The Queer Sessions at JIFF 2019

As the 2019 Jewish International Film Festival rapidly approaches, be sure to check out the festival’s rich programme. Amongst the festival’s offerings are three queer-themed films, screening at various locations in Melbourne and Sydney, as detailed below.


Family in Transition

“Defies expectations.” – The Hollywood Reporter

Amit, a father of four living in a small town in Israel, tells his wife, Galit, that he is a woman and wants to transition. Galit pledges her support, ready to overcome surgery, social stigma and bureaucracy to maintain her marriage. But as Amit transforms, tensions arise while everyone in the family readjusts to understand themselves and each other anew. In the process, Galit must redefine her own identity and what it means to be a parent, a spouse and a lover.

Winner Best Israeli Documentary at the 2018 Docaviv Film Festival.


Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life

“A quantum leap in the work of one of Israel’s leading documentary filmmakers.” – Haaretz

Jonathan Agassi is one of the world’s most successful gay porn stars. The director Tomer Heymann (Mr Gaga) followed him for eight years, both in his temporary hometown of Berlin and back in Tel Aviv with his mother. Alongside his acting, he performs in live shows and works as an escort.

Offering a rare and intimate look inside what is often a taboo world, Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life also gives us access to the unique relationship between a mother and son who courageously redefine familiar family concepts. 

Contains sex scenes and nudity.


Where’s My Roy Cohn?

“A diabolical public figure mesmerizes from the grave.” – The Hollywood Reporter

Roy Cohn was one of the most controversial and influential American men of the 20th century. An only son born to a Jewish family in the Bronx, Cohn is best known for being Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel, prosecuting Esther and Julius Rosenberg, and for influencing the career of the young Queens real estate developer Donald Trump. He was a closeted man who refused to publicly identify as gay even as he was dying of Aids.

Explosive and scathingly delicious, Where’s My Roy Cohn? is a thriller-like exposé that reveals the workings of a deeply troubled master manipulator.

Schools defend right to expel gays | Sydney Morning Herald

Schools defend right to expel gays | Sydney Morning Herald.

Not all religious education authorities were opposed to removing the exemptions, though.

”While Jewish schools jealously guard against any incursion into our ability to teach the Jewish religion in a manner consistent with its tenets, and consider those tenets and that ability fundamental to our existence,” said Len Hain, executive director of the Australian Council of Jewish Schools, ”we do not see any practical limitation, or the imposition of any practical burden on that ability from the amendments deleting the specific exclusions to the Anti-Discrimination Act.”

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.”

Understanding the Pink Triangle | samesame.com.au

Understanding the Pink Triangle | samesame.com.au.

‘Israel’s not Disneyland’ | AJN

5 Oct 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
JOSHUA LEVI

‘Israel’s not Disneyland’

Hagai El-Ad
Hagai El-Ad

ONE of Israel’s top civil rights campaigners will arrive in Australia this week to speak to audiences in Sydney and Melbourne. Hagai El-Ad (pictured), the executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said he is excited to meet with Australians and discuss their views on the Jewish State.

“This will be my first time in Australia and I am very much looking forward to meeting openminded people that are curious about the real Israel,” said El-Ad, who is being brought to Australia by New Israel Fund Australia.

“I want to open people to a real relationship with Israeli society because Israel is not always the Disneyland image that some people think.”

El-Ad, who completed an astrophysics degree at university, became an activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in his youth. “One thing just led to another and gradually my eyes were opened to the broader reality of some of the discrimination in Israel.”

He said the biggest challenges in Israeli society now are the occupation of the West Bank, which he claimed is the cause of countless human rights violations, as well as the fight for complete and full equality for Israeli citizens and the need for social justice reforms.

“Israel has become one of the less equal countries in the West in the context of economic disparity and a lot of work needs to be done to reduce the disparity in society.”

He reflected on the recent spate of public rallies in support of social and economic reform.

“People think in the beginning that it’s about the lack of rent control in Tel Aviv and the lack of affordable houses when they protest, but the conversation continues and it gets to planning policies in the Arab sector, the unrecognised Arab and Bedouin villages and other forms of inequality.

“It doesn’t matter what door they go through to talk about human rights and equality, it is good that people are discussing it.”

For information on El-ad’s speaking dates go to www.nif.org.au.

