In 1995 the Melbourne edition of the Australian Jewish News reported on the attendance of the Jewish Lesbian Group at Concert in the Park, and also published an article by an Orthodox rabbi seeking greater acceptance of homosexual Jews.
The publication of these two articles helped expose the underbelly of lesbophobia and homophobia in the Jewish community, by way of letters to the Editor, which were competently countered by the Jewish Lesbian Group, the nascent Aleph Melbourne, and other supportive community members.
In a time where publishing content vilifying lesbians and gay men was not yet considered unacceptable by the Australian Jewish News, Tuvya Rosengarten, Robert Weil, Ian Mond, Eva Bugalski, Rabbi Chaim Ingram and Miriam Gallo did not hold back in telling the readership how deeply uncomfortable lesbians and/or homosexuality made them feel.
The following articles from March to July 1995 capture this tumultuous period in the community’s history.
Many thanks to Trove and those benefactors who assisted in reviving these historic editions of the Australian Jewish News.
Jewish lesbians ‘encouraged’ by community response to stall
THE JEWISH Lesbian Group came out publicly for the first time at a Jewish function last Sunday when they ran a stall at Concert in the Park.
The group’s stall attracted plenty of attention but “no negative response”, according to Julie (“I’d rather not tell you my surname as I don’t want to upset my parents who are very well known in the community”) who was staffing the stall
Numerous passers-by stopped to look at the books about Judaism, women and lesbianism on display. Some passed on without comment; others were curious to find out more about the group.
Julie said the Jewish Lesbian Group formed three years ago when a few Jewish women met at the Lesbian Fair. They decided to put an advertisement in a lesbian newsletter asking if there were other Jewish women interested in forming a group.
The group now has about 30 members of all ages including singles and couples, a few married women and mothers, Julie said. The group placed an advertisement in the Australian Jewish News a few years ago and received a number of very negative phone calls. But Julie said she was “very encouraged” by the positive attention the group had received at Concert in the Park.
“We are a member of a minority group within a minority group. I think people realise what it is to be hated for what you are,” she said.
Nonetheless many of the group members, some of whom worked at Jewish communal organisations or were going for jobs in the community, felt they could not afford publicly at the stall. Even Julie, a forthright woman who publicly wears a chain with both a Star of David and the double-woman lesbian symbol, said her heart “kept on going double-time”.
The group also displayed a sign giving a Caulfield post office box as a contact point for the Jewish Gay Men’s Support Group.
“I don’t know whether it is that we are more political or just more ready to come out publicly than the men.
But you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s very much a case of one step forward, one step back,” Julie said.
Concert in the Park organiser Doodie Ringelblum said there was some discussion on the committee about permitting the lesbian group’s stall.
“But basically the feeling was that as a festival we were trying to represent the entire community. And if a group within the community wanted to run a stall, we should let them,” he said.
Dr Ringelblum said the committee did not discuss which groups were holding stalls with other groups in the community. But he said there had been no unfavourable comments from anyone about any of the groups. Most people were very impressed by how well the diverse groups cooperated with one another and shared resources.
▲ For further information about the Jewish Lesbian Group, contact Sara 489-9669.
I WAS under the impression that Concert in the Park was meant to be a family event. On this basis I found the Lesbian stall (AJN24/3) to be totally inappropriate and in poor taste for such an event.
Sure, in this day and age of openess and enlightenment, we need to be tolerant towards the complexities of human behaviour and its many facets. But this does not mean that we have to accept them.
The Lesbian group and other fringe groups have other forums and means available to convey their message and to gain support. Concert in the Park was not one of them.
Lesbians are family, too
I WRITE in response to Tuvya Rosengarten’s letter (AJN 31/3). Tuvya states that Concert in the Park is a family event, where Jewish lesbians have no place. Perhaps he does not understand that lesbians are part of family. We are daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers and even bubbes.
My partner and I (both nice Jewish lesbians) attended the Concert with my mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, all of whom would have been most offended at the suggestion that I should not have been there. Had Tuvya approached the stall at the Concert, he may even have met two members of our group, a mother and her adult daughter, both of whom are lesbians.
Tuvya states in his letter that lesbians do not have to be accepted by the community. The reality is, that lesbians are extremely active in all areas of Jewish communal life. Indeed, we work in every Jewish organisation in Melbourne, making an invaluable contribution to the community. We are vital members of this community, not some “fringe group”.
