Topics of discussion included:
- Judaism’s attitude towards same-sex marriage
- Child sexual abuse in the Jewish community
- Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s patronage of the Australian Family Association
The interview begins at 4:58 here.
I was interviewed by John August on “Workers Radio” Radio Skid Row 88.9FM (www.radioskidrow.org) at 7:30am on December 24 2012.
Topics of discussion included:
The interview begins at 4:58 here.
Australian Masorti rabbi Adam Stein speaks out against Dr Miriam Grossman.
I applaud Rabbi Adam Stein of the Melbourne Conservative/Masorti Synagogue Kehilat Nitzan for taking this responsible and appropriate stance in relation to a communication about tomorrow’s talk at Glen Eira College by Dr Miriam Grossman.
Sent: Thursday, 28 June 2012 12:24 PM
Subject: News sheet follow up regarding Sex Education Event
Dear Kehilat Nitzan members,
I wish to apologise for sending out a notice about an event called “Sex Education – Protecting Our Children’s Well-Being.” The shule was sent an email asking us to promote the event (as was every shule in the community, it seems), and I should have read the announcement more carefully. If I had, I would have noticed that the sponsor is the Australian Family Association, which is devoted to denying marriage and even civil union rights to loving gay and lesbian couples. I would have noticed that, contrary to what the title might imply, Miriam Grossman seems to be a crusader against sex education in schools. After a couple of hours of research late last night, I found her to be in agreement with the chair of the program, Shimon Cowen, who calls homosexuality “an abnormality, which as far as possible should be treated.” It seems this program may be part of Dr. Cowen’s recent anti-gay screeds found in the past few months throughout many issues of the Australian Jewish News and even the MX paper found at train stations, attacking the Safe School Coalition Victoria for its approach to preventing bullying and sex education, at least in part because they teach that being gay is OK. In Dr Cowen’s view, it is not and should be fixed. (This so called “Reparative Therapy,” by the way, has been debunked as damaging in study after study. Even the study he cites time and again was retracted by its own author. See the five letters to the AJN a couple of weeks ago by psychologists and psychiatrists attacking Cowen for his damaging views.
Miriam Grossman obviously does not like the way sex education is run in America, and perhaps Australian schools. You may agree or disagree with her, and may even decide to go to the event. I’ll be doing a consecration at a cemetery at the time; otherwise, I might go myself to hear what she has to say.
The email we received and sent out stated “The following Public Address has been approved by the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and Rabbis of all denominations” The Rabbinical Council of Victoria contains only Orthodox rabbis, and I would be surprised to hear of any non-Orthodox rabbis approving of this talk.
Please accept our apology for sending out a notice for a program which does not in any way reflect the Worldwide Masorti Movement and especially not the values of Kehilat Nitzan. For an approach to sexuality, and homosexuality, which better reflect a Masorti/Conservative view of halachah to which I adhere, I suggest the following resources:
Please be in touch if you have any thoughts or questions on these or other topics.
Rabbi Adam Stein became the rabbi at Kehilat Nitzan in August 2011. He received his ordination from The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He also earned a Master of Arts in Education from AJU. Before coming to Kehilat Nitzan, Rabbi Stein was the Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City, Missouri.
His journey to the rabbinate began in high school and in college at the University of California, San Diego, when he spent his junior year at Hebrew University and summers at Camp Ramah and the Brandeis Collegiate Institute. Following college, he studied in Israel at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.
In addition to Judaism, Rabbi Stein counts among his great loves his wife Tamar, his parents, sister, extended family and… Macintosh computers.
Rabbi Stein is in and out of the office meeting with congregants, at funerals, making hospital visits, and so on. He will be available in the office (Level 1, 230 Balaclava Road, Caulfield Junction) on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons between 2 pm and 4 pm if you want to meet with him. You can call him at 0422 674 455 or send an email.
When the carbon dioxide in your soda water needs to be approved kosher for passover, it’s time to realise that you’re being scammed to the max.
It never ceases to amaze me as to the level of craziness that some religions aspire to. On the Jewish festival of Passover it’s customary to abstain from food and drink products that are considered ‘chametz‘. Growing up, in the family house, I was made to observe this practice. It caused me great distress one year when as a little boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, I went to a birthday party for a school friend, during Passover. The friend was not Jewish and Passover meant nothing to him or his family. And so the parents of the birthday boy took us all out to lunch at McDonalds, very generously no doubt.
Realising there was about to be a huge logistical issue for me, I worked up the courage to tell the parents I wasn’t allowed to eat bread, but I didn’t tell them this was because it was Passover. I didn’t know how to explain that to them. This caused a great deal of consternation for the parents and the restaurant, and humiliation for me, as I was not happy with the dilemma I had been placed in. Somehow the restaurant were able to concoct a “hamburger” without the buns for me. It was mostly meat and the salads, and probably had cheese in it as well.
