Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2003/ 6 Teves 5764
Moral men learn it's lonely at the top
When political pundits predicted that gay marriage would become a splinter issue in the coming election year, they weren't just whistling Dixie.
So divisive is the gay-marriage question that it has produced some of history's most unusual bedfellows, figuratively speaking. Put it this way: When you've got the creator of one of the Internet's most conservative Jewish Web sites appearing to share common ground with the gay community against his own conservative allies, something's afoot.
This complicated story is a didactic tale of one man's insistence that morality is never negotiable. The protagonist is Binyamin Jolkovsky, known to Internet travelers as the host of the Web site, Jewish World Review - a news site that runs mostly "conservative" columnists, including yours truly, cartoons and news stories, some with an inspirational tilt. Jolkovsky describes it as "the intersection of politics, culture and spirituality."
Jolkovsky is also known for operating his Web site on an old computer and a shoestring, sleeping only four to five hours, except on the Sabbath, which he strictly honors as a non-working day. If you e-mail Jolkovsky at 2 a.m., as I have done on sleepless nights, he'll answer back in minutes, delighted to find a fellow toiler in the insomniac fields.
The rigors of his work style have taken a physical toll on Jolkovsky, who a few months ago was hospitalized for what he characterizes as a "wake-up call."
Regular visitors to his site aren't necessarily Jewish or conservative. In fact, Jolkovsky's goal is also his attraction: he aims to bring together people of whatever faith who believe, as he does, that traditional values are more than a cliché. They are standards by which one lives, period, end of story.
One of Jolkovsky's non-negotiable values is that marriage is a holy union between one man and one woman. Yet recently, he posted a story on his Web site that has cost him 500 subscribers, as well as allies in the traditional marriage fight, while earning him unlikely supporters among gays, the very people whose lifestyles he deeply opposes.
What's afoot that brings such disparate entities together against others of more like mind? In a word, terrorism. Call it the trickle-down moral of the Sept. 11 story: Where there are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, there can be no compromise.
The controversial story, written by Evan Gahr (also controversial for his sometimes strident commentary) strongly suggested that the Alliance for Marriage, a rainbow coalition of religious groups pushing for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, had compromised its moral integrity by including among its board of advisers the secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed.
Although Syeed is considered by many to be a moderate, some individuals and groups within his organization - 300 Muslim mosques, schools and service organizations - hold extremist positions and have troubling associations, according to both Gahr and Steven Emerson, author of "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us."
Emerson wrote, for example, that ISNA publishes a magazine that champions militant Islamist doctrine and hosts conferences where Islamic militants are given platforms "to incite violence and promote hatred."
In September, officials arrested one controversial ISNA associate, Abdurahman Alamoudi, on suspicion of being a senior terrorist operator. Alamoudi, who had worked successfully within both political parties in Washington - even courting George W. Bush when he was Texas governor - was a regional representative of ISNA.
While Alamoudi's alleged history doesn't necessarily indict ISNA or impugn Syeed, these are tricky times that call for greatest caution and, Jolkovsky would argue, strongest conviction. You pick your friends carefully, in other words.
At great personal cost, Jolkovsky has picked his own according to a code that says you don't sacrifice moral integrity for political expediency.
"Looking ecumenical is not the end all," he says of the AFM. "People who are supporters of traditional marriage will not be less supportive just because a Muslim group is not there. But pro-gay marriage advocates will have much, justifiably, to carp about if you keep them."
Indeed, some in the gay community have hailed Jolkovsky's courage in eating his own when principles are at stake. Andrew Sullivan, the gay writer/editor and blogger, praised Jolkovsky for recognizing that terrorists are more dangerous than homosexuals who want to commit to marriage.
Others who see Jolkovsky's quixotic trouble making as disloyal to the cause of fighting gay marriage have been, shall we say, un-Christian in their punitive reactions.
To which Jolkovsky unflinchingly responds: "I'd rather shut down than sell out."
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