It would be a great loss to the Jewish community if all lesbians were to withdraw our creative input and energy until we are accepted. Lesbians’ contributions to the community are often invisible, or unrecognised, for it is rare that we are able to “come out” in public. As one of the founding members of the Jewish Lesbian Group, (from which I shep naches), it was painful to have to decide not to staff the Jewish Lesbian stall at the Concert, because of the prominent position I hold in the Jewish community.
I find having to hide my lesbianism in the Jewish community as painful as if I were forced to hide my Jewishness in the non-Jewish community. I should be able to express my identity with pride.
Tuvya states that we have other forums to convey our message. I understood “In One Voice” to be a celebration of the diversity of Jewish life in Melbourne. Jewish lesbians are a vital part of that rich fabric. As such, our presence at the Concert was extremely appropriate. But if Tuvya wishes to suggest additional venues for our group, I would be most happy to hear them.
Hidden but Hopeful, Caulfield
(name supplied but witheld on request)
YES, A lesbian group was at Concert in the Park. So were Chabad, the Zionist Youth Council, the Elsternwick Jewish community, the Jewish Secular Humanist Society, the Liron Choir and the Skif Grunge Orchestra. No individual feels at home with all these groups.
But you don’t have to agree with your family to love them as family. Community means enjoying our diversity and celebrating in One Voice.
TUVYA Rosengarten (AJN 31/3) writes that the Jewish lesbian stall at Concert in the Park was “totally inappropriate” as it was “meant to be a family event”.
Perhaps it would surprise Tuvya and others to find that our group comprises mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins, etc of people at the Concert. Jewish lesbians are part of families in the community and therefore have a right to be openly represented at communal events.
Tuvya preaches tolerance, but not acceptance. As a Jew in Australia he would surely wish to be accepted, not just tolerated. Why should lesbians (or gay men) expect any less?
I BELIEVE I speak for the silent majority when I say that the various letters (AJN 7/4) regarding the Melbourne Jewish Lesbians Group make sickening reading.
It would seem that the Jewish News is no longer immune from the hijacking and manipulation of the media that has become a typical tactic of the gay lobby, in order to try and legitimise their so-called lifestyle.
From a Jewish perspective, there is no grey area as far as homosexuality is concerned, being clearly declared by the Torah to be “an abomination”.
That is not to say that it does not exist, or that those who are unwilling or unable to suppress their tendencies are to be condemned or excommunicated. But it is absurd in the extreme for these women to use such emotive catchphrases as “we are daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers, even bubbas” or to threaten to “withdraw our creative input until we are accepted” as some sort of emotional blackmail.
As far as Concert in the Park is concerned, the presence of this group at a Jewish family event would be on a par with a stall manned by the “Jewish Pork Appreciation Group” handing out free, ready-to-eat samples. I cannot imagine the community tolerating such a situation, no matter how loudly it might be argued that their members “are part of families in the community and therefore have a right to be openly represented at community events”.
To those who are lesbians, by all means unite to find safety in numbers if this is the life you choose to lead. But please refrain from peddling your wares in front of our children.
East St Kilda
THE OPINIONS of the “Holier than Thou” people who have graced your Letters to the Editor pages in the last few weeks have incensed me. To an outsider, our Jewish community in Melbourne appears a cohesive and dynamic group, whose members care about each other and about the state of Israel. This may be true until one becomes intimately involved with the religious politics within this diverse community.
Is it acceptable for a “religious” person to be dishonest in business? Is it acceptable for a person who is “Jewish” (but not the acceptable sect of Jewishness) to be refused an aliyah at another shul? Is it acceptable for our children to be exposed to an affluent and flaunting lifestyle where there is no consideration for others? Is it appropriate for people to judge others and to gossip about them incessantly? Is it correct to treat our fellow man with disrespect? And yet, it seems that it is not acceptable for some Jews to express their sexuality in a way that they feel is appropriate; by setting up a stall at a community function for all Jews.
Do we, who resent the opinions of the “Holier than Thou” people, know or care what happens in their bedrooms and judge them for their obsessive behaviour about the Eruv or other controversial issues? Is it because it’s “socially acceptable” to be dishonest in business, to gossip and to treat people with disrespect that we all sit idle and let our children learn these distressing habits; and yet something such as homosexuality which somehow threatens the innards of most people causes their homophobia to take over.
