Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic | ABC RN The Religion Report

ABC Radio National – The Religion Report

Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic.

Broadcast: Wednesday 19 May 1999 8:30AM (view full episode)

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The Religion Report 19th May, 1999

John Cleary: Today is about fundamental change, from Melbourne to Romania.

But first to the pressure of change closer to home, and the issue of homosexuality in religion is once again the cause of a deepening split, this time in the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria.

Orthodox members of the Council are maintaining their rage over moves by a gay Jewish organisation called ALEPH Melbourne, to join. While ALEPH has so far failed in its bid to be an affiliate member, there are renewed threats from Orthodox groups that they’ll quit in protest is ALEPH is accepted.

And today, a provocative invitation for the JCCV, (Joint Communities Council) President, Dr Phillip Bliss, to step down over his very support of ALEPH.

Toni Hassan spoke to Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky and the head of ALEPH, Michael Barnett, and prepared this report.

Ronald Lubofsky: The JCCV was very seriously threatened by this. There are a number of organisations that would have possibly seceded from the board had this been successful.

Michael Barnett: These are the sorts of attitudes that really do the most damage to people who are having troubles dealing with their sexuality. That’s why we have such a high youth suicide rate.

Ronald Lubofsky: There are certain things which they don’t like talking about, but they have done now because it’s forced into the open and is sort of they want to enter into Jewish schools, into sex education. And this is something which will ring the alarm bells with Jewish parents.

Michael Barnett: There’s nothing whatsoever in our organisation’s objectives or ideals to say that we are going to infiltrate or we’re going to convert or we’re going to subvert or whatever. We’re just a very straightforward support group and social organisation, we don’t have a hidden agenda.

Toni Hasssan: Some of the high emotion echoed at a recent meeting of the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria. On one side is ALEPH Melbourne, a group whose objective is to provide assistance, support and companionship for gay and bisexual Jewish men. Michael Barnett is the group’s President.

Michael Barnett: The objection to our application was that a homosexual or gay organisation is contravening Jewish law because homosexual practice is one of the forbidden acts in Jewish law. In Leviticus 18, 22 it says –

Toni Hasssan: Well that’s commonly argued. How do you get around that?

Michael Barnett: It’s not an issue for me. I mean I’m not a religious Jew and if I was, it wouldn’t bother me either way I don’t think, because that’s me as a person doing what I want to do. But that doesn’t come in to our organisation. Our organisation isn’t set up for the practice of homosexuality, it’s for the support of homosexuals, which is a slightly different issue, very subtle.

Toni Hasssan: And do you think the Rabbis, the conservative Rabbis who rejected your proposal, do not see that distinction?

Michael Barnett: Oh well, they may see it, but they choose to ignore it I believe. They are very stubborn people, they stick to the letter of their law and it may be a guise for homophobia, it may not be. But either way it has no bearing on the JCCV, it’s not an issue as far as I’m concerned, or our members are concerned.

Toni Hasssan: Ronald Lubofsky is Rabbi Emeritus at the St Kilda Synagogue. For him the inclusion of ALEPH amounts to tampering with the Ten Commandments.

Ronald Lubofsky: The core of the philosophy, the religious philosophy, the political philosophy of being Jewish, is in the written word. The Christians call it the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some would reduce it to the Ten Commandments etc. and that excludes the notion of homosexuality, and as a consequence it’s a contradiction in terms. You simply cannot consider the two ideals as being compatible. So true enough, the members of this group are Jewish and it may well be that they are secular in their intent, but I’m afraid that as a group, as an organisation, they cannot claim parity as individuals absolutely. This is a point which I and others have made, that Jewish gay people, lesbian people, they can join synagogues, they can join the organisations which are represented under the umbrella of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, they can be the Presidents of those organisations, but as an organisation, as an ideology, they’re not compatible.

Toni Hasssan: Doesn’t the JCCV, the Council in Victoria, recognise sporting organisations, many voluntary organisations of that nature?

Ronald Lubofsky: Yes, what you’re saying in actual fact is a point of view which many espouse, but there is simply no comparison. You’re talking here of fundamentals of life, you’re not dealing here with a sporting organisation where people make a choice to do this or to do that. These are individuals who do not produce families, these are individuals who perform sexually in a way which is aberrant, to say the least, with regard to Judaism. It is something which runs counter to the fundamentals of Judaism, that is the family unit. It’s not simply playing a sport.

Toni Hasssan: What’s really got under the noses of Orthodox groups affiliated with the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria is the public support given to ALEPH Melbourne by the Council’s President, Dr Phillip Bliss. Without his support, the matter wouldn’t not have seen the light of day. Rabbi Lubofsky.

Ronald Lubofsky: If he followed the Westminster rules, he should resign, because it was something that he espoused, it was a motion that he himself moved. He now indicates he’s prepared to take it further. He’s going to endanger this organisation as a result of his monocular vision.

Toni Hasssan: Are you calling on him to resign?

Ronald Lubofsky: No, I’m not, I’m just saying that he should. That would be a normal procedure in any other organisation. If there’s something which the President wants his organisation to follow and he is prepared to go as far as he was, knowing how controversial the whole thing was, and that it could well have his organisation disintegrate, and he was roundly defeated under those circumstances I’m surprised that he’s still there.

John Cleary: Perhaps an issue for the attention of anti-discrimination bodies. Don’t know. That report from Toni Hasssan who’ll be back a little later in the program to talk with ABC Jerusalem correspondent Jim Gale about the religious influence in Monday’s General Elections.

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

[Gallery]
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.”

Aleph Melbourne denied JCCV membership on May 10 1999

These are the minutes from the JCCV Plenum Meeting at Beth Weizmann on May 10 1999 at which Aleph Melbourne’s membership application was rejected.

19990510_JCCV_Plenum_meeting_minutes