat comes early in Vermont this time of year,” he said settling into a chair next to a toasty wood stove in the living room.

A grand piano takes up on one corner of the room. A tuba and euphonium lie on the floor nearby below a music stand full of sheet music. In his spare time, Weber is a member of the Castleton State College Wind Ensemble as well as the Rutland City Band — one of the many extracurricular activities he enjoys that gets him into the greater Rutland community.

An avid skier — “Why live here if you’re not going to be outdoors?” he asked rhetorically — his eyes widened as he noticed the snow flurries coming down outside.

A married father of three, Weber possesses a quiet, attentive manner and a disarming sense of humor — what you’d expect from someone whose day job requires him to do a great deal of listening and counseling. He speaks deliberately and thoughtfully, slowly paced and with a hint of an accent that belies his Long Island upbringing.

He humorously describes his decision to become a rabbi as a “process of elimination.”

“I knew what I didn’t want to be,” he said recounting a suburban childhood spent observing the men of the neighborhood schlepping to and from work in what struck Weber as a dreary routine.

During a career day in high school, Weber decided to pick the three most outlandish occupations offered: forest ranger, mortician and rabbi. While the first two didn’t stick, the last one seemed to leave an impression.

“I was the only one in there,” Weber recalled. “The rabbi asked me, ‘Are you interested in the big questions?’”

It was a serious discussion that planted the rabbinical seed.

Conversation with Weber swirls from topic to topic: the local economy, Vermont’s aging population, the current state of faith in young people.

Weber is an adjunct professor at both Castleton State College and the College of St. Joseph, where he teachers classes in Comparative Religion, Western Religion and Asian Religion.

Of his Asian Religion course at CSJ, he laughs at his being a Jewish rabbi “teaching Buddhism” at the Catholic college.

However, it’s just that type of common ground Weber seeks out in the community. He sits on the city’s Interfaith Clergy Association with leaders from Grace Church and the UU among others.

In Rutland’s synagogue. as with other faith communities in the area and around the country, Weber acknowledges a decline in numbers.

The Rutland Jewish center is currently comprised of around 80 families. According to Weber, that’s about half of what it was at its peak in the 1950s and 60s.

Officially founded in 1910, Rutland’s Jewish congregation has had its ups and downs. As Jewish immigrants arrived in the area, they set down roots and became active members of the area’s business community in both retail and manufacturing.

However, as families grew and business and professional opportunities declined, much of the following generation departed.

“The fate of the Center is tied to the economy of Rutland,” Weber said.

While Weber asserts that membership is “steady,” he notes that today’s congregation is decidedly older. Young families are a rarity; most new members are retirees or second homeowners from New York or Boston.

But Weber sees a positive in the smaller numbers. “People are more active,” he said. “And they get things done because they know if they don’t, it won’t get done.”

That activity is exemplified by the fact that the congregation almost always has a prayer quorum – that is, a minimum of 10 adults necessary to hold a service.

Weber also noted that Rutland has the only synagogue in Vermont outside of Burlington that reliably holds services for holy days that fall mid-week, something that attracts worshippers from other parts of the state.

Along with the centennial , Weber has been working on other ways of opening up the Jewish community to the rest of Rutland. He hosts a cooking show on PEGTV called “Rabbi Weber’s Kosher Cuisine.”

He is also a regular guest on WSYB’s “On the Air with Tim Philbin” where he takes questions from callers.

Starting in January, the Center will debut a film festival, screening a series of Israeli and Jewish films through March. The screenings will take place at CSJ’s Tuttle Hall Theater.

Despite their numbers, Weber his congregation remains dedicated to raising awareness of the Center and fostering a vibrant Jewish community in Rutland.

As Weber put it, “The stream may not be as wide as it once was, but it runs deeper.”