AS A “straight” couple who married under a chuppah, we are deeply offended by the homophobic, selfrighteous, vitriolic diatribe by Robert Weil and the nonsense from Tuvya Rosengarten against lesbians in our community. Who do you people think you are to preach who is or is not acceptable in our community? Get real. Families come in all shapes and sizes and Jewish families are no different. The Concert in the Park was advertised as a community day and we thought the lesbian group were to be commended for playing their part.
Bob Kochen and Leeora Black
SINCE it is the z’man (season) for asking questions, I would like to ask a few on the issue of intolerance.
Why do letters that start with phrases such as “I believe I speak for the silent majority . . .” (R. Weil AJN 14/4) often express views intolerant of something?
Why are newspapers that print letters with views contrary to our own accused ofbeing “hijacked” and “manipulated”.
How is it possible “to be tolerant towards the complexities of human behaviour …” (T. Rosengarten AJN 31/3) and in the same breath say “this does not mean that we have to accept (lesbians)?”
Why should a concert held to express the rich diversity of Jewish life exclude part of it simply because some people oppose some aspect of that diversity? And why is it justified by suggesting children are at risk: “Please refrain from peddling your wares in front of our children?”
Why do people cite religious law as a means of justifying their own prejudice?
In my humble opinion, and speaking only for myself, I understand tolerance to be about accepting (without embracing) other people with different lifestyles whether I agree or disagree with them, and having the right to criticise their views, but not the right to impose my views.
I am sure that if you poke me hard enough you will find a limit to my tolerance, but a lesbian stall at the Concert in the Park falls well within that limit.
Orthodox Rabbi Tzvi Marx argues that we need a new look at Jewish texts that appear to exclude homosexuals
DEBATE over the religious significance of unconventional sexual identity has raged in Israel since last fall’s Supreme Court ruling that El Al must give free flights to an employee’s homosexual partner, as it would to any employee’s common-law spouse. As usual, attacks on accepting homosexuals have been based on the Biblical proscriptions against a man “lying with a man as with a woman”, deeming this “an abomination” and “punishable by death” (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13).
Indeed, such arguments have long been used. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, for instance, once cited Leviticus on these pages, and urged us to “express shame and indignation” in response to homosexuality.
No matter how categorical scripture seems to be, though, one never assumes that a subject is closed. The classic example is the “stubborn and rebellious son” of Deuteronomy 21, to be stoned at the initiative of his parents. The Talmud, in Tractate Sanhedrin, creates such unlikely rules for convicting such a child that it concludes that a real one “never was and never will be”.
In a matter closer to the question of sexual “deviation”, the Bible excludes eunuchs from “entering the assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:2) — that is, from marrying. Tractate Sotah, however,
explains that the prohibition applies only to one made a eunuch by human action, but not to a congenital eunuch — apparently distinguishing between culturally chosen and physically determined deviation.
There’s also a subtext of divergent rabbinic views on unconventional sexual identity in Tractate Bekhorot. There the sages discuss the Torah’s requirement (Exodus 34:19) that first-born animals be consecrated unless they are physically blemished. An animal with both male and female genitals is seen by Rabbi Ishmael as having a “blemish of which none is greater”. But others, as Rashi comments, consider it neither male nor female, but a creature in its own right!” In the latter view, a biological deviation is to be appreciated, not deprecated.
Defining sexual identity is made an issue in the opening verses of Tazria: “When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be ritually impure seven days … and if she bears a female, she shall be impure two weeks” (Leviticus 12:2, 5). But
what of a child that is both male and female, or neither (androginus and tumtum respectively in Talmudic terminology)? Rather than exclude them from the law and the community because of their unusual sexual identity, the sages in Tractate Nidah set requirements for them between those for a male and those for a female — and so recognise such sexual identity as a category in itself.
This invites the further question, not pursued by the early sages, of how to regard a child who is conventionally male or female in some ways but not others — that is, a homosexual. While this characteristic is obviously not discernible in infancy, the longterm question is about legitimacy.
Can the Jewish community be categorical in excluding those whose differences put them outside standard sexual identity? What if those differences are a product of genes, not choice? A direction toward an answer, I suggest, can be derived from Tractate Brakhot, which teaches that one who sees a physically unusual person should recite:
“Blessed are You, Lord, who makes creatures differently”. In the 13th century, the Meiri — Rabbi Menahem Meir of Perpignan — explains the blessing as a response to “experiencing of new things, without necessarily enjoying or being troubled by them”. What it expresses is blessed wonderment at the different forms of divively created life.
