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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Life, death and arguably the worst 'gaydar' on the planet

          Kirk_1
Kirk Cashmere A"H (1955 - 2002)
[Photo (c) Honolulu Star-Bulletin]

Tomorrow, December 2nd will be the 3rd anniversary of the passing of Kirk Cashmere. 

If you Google his name you will quickly discover that Kirk was a prominent civil rights attorney who argued several landmark cases that set the stage for legalized same-sex marriage in Hawaii.  The Google results will also tell you that he was both the Legal Director, and a tireless advocate for The American Civil Liberties Union.

If you scroll down a bit you will even find that Kirk was both an historian and pioneer of organized Judaism in the Hawaiian Islands.

What the Google results won't tell you is that Kirk was one of the most influential people in my life, and that we spent a year as housemates in a big rambling mansion overlooking Honolulu that we, and our other two roommates called 'The Honolulu Bayit'

I was in the navy at the time and spent a fair amount of time out at sea.  But when I was in port I was a charter member of this quirky Jewish commune/cooperative, modeled loosely on 'bayits' (or more correctly 'batim') located in Berkeley and other college towns.  The four of us, all single and traditional-minded Jews, set up housekeeping together and conducted open shabbat and holiday programs for the Honolulu Jewish community.

The household included (scroll down for photo):

Kirk - The motivation behind the venture.  He approached each of the other members of the 'bayit' and sold us on the idea.  At the time Kirk hadn't yet finished Law School and was working as a paralegal for the Hawaii Legal Aid Society.

'The Architect' - A bright, attractive young woman who's architecture career was just getting underway.  Arguably the least traditional of all of us, she (like me) viewed the communal living arrangement as a nice, no-pressure learning opportunity.  The last I heard, she was married and living somewhere in Northern California.

'The Handyman' - A scraggly-bearded Aikido master about my age who came from a local family of NY Jews who had moved to Hawaii to become anything but Jewish.  While still relatively new to traditional Judaism, 'the handyman' embraced ritual observance and all the outward trappings of orthodoxy from the very start.  I call him the handyman because he could build or repair anything under the sun.  He made his living restoring old Saabs and selling them to collectors. He is now living in a 'black hat' orthodox community in New York with his wife and (I've lost count of how many) kids.

Me - The wandering (navy) Jew, I was still trying to find my level of observance back then and was casting about for a mentor.  Kirk, with his traditional Sephardi background and his degree in Jewish studies from Brandeis was more than happy to fill that role. And, well... you know how I ended up.

There was also a nearly constant stream of house-guests including traveling Hasidim, Israeli post-army vagabonds, and students / tourists from around the world.

During the time that I lived in the Honolulu Bayit, I learned about daily, weekly and yearly Jewish rituals and observances.  I learned the content and tunes for prayers and shabbat songs... and discovered a world of holidays and traditions of which I had been previously unaware.

In all that time, it never occurred to any of us at the Bayit that Kirk was gay.  He was this tall, confident guy who always seemed to be at the center of a large group of male and female friends.  But much later, when I was discussing his death with some others who had been friendly with him, it occurred to us that he had never seemed to date or 'pair off' with anyone in particular. 

Such is the nature of self-absorbed youth... I never once questioned the fact that he didn't seem to have any non-platonic relationships.  Just as we rarely think of our parents or teachers as having a life outside their interactions with us... so too I never bothered to think about Kirk outside his roles as my friend and mentor.

After I got out of the navy and moved to Israel, Kirk and I pretty much lost touch.  We had dinner in New York once when I was finishing off my degree and he was on his way to Washington to argue a case before the Supreme Court.  But in the days before IM and casual email relationships, neither of us entertained the idea of staying in close touch from halfway around the world.

I read about his death quite by accident when I stumbled across a tidbit in the newspaper about the passing of a well-known civil rights attorney in Hawaii (how many could there be?). I immediately got in touch with a couple of old friends from my Hawaii days and we reminisced on the phone about our relationships with Kirk.

As often happens, only after he was gone did I really get to see a relatively complete picture of the man.

Yes he was gay.  I asked myself 'how could I not have known???'  Well, that would be simple... I have what many would call the worst 'gaydar' on the planet.  Some of you may remember that I had been reading several of my favorite bloggers/journalers for months before I realized they were gay.  OK... perhaps I'm simply not that quick on the uptake. 

I even spent a summer during college sharing an apartment in Manhattan with a friend who, after going on to become a well known Rabbi/educator in New York, would end up 'outing' himself (or being outed) and ultimately leaving orthodoxy.  Again... not only did I have no clue, but it was irrelevant to our relationship at the time. I suppose that's really the point... unless you are looking for a romantic relationship with someone, their orientation doesn't really register, and shouldn't really matter.

