MEDIA RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLICATION – 28/07/2014 ALEPH MELBOURNE WELCOMES STATEMENT FROM JCCV REGARDING WORLD CONGRESS OF FAMILIES CONFERENCE
Aleph Melbourne welcomes a statement from David Marlow, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) this morning in response to the news that some politicians from Victoria are attending a conference organised by the World Congress of Families:
“Any spreading of homophobia, homophobic hate speech or the virulent type of dangerous and disgraceful views on homosexuality spread by the likes of Pastor Scott Lively are completely unacceptable in Victoria and Australia. These sorts of views have led to bullying, violence and murder of gay people across the world, who just want to live their lives in peace and equality.”
Aleph Melbourne convenor Michael Barnett said “Kudos to the JCCV for speaking out against homophobia. No Victorian politician should be attending a conference organised by a hate group. The Jewish community works very hard to stamp out hate in all its forms and I’m grateful that the JCCV has recognised any association with this conference is unacceptable.”
Aleph Melbourne calls on Premier Denis Napthine and Prime Minister Tony Abbott to speak out against Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark and Federal MP Kevin Andrews attending this conference.
Further comment available from Michael Barnett on 0417-595-541 or email@example.com
Young adult fiction and complex themes go hand in hand – not least in one of the most recent entries to this field.
Melbourne-based writer Eli Glasman’s debut novel The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew opens a window on growing up Jewish and the ramifications this has for the development of an individual’s sexuality; protagonist, 17-year-old Yossi Speilman, is working out how to be gay in a strictly orthodox family.
Glasman’s book is a breath of fresh air, and fascinating culturally. Having lived in Melbourne’s Caulfield and St Kilda I’m familiar with the sight of Jewish families in the streets on Saturday and the men and boys in long coats with their sideburns and hats.
I’m guilty of reading this visual display of religiosity as a one-dimensional indicator of a life committed to religion with no room for fun or personal choice. Glasman’s novel has opened my eyes and reminded me (yet again) of the danger of cultural stereotypes.
Being serious about one’s religion does not, of course, mean being devoid of a sense of humour or of not having fun with your mates. Religion may provide some certainty and rules for living but it does not preclude the need for individual self-discovery that all adolescents experience.
Yossi is a young man committed to his religion, culture and community but also a typical teenager exploring his sexual feelings. I found him a delightful character and was relieved Glasman didn’t portray Yossi’s homosexuality as a torturous burden that blights his life.
Earlier young adult novels about gay and lesbian characters such as John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip (1969) or more recently Julie Ann Peters’ Keeping You a Secret (2003) frequently did take this path – the sexuality of the character being the defining quality of their lives and a problem that had to be solved.
Refreshingly, Yossi does not find his homosexuality an insurmountable – the challenge is how to express it within the laws of Judaism and how to tell his friends, family and wider community. Yossi knows he is gay, he has always known; he isn’t embarrassed and he knows he can’t change.
Yossi does initially seek help from Rabbi Pilcer via an internet chat site, who advises him to wear a rubber band on his wrist and snap it whenever Yossi has a sexual thought about another male. This, Pilcer claims, will “cure” him. It doesn’t.
The Jewish teachings on sexual behaviour are complicated and, to an outsider, peculiar. It is OK to have a wet dream but masturbating is forbidden; having homosexual thoughts is all right but acting on them isn’t. Yossi’s friendship with a new kid at school, Josh, is pivotal in his coming-out process.
Josh does not have an orthodox Jewish background and challenges many of Yossi’s religious beliefs. Glasman uses these conversations between Yossi and Josh to explain various Jewish teachings, not just those on sexuality.
Josh takes Yossi to his first gay synagogue and through this Yossi begins to understand that he can be gay and religious – he meets other gay Jews and begins to see a way forward for himself.
Yossi has his first sexual experience with Josh and, for once in a young adult novel, the sex did not make me cringe. It is natural, simple, affectionate and just slightly uncomfortable. It isn’t overly graphic, nor is it coy.
The morning after, Yossi isn’t embarrassed or filled with remorse but quietly and with humour discusses the reasons for the religious prohibitions against anal sex and condoms with Josh.
As Yossi says, preempting the reader’s possible response, some of this may seem silly but it is still interesting.
Coming out isn’t easy for Yossi; his father, sister and friends don’t accept immediately that he is gay; they learn as Yossi does to integrate their idea of homosexuality into their orthodox worldview. Glasman does a great job of presenting a balanced account of Yossi’s experience.
For every challenge he faces coming out to his Jewish community he also finds support and kindness from strangers, friends and family.
Glasman has avoided the trap of producing a novel about teenage sexuality; he has written a story about an interesting, intelligent and loving young man who happens to be Jewish and gay. Yossi never feels like an afterthought, created to populate an issue based or “problem” novel.
Australian writing for young adults has moved on as has our thinking about what it means to be gay.