This isn’t necessarily approval. It does imply acceptance, and a willingness to include in our society those destined to be different, it is consonant with the fundamental Jewish teaching that each individual is entitled to say “for me was the world created”, as stated in Tractate Sanhedrin.
Appreciating God’s creation means appreciating variations along a continuum not really divided. Reciting a benediction over human variety translates into creating a society in which differences are respected rather than attacked. The sacred texts, Biblical or rabbinic, which appear to block such inclusion invite creative reinterpretation under the impact of new insights.
▲ Tzvi Marx is an Orthodox rabbi, director of applied education at the Shalom Hartman Institute and author of Halakha and Handicap: Jewish Law and Ethics on Disability.” This comment first appeared in a recent issue of The Jerusalem Report.
I WOULD like to support the sentiments of Robert Weil (AJN 7/4) on the Jewish lesbians.
I know of no Jew, religious or secular, who believes that lesbianism can in any way be equated with Judaism or a Jewish lifestyle. Would those vitriolic letter writers in last week’s AJN who preached tolerance towards the lesbians want their own children to join this alternate lifestyle? If the answer is yes, then they are to be pitied and condemned.
If the answer is no, then they agree, rather than disagree, with Mr Weil, whose letter espoused tolerance towards the lesbians, provided they choose to lead their lifestyle in private, rather than “pedal their wares in front of our children” at a family concert.
The Concert in the Park was promoted as a Jewish family event. The indisputable fact is, that as long as Jewish lesbians continue to practise their lifestyle, they will never contribute to the continuity of the Jewish family. Therefore, their presence at such a family event is an affront to all who have striven, and continue to strive, for the continuity of the Jewish people.
THE COMPARISON Deborah Stone makes (AJN 7/4), which others have echoed, between the Lesbian group at Concert in the Park and Chabad, the ZYC, the Jewish Secular Humanist Society, Skif and the Liron Choir, is a very odd one indeed.
The variety of cultural, religious and ideological groups in the community provide avenues through which different members relate to their common Jewishness. How one can relate to Jewishness through being a lesbian, or for that matter through any expression of one’s sexual preferences and tastes, is unclear to me.
Mind you, we could change “In One Voice” to accommodate a range of sexual preference groups. Alongside the Jewish Lesbian stall there could be the Jewish Trans-sexual stall, or the Jewish Wife Swapping Club, or the Jewish Masochists, or the Jewish Women who Prefer Toy Boys.
Presumably, at the risk of allowing the concert to become “In One Vice”, we would all draw the line somewhere with such groups, no matter how hard their members worked for the community, how prominent or creative they were, or whether they were mothers, daughters, aunties or bubbehs.
The point, therefore, is not whether one is tolerant towards lesbians or homosexuals, but how is sexual preference relevant to an expression of one’s Jewishness at a communal concert? It isn’t. And it shouldn’t be.
SINCE when does sending a letter to the AJN constitute a “hijacking and manipulation of the media?” (Robert Weil, AJN 21/4). He has conveniently forgotten that our letters were in response to an attack on us in a letter in defence of our right to exist, a “typical tactic of the gay lobby”. A life lived with love and caring in whatever manner is a legitimate life style not a “so called life style.”
When heterosexuals are willing and able to “suppress their tendencies” we may also consider suppressing our annate, God given tendencies. Or does he think that we were created by another God?
He accuses us of using “emotive catch phrases” when we merely stated the obvious fact that we are daughters, sisters, aunts etc. And as for “withdrawing our creative input” being “emotional blackmail” he has maliciously distorted the context in which this was written. What about his comparison of the lesbian stall with a pork stall — doesn’t that make “sickening reading”?
Does he honestly believe that a book stall would turn children gay? We believe he speaks for the silent minority, the majority having realised — in view of evidence to the contrary — that the earth is not flat!
Victorian Jewish Lesbian Group
WHO IS Rabbi Tzvi Marx (AJN 21/4 trying to fool — other than himself?
He knows that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, condemning sodomy as a capital offence, mean exactly what they say and have never been interpreted in any other way by Halachic Judaism.