If Kirk were still alive I doubt that even the modern conveniences of computers would have allowed us to remain particularly close.  Our lifestyles and politics had led our adult lives down very different paths.  Ever the champion of those he perceived to be the underdog, Kirk authored several scholarly articles about the plight of the Palestinians... while I ended up on a trajectory towards life in a 'settlelemt' where he believed Jews had no business living. 

But ironically, I have become the person I am today largely because of Kirk, and because of that brief moment in time when he and I were young and intellectually flexible enough to build a friendship based on shared values, while ignoring (or remaining willfully ignorant) of our potential differences.

Though no mention was made in the media about a cause of death, We assumed amongst ourselves that he had succumbed to AIDS.  Like any other aspect of his life, this small final fact has no right to define him.... it is simply the final little tile in a large, human mosaic that was rushed to completion before its time.

Thanks for helping me to become the person I am, Kirk.  I'm sorry I never thanked you in person.
Bayit
l - r: Me, 'the architect', and Kirk ('the handyman' took the picture)
221_16_5_96

Posted by David Bogner on December 1, 2005 | Permalink

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Well from this article he wrote:

http://honoluluweekly.com/archives/coverstory%20%202002/04-17-02%20Hell/04-17-02%20Hell.html

(the second article on the page, entitled "A Honolulu Jew struggles with Israeli policies")

it would seem that perhaps your views weren't too far apart after all.

Posted by: Dave | Dec 1, 2005 2:32:55 PM

Dave... I didn't realize til I got to the end of the tirade that there were two different articles... the second having been written by Kirk. I have read a lot of his stuff over the years but I had managed to miss this one (no wonder when it was pushed to the bottom of a long column of screed)! The woman who wrote the first article parroted all the usual Palestinian tropes; 'atrocities', 'war crimes' and 'human rights violations'. She even managed to squeeze in the 'Jenin massacre' in a post-script. Strong work all around. :-) Knowing how committed Kirk was to Oslo he must have been demoralized to have arrived at the position he lays out in his article. Thanks for sending the link.

Posted by: David | Dec 1, 2005 3:21:34 PM

What an interesting life you have led! Sorry about the loss of your friend. And you're absolutely right about this

unless you are looking for a romantic relationship with someone, their orientation doesn't really register, and shouldn't really matter.

Posted by: Essie | Dec 1, 2005 3:39:33 PM

I'm sorry about your friend.
also it's cool, Gilli looks exactly like you, especially in the picture of you and your friends

Posted by: Rivkah Nemoy | Dec 1, 2005 4:35:04 PM

As my father would say, "People are dying today that have never died before." Sorry about your loss.

Posted by: Shayna | Dec 1, 2005 4:46:32 PM

Ironic that today is also world AIDS day.

Posted by: safranit | Dec 1, 2005 5:06:49 PM

Thanks for sharing this story today.

Posted by: John | Dec 1, 2005 6:26:28 PM

Very interesting story. He sounds like a wonderful person.

I lived in a Bayit in NYC (by Columbia University) for a while. (It was the second Bayit there, so we called it "Bayit Sheni")

Posted by: mirty | Dec 1, 2005 6:26:49 PM

Our Rabbi friend probably did not kno he was gay when rooming with you. I still remember being involved in setting him up a few times. I forgot that you lived in Honolulu for real for a while. It's sad to see a friend die. It's sad to see a friend die so young. It's sad to see a part of yourself come to an end.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Dec 1, 2005 6:31:48 PM

What a beautiful tribute. It's uncanny, I was just thinking about writing a piece about people who have influence my life in different ways, and probably never knew it.

Did Kirk ever know?

Posted by: jaime | Dec 1, 2005 6:33:48 PM

Essie: I don't think we even know the half of how interesting it is. I thought you would tie in Rosa Parks in there somewhere. Sorry about your friend
and thanks for teaching me a new word "Gaydar".
Can you be Gay by association?

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Dec 1, 2005 7:30:39 PM

What a beautiful, moving tribute to such a talented and special man. You made me cry. How sad that his life was so short.

I really loved hearing about this time in your life. I love when you share such personal parts of yourself with us. Thank you.

Posted by: Stacey | Dec 1, 2005 8:20:02 PM

Sounds like he was quite a fascinating person. I'm sorry about his untimely death.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 1, 2005 8:37:03 PM

Essie... It's funny that you zeroed in on that line. Those were the first words I typed when I sat down to write this entry... and the rest of the post grew from there. And yes... I've been blessed to have led an interesting life so far.

