Beyond politics – a Jewish call for serious climate action

Aleph Melbourne is a signatory to this statement because as an organisation that cares about the well-being of individuals and families, we understand that we must also care about our environment and all life on the planet if we wish to live safely and harmoniously.



THE BIG SMOKE: Beyond politics: A jewish call for serious climate action
PLUS61J: Australian Jewish advocacy groups urge government to ramp up climate strategy
ABC RN Religion & Ethics Report: Feb 12 (17:14-17:26)
PLUS61J: Why is ECAJ so reluctant to speak out on climate action?

Dayenu’s “Stars of David Come Out” at 2000 Sydney Mardi Gras

Sydney’s Jewish LGBTIQ group Dayenu’s inaugural float “Stars of David Come Out” at Mardi Gras, March 4 2000.

Dayenu’s “Stars of David Come Out” at Sydney Mardi Gras, Saturday March 4 2000.

Reproduction permitted for any pro-LGBTIQ use; name credit requested to Michael Barnett.

Aleph Melbourne & Dayenu stand up for LGBTIQ surrogacy in Israel

LGBTIQ Jewish groups stand up for equal access to surrogacy in Israel.

A Letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - LGBTQ-Jews


Benjamin Netanyahu
Office of the Prime Minister
Jerusalem, Israel
July 21, 2018

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

We represent more than 20 LGBTQ-Jewish communities from across the world and writing to express our strong support for the Israeli LGBTQ community’s struggle and fight for equality.

The right to become a parent is a universal basic human right that should not be deprived to anyone, especially due to their sexual or gender identity. It is not just a liberal concept, but also a Jewish mandate to “be fruitful and multiply”. Israel’s latest legislation, which discriminates against Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders, and Queers by denying their right to parenthood, comes after several years where same-sex couples in Israel are facing inequality in parenthood rights and legal recognition.

We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Israel and express our concerns over the recent trends happening to individuals and their equal rights.

We call on you to amend this discrimination and to truly promote equality for the LGBTQ community.


The story of Dayenu Sydney’s participation in Mardi Gras

Source: ABC Radio National – Life Matters: Remembering 40 years of Mardi Gras

Over the past four decades, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has turned into a huge celebration, giving people the chance to celebrate their identities.

Jewish members of the LGBTI community have marched in the parade for years, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that they decided to create a huge float to stand out from the crowd.

Dawn Cohen, one of the coordinators of the Jewish Pride float, remembers it as a “damn scary” time, but one she is proud to have been part of.

“It’s an incredible privilege to see social change, and to know I played a tiny little role in that,” she says.

“I feel so proud of the Australian Jewish community, the Australian gay community and of Australia itself. We bet our lives on you, and we won that bet.”

As Sydney gears up for today’s parade, listen to Dawn Cohen reflect on Jewish Pride.

JCCV, ECAJ & NSW JBD respond to homophobic comment on J-Wire Mardi Gras story

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.

Aleph Melbourne called for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and prominent anti-homophobia advocate, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, to respond to this homophobic message:

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:

ECAJ advised on Twitter that their response had been posted as a comment on J-Wire by their Public Affairs Director Alex Ryvchin:

The comment appeared on J-Wire accordingly:

Dear Gil

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.”

– Alex Ryvchin

Finally, another call for the NSW JBD to respond:

Their reply, leaving ample room for improvement, came only by Twitter:

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 changing face of marriage | AJN

The changing face of marriage (1 of 2)The changing face of marriage (2 of 2)

Speech by Rabbi Paul Jacobson at Dayenu’s Mardi Gras Shabbat Dinner – March 1 2013

Speech by Rabbi Paul Jacobson at Dayenu’s Mardi Gras Shabbat Dinner, Friday 1st March 2013

Every night before going to sleep, my daughters, like other young children, delight in hearing lullabies. Their latest favourites include “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Ba Ba Black Sheep,” and “I Can Sing a Rainbow.” Admittedly, Lisa and I first thought that “I Can Sing a Rainbow” was an original tune from the popular children’s show Play School, but the lyrics are attributed to Arthur Hamilton, with the song having been written in 1955.

  Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue
  I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too
  Listen with your eyes, listen with your ears, and sing everything you see
  I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing along with me.

While the colours in Hamilton’s song are not necessarily the colours of the rainbow per se, the purpose of the song, when taught to children is to help them name colours, and appreciate the colourful brilliance that fills their world on a daily basis.

