Russell Sitrit-Leibovich homophobic Facebook article results in shocked students, loss of funding and the misrepresentation of the Jewish community
By Sean Tepper
Dawson’s Hillel president, Russell Sitrit-Leibovich, has been at the center of controversy after he posted a contentious article on Feb. 13 via Facebook.
The article, entitled “YU ‘Gay’ Panel: A Trojan Horse,” was written by The Israeli National News’ Arthur Goldberg and criticizes an event called “Being Gay in the Orthodox World” that was held in December 2009 at Yeshiva University in New York.
Goldberg’s article contends that the featured panel was designed to manipulate the minds of the audience into adopting a new set of ideas, so as to change the way homosexuals are viewed within the Jewish world.
“The panel’s objective was to change the mind-set of the average ‘straight’ person [into believing] that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable. If that myth is accepted, a push will be made to change the [Jewish Law],” Goldberg wrote in his article.
Comments in response to the article started appearing less than four hours after Sitrit-Leibovich posted the controversial editorial on the Internet. Of the many people who responded to the article was Nathaniel Mayer-Heft, a fourth semester Law and Society student, who was outraged at Sitrit-Leibovich for posting such a controversial article on a public forum.
“This article is nothing but rabid homophobic ranting [….] You can have your own views but the only person here who has crossed a line is [Russell] when [he] put this disgusting post on a public forum,” Mayer-Heft posted at 7:18 p.m. on Feb.14.
Sitrit-Leibovich explained that any problems that people had was with the Torah (the central religious document of Judaism), and not with him.
“I don’t understand the controversy here. If you have a problem it’s with the torah and not with me,” Sitrit-Leibovich posted on Facebook. “The Torah demands that we constantly strive for perfection [….] Same-sex attractions are simply another negative impulse which a person must control in order to come closer to Hashem and His Torah.”
Fourth semester Psychology student Morgan Berson was not content with Sitrit-Leibovich’s explanation for posting the article on Facebook and wrote a letter that was published in volume 38 issue 16 of The Plant. In his letter, Berson questions Sitrit-Leibovich’s opinions, leadership, and position as the president of Hillel Dawson.
“How can someone so clearly ignorant and rude be allowed to represent the voice of the Jewish population of Dawson? How can a president who is supposed to represent every person in his organization be allowed to publicly denounce a significant percentage of the [Jewish community],” Berson wrote in his letter.
After the article was published, Sitrit-Leibovich explained how his comments were based on religious Judaism and were never meant to hurt anybody.
“It is a controversial issue and I didn’t have any intentions to hurt anybody. The view expressed in this article is one of the more widespread views that people on the more conservative side of the spectrum brought forth at Yeshiva University,” Sitrit-Leibovich explained. “I think that the issue is an opinion and it [may] be an unpopular opinion, but to say that it is homophobic is really stretching the definition of homophobia to the limit.”
Berson and Meyer-Heft were disappointed in Sitrit-Leibovich’s decision to post the controversial article on the Internet.
“It is one thing to have your views, it is another thing to state your views in an objective way and it is absolutely unacceptable to state your views in a biased, almost rabid foaming at the mouth hatred of [homosexuals],” said Meyer-Heft. “It was intolerant, it was malicious and it had no place on a public forum and I feel misrepresented at Dawson by the president of Hillel.”
As of Feb. 19, Hillel Dawson, which is a part of Hillel House’s Montreal division, was cut off from their funding and personnel use by Hillel Montreal due to numerous complaints that they received about Hillel Dawson’s leadership prior to this incident.
“The leadership of Hillel Dawson was recently censured by Hillel House in response to months of complaints from students who claimed that its leadership engaged in racist and discriminatory behavior,” explained Zach Newburgh, president of Hillel Montreal.
Newburgh said that although it is censured, Hillel Dawson is still a part of Hillel House.
“Hillel Dawson is still a part of the Hillel House family [but] due to its leadership’s complete disregard for pluralism and engagement in racist and discriminatory behavior, Hillel Dawson will not be receiving funding and use of staff personnel from the Hillel House,” Newburgh said.
While Sitrit-Leibovich does stand by the comments he posted on Facebook, he said that he would like to make it clear that he is not homophobic and is sorry for the controversy that this caused.
“I posted [the article] without much thought. I was just trying to present another view from the orthodox community which is one that is widely held,” Sitrit-Leibovich said. “My opinion is based on religious Judaism. Traditional Judaism has a specific opinion on homosexuality, but it doesn’t reflect on homosexuals, or what I think about them as people.”
In addition to this, Sitrit-Leibovich wanted to make it clear that in spite of the controversy that his comments have sparked, Hillel Dawson is an open-minded organization.
“Hillel is a pluralistic organization. We accept all Jews regardless of their affiliations and observance,” he said. “I presented an opinion and it may be an unpopular opinion, but it’s just one of the many opinions that Hillel and the Jewish community encompasses.”
Despite Sitrit-Leibovich’s response, Meyer-Heft is wary about the direction that Hillel Dawson is heading in.
“Hillel Dawson is heading in a dangerous direction and that’s fundamentalist religion,” he explained. “When Hillel Dawson starts discriminating against other students, they are no longer an organization that I want to represent myself.”