20 December 2017
January 1995 saw the formation of a social group for gay Jewish men in Melbourne. The group was called Aleph Melbourne, to be distinct from the now long-defunct Aleph Sydney.
The need for a separate men’s group was due to the existence of the Jewish Lesbian Group of Victoria, formed in 1992. It was JLGV’s desire to remain women-only, so Aleph filled the niche for men.
In the early years Aleph convened in private houses, had a committee, a meet-and-greet arrangement for new members, and a busy calendar of events.
Aleph was promoted through a small advert in the Jewish News, and also word of mouth.
I helped set up the first web page and email address for Aleph, both hosted on the then-popular Geocities service offered by Yahoo.
Due to a change in the group’s leadership in the late 1990s the committee decided to hold monthly drop-in meetings at the premises of the Victorian AIDS Council, then at 6 Claremont Street, South Yarra. The drop-in nights were a success for a long time, however dwindling attendance saw an end to these meetings in 1999.
Toward the latter half of 1998 the committee decided to apply for membership of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, in an effort to increase awareness in the Jewish community of issues that gay and bisexual men faced. Such issues included social isolation, discrimination, HIV/AIDS, and the emerging awareness of negative mental health outcomes and suicide.
In May 1999 our membership application failed to receive the two-thirds majority vote required from the council’s membership. To say our application for membership was controversial was an understatement, as it attracted front-page news, heated debate and full letter columns in the Jewish News for weeks and weeks.
Aleph felt the white-hot anger of the Orthodox leadership for daring to stand up for our individuality and acceptance. We also discovered there was a ground-swell of acceptance from many socially inclusive organisations, most notably the Progressive Jewish community, along with a large number of high school students, Zionist youth organisations and university students.
The rejection of our application by the JCCV took a huge toll on our small group which led to the committee folding and the group going into hiatus. However I felt that the need for the group was still strong and maintained a vigilant telephone and email presence.
Operating on a shoestring budget, we continued holding functions in private homes and offered support as best as we could.
Around 2007 we felt that continuing on as a gay and bisexual men’s group was marginalising those in the community who were transgender and so after consulting our membership we elected to become fully inclusive, accepting anyone with a Jewish identity as a member, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
We also noticed a need to cater specifically to Jewish youth and so Young Aleph was formed in 2007. A dynamic leadership team and fun events saw packed attendances for weeks and weeks. Young Aleph was a hugely successful experiment that ran until approximately 2009.
The shooting at the Tel Aviv LGBT Centre on August 1 2009 was a turning point for Aleph Melbourne. The now-dormant Melbourne-based AJN Watch blog wrote some hideous commentary about this event, degrading and vilifying gay men in the process. As an advocacy group, Aleph Melbourne reached out to the JCCV and asked for their help to combat this intolerance.
Whilst no practical support was initially forthcoming, the JCCV eventually succumbed to strong pressure from Aleph Melbourne and in late 2009 formed a reference group to start investigating the needs of LGBTIQ Jews. The JCCV has since become an advocate for LGBTIQ inclusion and awareness.
Over the years Aleph Melbourne has attended Pride March, Mardi Gras, In One Voice / Concert in the Park, International Holocaust Remembrance Day events, and the Midsumma Festival.
We made a documentary in 2016 commemorating our 20 year anniversary (1995-2015). This short film has screened in many film festivals around Australia and overseas. Most notably it was included in the Belfast Human Rights Film Festival and the prestigious St Kilda Film Festival.
Whilst Aleph Melbourne has provided a safe space for same-sex attracted Jews for many years now, most recently we have seen an increase in the need for support for transgender and gender-diverse people.
Statements calling for respect for LGBTIQ people together with statements of support for marriage equality, from organisations like the JCCV, Maccabi Victoria and the National Council of Jewish Women, have paved the way for a greater level of acceptance for LGBTIQ people.
Aleph Melbourne continues to offer a home for those Jews who do not identify as heterosexual, who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, or who may identify outside the gender-binary.
