Australian Jewish youth groups make a home for non-binary young people | +61J

Australian Jewish youth groups make a home for non-binary young people

By Ruby Kraner-Tucci

September 1, 2023

From co-ed camp rooms to degendered Hebrew, non-binary inclusion is becoming a high priority for some Jewish youth movements. RUBY KRANER-TUCCI reports.

Attending a youth movement is a rite of passage for many Jewish Australians. Finding a like-minded tribe, connecting to community and creating memories that last a lifetime – youth movements are often bonding experiences.

For those who identify as non-binary, finding safe and welcoming spaces to explore one’s identity is particularly important. Thankfully for them, Jewish youth movements in Australia are responding in spades, prioritising inclusion in all areas of programming, policy and leadership.

Federal Chairperson of Netzer Australia Avishai Conyer, 21, believes his generation is leading the way. Jewish youth movements “should serve as an example to the rest of the community on inclusivity”, he said.

“Youth movements are such special places for young Jews to build their identity, so it is our role to create safe spaces for kids to be themselves, feel included and grow to become active and passionate values-driven members of our community,” Conyer told Plus61J Media.

For Netzer Australia, this comes in the form of queer programs including LGBTIQ+ sex education; asking participants and leaders to introduce themselves using their preferred pronouns; and co-ed camp bunks for those in year 11 and above.

“As we do not split chanichimot [campers] by gender in any other aspects of our programming, it no longer made sense to do so with rooming arrangements for our older participants,” Conyer said.

“[We] will support kids below that age with different rooming preferences to find an arrangement that everybody is comfortable with.

“We have found that this leads to fewer social splits based on gender, promotes dignity and increases respect between kids of different genders, and supports non-binary participants to feel more included in Netzer spaces.”

“I’ve never felt at odds between my Jewish identity and my non-binary identity at Netzer. If anything, it’s celebrated.”Theo Boltman

Theo Boltman, 17, has been attending Netzer since grade five and identifies as non-binary. They say the offering of co-ed bunks for older participants “makes it easier” – an experience that differs from other circles of their life.

“When I go on school camps, I have to send a list of girls’ [names] I’m comfortable sharing a room with, and then the school has to get approval from those girls’ parents,” Boltman said.

“While at Netzer, it’s never an issue. I never have to worry about being uncomfortable because I know everyone is in the same boat, it’s been amazing.”

Raffy Blay is personally aware of the impact of inclusive leadership in Jewish youth groups. Blay started attending Hashomer Hatzair – affectionately termed Hashy – at 13 years old and “instantly found connection and purpose”.

Almost a decade later, Blay is now its Central Coordinator and identifies as non-binary, helping to represent gender diversity in Hashy’s upper echelons.

“[It is] a huge privilege to be the leader of the movement and non-binary, and to take up space in the community holding this identity,” Blay said.

Like Netzer, Hashy runs a number of initiatives to promote inclusivity, from using gender neutral Hebrew suffixes to permitting co-ed rooms on camps.

While on the whole, the youth group has experienced little pushback about its welcoming agenda from the broader Jewish community, Blay identified some negative engagement on social media when endorsing Hashy’s annual Queer Night event. Thankfully, Blay said “nothing eventuated from it”.

“Letting kids be kids and not emphasising their gender as a point of difference works to build respectful relationships,” they added.

“The years spent in a youth movement are incredibly formative and important, and everyone should have the opportunity to have that experience.”

The visibility of non-binary leaders resonates with Boltman, who says embedding inclusion from the top down has helped to form an “incredibly supportive” environment for participants at Netzer.

“The whole point of Jewish youth groups is that it’s the space where Jewish people can find each other in a sea of, for lack of a better word, goys – a sea of people who aren’t like you,” Boltman said.

“It can be so hard, especially for Jewish kids going to public schools, to find [other] Jewish kids in the first place and for them to be non-binary too. It’s so important that their identities be prioritised.

