If ‘Safe Schools’ isn’t the answer, what is? | AJN

24 Feb 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition
Dr Jonathan Barnett is convenor of Keshet Australia.

If ‘Safe Schools’ isn’t the answer, what is?

Dr Jonathan Barnett explains the need for, and aims of, Keshet Australia, an organisation supporting GLBT members of the Jewish community.

GAY, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) children are in our schools, our synagogues, our summer camps, our Zionist programs, in our homes; they are all around us. They are part of our community. But many suffer from depression and anxiety and feel disconnected.

Keshet Australia has a primary goal to help nurture, protect and provide a safe environment for GLBT children. We need to do this to keep families together. We need to do this to keep our GLBT young people within Judaism (no matter what their affiliation) and to not drive them away.

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen’s article discussed Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV) with respect to its mission to prevent bullying. The SSCV is more than this; it strives to create a safe environment for young people in Victorian schools. Keshet Australia strives to do this within the Jewish community. Keshet, which means rainbow in Hebrew, is an organisation whose mission is to achieve the full inclusion of GLBT Jews of all ages, sects, and philosophies in Jewish life. Keshet Australia’s leadership committee consists of Orthodox, Progressive and non-denominational members. It includes GLBT members and allies, parents and friends. What sets Keshet Australia apart is Judaism and our focus on the Jewish community in Australia.

Keshet Australia’s initial project will bring a well-established educational program to our schools, synagogues and community in early 2013. This “train-thetrainer” program was developed in the US and has the support of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV). The program’s goal is to reach out to rabbis, teachers, youth and lay leaders in the Jewish community so that they can come together to learn how to best develop and lead initiatives to address acceptance and diversity issues. The program shares specific skills and techniques to enhance the mental health of GLBT youth by creating a warm and welcoming environment for all youth. It does so in a Jewish context,focusing on Jewish values and text.

The core value of the program is b’tzelem elohim (in God’s image). As the program teaches, the “image of God” is reflected in the different types of people we encounter in the world. “In God’s image” leads to the other six Jewish values that form the heart of the program, kavod (respect), v’ahavtah l’reacha kamocha (love your neighbour as yourself) and in doing so love our whole selves, avoid lashon hara (especially words that hurt), foster shalom bayit (peace in the home), promote kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (communal responsibility), and practice al tifrosh min hatzibur (solidarity of the Jewish community); we are required to reach out, be an ally and a friend.

The Keshet Program addresses some of the key findings of the JCCV’S Report of the GLBT Reference Group, 2011, some specific examples include:

All schools could increase the level of education within the school so that students are aware that same-sex attraction, bisexuality and transgender are not “conditions to be cured”;

Schools [should] develop and implement discussion programs, or supplement existing ones, to ensure acceptance of differences of all types, including sexuality and gender identity;

All rabbis should participate in professional-development programs, preferably under the auspices of their rabbinical association, relating to these issues. The programs would not only ensure they are factually informed but will also ensure they are able to appropriately counsel their members; and

Community organisations should provide training for their staff and facilitate education for their members and volunteers relating to these issues.

As Keshet’s programs develop they will reach out to other member of the community.

Currently, parents of GLBT children have no Jewish support group to turn to.adult GLBT Jews often feel alienated by the community.

Keshet will develop programs to help these and other groups enhance their Jewish connection, creating a stronger and healthier Jewish community.

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