The tide has turned in the Jewish community. We have come a long way since 1995 and look forward to an exciting 2018 and beyond.
Co-Convenor – Aleph Melbourne
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RELIGIOUS ACTION & ADVOCACY CENTRE
STATEMENT ON HOMOPHOBIA
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.
Incorporated in Victoria Reg. No. A0042291F, ABN No. 96 213 500 277
Email: email@example.com Website: www.upj.org.au
28 Chatswood Avenue, Chatswood, NSW 2067
Tel: (612) 9413 1282
Affiliated to World Union for Progressive Judaism
Aleph Melbourne Media Release
Response to Orthodox Rabbis opposition to same-sex marriage
October 30 2013
Today the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, the Rabbinical Council of NSW and the Rabbinical Council of Victoria issued a joint statement reiterating their previous opposition to same-sex marriage. This was done in response to legislation passed in the Australian Capital Territory last week allowing same-sex marriage to be performed in the territory.
Aleph Melbourne expresses strong opposition to religious leaders interfering in matters of civil law. Further we request Orthodox Jewish Rabbis stop hindering the efforts to break down legal discrimination faced by couples excluded from marriage on the grounds of gender.
Co-convenor Michael Barnett said: “Whilst Orthodox Rabbis have responsibility to uphold their religious laws, they should be reminded that these responsibilities do not extend into civil law”.
Barnett added “Australia is a secular country that grants its citizens the right to both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. There is no room in our society for Orthodox Jewish rabbis to impose their uncompromising values on the rest of Australian society. If they don’t want a same-sex marriage, then they don’t have to have one, as rewarding as they can be”.
Religious leaders can rest assured that there is no legislation in force that will require them to solemnise any marriage against their will, including same-sex marriages, and there is no intention for such legislation to be passed.
Michael Barnett / 0417-595-541
Within Progressive Judaism, we start with a strong emphasis on the human position. We also believe that every human being is ‘made in God’s image’, and that God is a God of love, kindness and justice. Whilst the majority of people are predominantly heterosexual, it is clear that a significant number are not, and we do not accept that God wishes them to be forced into relationships and structures that are not as loving, healthy and supportive as they could be.
Since we believe that Torah is a revered but ultimately human document, written by our ancestors, inspired by God and seeking to answer the question ‘What does God want of us?’, we recognise the duplicated prohibition in Leviticus that ‘a man should not lie with another man as with a woman’ as one of those simplistic and time-bound human rules, developed in the context of needing to produce as many children as possible to create a numerous nation (and army) – and one that has, sadly and tragically, led to enormous prejudice, bigotry, hatred and violence against a particular group within all monotheistic religions over the subsequent millennia.
Back in Genesis 2, the observation is made, in the name of God, that a person should not be alone. However much you love your animals, they are not the same as another person. The context of the creation story on Genesis 1 is on reproduction – the trees and vegetation with their seed in them, the very first command – even before humans have been created – to the creatures and birds and insects: ‘Go forth and multiply’. When God created humanity – male and female at the same moment – they too received the same instruction – the first command to humanity, but with the added responsibility to ‘khivshuha’ – to ‘master’ or ‘care-take’ the earth. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden (the naive innocence of childhood where everything is provided), they get down to propagation (chapter 4) – the explanation for the population of the world. Male and Female equals children!
So this relationship which produces children was seen as ‘God’s natural plan’ (though sometimes with more than one wife!) and was formalised in ‘marriage’ which was then seen as a ‘God given’ or ‘holy’ structure (the agreement to form such as unit is termed ‘kiddushin’, sanctification). Hence, as with homophobia, marriage as a divinely sanctioned heterosexual union has also drawn heavily on the Hebrew bible as it has become the norm in monotheism.
Today we acknowledge that we cannot be sure of God’s will, and that Torah scholarship does not spell it out definitively and fully. We view and review our generations of experience and scholarship with our wish for truth, right, justice and compassion and our understanding of psychology, history, coercion and oppression in the name of religion and God. We seek to do God’s will, as our ancestors did, but with the awareness that we may not be right, and can only do our best.