“I’ve never felt at odds between my Jewish identity and my non-binary identity at Netzer. If anything, it’s celebrated.”

While co-ed bunkrooms have been accepted as a standard offering by some Australian youth groups, the US scene has been slower to embrace them. Only a handful of Jewish camps surveyed in the US have non-gendered bunk rooms as an option, let alone a standard offering.

Hashy campers (supplied)

Of 153 Jewish overnight camps surveyed recently in the US, 90 say they welcome transgender and nonbinary campers. Most allow them to choose the bunk that best fits them but don’t offer a non-gendered option.

Another way inclusion is expressed is through changes is language, an issue that is even more potent in the heavily gendered Hebrew language than in English.

Netzer’s global parent movement, Netzer Olami, recently implemented a gender-inclusive form of Hebrew through an Israeli-led initiative that aims to de-gender language.

Conyer uses the mixed gender term chanichimot, a blend of chanichim (male campers or student) and chanichot (female), where previous generations would have followed the language convention of subsuming females under male language and ignoring those who didn’t fit.

But when it comes to prioritising other forms of inclusion, such as disability, youth groups are still struggling. 

Netzer has policies around choosing physically accessible campsites and spaces for activities, but Conyer says its volunteers lack much-needed practice and understanding.

“While disability inclusion is very important to us, our young volunteers do not have much experience working with kids with disabilities,” he said.

“We try to provide as much training as possible and would like our programming to be accessible to all, [but] our lack of professional experience means there are some people we do not yet know how to fully include, despite our best efforts.”

Blay said many members of Hashy have been active in vocalising their desire to increase disability inclusion by making its building more wheelchair accessible and hiring Auslan interpreters for events, in addition to the camp sensory room and fidget toys already on offer.

“No one should miss out on Hashy if we can help it. We work hard to find ways to include everyone in our activities and accept everyone for who they are.” 

Photo: Hashy campers with a rainbow version of the youth group flag (supplied)

Voice, Treaty, Truth – Jewish organisations reaffirm support for First Nations Australians

Voice, Treaty, Truth – Jewish organisations reaffirm support for First Nations Australians from the heart

We recognise the deep moral and political significance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in our own hearts.

Jews have also experienced the deep silence that follows atrocity and genocide, the experience of being abandoned by humanity, the struggle for recognition of confronting truths, and the tormenting powerlessness of not being heard.

In this year of 2020, which marks the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the British in Australia and dispossession of its original inhabitants, it is very important to recognise how much work and structural change is still needed to heal the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The health crisis this year in Australia is but one of many issues that highlight the continuing vulnerability and powerlessness of First Nations in their own country.

We reaffirm our full-hearted support for:

  • amendment of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act to enshrine a First Nations Voice in the Constitution;
  • establishment by legislation or letters patent of a Makarrata Commission to oversee a process of truth-telling about our history as a path to reconciliation between First Nations and other Australians and to oversee the making of agreements between First Nations and Federal and State governments.

Despite what has happened over the past 250 years, the First Nations of Australia have shown great dignity, patience, tenacity and generosity of spirit, inviting all Australians to walk with them to create a fuller expression of our shared nationhood.

We accept the invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart with gratitude and pledge to work with First Nations, all Federal and State politicians, local and city authorities, religious, ethnic and civil society organisations, business leaders and our fellow citizens in moving together towards a better future.

All Australian Jewish organisations are invited to declare their support for this statement during 2020 and the following have done so as at 27 May 2020, the 53rd anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and three years after the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart:

ALEPH Melbourne, Ameinu Australia, Australian Union of Jewish Students, Betar Australia, Emanuel Synagogue, Habonim Dror Australia, Hashomer Hatzair Australia, Inner West Chavura, Jewish Labour Bund, Jewish Voices for Peace & Justice (NSW), Jewish Lesbian Group of Victoria, Jews for Refugees (Victoria), Kehilat Nitzan, Meretz Australia, Music for Refugees, Netzer Australia, NIF Australia, North Shore Temple Emanuel, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Progressive Judaism Victoria, SKIF, StandUp

View statement PDF here.