Such a reminder has great meaning for each of us. Just this morning, I sat at my computer, looking out the window at a dreary, gray, rain‐filled day. Listen with your eyes. Though there wasn’t much colour to be had in the sky, I still marveled at the different shades of green in the leafy trees outside my window, the way the different coloured buildings glistened in the endless drizzle. I even paused to notice the number of cars passing by on the street – blue, grey, black, silver, dark red, white, fire engine red – a rainbow of colours right before my eyes.

Listen with your ears. From moment to moment, the sound of the rain on the roof of the synagogue shifted and changed, sometimes more intense, sometimes less so. Sometimes the sound of the wind was audible and gusty, other times, calm and still.

And sing everything you see. Tonight, on our Mardi Gras Shabbat, we consider the symbol of the rainbow for other reasons. Since the 1970s, in celebration of the colours of life, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities throughout the world have used a rainbow flag as their symbol. The rainbow is a reminder of the diversity of both the LGBTI community, and of the beauty that can be present when people from all walks of life are embraced by and integrated into community, are respected for their differences, rather than distanced and excluded. The current version of the rainbow flag, also known as the freedom flag, contains six colours symbolizing different values – red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony, and purple for spirit – all colours and values for which each of us strives to cherish, love and protect, day in and day out.

The image of a rainbow is also a powerful symbol in Jewish tradition. After creating the world and destroying it in a great deluge, God presents a rainbow as a sign of the eternal covenant with humanity. Nachmanides, in the 13th century, comments on the shape of the rainbow, saying that if it were an archer’s bow, the position of the bow would mean that the arrow would be pointing toward the heavens, rather than toward the earth. Nachmanides uses the symbol of the rainbow to teach us that God isn’t pointing any arrows toward us, and won’t destroy our world.

But somehow, we humans still have the power to do so much damage, to inflict so much hurt, to cause others unending pain. In lives that are filled with such colour, in lives where we are wowed and amazed by aesthetic magnificence, we still struggle to recognize the colourful brilliance that exists within our community and within each other. In lives that are filled with such colour, we find still that so many people are distanced and excluded from taking a rightful place in the Jewish community and politics still get in the way of love and marriage? In lives that begin with unconditional love, acceptance and being lullabied to sleep with images of beautiful colours, how is it that we learn to hate, to discriminate, and to hurt?

What if we were, instead, to see the rainbow of possibility that exists in each other, and through our words and our deeds, teach others to do similarly? Listen with your eyes and see the beauty, the loving heart, the thoughtful mind, the giving hands of each person in this room, all of us colourful in our own, special, unique ways. Listen with your ears and allow yourself the time to hear each other’s stories, to listen without prejudice, to listen without judgment, to stop and listen and accept, to recognize that there is more to be gained by including colours in the spectrum of our communities, rather than excluding them. And sing everything you see. The vision of Judaism, the vision of covenant, is that where everyone, no matter our differences, is recognized as being created in God’s image. The vision of Judaism, the vision of community is one where see there is abundant love in our congregation, our world, our tradition, love enough for everyone to feel welcomed, included, cherished, sanctified, and blessed.

  Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue… I can sing a rainbow,
  sing a rainbow, sing along with me.

Mardi Gras through the eyes of a Jewish Princess

Mardi Gras through the eyes of a Jewish Princess

By Michael Barnett

[ First published in the Australian Jewish News 5 March 1999.  The float organisers had intended the “Jewish Princesses” to be a mixed gender entry, however for a variety of reasons no women participated on the day.  The 14 male participants were from Melbourne, Sydney and Israel. ]

Jewish Princesses at Mardi Gras

I was a Mardi Gras virgin in 1998, previously only ever having witnessed this eye-opening spectacle from the safety of my family’s lounge-room television in the Melbourne suburb of Doncaster. In fact the very first time I watched the Mardi Gras parade on television I was terrified my family would label me gay by association.

Since then I have come a long way as an individual, having come to terms with my sexuality and identifying as a gay man – a Jewish gay man. Some people I know turn against their Jewish identity in the process of their ‘coming out’ – the discovery or awakening of their sexuality. Instead for me it was a bringing together of two cultures and two communities and a way of life I knew was right for me. No longer would I live a life I knew was a lie – to my family, to my friends and most importantly to myself.

I consider myself enriched for having travelled this path, denying myself neither my Jewish heritage nor my intrinsic sexual self. If I continued along the path of self-denial my being would have shrivelled up and died but instead I have travelled the path of the caterpillar and transformed myself into a beautiful butterfly.

