Remembering Simon

December 24, 2013

Australian Jewish community leadership abandons concern for persecution of gays

December 21, 2013

In Australia the Jewish community leadership has abandoned concern for persecution of gays.  It does not show it cares about persecution of minority groups around the world, only demonstrating interest in its pet topic of anti-Semitism.

An increasing number of regimes such as Russia and Uganda are persecuting homosexual people and the Jewish community basks in its own self-importance, issues platitudes about how much it must speak out against such terrors, says Never Again and then buries its head in the sand saying la-la-la-la.

Take this fine message from the immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (and current Chair of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Right Commission) John Searle:

It is up to us to play our part in ensuring that another holocaust never occurs. Be it attacks against Jews, blacks, homosexuals or political rivals, we must be ever vigilant in bringing the message to the world – never again! We must educate our children; help them to understand that we cannot turn a blind eye, not to racism, not to stereotyping, not to suffering, not to prejudice of any form, not ever. We must send the message, that racism and prejudice in all its evil forms will not be tolerated.

Sounds good.  And yet, computer says no.  Silence is all we get.  Just silence.


It’s sometimes the small things that say so much

November 7, 2013

Last night I dropped in to see my parents and while I was there my dad told me about a little Tim Tam biscuit he had been given, as was his wont.  Being a fan of Tim Tam biscuits I asked if I could have one and he said sure and went away to get one.  While he was out of the room Mum told me that there was only the one biscuit, which she had brought home from work for him.  Not realising this was the situation I was upset that I had asked for the only biscuit my dad had to offer.

I called out to him saying I was happy to leave it for him and not to worry, but perhaps he was out of earshot, because he didn’t respond.  Mum said to me that it really wasn’t a problem, and that “he would do anything for me”.  I was deeply touched by this sentiment, despite feeling so bad that I left my dad without his Tim Tam biscuit.

The next minute, he returned to the room we were in, with a bite-size biscuit delicately placed on a tissue, serving both for presentation and function.  I accepted this gesture of kindness, father to son, and proceeded to enjoy it.  Really, it was wonderful.  Dark chocolate with a little sliver of biscuit inside.  I did remark to my father, who didn’t eat chocolates on principle, that there was in fact more chocolate than biscuit, so it probably broke his rule.  We laughed.

In this brief interchange with my father, over a tiny chocolate biscuit, I felt a connection with him in a way I hadn’t in a long time.  It was a special moment for me in our relationship.

Thank you Dad.  You’re the best.  :)


Jewish Community Council of Victoria says “Gay is OK”.

November 1, 2013

This really is a revelation.  For the first time ever, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria has actually acknowledged that it’s ok to be gay.

JCCV says it's ok to be gay (Nov 1 2013)

A lot more needs to be said, but this is a start.


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

October 30, 2013

Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic

Wednesday 19 May 1999 8:30AM

This week on The Religion Report.

The Pope’s visit to Romania begins to heal the thousand year rift with the Orthodox.

The religiously backed conservative coalition in Israel has been defeated at a general election.

And, the newly elected world leader of the Salvation Army declares the movement should be more flexible about its rigid non-sacramentalism.

Transcript

The Religion Report 19th May, 1999

John Cleary: Today is about fundamental change, from Melbourne to Romania.
SFX: POPE IN ROMANIA

Last week, the Pope made an historic trip to Bucharest, the first time in a thousand years the Roman Pontiff has walked Orthodox streets as a religious leader.

Also today, the Salvation Army has elected a new world leader who signals fundamental change in this worldwide religious and charitable movement; Salvationists may soon be taking the sacraments.

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, (Jewish 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 Hassan: 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 Hassan: 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 Hassan: 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 Hassan: 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 Hassan: 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 Hassan: 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 Hassan: 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.

[unrelated content deleted]

Thanks to Toni Hassan and John Diamond for production.


Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia | ABC PM

October 30, 2013

Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia

Alison Caldwell reported this story on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 18:34:00

Listen to MP3 of this story ( minutes)
Alternate WMA version | MP3 download

MARK COLVIN: A rift is developing in Australia’s Jewish community over the treatment of homosexuals.

A major gay and lesbian support group claims Jewish community leaders are ignoring discrimination and hate language aimed at homosexuals. It wants Jewish representative bodies to come up with a clear policy upholding gay rights.

Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: When two young people were shot dead in Tel Aviv last month at a gay and lesbian youth centre, Melbourne-based Michael Barnett wanted nothing more than for the leaders of the Australian Jewish community to take a stand against violence towards homosexuals. But he says his calls for action fell on deaf ears.

MICHAEL BARNETT: The Israeli leadership, the Prime Minister, the President of Israel, they spoke out against intolerance and hatred and said you know, everyone deserves respect.

Yet in Melbourne where there is the family of one of the two people killed, there wasn’t even a single statement from the community leaders.