He knows, or surely must, that references to persons of “unconventional sexual identity” (androgynus and tumtum respectively) demonstrate Halachic recognition of inbuilt physiological sexual abnormality only — nothing more and nothing less.
He knows, or surely must, that there is no real scientific proof whatsoever of a genetic predisposition to homosexuality on the part of some individuals.
And he must surely know, and should acknowledge, that Judaism has never excluded “homosexuals”, nor ever suggested that “homosexuals” are not entitled to say “for me was the world created”. It has excluded, and continues to exclude “homosexuality” which represents the very antithesis of the reason that the world was created.
Rabbi Chaim Ingram
The Central Synagogue, Sydney
ANTISEMITISM and homophobia are both outlandish bigoted concepts that result from ignorance, and that produce misinformation and cruel stereotyping.
In his letter (A//V 14/4), Robert Well writes of the “hijacking and manipulation of the media … by the gay lobby.” This extreme type of rhetoric is as absurd to me, as a homosexual, as would a statement about “the Zionist, Jewish plot to dominate the world”, be to me as a Jew.
As Jews, we have broken down many layers of antisemitism, by coming out of the ghetto, mixing with the non-Jewish world and demonstrating that we are very very much a contributing part of humankind, and not some evil dark force to be feared.
Despite all of this progress, some people (Tuvya Rosengarten 31/3) would seek to deny this same opportunity to gay Jews. For the same reason that Jewish representation would belong at a summit of world religions, a Jewish lesbian or gay group belongs at a Jewish community event. We are part of the community and we have the right to demonstrate this. We are not deviants and have no “message to convey”, other than we are really and truly a part of the Jewish world and proud of it.
The irony of it all is that we are probably one of the most diverse and representative groups within the Jewish community as can be seen from Aleph Melbourne, a support group for gay Jewish men.
This is not a group founded to promote some so called “alternative lifestyle”. We are a complex and diverse group of individuals all leading very different lives — working, socialising, interacting with our families and so on — all the things that our straight counterparts do.
In age we range from 17 to 58. In suburb, from Caulfield to Brunswick. In profession, from student to doctor to businessman. Some are religious, and others more lapsed. Many are in long term monogamous partnerships similar to those of our parents, while others are on the dating scene. And the one thing that we all have in common, in addition to being gay, is that we are all Jews — and proud ones at that.
HAVING followed the debate in your pages on whether or is OK or not to be lesbian, I noted that the question of whether it was OK or not to be homophobic was not directly discussed.
I believe that homophobia can be likened to agarophobia, claustrophobia or any other phobia from which people suffer. Thus, if for example, one is phobic about entering lifts, one does not blame the lift (usually) for one’s distress. One normally seeks help for the phobia. It can be the same for people suffering from homophobia.
Some of those who have entered the debate suggest that we, lesbians, should be accepted or at least tolerated by the Jewish community. I want more. I want to be judged as an individual on my individual merits.
I am proud to be Jewish in spite of antisemitism and I am proud to be a lesbian in spite of homophobia. I am also a psychologist and have seen the despair and hopelessness brought to families by this social disease.
But as a community we can fight homophobia just as we can fight antisemitism. The best and most successful way to fight homophobia is to stand together as a community, to encourage our gay Jewish members to come out of the closet and to make it safe for them to do so. We can save whole families — heterosexual, lesbian, gay — from fear, shame and guilty by saying, “Homophobia is NOT OK”.
IAN MOND (AJN 28/4) needs first and foremost to understand that being gay is generally a given not a choice. Why would we (or anyone) choose to belong to such a vilified, marginalised group — especially when we often already experience these prejudices by being Jewish?
He also needs to be made aware that there are well over 20 children of mothers in the Jewish Lesbian Group. As all but one of the mainly adult children are heterosexual (so much for our influence on children) we have contributed to the “continuity of the Jewish family”.
By rejecting our inclusion in the Jewish family he has also rejected our children and their current and future property.
He implies that the unmarried, asexual women who — for physical or psychological reasons — cannot conceive or bear children, infertile men, and those choosing not to have children should also be excluded as they do not “contribute to the continuity of the Jewish people”.
What a tragic loss!
I AM writing with concern for our soqiety at large and in particular for those Jewish men and women who have accepted the values of the broader community.
The words “rights”, “democracy”, “compassion”, “freedom of choice” all strike a chord of “yes” within us. They have a soothing, almost hypnotic ring to them.