And through this transformation I have vowed to myself that I would do as much as possible to provide an acceptable path for other people to follow who find themselves in a similar situation to myself.

Jewish Princesses at Mardi Gras

It was during the Mardi Gras parade last year as I watched it pass by in all its spectacle of light, colour, sound, diversity of sexual expression and pride that I decided it was time for a Jewish entry in the parade. This was to be an entry of Jewish pride, for gay men and women, their friends, families and supporters.

Thus ‘Jewish Princesses’ was born. Just as the gay community has its twinks, muscle Marys, leather men, bears and so on, the Jewish community too has its ‘sub-cultures’. And what better one to identify with than the Jewish (Australian) Princesses. She is a Kugel, a Bagel, a maidel and now a faigel.
She is so wonderfully Jewish that it was the obvious choice.

Having spread the word far and wide I gathered together a group of people to march in the 21st Mardi Gras parade in Sydney, February 1999. Purely by coincidence the entry comprised of fourteen gay men and the straight brother of one of the gay men, marching in support. I would have liked to have seen our entry and the Jewish lesbian entry unified in solidarity – perhaps an ideal for Mardi Gras 2000.

Walking along the parade route was the culmination of several months’ hard work not only by myself but from a dedicated group of my peers – without whom this would not have been possible. I was holding my rainbow Magen David high with pride – for myself, my family, my friends and most importantly for the people I knew it would mean the most to – the Jewish men, women, boys, and girls, married and single who know in their hearts that they have a place in the Jewish community and equally in the gay community and can be proud of both without fear of prejudice.

With thanks to Dayenu for originally hosting this story.

Additional material

Pinkboard photo of Goldie Gold

Australia’s LGBT community marks a bar mitzvah milestone | Haaretz

Australia’s LGBT community marks a bar mitzvah milestone | Haaretz.

Australia’s LGBT community marks a bar mitzvah milestone

Thirteen years after the Jewish float debuted at Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, members of the community look back on their struggle and say there’s still work to be done.

By Dan Goldberg | Mar.04, 2013 | 11:19 AM

Mazel tov! The Jewish float at Sydney’s 2013 Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Photo by Tomer Hasson

It was a bar mitzvah like no other. A throng of Jewish men and women adorned with rainbow-colored prayer shawls and sporting pink kippot danced near the centerpiece of the simcha – a truck decorated with a gigantic Star of David emblazoned with the words “mazel tov.”

Some 10,000 others joined the parade while hundreds of thousands watched, as Australia’s Jewish float marked its coming of age Saturday night at the 2013 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Twenty-four hours earlier, 75 people attended a gay Shabbat dinner at Sydney’s Emanuel Synagogue, which incorporates Conservative, Reform and Renewal congregations, following a special service peppered with readings by gay members to mark the milestone.

Kim Gotlieb, the president of Dayenu, Sydney’s Jewish gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender group, acknowledged the support from Emanuel Synagogue in a letter last week. It is reassuring to know that “we belong to a gay-friendly synagogue which continues to walk beside us in addressing issues of inclusion and acceptance,” he wrote.

Emanuel’s rabbi, Jacqueline Ninio, also made mention of the LGBT community in the congregation’s weekly newsletter, writing: “During the years, we have used the process of interpretation and understanding to reimagine the laws of Judaism to be inclusive and welcoming of gays and lesbians. But there is still a long way to go – both legally and within our culture.”

‘Stars of David Come Out’

Despite Rabbi Ninio’s caveat, most of Sydney’s gay Jews acknowledge their predicament today is a far cry from the first Jewish float at the Mardi Gras in 2000, which featured a three-ton truck adorned with a giant three-dimensional Star of David. The float has been an annual feature since then, with the exception of 2006.
Back then about 150 gay Jews and their supporters, including Holocaust survivor Susie Wise, celebrated alongside the float, under the banner “Stars of David Come Out.”

“We were the Stars of David glowing in the dark of homophobia,” recalled Dawn Cohen, the coordinator of the first Jewish float, in a reflective article. “We’re saying ‘no’ … we’re going to invite you all to work through your internalized anti-Semitism and homophobia and to celebrate with us.”

Cohen and the other founders named themselves “Dayenu,” the Hebrew word for “enough” that is the common refrain of the Passover song of the same name.

However, “Dayenu” was also the response the group received from the Orthodox rabbinate, which was exacerbated by Vic Alhadeff, then editor of the Sydney edition of the Australian Jewish News. Alhadeff published a front-page photo of the first Jewish float on March 10, 2000.

