A response to Rabbi James Kennard on why some Jewish marriages fail

My 2009 response to Rabbi James Kennard’s column on why there is such a high failure rate in marriages in the Jewish community.

The following letter was published in full (see letter “Hidden Anguish in Marriage”) in the Australian Jewish News on Nov 6, 2009, in response to Rabbi James Kennard’s Matters of Principal column “Building the blocks of marriage” (AJN; Oct 30 2009 p23).

A copy of the column appears below my letter.

In talking about why so many marriages in the Jewish community are failing, Rabbi James Kennard neglects to mention two of the most important attributes a person must bring to a marriage: honesty and integrity. Without either, any marriage is doomed before it has even begun, no matter how hard the couple perseveres.

Roughly five to 10 per cent of any population is not attracted to the opposite sex, but rather the same sex. In the Jewish community this is often conveniently swept under the carpet and ignored, if it is ever even acknowledged. Many of these same-sex attracted people get married under pressure, possibly have children, find themselves in loveless relationships and the next thing is their marriages have fallen apart and they’ve got broken homes. Sadly I’ve met all too many of these people.

What is lacking in these marriages is honesty and integrity, and the reason why is because of intolerant attitudes in the community that make it a taboo to be in a relationship with a person of the same sex. The net result is false, hollow heterosexual relationships. The Orthodox community won’t even tolerate the idea of recognising same-sex Jewish relationships, let alone considering same-sex marriages (despite the position of the federal government). In this atmosphere of intolerance, same-sex attracted people will always be second-class and the marriages they find themselves in will inevitably be unhappy.

Perseverance is not the answer to sustaining a marriage if the foundation it’s build on is one of lies. What we need to teach our children is honesty, integrity and that it’s ok to have relationships with the people they want to love, not the people they are expected to love. We might then find that the percentage of happy marriages actually increases.

Michael Barnett.
Aleph Melbourne.

Australian Jewish News
Oct 30 2009
Page 23

Matters of Principal
James Kennard

Building the blocks of marriage

In an age of instant gratification, we are failing to teach our children the skills of perseverance, especially when it comes to sustaining a marriage.

GOOD news! Australia’s divorce rate last year was its lowest since 1992 and the number of marriages is on the rise. But before we become too complacent and begin to believe that we live in the land of matrimonial harmony, we must note that even this record low constituted no less than 47,000 divorces, compared to only 118,000 nuptials. Four in 10 marriages are still estimated to end in divorce.

So although the short-term trend is encouraging, the longer-term changes over decades show a significant decline in the number of marriages both commencing and enduring.

Every divorce is a personal tragedy. Often no-one is to blame, although many have to suffer. But as parents and educators, we must ask if we are preparing our children well for what will be the most important and consequential task of their adult lives – creating a loving and lasting marriage, for their own sake and that of their own children.

In some crucial respects, we are not succeeding. We are failing to teach our children to compromise or to persevere.

In striving to give our children self-esteem – a vital and difficult challenge in the world of competitive and sometimes cruel teenagers – we too often confuse self-worth with self-importance.

We put our children on a pedestal and tell each of them they are the most important person in their world. Bar and bat mitzvah parties turn into coronations of princes and princesses, with no indication that the youngster has any more to achieve in order to reach perfection.

Yet marriage requires precisely the opposite approach. Suddenly each partner in a couple has to realise that they are, at best, the second most important person in the world. They have to learn to share, to compromise and to yield. When in our children’s childhood and youth do we teach them these skills?

If a marriage hits a bumpy moment, as it often does, are future partners prepared? To the delight of advertisers and manufacturers, we live in a culture of “ending is better than mending”.

As soon as the iPod or iPhone looks tarnished, it’s time to get a new one (and that’s if we haven’t already upgraded simply because a new, slightly improved, model has been released). If a child has problems at school, the solution is to try a new one.

Clothes that suited us well 12 months ago are now “so last year”.

The same applies to challenges. In an era of instant gratification, if a problem cannot be solved quickly, it cannot be solved at all.

But marriage requires a mindset that is diametrically opposed to this cult of the new. We have to find opportunities to teach our children that often it is the old things that are worth preserving and that persevering with a problem may, in time, bring a solution.