Voice, Treaty, Truth – Jews support First Nations Australia


Biggest ever Jewish contingent at Pride March 2016

Melbourne’s Jewish Community came out in force on Sunday January 31 2016 to participate in the annual Pride March in St Kilda.  The largest contingent to date, this year saw community stalwarts Aleph Melbourne and the Jewish Lesbian Group of Victoria joined by a strong presence from youth groups Habonim Dror, SKIF, Netzer and Hashomer Hatzair.  Members of AUJS and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria also marched in solidarity.

From 20160131 Pride March

Pride March celebrates the rich diversity of Melbourne’s LGBTIQ community.  Aleph Melbourne has participated every year since 1997.  The significant presence of Jewish youth groups in Pride March over the past three years shows that increasingly, young people are passionate about equality, inclusion, respect and social justice.

New PJV president’s 2020 vision | AJN

The Australian Jewish News
Friday, January 11, 2013
Page 6

New PJV president’s 2020 vision
Peter Kohn

NEW president of Progressive Judaism Victoria (PJV) Brian Samuel said he was confident of exciting times ahead, as he took office at the annual general meeting.

Samuel, who has spearheaded PJV’s new marketing strategy, has also worked on its Vision 20-20 program, looking at the organisation’s goals for the year 2020.

The past president of Temple Beth Israel, Samuel paid tribute to Dr Philip Bliss – who stepped down as PJV president after a three-year term – crediting him with transforming the organisation from a synagogue-based body into a communally based one, which incorporates The King David School and Netzer youth movement.

Samuel signalled further changes in the coming year, with a strategic development day on February 10 to lay the groundwork for Progressive Judaism at the end of the decade.

He welcomed former state MP Helen Shardey, who has taken on a community-relations portfolio, and will strengthen links between the PJV and the broader Jewish community, and within State Parliament.

In his report, Bliss outlined advances in outreach to smaller regional communities during the past year, as well as in education, Israel awareness, the United Israel Appeal Progressive Trust, shlichut (recruiting volunteers from Israel), and gay rights.  “As I stand down, I know this year will be very exciting and rewarding.”

The meeting was addressed by Menachem Leibovic, deputy chair of Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael – Jewish National Fund, who have an update on his organisation’s ties with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

PJV board member Jonathan Barnett – a fire safety and forensic engineer who was on the investigative team set up by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York – spoke about how the 9/11 experience has led to preventative engineering for the future.

A Jewish flavour to Mardi Gras | AJN

9 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition

A Jewish flavour to Mardi Gras

MORE than 100 members and supporters of same-sex Jewish advocacy group Dayenu marched to the beat of Havenu Shalom Aleichem, “Peace be upon you”, joining 140 floats and more than 9000 people in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Same-sex Jewish advocacy group Dayenu expressed their Jewish identity when they participated in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras last weekend.

Dayenu marchers expressed their Jewish identity by dressing according to the theme of Purim, singing and dancing to the Hebrew lyrics while they followed their float, which was adorned with a Star of David.

Dayenu president Roy Freeman said the group’s attendance at the Mardi Gras was the biggest in recent years and conveyed a wide-reaching message.

“It sends a message to the Jewish community that we’re here and to the gay and lesbian community that there’s a Jewish gay and lesbian community as well,” Freeman, who will make aliyah explained.

“It sends a very powerful message that we’re proud of who we are and it doesn’t matter what anyone says, we exist and we’re here and we’re very excited to be part of Mardi Gras.”

Members from Jewish youth groups Habonim and Netzer participated in the parade to demonstrate their support for Dayenu.

“I think it’s really important that later this month, we support this community and all they do. They’re great and they’re vibrant, and as a youth movement we’re really proud to support them, we support equality for everyone,” said Netzer NSW president Gemma Hilton.

ajn 20120309 p5 A Jewish flavour to Mardi Gras