One Friday, 13 years ago last month, I flew to Philadelphia for my wedding. But first I hung out for a couple of hours at the row home of my future brother- and sister-in-law.
That was when I met Alan Bernstein, their first cousin. Just in from Los Angeles for the wedding, Alan volunteered to drive me to my hotel in Metuchen, New Jersey.
I don’t really recall much about the drive. There was that moment on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when some guy cut us off, prompting Alan to lay on the horn, but I was riding shotgun, and I completely agreed with his reaction.
Mostly, we just talked and got to know each other. I do remember how he said driving the groom to his wedding was an honor. (He might have said “mitzvah.”)
Riding in the back was Alan’s 1-year-old son, Isaac, a big kid for his age; we called him El Gordo.
Since our wedding, Beth and I have seen Alan many times. We watched his family grow as twin sisters Natalie and Naomi entered the world.
We see them at b’nai mitzvah, and at funerals. We have flown out to L.A. to visit them, and Alan has brought the kids to Louisville to see us.
In fact, he has taken them to every state in the union – for the experience. He also sends them to a Jewish URJ camp in Wisconsin.
In a time when too many Jews are unaffiliated, Alan belongs, not to one synagogue, but four – the one where his family regularly worships and where all his kids will become b’nai mitzvah, the one he joined so his son could attend religious school with his friends, the one he joined so his elder daughter could attend religious school with her friends, and the one he joined so his other daughter could attend Jewish day school.
Now that is a Jewish father.
Whether it’s acting, music or baseball, Alan has made it possible for his kids to grow into their talents.
But he gives his kids more than opportunities; he gives them the intangibles, too, like manners.
On our last trip to L.A., Beth and I took Isaac to a Pirates-Dodgers game at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers beat the Bucs – my hometown team – in 10 innings, and Isaac never gloated. (I probably wouldn’t have been so nice.)
What makes all this remarkable is that Alan, who happens to be gay, has done all this alone. He used a surrogate to have his kids – of all whom are full biological siblings.
Those kids have grown nto amazing, talented human beings. They’re engaging, mature and proud to be Jewish. I can’t imagine our family without them.
So why am I sharing my family history with you?
A hat-trick of three shocking news items came out of Israel a week ago – passage of the Nation-State Law, which threatens to estrange Diaspora Jewry; the pre-dawn arrest of a Masorti rabbi for the “crime” of marrying Jews; and yet another new law passed by the Knesset prohibiting gay couples from using surrogates to have children.
This effectively means that the ultra-Orthodox establishment in Israel, which controls all religious affairs in the country by threatening to topple the government if its positions don’t prevail, can determine who gets to be a parent in the Jewish state.
Had Alan Bernstein been born in Israel under this new law, had he grown into adulthood under its repressive restriction, this devoted father and active Jew would not have been able to become a parent.
His three amazing kids would not have been born.
State-sanctioned dogma would have snuffed out a wonderful Jewish family before it ever got started.
You don’t know Alan, but you probably know someone just like him, someone whose marital status or sexual orientation doesn’t pass muster with the powerful forces in Israel today.
For the sake of the state so many of us love, these shifts in Israel from democracy to theocracy must not be allowed to stand.
(Lee Chottiner is the editor of the Jewish Louisville Community.)