Farewell to Dayenu | AJN

The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition
Friday, March 23, 2012

Farewell to Dayenu

After a decade of association with Sydney’s Jewish gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex group, former president Roy Freeman looks back on the last 10 years as he sets off for a new life in Israel.

AS I pack my belongings to make aliyah at the end of this month, I can’t help but look back at my move to Sydney just over a decade ago.when I moved here from London in 2001, I was still mostly in the closet. I was out to some of my friends, but had not told my parents I was gay. I knew back then that I wasn’t ready to tell them and that they weren’t ready to hear it, let alone accept it.

Roy Freeman (right) at last year's Mardi Gras
Photo: Lara Hotz Roy Freeman (right) at last year’s Mardi Gras.

In reality, I led two lives, one with my partner and friends, and one for my family and job. Moving to Sydney, I knew nobody here aside from my partner. We wanted to meet people and I suggested we try and meet other gay and lesbian Jews. I had been involved in the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group (JGLG) in London, where I had made some very good friends, so I searched and found Dayenu. On the night I arrived, we went to our first Dayenu event – a farewell party for one of the group’s organisers who was moving overseas.

The following Mardi Gras, I marched with Dayenu’s float in the parade. It was the third time Dayenu had participated. What an amazing experience it was! To this day, I have a photo on my shelf of me and my partner taken during that parade and it still puts a smile on face.

After that magical night I marched every year with Dayenu and was very disappointed in 2006 when no one stepped up to organise a float. Rather than march that year, I watched the parade for the first time, feeling a bit sad that there was no Jewish contingent. At the start of 2007, a friend sent an email around looking for people to help organise a float and I jumped at the chance.

Together with a group of guys, all called David, we built a float, designed and printed T-shirts and proudly marched up Oxford Street again with around 40 people.it was an amazing feeling to have actually helped organise the float and to see how many people were willing to come along and show their support. I have kept a copy of the article published in The AJN that year, and I remember how unnerving I found it at the time to have my name and face published. I still wasn’t completely at ease with my sexuality back then, although I had come out to my parents. They hadn’t taken the news well, so I sent them a copy of the article, hoping that they could understand how proud I was.

It was from there that I started organising regular Dayenu events. At first, monthly Shabbat dinners that started small, but over the years grew to 20-25 people each month. We also started to celebrate the major yamin tovim as a group, holding annual seders, Chanukah parties, Rosh Hashanah meals etc. Many Dayenu members are not native Sydneysiders and do not have any nearby family to go to for the yamim tovim, so Dayenu has become their adopted family.

In the years since 2007, we have started a Dayenu Facebook group and have attracted more than 200 members, and our Yahoo mailing list includes over 150 people. We held our first AGM in October 2010, and have had a series of very successful annual Mardi Gras Shabbat services and dinners at Emanuel Synagogue, which have filled the hall to capacity. The number of people joining us in the parade has grown consistently each year, now reaching more than 100.

Dayenu has become more visible, both in the GLBTI (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community and within the Jewish community. Since it began in 2000, it has shown the wider community that GLBTI Jews exist, and that we are proud of our religion and our sexuality. We have also worked hard to better integrate GLBTI Jews into the wider Jewish community, and make it a more accepting and welcoming place for us.

At this month’s Mardi Gras dinner, I was incredibly touched by the number of people who told me how Dayenu had been instrumental in their coming out. Meeting other GLBTI Jews gave them the strength to accept their sexuality, to come out to their family and friends and to live the life that they wanted to live. It takes considerable strength to come out to family when you know that they may be shocked by the news. It is well documented how rejection by family can have a devastating effect on young gay and lesbian people: tragically, some attempt suicide. It can take years for some families to accept their son or daughter’s sexuality, but thankfully most families, like mine, eventually realise that our lives and relationships can be equally as rewarding as heterosexual ones.

Dayenu has inspired me so much and I have met so many amazing and inspiring people. Many Dayenu members have shared their incredible stories with me; stories which all too often include rejection, hardship and abuse. Many explained how Dayenu brought hope and strength to their lives.

Farewell to Dayenu

So it is with a heavy heart that I now step down as president of Dayenu as part of my move to Israel. I am hopeful that others will step forward to ensure that Dayenu continues to be a beacon of hope for GLBTI Jews.