Yossi’s life is not defined by his gayness or his Jewishness and neither is Glasman’s novel. Sure this novel could be a real comfort and support to young people facing coming out in a potentially hostile environment but it is also a joyful book that would inspire all readers to question the rules and to use creativity and love to find their path in life.
Shavuot is a celebration of the revelation of knowledge.
I experienced a revelation this Shavuot by attending a forum held by the Young Jewish Professionals at the home of Rabbi Moshe Kahn, director of Chabad Youth. To find members of the Orthodox Community constructively discussing the issue of homosexuality in our community was indeed a refreshing revelation.
More than 100 mainly young and Orthodox members of the community listened intently and respectfully to the three man panel discussing the issue of being Jewish and homosexual.
Philip Searle discussed his experience of coming out in the Jewish community. His gratitude to his family, friends, and Rabbi for their support and concern was strongly evident in the moving words of this eloquent young communal leader.
Former JCCV president and family law expert Michael Lipshutz highlighted the legal changes that have transpired in Australia, and felt that he has seen the attitudes of the Jewish community mature in parallel. As an example, he felt that the barriers that once prevented a Jewish gay support group from joining the JCCV probably no longer exist.
Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, the Vice President of Orthodox Rabbis Australia, talked of his practice of offering Aliyot to the Torah to gay people, and of his fervent defence of this practice when challenged by congregants who are less tolerant of diversity. He highlighted his inability to reconcile God’s love for His people, with the plight of Jewish gay people who are forbidden by the Torah from acting on their biological inclinations. When pushed, however, he conceded that it is often said that “where there is a Rabbinic will, there is a Halachic way”, and that he could not rule out the possibility that in the future rabbinic leaders might find a way to overcome the problem of such prohibitions, whilst still maintaining the paramount integrity of the Torah as they see it.
As a board member of Keshet Australia, working to build sensitivity, acceptance and care in all sectors of our community, it was extremely gratifying for me to see the leadership that Rabbis Kahn, Glasman have taken in facilitating such a forums. All involved are to be congratulated.
Future discussions may gain additional perspectives by including mental health professionals who might give insights into the serious risks including youth suicide that GLBTI Jews still face due to family and communal attitudes.
As a community we are taking steps in the right direction, but there is still much to be done.
Keshet is committed to educating the Australian Jewish community about GLBTIQ Jews. We look forward to seeing more events promoting the Jewish value of Ve’ahvta L’riecha Kamocha in the future.
Disclaimer: In posting this event Aleph Melbourne does not necessarily endorse the views of the organisation hosting this event or that of the speakers presenting at it. Aleph Melbourne also advises that there are multiple ‘Torah perspectives’ on homosexuality, such as that of Masorti and Progressive Judaism, which offer a more inclusive and accepting perspective to that of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
It is a little known fact that a group of gay Jewish promoters had a substantial influence on the development of pop music in the late 50s and early 60s in Britain. In this session we will investigate the reasons for this phenomenon and also look in depth at the hidden Jewish promoters and songwriters behind such popular British pop and rock acts of the 60s and 70s as Cliff Richard, the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Freddie & the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Fleetwood Mac, The Hollies, 10cc, Procol Harum, T-Rex and many others. Viewing vintage film & video clips, analysing song lyrics and listening to a lot of great music are all part of this entertaining session.
One of the most challenging issues of our time within the Orthodox community is how to deal with homosexuality. How to reconcile the Biblical texts with modern science’s understanding of sexuality? How has Orthodoxy responded to homosexuals within the community? This is surely a defining issue for Orthodoxy in the modern era. Come join us for a presentation and respectful and open discussion on this important topic.
J-Wire posted a story “Mardi Gras rocks” about Sydney’s GLBTIQ group Dayenu‘s participation in the Mardi Gras Parade. The following comment by Gil Solomon was approved by the J-Wire editor:
I don’t see a “Sydney Catholic GLBT Group” float (or any other denomination for that matter) so why do Jews have to overtly see the need to show to the world that they are both gay and Jewish?
The Jewish world has enough problems to contend with and I, being politically incorrect, categorically state I couldn’t care less what you people do behind closed doors but why do you see the need to hit us in the face that you’re a bunch of Jews. Go join some other float, as it nauseates me to think that you lot seem to think the Jewish community as a whole supports your blatant display of your sexual orientation.
I repeat, I couldn’t care less what you people do, but I am offended by the fact that you give your sexual preference a Jewish dimension.
Jo Silver from the JCCV posted this comment in response:
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is proud to host a GLBTI Reference Group and support the No to Homophobia Campaign.
It’s wonderful to see that people feel ‘safe’ enough to openly participate in the Mardi Gras and express their unique Jewish identity as well. Well done!
The Reference Group is focused on raising awareness in our community that hurtful comments and nasty jibes can cause depression, anxiety and other well being issues for our GLBTI members. We are all people with feelings and emotions and we all have the right to open our door every day and face the world without feeling harassed.