The craziness of this was that my parents didn’t mind too much that the food I was eating at someone else’s party wasn’t kosher, yet they did mind that I ate bread during Passover. I’m glad my parents didn’t find out I was eating meat and cheese together. It would have been the end of the world. There is no logic to this at all. If keeping kosher matters, it should matter 100%, not partially. Not that keeping kosher is about logic either. It defies logic completely and epitomises irrationality.
Yesterday, some 35 years later, it came to my attention that the carbon dioxide gas used in making soft drinks needs to be approved by a kosher authority before it can be considered suitable for consumption during Passover. We’re talking about a substance that is a gas, that contains no solids or liquids. Yet apparently it’s possible that it can contain contaminants that are a by-product of its manufacture that would render it ‘chametz’. WTF.
No doubt many faithful will disagree but to me this is a scam of the highest degree, being perpetrated by a bunch of shonky con artists who are sucking money mercilessly out of people who could better spend it on more important things like health or education. My suggestion to those who are paying the exorbitant prices for kosher foods, especially at Passover, is to think about how gullible you are being and how you are being ripped off by the nonsense that keeping kosher is. Just go and buy an 88c bottle of soda water off the shelf at the regular supermarket and pretend it’s kosher. Your god won’t have the slightest clue. Trust me.
Kosher Australia Update
5 April 2012
We have just completed our investigation of the Schweppes unflavoured mineral water and soda water and found that they are chometz and kitniyos free and may be used on Pesach if purchased before Pesach (before 11am on 6/4/2012 if in Melbourne). Unfortunately the generic brands could not confirm that the carbonation sources were chometz and kitniyos free. (In fact they noted that starch based carbonation was used.)
We are still chasing down information regarding a number of medications and diet specific products and when & if information comes to hand, we will advise the community.
We remind all consumers who have yet to do so, to sell their chometz. Follow this link* to download the Kosher Australia mechiras chometz form which must be completed and faxed/email back urgently.
Wishing you a Kosher & Joyous Pesach.
World Suicide Prevention Day is on Saturday September 10, 2011. Now’s a good time to start a conversation.
World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10, 2011. The official Australian web-site for this event is www.wspd.org.au.
Suicide is a difficult topic for many people to talk about at the best of times. Perhaps you’ve thought about attempting suicide, or have actually attempted it yourself. Or you may know someone who has, either to completion or not. Many issues drive people to suicide, and often it’s related to a state of depression or a mental health issue.
Some people don’t know who to turn to for help, or how to ask for help, or they don’t realise they can ask for help. Sometimes in the depth of a depressive state of mind people don’t want to ask for help because they believe their burden is too difficult or that they believe there is no way to escape from it. All this and more.
In some dark moments I experienced a little while back, when life seemed all too hard, I thought about suicide on a couple of occasions. I knew my thought processes weren’t rational at the time but it seemed the easiest way to escape the torment of my feelings. Fortunately for me, and those around me, I cleared those momentary hurdles in my life, sought professional help and soon found myself in a much better state of mind. What scared me most was that these suicidal occasions sneaked up on me, with no warning, when I was alone, driving in my car, in a particularly vulnerable and dangerous state. They went as quickly as they came.
Many years ago I overcame a significant challenge in my life. At the age of 26, on September 13 1995, I came to the realisation that my feelings of physical attraction to men were something I could not escape, and that no matter how hard I had tried over the years to repress these homosexual feelings, they wouldn’t go away. It dawned on me that in fact this was something I should embrace, and enjoy, rather than fight and hide. And so I found that I was no longer scared of the word ‘gay’, and realised that it was something I could identify with being.
I had previously been scared that if people had found out my attraction to men that I would be kicked out of home and that my friends wouldn’t want to know me. In fact these were completely irrational thoughts, and aside from having moved out of home a few months prior, my parents told me that they would have never kicked me out of home because of my sexuality and my friends all told me that it was ok with me being gay. Some said they had thought so, others said it came as a complete surprise. Only one friend told me he disagreed with what being gay was about but he has since grown up and has overcome that obstacle in his psyche.
What I had needed most was an understanding that whatever my sexuality was I would be accepted unconditionally by my parents. They never gave me that message and so I never knew where I stood with them on the issue. I didn’t have the courage to ask them and they didn’t have the language to broach the topic with me. It wasn’t something they were educated in. Now, it’s a different story. They are great advocates for equality and acceptance of people from varying sexual orientations. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or anything else doesn’t phase them, and they are comfortable to talk about it.