Our children are not helped by the messages about relationships they receive from the media. The most popular movie genre, the romantic comedy, follows the same formula as the fairytale that was its cultural antecedent: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again – and they live happily ever after.

Dramas, on the other hand, usually start with a couple in a relationship and chronicle its dissolution. So the real (and best) story, of a couple working on their marriage and making it last, is rarely told.

One message that young people learn from their peers – that may or may not be endorsed by their parents – is the devaluing of sexual intimacy. In the past, society understood that sex was reserved for marriage and, even though this convention was often ignored, the expectation itself showed how physical relations can serve as a unique bond between couples permanently committed to each other for the long term.

Now such a view seems quaint or even so antediluvian as to be laughable. But if sex is used today to say “I like you” or even to say “hello”, what is left to say “I love you”?

The decline of marriage matters. It is not only human beings – parents and children – who suffer when a family is shattered, but society as a whole. Nature (whether the designer is God or Richard Dawkins) has arranged for the children of human beings to live with their parents for longer than the young of any other species, so that they can learn values and skills with which to prosper and build the next generation. The family is the building block of society itself.

A stable family does not guarantee stable children and many single or separated parents raise happy and confident young people. But to help our own children with the challenge of building their home and hence creating their own world, we must show them that the greatest happiness may take much time to achieve, but can last forever.

Rabbi James Kennard is principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College, Melbourne. His column appears monthly.

A statement from the ECAJ on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012

A statement by Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012:

“January 27 is the date, in 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by Soviet troops.  It is a devastatingly appropriate day for all of us to remember and reflect upon the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of 6 million European Jews, 2 millions Gypsies (Roma and Sinti), 15.000 gays and millions of others at the hands of Nazi tyranny.

Auschwitz was not merely the final destination of many of these murdered men women and children.  In a very real and terrible way it continues to symbolise the final destination – the ultimate consequence – of hatred of the other that is allowed to go unchallenged.  The spectre of Auschwitz will continue to haunt the whole of humanity until it learns to free itself from the scourges of racism and other forms of hatred.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is an opportunity for all of us to look inwards into our own hearts and minds and to resolve to confront our own prejudices.  For this is where racism and other forms of hatred begin.  No ideology of hatred can take root without the active participation or passive acquiescence of ordinary people.

We must never be afraid to speak out against hatred that is directed against ourselves, especially when it may be contentious or unpopular to do so.  Yet we must also be sensitive enough to recognise hatred that is being directed against others and to speak out in their defence too, even when it may be contentious or unpopular to do so.

The struggle against racism and other forms of bigotry is not easy.  Yet it has never been more necessary for all of us to be a part of it.  As the number of survivors diminishes with time, the need for us to pass on this message to our children only grows more urgent”

Josh Frydenberg and the UN Holocaust Memorial Day 2012

The Jewish Holocaust Centre commemorated UN Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 25, 2012. Colin Krycer lit a candle in memory of the homosexual victims of the Holocaust. Josh Frydenberg delivered the keynote address. He also does not believe homosexual Australians should have equal rights.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27.  The Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Australia held a commemoration for this solemn occasion on Thursday January 25, 2012 (to avoid a clash with the Jewish Sabbath).

In keeping with the tradition of having a representative of the GLBT community to attend the commemoration, Colin Krycer of Aleph Melbourne accepted the invitation to light a candle in memory of the tens of thousands of homosexual men who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.

Colin Krycer lights a candle in memory of the homosexual victims of the Holocaust
Colin Krycer lights a candle in memory of the homosexual victims of the Holocaust

Federal member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg MP, delivered the keynote address on the evening.

Josh Frydenberg MP delivers the keynote address
Josh Frydenberg MP delivers the keynote address

I feel compelled to express my reservations with the selection of Josh Frydenberg as keynote speaker at this event.  My reservations stem from the fact that Josh Frydenberg wishes to deny equal rights for homosexual Australians and calls for a second-class status for the registration of same-sex relationships.

My view is that marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman. It is much more than a simple debate about preferred terminology.

Relationships between same sex couples are equally special but nevertheless by definition different.

These relationships are to be respected and valued for the love that they bring and the families that they build. However, the term marriage should not apply.

Civil unions, however, should be an alternative.