A futher tweet from Aleph Melbourne reiterated the request for the ECAJ and NSW JBD to speak out:
If members of the Jewish community wish to participate in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, that is their right. If they wish to do so while openly identifying as Jews, that too is their right. Your comment that “[their] blatant displays of sexual orientation” should “remain behind closed doors” is an attack on their human dignity. It was not so long ago that Jews were being told that their ‘blatant displays’ of religious and national identity should ‘remain behind closed doors’. As neither you nor those you criticise act in any representative capacity, you and they are free to express yourselves as you wish. Australia as a nation has committed itself to mutual respect for the human dignity of all members of the community, despite any strongly held differences; recognition that disagreement is possible in ways that do not vilify other persons or their views; and avoidance of any public or private conduct that incites hatred, ridicule or contempt of another person or class of persons on the ground of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These are values that benefit all of us.”
It’s good to see these three organisations speaking out, to varying degrees, against homophobia and intolerance of homosexuality. They must continue to set a strong and positive example, to the entire Jewish community and to other faith communities, that all discrimination and intolerance is unacceptable.
Finally, take a few minutes to read the comment stream on the J-Wire story. The author of the contentious post unconvincingly attempted to clarify/justify his initial message in follow-up comments. Make of it what you will.
The 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade celebrates the 36th anniversary of the continuing struggle for human rights and equality waged by, and for, LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) citizens in Australia, including those in the Jewish and broader community.
It should also provide a strong reminder to us all that there are still many places in the world where people are not only denied these basic rights but are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation.
The Jewish people’s adoption of the mantra “Never again” following the Shoah was to remind society of the devastating destruction caused by the evil forces of the Nazi regime against not only the Jewish people but against many other sections of society, including homosexual men who were forced to wear a pink triangle.
Beyond that, “Never again” was a determined call to ensure that such acts of hatred would not be repeated or condoned by the civilized world, and that Jews would take all possible action to prevent its recurrence.
In recent years there have been unfathomable yet ghastly attacks on the freedoms of LGTBI citizens in countries such as Uganda, Russia and India, including the recent adoption of harsh homophobic laws.
The consequences of this persecution are justifiably likened to the situation that arose during the Nazi era in Europe, and it, therefore, behooves Jewish people around the world to call on their communal and national leaders to speak out and take action against these nations.
As we celebrate the many achievements of the gay and lesbian movement in Australia in making our society more fair and open, the Union for Progressive Judaism calls on our community to use the freedom that we enjoy to condemn all who perpetuate discrimination and persecution based on ignorance.
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A RECENT statement from a leading Melbourne-based Jewish group that said homophobia was unacceptable has been hailed as a turning point for the Victorian Jewish community’s relationship with its LGBTI members.
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) has been ramping up its LGBTI-related activities over the past few years, including signing up to the No To Homophobia campaign and convincing over 25 of its member organisations in the Jewish community to do the same. Previous public statements by the JCCV have linked prejudice to negative mental heath outcomes for LGBTI people and said it was “okay to be gay”.
Executive director David Marlow responded to calls by the co-convenor of LGBTI Jewish organisation Aleph Melbourne Michael Barnett to clarify the JCCV’s position on homophobia.
“Homophobia, lack of acceptance and intolerance of homosexuality causes serious stress, anxiety and serious mental health issues and (is) not acceptable. All people should be welcomed and respected as valuable members of society and the community,” Marlow said.
Barnett told the Star Observer the statement is more significant than other LGBTI-related comments by the JCCV, arguing that calling homophobia “unacceptable” allowed the community to hold the council and its member organisations to account.
The JCCV represents a broad cross-section of Victoria’s Jewish community, including many Orthodox Jewish organisations with prevalent homophobic views.
Barnett believed such an explicit stand against homophobia was significant as the JCCV represented a broad Jewish community.
Speaking to the Star Observer Marlow agreed, and also believed the JCCV was one of the first representative organisations from any major religion in Australia to take a stand against homophobia.
Marlow said while the anti-homophobia initiatives have enjoyed broad support from JCCV members, there was some resistance.
“There have been some on the more Orthodox side who have not been as welcoming but there are certainly Orthodox synagogues and some Orthodox rabbis who are very welcoming, and some who are not,” Marlow explained.
“You can have your position from a religious standpoint, but from the point of view of how you deal with people and how you accept people and how you treat people — that’s the angle we’re trying to take.”
Marlow didn’t disagree with Barnett’s claim the wording of his most recent statement was significant, but said the JCCV was committed to education as a way to hold some member organisations to account for harmful homophobic views.
“We have a diversity of views on a range of issues from all our affiliate members… If we kicked an organisation out because we disagree with them, that doesn’t change them or fix anything,” he said.
Marlow said he expected the gradual shift in social attitudes around LGBTI people would continue to be reflected in the views of the JCCV’s member organisations.
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Aleph in brief
Aleph Melbourne is a friendly, secular, social and support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people (and non-GLBTIQ allies) who have a Jewish heritage, living in and around Melbourne, Australia.