It’s this conversation that I wish they had had with me when I was very young. I wish they had told me about boys loving boys and girls loving girls, as well as boys and girls loving each other, from when I was aged 4 and up. If I had known that when I was ten and found myself feeling attractions to boys in my school that it was a normal thing to happen, I wouldn’t have started repressing these feelings. Maybe I could have told them that there was one boy at school I had a crush on, or that whilst I didn’t have certain feelings for girls, I did have them for boys.
I didn’t know that it was ok to like boys when I was young and going through puberty it because increasingly harder to conform to the expectations that sexually I should be liking girls, yet finding boys most prominent in my sexual fantasies. And through my teens and into my twenties this became more and more polarised, with no attraction to women and exclusive attraction to men. I stifled these feelings outwardly, not knowing who I could turn to about them. I wanted my psychologists to ask me about that aspect of my life but either because they were too respectful of my privacy or simply because I didn’t lead them in the right direction, they never raised the issue with me, over the many years I sought counselling.
This stifling of my feelings also stifled my existence and I was suffering anxiety attacks, feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and generally not liking myself. Yet once I had “come out” (I believe it was a stage of emotional maturity where many things in my life started coming together, one of them being acceptance of my sexuality), this all turned around. I was able to open up my emotions, release that person who had been so desperately trying to escape for the best part of 16 years, and begin enjoying life. I discovered, almost overnight, a new me. A new Michael who could go through a day and realise that the world had so much to offer, that there was excitement and adventure around every corner, and that no matter what anyone thought of me or who I liked, things were just great. I was abuzz, abounding with life, and joy, and happiness. It was good to be gay and that I wished I had been able to come to terms with these feelings so many years earlier. So many years had been wasted, not knowing what to say or do. I had no role models to look up to, to tell me it was ok to be gay. I had to wait until I had worked that out myself.
Actually my brother might have been this person to me. He had asked me, numerous times over the years, if I was gay. But I wasn’t gay. I didn’t identify with that word that he used and so it was right of me to tell him that I wasn’t gay, even though I knew I had homosexual attractions. If I had been able to talk to him about it maybe things might have been easier for me, but I simply couldn’t bring the two concepts together in my head. One was physical, the other psychological, a state of mind perhaps. It took me a long time before I was able to reconcile my homosexuality with being gay. I haven’t looked back since.
For many people though, they face other challenges in their struggle for acceptance with having same-sex attractions. There are religious and cultural pressures to conform to a heterosexual norm and these burdens can be extremely hard to overcome. I grew up in a Jewish household, yet my family was not very religious. However in many other Jewish households there is a very present understanding that homosexuality is unacceptable, because of religious teachings. It’s actually more insidious than that. It’s like an undercurrent of intolerance that is self-perpetuating. The whole issue is completely taboo and any mention of it in a positive connotation is completely impossible.
The disturbing aspect of this is that for young people growing up in this ultra-conservative religious environment there is almost no way they can access the resources, help or role models to tell them that despite the attitudes of their community they are normal people with healthy feelings. Because of this, there begins the down-hill spiral similar to what I experienced growing up, the repression, the denial, the avoidance, and so on. It gets worse and becomes a festering cancer that just eats away every last drop of happiness in a person.
Some people get to the point in their life where they feel there is no easy way out of this conflict, perhaps after getting into a loveless marriage, maybe with having children, and begin to consider suicide as a possible way to deal with their situation. I was fortunate I didn’t get to that point in my struggle to deal with my sexuality, but it could have happened. Others are less fortunate and do succumb to the temptation to take their life. More people fail than succeed in attempting suicide, perhaps leaving them in a harmed state physically, definitely emotionally, and perhaps leaving them further motivated to end their life.
Rabbi Mendel Kastel of the Jewish House in Sydney has told me, from his enquiries of the Sydney Chevrah Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society), that there is an average of about one suicide per month. It’s not always possible to determine that the cause of a death was due to suicide, which makes it hard to get concrete statistics unfortunately. I am not aware of any figures for the rate of suicide in the Melbourne Jewish community but I would take a guess that they’d be similar, due to the similar sizes of the two communities.
It alarmed me to hear that there was about one suicide a month in the Sydney Jewish community. That’s twelve deaths per year that could potentially have been avoided. Perhaps one of these twelve people was someone you knew, either a friend or close relative. They were important to someone, and chances are they left a huge void in their community.
In addition to these rudimentary figures of Jewish suicides, there are alarming statistics published by Suicide Prevention Australia. Their Positional Statement on Suicide and Self-harm among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Communities claims:
Studies conducted over the last decade reveal that GLB individuals attempt suicide at rates between 3.5 and 14 times those of their heterosexual peers (Bagley & Tremblay, 1997; Garofalo et al., 1998; Herrell et al., 1999; National Institute for Mental Health in England, 2007; Nicholas & Howard, 2002; Remafedi et al., 1998).
and further goes on to state:
Similarly those belonging to religious faiths that promulgate negative discourses about homosexuality are particularly vulnerable to suicide and self-harm. Conflicts between spiritual or religious beliefs and sexuality can result in significant psychological dissonance as well as division and exclusion from family, friends and community.