I know many people in our community, particularly those younger than me will not agree with my view on same sex marriage.

I hope they respect my view as I do theirs.

In the Holocaust homosexual men were denied equality and treated as lesser citizens, with reduced rights and status.  There is no place for any discrimination against homosexual men and women in Australian society.

Aside from the possibility of a same-sex couple producing a biological child belonging to both parents, same-sex relationships are equal in every way to opposite-sex relationships, including those opposite-sex relationships where a biological child is not a viable or a desired option.

I ask Josh Frydenberg to understand this reality and to join the increasing ranks of Australians who understand that marriage equality, a definition of marriage that does not discriminate on the basis of gender, is in the best interests of all Australians.

A response from SBS to the ECAJ’s complaint about “The Promise”

The ECAJ have complained to SBS about discrimination and stereotyping. Consider this reply from SBS to the ECAJ, challenging issues of discrimination and harmful behaviour in the Jewish community.

Consider this conversation* between Sally Begbie, SBS Ombudsman and Peter Wertheim, ECAJ Executive Director regarding the ECAJ complaint about the screening of “The Promise”, a situation that has even made the mainstream media.

SALLY BEGBIE:  Hi Peter.  It’s Sally Begbie from SBS calling.  It’s about the letter we’ve received from you regarding The Promise.

PETER WERTHEIM:  Hi Sally.  Thanks for calling.  How may I help you?

SALLY:  I’ve read the complaint, all 31 pages.  It took me a while to get through the document.  Very thorough and comprehensively researched I’ll have to admit.

PETER:  Indeed.

SALLY:  It’s about stereotyping, and discrimination of Jewish people.  Those are the main concerns?

PETER:  Yes, that’s correct.  Stereotyping, discrimination, negative attitudes of Jews.

SALLY:  I see.  Yes.  That’s a concern we take seriously at SBS.

PETER:  That’s good to hear.

SALLY:  And no doubt, it’s something your organisation takes just as seriously, stereotyping and discrimination.

PETER:  Absolutely.  We pride ourselves on our efforts to prevent and reverse such attitudes.  If you take a moment to review our web site you’ll see we give those issues priority amongst the many issues we care about.

SALLY:  That’s excellent to hear.  In reviewing the complaint that we’ve received I have been doing some research into issues and attitudes amongst the community you represent, to gain a more complete understanding of the situation.  I’ve had some interesting findings.

PETER:  Oh, yes?

SALLY:  Well, it seems that there appears to be an area of concern into discrimination that the ECAJ has remained silent on, that some in your community are demanding a more vocal response.

PETER:  Please explain.

SALLY:  In particular, it seems that the ECAJ values equality and egalitarianism, yet has no comment to make on the issue of marriage equality.  That would seem to me to be a strange position to take, considering your organisation does not stand for discrimination in any way whatsoever.

PETER:  That’s a difficult area Sally.

SALLY:  Discrimination?  It really doesn’t seem that difficult to me.

PETER:  No, not discrimination.  Marriage.  It’s a complex issue for some in the Jewish community.

SALLY:  But your organisation does not stand for discrimination.

PETER:  Correct.

SALLY:  And yet you’re prepared to remain tolerant of some discrimination?

PETER:  No, we don’t stand for discrimination of any type.

SALLY:  So you’re supportive of efforts to remove discrimination facing Jews in same-sex relationships?

PETER:  It’s not so simple Sally.

SALLY:  It is to me.  Discrimination is discrimination.

PETER:  Of course, but not all discrimination is the same.

SALLY:  However you look at it, it’s still discrimination.  There’s another issue that has come to my attention.  If I may.

PETER:  Certainly.

SALLY:  I’ve read that some in your community are concerned about attitudes that are upheld amongst certain religious leaders and members of the community whereby homosexuality is considered a condition that can be overcome with reparative therapy.  The concerned parties seem to be calling on your organisation to speak out against these attitudes, claiming they’re proven to be harmful to members of the community who are being asked to overcome their orientation.  They’ve provided you with evidence from leading professional bodies claiming these are harmful and ineffective therapies.

PETER:  I’ve heard these concerns.

SALLY:  Do you take them seriously?  The claims that they are harmful to members of the Jewish community who are being forced to undertake them?