In March, 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis agreed that “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual”. In Britain, too, homosexual Jewish couples were able to celebrate a Commitment Ceremony. In 2009, the Rabbis of the Union for Progressive Judaism (Australia, New Zealand and Asia) resolved to permit its rabbis to officiate at same gender commitment ceremonies between two Jews. At that stage we were not ready to use the specific term Kiddushin but could use the term ‘bestowing Kedusha’. A document may be used and referred to as a Ketubah. A Khuppah may be used as it may be understood to represent the Jewish home being established.
We have agreed not to call the ceremony Marriage for the time being even where we may be legally entitled to do so, but we have written to the government to call for full Marriage Equality – so that marriage may now be recognized as a binding legal and social commitment between two adults. Marriage serves as a recognised and long-term legal and social structure in the modern world. Those who live in a permanent relationship without the benefit of the formal recognition may still suffer from some social stigma and may be disadvantaged, for example in pension rights, and any such inequity is unjust and unacceptable. For these reasons, the Rabbis and leaders of the UPJ now wish to see marriage redefined as the permanent and exclusive relationship between two people, whether a man and a woman, two women or two men, and support Marriage Equality. We were the only religious group to provide supportive testimony to the two Parliamentary enquiries into it, but hope that others will soon join us! We also support Keshet (keshet.org.au), who are committed to challenging the ongoing prejudice and discrimination within the Jewish community against homosexuality.
Jonathan Keren-Black is Rabbi at The Leo Baeck Centre.
The following resolution on Marriage Equality passed by overwhelming majority at the International Assembly of the World Union of Progressive Judaism on May 1 2013.
All of the suggested resolutions can be viewed here.
WUPJ International Assembly Meeting
May 1st, 2013 – Jerusalem, Israel
8. WUPJ Proposed Resolution on Marriage Equality
(Proposed by Resolutions Committee)
Whereas the World Union for Progressive Judaism condemns all forms of bigotry and discrimination in our society as being incompatible with the preservation of human dignity which is destructive of tzelem elohim, and;
Whereas the WUPJ upholds the principle of treating all people equally whether by gender, age, colour or sexual preference, and;
Whereas the WUPJ has long championed full equality of women in our movement and in society generally, and;
Whereas the 2011 International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism called on all institutions, colleges, congregations and youth groups to give equal opportunity to gay and lesbian bisexual transgender and inter-sex members (GLBTI), especially in terms of leadership and learning and to be aware of gender issues when developing study curriculum, and;
Whereas the 2011 International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism called on all institutions associated with the WUPJ to treat GLBTI couples in the same manner as married heterosexual couples and families. This call included commitment ceremonies, and family membership fees.
IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED that the 2013 International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism calls upon all institutions associated with the WUPJ to promote, where possible, marriage equality within our movement, and to join with others to support legislation to help guarantee the legal rights of GLBTI couples to marry civilly and religiously, and to secure their marital legal rights in full equality to heterosexual couples.
The Union for Progressive Judaism applauds
American move to advance Marriage Equality
The Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) welcomes the landmark decision by the American Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor declaring Section 3 of the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutional. In its 5-4 decision, the Court found that same-sex couples who are legally married are entitled to equal treatment under US federal law.
The Progressive Movement has always believed in equality and that extends to the gay and lesbian communities and we welcome them into our congregations. Commending the decision, UPJ President Stephen Freeman and Executive Director, Steve Denenberg said “Today’s decisions by the US Supreme Court represent an historic and positive step towards justice and equality for same sex couples. The decision in this case states that failure to recognize same-sex couples was a violation of equal protection for legally married same-sex couples. The UPJ believes that this decision supports the call for marriage equality to be accepted in Australia in order that same-sex couples receive the respect, rights, and recognition that they deserve. We believe that these decisions are a victory not just for the LGBT community but for all who value equality and fairness in our society.”