The issue of homosexuality is Already a fait accompli. But let us examine what has been achieved. A minority group with an abnormal sexual preference has grown into a much larger group due to the validation of its stance by society.
One outcome of the wide acceptance of homosexuality has been not only the increase in the incidence of AIDS amongst homosexuals, but its spread throughout society. Hospitals, doctors and dentists have changed their practices to deal with the AIDS threat, as I discovered recently when I was in hospital having a baby. Rigorous checking of identification of mothers and babies and other preventive nursing measures highlighted the dangers.
One of the bases of public policy is that the only reason to limit someone’s freedom of choice is if it will harm another. (J S Mill in On Liberty). This argument was used in the debate on homosexuality. The result has been that society has accepted that consenting adults should have the freedom to choose their partners and sexual preference.
But as we now know, it is not only the consenting partners who are at risk, but the whole society. Surely we should re-examine the rationale allowing infectious disease of any nature to proliferate to such an extent.
We should indeed be compassionate towards homosexuals. But we need to extend education and healing. Perhaps those who have chosen the homosexual lifestyle should reconsider whether the benefits of it are so great and worth the risks. Whatever facilities necessary should be provided to assist them to return to the mainstream with dignity so that they may, in the Jewish tradition, choose life and not its opposite.
East St Kilda
HAVING BEEN on the outskirts of the debate on gays and lesbians in the AJN, I now feel pressed to use my voice.
The concept of “In One Voice” speaks to me of a community united, not divided. Apparently I am wrong. Certain opinions seem to say that it is only for certain Jews.
Unless 12 years of Jewish education have failed me, I seem to recall that part of being a good Jew is being a good person, and that as well as our duties to God, we also have duties to our fellow humans.
Tolerance does not Gome with a “get back in the closet” attitude. We cannot teach people that as Jews they have a voice and must use it to counter prejudice, but as homosexual Jews, they must be silent.
To hide the existence of homosexuality from our children will prevent them from learning their duty to accept other people, and especially other Jews. To assume a person will become gay merely because they are exposed to it is to ridicule the complexity of emotions involved in one’s sexuality.
Lesbianism may have as little to do with expressing one’s Jewish identity as displaying artwork done by various community members.
The point is not how they are Jewish but that they are Jewish.
EVA BUGALSKI (AJN 28/4) asks how sexual preference relates to one’s Jewishness. As an outsider (I am not a Jew but I am a lesbian) who attended Concert in the Park, it is clear to me that any minority group has to be proud and visible to be recognised and acknowledged. With such a high attendance the concert was an excellent way to show that lesbians are part of the community.
The assumption is that people are heterosexual. If it were the other way around would Ms Bugalski not want to clarify her identity? If she were assumed to be a Christian, would she not want to have her real identity known?
The Jewish women at the stall identify as lesbians. It is their human right to do so in whichever public arena they wish. It is denigrating to list types of behaviour such as wife-swapping and masochism as akin to lesbianism.
AJN readers are surely aware that gays as well as Jews were put to death by Nazi Germany. All minorities need to unite to fight oppression.
THE SPATE of letters in your paper over the tiny and almost invisible Jewish Lesbians’ presence at the recent Concert in the Park demonstrates how profound are the divisions in this Jewish community on basic cultural and social rights for a minority within its own midst.
The fear of people who are different shows that the issue of sexuality is one over which it is all too easy to resort to prejudice and exaggeration.
The Society for Humanistic Judaism (USA) in its Guide to Humanistic Judaism (1993) states that ‘sexual behaviour is a private matter and that all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, possess the right and deserve the freedom to live their own lives, provided they do not harm any other person or the welfare of the community. Gays and lesbians have the right to the dignity accorded to all human beings.’
I hope that those in the community who identify with other Jewish traditions are prepared openly to support such a statement in order to oppose the religious and cultural bigotry being promoted in recent correspondence.
This correspondence is now closed. The Editor.
IN THE letter from Sue Pamplin last week (AJN 12/5) the reference to “their current and future property “should have read “their current and future progeny.” We regret the error.
MELBOURNE’S Jewish lesbian group, which came out publicly for the first time at a Jewish function at this year’s Concert in the Park, is determined to keep alive the discussion of Jews and sexuality.
“We are here, there are lots of us, we are politically motivated and active and have a lot to do with the Jewish community and do a lot of work for the Jewish community,” one of the group’s members, Julie, says. “Let’s keep thinking about it because we are not going away and your aunty or niece might be one.”