PETER:  Absolutely.  The ECAJ does not for one minute want a single member of the Jewish community to undergo an iota of suffering or come to any harm.  We would extend that concern to the wider community as well.

SALLY:  And you would then want to ensure that your community had a clear and unambiguous understanding that it is inappropriate to refer people to practitioners of these untoward therapies?

PETER:  It would be our desire to ensure no member of our community came to any harm.

SALLY:  So what I am hearing is that your organisation takes the issues of discrimination and harm seriously and wants to ensure the ongoing and increasing welfare of the members of your community, the Jewish people of Australia.

PETER:  Effectively.  Yes.

SALLY:  Then it would seem to me, Peter, that it would be to your organisation’s advantage to show the rest of us that it does take these issues seriously and take a stand on them.  You are asking SBS to take a stand against discrimination and stereotyping affecting the Jewish people, but what I see is that there are members of your community who are lacking the necessary protection from your organisation and who are at the mercy of harmful attitudes that have not been reined in.

PETER:  Of course, we want a positive outcome for all parties.

SALLY:  That’s good to hear.  So do we.  I appreciate your time today.  We’ll be in touch.

  • This is one of many possible conversations that could potentially occur.  I am not aware of it actually having occurred, yet.

Michael Danby MP silently shows support for Marriage Equality

Michael Danby, Federal Member for Melbourne Ports, is listed on the Australian Marriage Equality’s register of politicians who support marriage equality.

Australian Marriage Equality have today issued a revised list of Australian politicians who are publicly supporting the call for Marriage Equality.  Of particular interest (and pleasure) to me is the presence of the name of the ALP’s Federal member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby.

Michael Danby MP - Melbourne Ports - supporting Marriage Equality
Michael Danby MP - Melbourne Ports - supporting Marriage Equality

Prior to the 2010 Federal Election Michael Danby refused to speak specifically in favour of Marriage Equality.  However he did allude to increased support for Marriage Equality from his party should it be successful in winning the election, as outlined in this media release from the then Secular Party candidate for Melbourne Ports Gregory Storer.

The next step Michael Danby needs to take is to make a public statement of his support for Marriage Equality, something that is noticeably missing from his web site.

A straight colleague challenges the bigotry of Margaret Court

A heterosexual male colleague of mind spoke his mind today about the bigotry that Margaret Court espouses.

Today in the office two of my colleagues embarked on a conversation about the news around Margaret Court that was dominating the Australian Open. Both of these colleagues are heterosexual, married men in their late forties / early fifties, both with a reasonably firm grip on reality and both people who would speak up against intolerance and discrimination. In fact one, of South African Indian background, lived through the oppression of the Apartheid regime.

The conversation started off by my South African colleague asking the other what the deal was with Margaret Court and the rainbow flag protests that were being reported in the news.  My other colleague confidently said:

They need to pull her name off that stadium.  There’s no room for that sort of bigotry in a country like this.

I was sitting next to my colleague when he said this.  He’s not one to mince his words, and to hear this profoundly frank statement made me exceptionally proud to know him.

I posted the comment on Facebook (directly and via Twitter) as soon as what he had said sank in.  In the subsequent 10 hours well over thirty people have ‘liked’ my colleague’s comment, shared it once and reposted it once.  It has also attracted a range of supportive comments.

Clearly it has struck a chord.

I have to agree with my colleague. There is absolutely no room for this sort of bigotry in Australia. Increasingly the wider population is standing up to the hatred of homosexuality that has pervaded our society since the nation was founded.

It is incumbent on the leaders of our society, our governments, to fight the hatred and bigotry that same-sex attracted people face. It has to come from the very top, from the office of the Prime Minister. Sadly Prime Minister Gillard has, to date, shown herself to be completely lacking in the necessary skills to counter this hatred. Maybe she’ll discover them in time to make a difference during her ‘leadership’ but I won’t be holding my breath.

In the meantime I sit comfortable knowing that even if the leader of the nation has sold out to the homophobic right, there is an increasing number of heterosexual citizens who are prepared to stand up to the bigotry and hatred that their same-sex attracted compatriots are having to face.

Thank you to my colleague, and to every other heterosexual supporter fighting for our equality, our rights and our dignity.