For many, these experiences manifest in deep feelings of self-loathing and hatred that, in turn, severely elevate the risk of suicide and self-harm (Hillier et al., 2008).
It’s time we all started taking an active interest in suicide prevention and started talking about it, because that one person could be someone you know and love. It could be your child, or your brother or sister, or a cousin, your best friend, a parent or it could be you.
Once a person is gone, it’s too late to offer acceptance. They won’t hear you once they’re dead. Tell them you love them unconditionally, no matter what, and mean it. There’s no acceptable price to pay for a belief in your religion, or because you are scared of rejection.
Someone will always love you and accept you, no matter what.
John Searle, JCCV president, claims that Jews must not tolerate prejudice against homosexuals, yet dishes it out personally with gay abandon.
On May 1 2011 at the Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Commemoration Evening, Jewish Community Council of Victoria president John Searle delivered an address, in which he said:
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.
Just to refresh you, John Searle published a media release earlier this year in which he gave tacit support to the notion that organisations representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people would not be welcome as a members of the JCCV, the organisation he is currently president of.
John Searle also told me in person late in 2009 that he believed it was acceptable for (orthodox) Judaism to be intolerant of homosexuality. He refuses to discuss this (or any other) matter further as he knows it will blow open his facade of tolerance toward GLBT people.
I am in complete dismay at the absolute arrogance of this man, who on the one hand declares publicly that prejudice against homosexuals will not be tolerated, and on the other hand dishes out homophobic prejudice with gay abandon.
I was invited to participate in “A Pluralist Panel on Homosexuality and Judaism” by Hineni (Melbourne) and the Monash Jewish Students Society on Thursday June 3 2010. The other panelists were Michael Cohen, Rabbi Shamir Caplan (Orthodox), Rabbi Ehud Bandel (Conservative), Rabbi Fred Morgan (Progressive). Absent from the panel due to illness was Hinde Ena Burstin who was to talk from a Jewish lesbian perspective.
Kudos to the event organisers Hineni and MonJSS for bringing this much-needed discussion to the community. It is perhaps the first time an intelligent, informed public discussion has been had in the Melbourne Jewish community on anything to do with homosexuality.
It was put to me that the evening was going to be controversial, not so much because of homosexuality being in the topic, but that there was going to be one each of a Progressive, Conservative and Orthodox rabbi (a Neapolitan assortment?) in the same room at the same time. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere. 🙂
Aside from a few minor technical and logistical glitches the evening went really well. Each of the first four speakers delivered their address from their respective professional perspectives with no real surprises or revelations.
The Orthodox perspective given apologised for being intolerant of homosexuality and didn’t offer very much real hope for same-sex attracted people.
The Conservative perspective was up front about being “in the middle” of tradition and change, yet said that gay men and women were equal within the community and their sexuality needed to be taken into account and not ignored.
The Progressive perspective similarly acknowledged the importance of a person’s sexuality and went on to say that the Progressive movement was supportive of same-sex relationships and would acknowledge them as much as possible, yet they weren’t on par with heterosexual relationships.
Both the Conservative and Progressive perspectives put forward also acknowledged that children could be successfully raised in a same-sex relationship, something that the Orthodox perspective didn’t seem to have the capacity to understand.
Audience members were asked to write questions down on paper supplied and then at the end of the panel presentations, a selection of questions would be put to the panelists. The questions asked were intelligent for the most part but didn’t ask the tough questions that I felt needed to be asked of the rabbis.
What made me most unsettled about the line-up of speakers (aside from me) was that they were all heterosexual men, dictating the terms of acceptance, to one degree or another, of same-sex attracted men and women and our relationships. I would really like to have seen a female rabbi (yes, they do exist in the Progressive world) or an openly gay one (yes, they do exist) speak on the topic.
My thanks again to Hineni and MonJSS for organising the evening. My thanks also to my wonderful partner Gregory Storer for giving me the necessary support. His photographs of the evening can be viewed on Google Albums and Facebook.
My address from the evening is here.
I am one of six panelists speaking tonight at Monash University. Hineni and MonJSS are hosting a pluralist panel on homosexuality and Judaism.
The other panelists are Michael Cohen, Rabbi Fred Morgan (Progressive), Rabbi Shamir Caplan (Orthodox) and Rabbi Ehud Bandel (Conservative).
It will be an interesting evening to say the least.
[09/06/10: Read my review of the evening here, along with photos and a link to the address I gave]