Another member, Sara, adds: “Or your grandmother. That seems to terrify people the most.”
The Jewish lesbian group, which formed about three years ago, has approximately 40 members in Melbourne aged in their 20s to 60s. The women come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions including teaching, social work, journalism and the police force, with many taking a very active role in the wider Jewish and/or lesbian communities. Despite the greater acceptance of homosexuality in today’s society, the vast majority do not wish to be identified, fearing for their families and/or jobs.
At least one member of the group is convinced she would be sacked if her work colleagues knew she was a lesbian (“although that wouldn’t be the reason given,” she adds). Others, especially those in the public service, are less worried for their jobs, but do not want to draw attention to their families or partners who may not have “come out”.
Nonetheless, the group managed to find half a dozen women willing to staff its stall at Concert in the Park. Sara says the group would also love to publicly debate That Jewish lesbians are kosher’ with an Orthodox rabbi and/or some of the authors of letters published in the Australian Jewish News critical of their group. She says while some of the letters were quite hurtful, even the nasty ones led to other people thinking about the issue.
One of their members, counsellor psychologist Vera Ray, will speak to the National Council of Jewish Women’s Status of Women group on July 17 (see separate story, box).
The Jewish lesbian group meets monthly with every second meeting open to non-Jewish partners and friends. Julie says the group is like any other Jewish group — “we turn up late, eat and gossip” — but also provides a “safe place” for a “minority within a minority”.
Miriam, who lives in “the other ghetto” (Brunswick), says there is antisemitism in some parts of the lesbian community. The women agree that coming out as a Jew in the lesbian community is often as big an issue as coming out as a lesbian in the Jewish community.
Miriam says coming to the Jewish lesbian group is very relaxing because she does not have to worry about who sees her or what they think.
The group sometimes goes out socially, but there is often an “internalised homophobia” and fear about being seen together, according to Sara.
Sara, who was born in Israel and migrated to Australia in the 1960s, says she had very little to do with the Jewish community before the group started. Active in the lesbian community, she helped form the Jewish group three years ago for a multicultural lesbian festival.
“It’s my way of being Jewish,” she says.
Another member, Eva, who had great difficulty admitting to herself that she was a lesbian, only joined the group because it was Jewish.
“A friend wanted me to ring Lesbian Line but I didn’t want to. I’m very Jewish so I had to find a Jewish group,” she says.
“When I really think about it, I should have known (I was a lesbian) when I was 12 or 13, but people tell you this can’t be, so you go off and get married and do the right thing.”
Many of the group members have been (or cure) married and have children. But even one gay woman and man who underwent a marriage of convenience for their families found the pretence too difficult to keep up.
“Younger lesbians find it much easier,” says Sara, who is in her 40s. “We always felt isolated and that we were the only ones.”
Leah, who is in her 60s, adds: “I grew up in an era,where there were no Jewish lesbians that I knew of, but I knew they must be lurking somewhere as I was.”
Most women have “come out” to a greater or lesser extent to their families. Some,1 such as Sara who has taken lovers to meet her family in Israel, have had very positive experiences. But other members’ parents and/or relatives have been more distressed, often because they believe they won’t have grandchildren which is a big issue in the Jewish community, according to Julie.
“But even when I was going out with blokes I knew I wasn’t going to have children with them,” she adds.
According to Leah: “The first meeting I attended my initial question and I think everyone’s initial question is ‘What did your mother say?’”
One member who came from a very traditional home once asked her mother if she preferred if she came home with a Jewish woman or a non-Jewish man. The mother instantly responded: ‘a Jewish woman’.
Others, such as Miriam, have not discussed their sexuality with their relatives or other friends in the Jewish community.
“My family would suspect, but its not something I really discuss because I don’t think it is relevant. My children don’t know, they just know I’m not a normal mother and I’m pretty outrageous anyway,” she says.
Many of the women went to see Saltpillar Theatre’s musical Falsettos, which is based around a Jewish man who leaves his wife for another man.
“The timing (of the show) was unbelievable. It touched on so many points,” Julie says.
At the theatre, they met up with the Jewish gay men’s group for the first time. But the men are even more tentative in coming out in the Jewish community than the Jewish lesbian group.
The Melbourne women are now looking forward to a national conference next year in Adelaide, where there is a very small but active group, they say.