Rivkah... It never occurred to me, but looking at pictures side by side I see what you mean.

Shayna... Quite the philosopher, your father. :-)

Safranit... I hadn't realized that, but the timing is fitting. Thanks for pointing it out.

John... Thank you for sharing the off-line observation. Considering the era (1982-3) I'm not sure how valid it is though.

Mirty... I dated a couple of Columbia girls/Barnard Women (note the careful distinction) who lived at one or the other of the Columbia Bayits. I'm not surprised... I can see you in that setting.

Jordan... I can't imagine someone not knowing. From 2nd grade on I knew that little girls floated my boat... how could someone not know which way the wind was blowing in their own yard? I imagine it is more likely that he simply kept the two conflicting aspects of his world (orthodoxy and homsexuality) in completely separate compartments. Needless to say this didn't turn out to be a very good long-term plan. Thanks for the supportive note.

Jaime... If you have the opportunity to tell someone something this important while they are still around... run, don't walk to do so. I have another 'waited too long' story, but that's for another day.

Jewish Blogmiester... No, I think you actually need to be a dues paying member or nothing at all. :-) No charge for the vocabulary lesson.

Stacey... This is cathartic for me as well. Thanks for being such a receptive audience.

Irina... Thanks. I don't know if there was any connection to his illness, but not only was kirk on the State Ethics Committee, but some of his later legal work was directed at protecting the privacy of AIDS patients. This is obviously an area that is fraught with pitfalls no matter which way one looks. Err too far one way and the public is not adequately protected from inadvertent infection. Err too far the other way and innocent victims of the disease are stripped of their dignity and humanity while they are fighting for their life. I imagine only a person who is both a civil rights attorney and an AIDS patient would be able to find an appropriate legal and ethical balance.

Posted by: David | Dec 1, 2005 9:47:27 PM

I, too, keyed in the section that Essie focused on. It's an idealistic outlook, but one I hope will become the norm in my lifetime.

The fact that your friend WAS your friend, an accomplished person in a number of areas and influenced your life positively are all good things. The fact that he was gay was just another piece of information about him, but didn't make him a different person to you.

I'm proud of you, as my brother, for being able to express yourself so consistantly eloquently and for being able to see people, sometimes, as innocently as a child does.

Posted by: val | Dec 1, 2005 10:30:17 PM

"If you have the opportunity to tell someone something this important while they are still around... run, don't walk to do so."

Well not to sound too sappy, but there is a great song from (ok don't laugh) Garth Brooks - If Tomorrow Never Comes - that is a great reminder of what you just said.

Posted by: jaime | Dec 1, 2005 10:57:43 PM

It sounds like he probably benefited from his friendship with you too. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.

So sorry to hear about this.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 1, 2005 11:10:53 PM

You wrote:

If you scroll down a bit you will even find that Kirk was both an historian and pioneer of organized Judaism in the Hawaiian Islands.

Did he have anything to do with the current governor of Hawaii?

Posted by: David Gerstman | Dec 2, 2005 1:41:28 AM

David: It's hard when we have to say goodbye to someone who influenced our lives profoundly. I'm so sorry.

Posted by: Rahel | Dec 2, 2005 8:44:16 AM

David, a wonderful tribute to someone who was obviously a unique individual in his own right.

And don't feel bad, not everyone is blessed with precise Gaydar. :)

Posted by: Lachlan | Dec 2, 2005 1:18:21 PM

Val... I think it already is the norm in many circles. But if you saw some of the comments I had to delete from this post (and the emails I received) you would realize that not everyone is there yet.

Jaime... Garth Brooks? I bare my soul and all you can come up with is Garth Brooks? I'm taking you off my Christmas card list! :-)

Jack... I'd like to think so, but I think he influenced me far more than I influenced him. I'm OK with that.

David Gerstman... Not that I know of, but he was involved in many aspects of Hawaiian politics, so it wouldn't surprise me.

Rahel... having read your post last week about your loss, I know you and I are on the same page here.

Lachlan... Are there lessons or something I could take? :-)

Posted by: David | Dec 4, 2005 1:12:44 AM

Hey David - now that it has been a few days, your comment "What the Google results won't tell you is that Kirk was one of the most influential people in my life..." is no longer true. Try it. :)

Posted by: jg | Dec 4, 2005 6:50:16 AM

JG... Hey, I thought you were taking a break from reading and writing?! Not that I'm not delighted to see you here and all... but I hope you've caught up with the important stuff in your life. Thanks for pointing that out... I'd forgotten that Google can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. :-)

Posted by: David | Dec 4, 2005 7:22:07 AM

This was a truly moving tribute, and I found it especially poignant that you were able to still appreciate this wonderful person's influence on you, though you have drifted so ideologically apart - such appreciation is the key to a more healthy Jewish people.