ALISON CALDWELL: He says the silence from the Jewish leadership was symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

MICHAEL BARNETT: There’s a lot of intolerance of gay people in the Jewish people. Calling gay people perverted and disgusting, comparing gay people to people who commit incest or bestiality, there’s all this language that gets used from people like some rabbis in the orthodox world who speak out against gay people.

ALISON CALDWELL: Michael Barnett is the coordinator of Aleph Melbourne, a support group for homosexual people in the Jewish community. He believes representative groups are afraid to express their support for homosexuals for fear of offending ultra-orthodox groups in the community.

MICHAEL BARNETT: I want every state and national Jewish peak body in Australia to have a specific, unambiguous policy addressing the persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews in regard to homophobic hate and intolerance, irrespective of whether it originates from outside or inside the Jewish community.

The policies must be enforced with the same zero tolerance afforded to anti-Semitism and holocaust rhetoric and other hate crimes.

ALISON CALDWELL: Much of his anger is levelled at a Jewish blog which recently described homosexuality as “depravity and debasement” and extolled the virtues of reprogramming homosexuals.

In July, a Sydney rabbi wrote to the Australian Jewish News, comparing homosexual intercourse with adultery, bestiality and incest.

JOHN SEARLE: If it’s a matter that’s guided by religious laws, then those laws will presumably be applied. Now I can’t say very much about those because I’m not an expert in those areas.

ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle is the president of the Jewish Community Council in Victoria. It describes itself as the roof body of Victorian Jewry. On its website, it says it shows zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism and racism but it has nothing to say about supporting or protecting gay or lesbian people within the Jewish community.

JOHN SEARLE: If we need to rewrite a policy that was written some time ago, we can certainly look at that and if it needs to be adjusted in any way, we can adjust that.

ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle says he’s against vilification of any sort.

JOHN SEARLE: The JCCV has issued statements condemning vilification of all minority groups, including vilification based on grounds of sexual orientation, sexual preference.

ALISON CALDWELL: He says the council has sought advice from numerous sources on how to be more inclusive and will invite gay and lesbian support groups to events in the future.

Michael Barnett says it’s not enough.

MICHAEL BARNETT: Lip service, motherhood statements, platitudes, rhetoric, anything but “yes, we’re going to do this and take it seriously”.

JOHN SEARLE: I reject the allegation or assertion that inviting people to participate in community events is simply lip service.

ALEX FEIN: My blog is called The Sensible Jew.

ALISON CALDWELL: Jewish blogger Alex Fein has written about the issue in recent weeks. She says the vast majority of Jews support homosexuals and describes those who don’t as minority extremists. But she says groups like the Jewish Community Council of Victoria need to be more proactive.

ALEX FEIN: It’s not enough to say that homophobia is problematic. I think all people of good faith would like to see concrete action.

MARK COLVIN: Alex Fein the author of the blog known as the sensiblejew.wordpress.com, ending Alison Caldwell’s report.


Bereft of a cultural identity

October 16, 2013

Today my workplace has foisted upon me “Cultural Diversity Day”.  There have been about two weeks build-up to this grand event, with momentum over the last couple of days growing to fever-pitch amongst the organising teams.  We have been asked to bring in items of food from our cultural background, wear culturally identifying garments (or supply them to be hung on display), bring in items of cultural interest, and so forth.

This has left me totally bewildered, and to a certain extent, depressed.

I don’t have a recognisable cultural identity.  Nor do I want one.  Most especially I don’t want anyone to force me to have one.

Let me explain.

I was born in Australia and as I live here permanently I consider myself Australian.  My parents were born in England and New Zealand.  They don’t particularly consider themselves English or New Zealanderish.  My father probably considers himself more Rhodesian than English anyway, as that is where he grew up, but he’s definitely Aussie these days.

Their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born in England, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Poland and Belarus.  Aside from my English grandparents on my father’s side, the others would probably have distanced themselves from their national identity.  Why?  They were culturally and ethnically Ashkenazi Jews.

Their Yiddish culture permeated my upbringing, in terms of language, food, identity and heritage.  Yet that is not me.  I do not identify as a Jew, as I believe religion is divisive and creates barriers to equality and harmony.  I enjoy the influences I grew up with, but I don’t cling to them.

And so, as a first generation Australian who does not have an ethnic or religious identity, how do I contribute in an event at my workplace that wants me to label myself with a culture?  Hard call, and one that does not make me very happy to have to do, despite wanting to contribute even in a small if not token way.

Yet I came up with a compromise.  I brought in some lively, uplifting, happy, “freilach” Klezmer music.  Music of my ancestors.  Music I can identify with, that does not have a geography, does not have a specific ideology, that does not label me anything, and most importantly is universally loved and is most definitely cultural.

I am more than a label and I don’t want to have to choose one, or have anyone hang a label on me, as labels are restrictive and can be divisive.

This Cultural Diversity Day at my workplace has been very powerful for me and has allowed me to reflect deeply on who I am.  It will be interesting to see how the day pans out and how I feel at the end of it.  First and foremost though, I am Michael.


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