As for their group: “We don’t teach people how to do it. We are not a sexual depravity group,” Julie says.
Leah adds: “We don’t proselytise — either as Jews or lesbians.”
Miriam concludes: “Why should we be treated any differently? We’re Jews and that’s all that matters. We all have lives, jobs and families. Sexuality should not set us aside from the community.”
The Melbourne Jewish Lesbian group can be contacted on 9849-9669.
COUNSELLOR, psychologist, Holocaust survivor and Jewish lesbian Vera Ray, 62; believes homophobia and antisemitism spring from the same source.
“Homophobia is based on this idea of the perfect person which is too close to the Nazi superman notion. We have this idea of what is the perfect human being is, and it’s ridiculous, it’s narrow, its confining, it brings a lot of unhappiness to people and it serves no purpose,” she says.
According to Ms Ray, homosexuals who marry and try to suppress their desires are like European Jews who converted to Christianity during periods of virulent antisemitism.
“After the war a lot of the Christian Jews went back to being Jewish. As soon as the situation becomes relatively safe, we go back to where we are,” she says.
“How can Jews not have compassion for those who do not fit within the model? As a psychologist I see young people who have been rejected by their parents, and parents who are tearing their hair out because their son or daughter is gay or lesbian. I don’t think we can afford to oppress each other, particularly our children, with this kind of nonsense.”
Ms Ray says it is as if the community had its own “thought police”.
“Fear is the enemy. Parents are afraid of telling their friends they have a gay child. The child is afraid of telling their parents. Why are we so ashamed? Why are we so hung up on sex?” she asks.
Ms Ray believes the only reason Jewish lesbians may be slightly more tolerated than Jewish gay men in the community is that they are not valued as highly.
“If you are going to have such a low opinion of women that they don’t even get an honourable mention then it doesn’t really matter what they do. We are not only homophobic, but sexist.”
Ms Ray says “half the battle would be won” if parents stopped worrying about having grandchildren.
“My daughter is a lesbian and she has a child. There are many good men out there who are happy to be donors. Your biological plumbing doesn’t fall out just because you sexually and emotionally prefer the same sex,” she says.
Ms Ray says she has very little to lose by coming out as a lesbian in the Jewish community.
“On the contrary, I’m hoping parents of gay and lesbian children and hidden gays and lesbians in the community will come and talk to me. I’m in the business of educating people and dealing with injustice,” she says.
“About 80 per cent of my clients are gay. I also like to see parents of gays because they see a really truly live lesbian professional person hasn’t grown a second head and is fairly lucid. I am sometimes able to help facilitate families getting together again who have been torn apart by homophobia.
“Parents sometimes mistakenly think they will hold the family together if they pressure the child, but it does the exact opposite. Children lose parents, but the parents also lose their children. Nobody wins.”
Ms Ray would like to see parents and friends of Jewish lesbians and gays form their own group (there are already a number of similar non-Jewish organisations).
“There must be so many parents who would benefit by knowing they are not alone. They could get some support from one another,” she says.
Ms Ray, who came out in her 40s and left her husband of 22 years for another woman, had terrible difficulty telling her mother she was a lesbian.
“I was 42 when I came out to my mother. We struggled for two years. Sometimes I thought ‘It wasn’t worth it, I shouldn’t have told her, I’m just causing her pain and she’s causing me pain’. Then I thought, ‘I’m not causing her pain, homophobia is causing her pain’.
“My mother was so proud of me all my life. I told her I was a lesbian and all of a sudden she was ashamed of me.”
But Ms Ray believes the struggle was worthwhile as her mother eventually reconciled herself to the idea and even, when she was nearly 80, joined a gay march.
“I never push anyone to come out to their parents. They’ll do it when they’re ready,” she says.
Ms Ray has also been able to retain a good relationship with her husband, although at the time of the break-up there was a lot of distress on both sides.
“There was no information and no-one to talk to. I thought the world had come to an end,” she says.
Today she wishes there were more people like her willing and able to talk about homosexuality in the Jewish community. On Monday July 17 she will be speaking to the National Council of Jewish Women’s Status of Women group at Shakahari Restaurant (for more information phone 9523-0535).
“I have seen so much injustice as both a child and an adult. But I am not a murderer. I am not a criminal. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I love my children, I love my dog. What more do they want?”
Vera Ray can be contacted on 9499-6901.