Thanks,

H

Posted by: H | Dec 4, 2005 10:33:24 AM

A very touching tribute. It's interesting how little we actually know about the people we are close to - I guess we take for granted those who are around us all the time.

I think I would settle for living a third as fascinating a life as you seem to have...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Dec 4, 2005 2:07:50 PM

David - I am taking a break - an even longer one than expected. However, your blog is on my very short list of "can't fall behind" reading. :)

Posted by: jg | Dec 7, 2005 12:32:24 AM

I'm sure that the world (and certainly the Jewish world) is better off without this ACLU, pro-"Palestinian," anti-religious, anti-family-value immoral person who died of his own causes (AIDS).

Shana Tova,
Chaim

Posted by: Chaim Rosen | Sep 19, 2006 2:12:17 AM

Yikes, After trying to find out How Kirk was doing,{I started w/ the local Newspaper} I was floored when I came across his death notice.
Kirk and I were roomates,back in the early 80's in Honolulu.
At the time was living his kosher lifestyle, me being Italian,from Boston I learn to adapt very quickly,even while I would scratch my head,seeing the dishes soaking in the bathtub before the holiday.Knowing Kirk, his mom, and his grandparents was such as pleasure I'm sorry I lost touch with him so many years ago.Even living with him for over a year while he was going to law school, looking back now, I was unaware of his lifeyle,but I will always remember about Kirk his humor,intellect, and his generosity. Chaim, reading your post it's obvious you two never met.

Posted by: Paul Pesco | Sep 29, 2006 4:15:16 PM

Interesting notes on Kirk (Shlomo) Cashmere. Yes, Dave, he didn't show any outwards signs of being gay since he himself did not think he was gay. He was close to Sharon Dratt, Malka Ben-Oni, and I think it was a tremendous internal turmoil in him not to pursue a traditional marriage. In the days of the UH Student Chavurah, and subsequently, the famous Honolulu Bayit, Kirk was Kirk, an original individual. I still am not sure in my heart if he was really "gay" or whether it was his environment that he allowed himself to be swallowed up in that determined his orientation. He was with me in February 2000, and helped with some of the preparations of burying my father. After the levaya he came over with food for a Seudas Habrah, he was himself, Kirk, not some gay fellow. So, I can't get it that he would turn from some of the Torah's strictest teachings and embrace something that is the antithesis of Torah. Furthermore, as religious as he was, he would not let himself falter into a sexual, premarital relationship, leading me to think that he was frum about his relationships. OK, maybe he faltered and developed a "gay" relationship. And perhaps he was punished with a premature death. Sadly, he did have what to offer the World and I don't think he maximized his capabilities. Maybe this life was a tikun for his previous, perhaps the next will be a tikun for this. We do not know this aspect of the Heavenly decrees. Sadly he was shunned by his family, I don't thiink anyone said kaddish for him. I called his brother and received no response; I tried to get through to the hospital when he was sick but there were strict orders that only family members would be able to contact him. According to Rabbi Krajniansky it was dificult to get the family to allow a Jewish Burial.
BTW, he did go out with many girls. He was smart, popular, and well liked. He even dated my sister for a while. We didn't always agree on issues, and even after I went to yeshivah I found there would be many items we would disagree on, however, he was who he was when he had to be, stood up for what he felt right, and for this we must remember him and his efforts to impart some normal yiddishkeit into the Hawaiian Jewish community.
And on a last note, I will never forget the surpise on Mount Olomana where we were one short of a minyan, yet we went up anyway, davened, and ate lunch. Kirk opened his peach (maybe it was apricot) yogurt and in attempting to mix it up discover instead of a cup of yogurt with some peach pieces it was a cup of a whole peach surrounded by yogurt. He was suspect of his strange roomates, however, (it wasn't me) I think in Shomayim he has finally found the answer as to who played this trick on him. I still think it was a factory mistake. But, it sure was funny, I laugh now remembering his disbelief at his fortune! I have quite a few stories about Kirk, as it was he and I who initiated the Honolulu Bayit, and he and I who eventually closed the doors to that fabulous institution.
Kirk, may your neshama have an aliyah. Say hello to all our friends up there and be a mieletz tov for K'lal Yisroel.

Posted by: Jeff (Rochamim) Glanstein | Dec 26, 2007 1:22:12 AM

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