“Of all the controversial positions I took as editor of the Australian Jewish News, the one of which I was proudest was going to the barricades on behalf of the right of Jewish gays to be gay,” Alhadeff told Haaretz this week. “Because I saw the impact it had – on human lives, on families, on individuals, on members of our own community.”

The controversy dominated the newspaper’s pages for weeks, including an ad signed by 28 prominent Australian Jews expressing support for gay Jewish rights and for the newspaper to reflect the community’s diversity.

2013 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

Bar mitzvah boys celebrate at the 2013 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.Tomer Hasson

“Overwhelmingly, the community spoke out in support of the newspaper,” Cohen recalled. “They didn’t want Jewish homosexuals to be invisible. It was not a vote in favor of lesbian and gay marriage, but it was an unprecedented warning to the Orthodox rabbinate about the limits of its control.”

Inevitably, the backlash soon followed. The Sydney Beth Din demanded Alhadeff explain himself at a rabbinic hearing. They also summoned Hilton Immerman, the chief executive of the Shalom Institute – which advances Jewish learning and leadership – for hosting a gay Shabbat on the Friday night before the 2000 Mardi Gras.

Neither Alhadeff nor Immerman agreed. Immerman said he would only consider it “after being able to peruse the charges that a particular individual had brought against us.”

“As these were never forthcoming, we did not appear,” Immerman told Haaretz. “I was lobbied by two or three Orthodox rabbis at the time to cancel the event. I explained that any Jews had the right to celebrate Shabbat and that I would protect their right to do so.

“It’s absurd to think that sexual orientation was even regarded as relevant,” Immerman said.

Among those who attended that Shabbat dinner was Ariel Friedlander, an American-born lesbian rabbi, and Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, the senior rabbi of Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney.

The furor created “huge tension” among Australian Jewry, recalled Kamins, who was also a board member of Shalom at the time.

But gay Jews have become “hugely” enfranchised since then, Kamins said, noting that Emanuel was at the “vanguard and forefront.”

‘Mutual respect regardless of sexual orientation’

Indeed, the former Californian officiated at Australia’s first same-sex Jewish commitment service at Emanuel in 2008 – between Scott Whitmont and Christopher Whitmont-Stein – following a May 2007 decision by the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

However, Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, countered at the time: “While we may and should be tolerant towards individuals, we certainly cannot sanctify something that our Bible clearly prohibits.”
Haaretz recently has learned the names of several Orthodox rabbis in Sydney and Melbourne who welcome individual gay Jews, but their names cannot be made public.

“Do 612 mitzvot and we won’t worry about the 613th,” one Orthodox rabbi told a gay congregant, according to Dayenu’s Gotlieb.

Kamins and Immerman agreed the general Jewish community is more open. “Gay Jews are less marginalized today,” Immerman said. “Most of the Jewish establishment has become more welcoming but I guess some segments of the community are more so than others.”

In 2010, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry adopted a resolution in 2010 calling for “mutual respect” regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

But the elected leadership acknowledged there is still “much work” to be done to “remove intolerance of and unlawful discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the Jewish community.”

Intolerance and discrimination were widespread in Melbourne in 1999 when Michael Barnett led the first attempt by Aleph Melbourne, a Jewish GLBT support group, to apply for membership of the roof body, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.

The move sparked an acrimonious debate ending with an impassioned plea by now-deceased Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky, who claimed if the motion passed it “may well be a turning point in our community,” and would result in the collapse of the council because Orthodox associates would be forced to resign.

“This JCCV has no right to meddle with the fundamentals of Judaism,” he said.
But Barnett argued that rejecting the group would be “a win for fear, intolerance and prejudice.” The motion was narrowly denied, 46-39, and the Jewish LGBT group has remained outside the tent ever since.

Barnett told Haaretz this week that the improved lot of gays in the general community affected the Jews as well. “The conversations seem to be less unacceptable now, given that homosexuality is more visible in wider society,” he said.

“It’s not something that can just be dismissed as ‘not our problem.’ It’s still taboo in the frum circles, and I suspect it’s pretty much spoken about in disparaging terms,” he added.

But while Reform and Conservative Judaism in Australia has embraced the gay community, Gotlieb wants to “challenge” for more inclusiveness.

“I would like to see more inclusion at Emanuel, more awareness that most gay people are somewhat distanced from their families,” he said.

There are still many Australian Jews whose view on gays is “personal and heartfelt and accepting,” he said. “But then they apologize that they are not able to express that publicly.”