A peace of pride

Channel 31’s Jewish television show “The Shtick” came to the 2011 Pride March and caught me for a brief interview before the march.

Channel 31 TV’s Jewish show The Shtick was at the Melbourne Pride March on February 6 2011.  Henry Greener and his team spent a few moments talking to me in the marshalling area by Lakeside Drive just before the march.  They then made their way toward the end of Fitzroy Street to capture the colour and excitement of the parade.

When Michael met Gregory (or “A Delicatessen of Delights”)

The Potential Wedding Album project and Same Same tell you the story of how Michael and Gregory met.

I wrote about The Potential Wedding Album (TPWA) project last October.  It’s a great initiative that aims to raise awareness of the discrimination that Australians who are in a non-heterosexual relationship face in relation to Government recognition of their relationship.

To help get this important message out, TPWA have now partnered with Same Same and are running a series of interviews with same-sex couples, talking about how they met.  The first interview in the series is with me and my partner Gregory.  Read our story, and if you’re inspired, contact both TPWA and Same Same and tell your story too.

The Sacred and the Secular: The Same Sex Marriages Case – An Evening with Albie Sachs

On Monday night I had the privilege of hearing Albie Sachs talk about his involvement in legalising same-sex marriage in South Africa.  An amazing person, someone we can all learn something from.

See below for details on the event and some background on Albie Sachs.

Albie Sachs, Gabi Crafti, Michael Barnett & Gregory Storer (photo by Gaby Jung); Sep 20 2010
Albie Sachs, Gabi Crafti, Michael Barnett & Gregory Storer; Sep 20 2010 (Photo by Gaby Jung)

The Sacred and the Secular: The Same Sex Marriages Case – An Evening with Albie Sachs

Organisation The Human Rights Law Resource Centre
Date 20 September 2010
Description The Human Rights Law Resource Centre (HRLRC) invites you to an evening with Albie Sachs, Former Judge of the South African Constitutional Court, on the topic of ‘The Sacred and the Secular: The Same Sex Marriages Case’.Sachs was appointed by Nelson Mandela as an inaugural judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He was a member of the National Executive of the ANC and played a crucial role in South Africa’s transition to democracy, including by contributing towards the drafting the South African Bill of Rights. Whilst in exile in Mozambique in 1988, Sachs was badly injured by a car bomb placed by South African security agents. He lost an arm and the sight of one eye as a result.

As a judge of the Constitutional Court, Sachs was responsible for many landmark human rights judgments, including in relation to equality, non-discrimination and social and economic rights. In 1991, Sachs won the Alan Paton Award for his book ‘Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter’. He is also the author of ‘Justice in South Africa’ (1974); ‘The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs’ (1966); ‘Sexism and the Law’ (1979); and ‘The Free Diary of Albie Sachs’ (2004). Sachs’ latest book, ‘The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law’, will be launched in Melbourne at this seminar.

Sachs is visiting Australia to deliver the University of New South Wales Law Faculty Annual Hal Wootten Lecture.

Time: 5.45 pm for 6.00 pm to 7.30 pm.

Venue DLA Phillips Fox, Level 21, 140 William Street, Melbourne
Cost $30 ordinary; $15 concession
Contact admin@pilch.org.au

The Sacred and the Secular:

The Same-Sex Marriages Case


Albie Sachs

Former Judge of the South African
Constitutional Court

Albie Sachs was appointed by Nelson Mandela as an
inaugural judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa,
from which he retired in 2009. He was a member of the
National Executive of the ANC and played a crucial role in
South Africa’s transition to democracy, including through
the drafting of the South African Bill of Rights. In 1988,
while in exile in Mozambique, he was badly injured by a car
bomb placed by South African security agents, losing an
arm and the sight of an eye.
As a judge of the Constitutional Court, Justice Sachs was
responsible for many landmark human rights judgments,
including in relation to equality, non-discrimination and
social and economic rights.
In 1991, Albie Sachs won the Alan Paton Award for his
book Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. He is also the
author of Justice in South Africa (1974), The Jail Diary of
Albie Sachs (1966), Sexism and the Law (1979) and The
Free Diary of Albie Sachs (2004). His most recent book,
The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law, will be launched in
Melbourne at this seminar.
Albie Sachs is visiting Australia to deliver the University of
New South Wales Law Faculty Annual Hal Wootten

A Pluralist Panel on Homosexuality & Judaism: comment, photos and my address

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.


Tonight I talk on a pluralist panel on homosexuality and Judaism


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.

More later.

[09/06/10: Read my review of the evening here, along with photos and a link to the address I gave]

The world needs more people like Rochelle and Jonathan

The world needs more people like Rochelle Millar and Jonathan Keren-Black.

From time to time I find myself remembering Rochelle Millar.  The world needs more Rochelles.  The world also needs more Jonathans.  They’re decent people.  The world needs more decent people.


Rabbi Jonathan Keren Black and Rochelle Millar
Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black and Rochelle Millar

Gays are people too.  Jonathan Keren-Black.   LBC 04/11/06

At the end of the Noah story, Noah plants vines, makes wine, and gets drunk.  After all that he’d been through, you can hardly blame him!  But in his drunken state, his usual sense of modesty and decency seems to have been set aside – something inappropriate happened.  It is not at all clear what it was.  It involved his son Ham, who may only have seen his father naked – whatever it was though, Ham was damned as a slave for all time.

In our own portion this week, Avram palms off his wife Sarai as his sister.  She goes off to be one of Pharaoh’s wives.  Clearly this is again an inappropriate, at least potentially sexual, relationship.  And the bible abounds with such stories, such as Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar, who he thought was a prostitute, or Potiphar’s wife trying to entice Joseph.

The bible returns time and again to the theme of appropriate and inappropriate sexual relationships.  You probably heard the story of Moses returning to the Israelites – I’ve got good news and bad news, he says.  The good news is I’ve got it down to ten – the bad news is number seven is still in!  So we are reminded that the prohibition against adultery even made it into the ten commandments.

Just because something may have been considered inappropriate to our ancestors of three thousand and more years ago does not mean it is necessarily the same for us today.  For example, they decreed that if a woman was raped in a town, she and the rapist should both be put to death.  The rationale is that if she wanted to, she could have called for help.   Never mind that the rapist could be threatening her with a sharp flint or knife, or that no-one else dared go out to help.  The kind of argument that rightly causes a furore in the western media even today if someone suggests it.

Bear in mind that the goal of our ancestors was to build a big, strong nation – to produce as many children as possible, to successfully conquer the land of Canaan. The first commandment, given to the animals and then repeated to humans, was P’ru U’rvu – be fruitful and multiply.

If anyone felt attracted to their own sex, that was not considered normal or permissible.  It would not produce new children, more soldiers.  And so, right in the heart of Leviticus, we seem to have two strong prohibitions on homosexuality – one who lies with a man as with a woman should be put to death.  When, at a later stage, the ancient rabbis considered the matter again, they decreed that, even if you did have homosexual feelings, you should still marry and have children.  It was not in the feelings that one was sinning against God, but in the action.

Let us wind forward to 1885.  In Pittsburgh, the Reform movement of America held a conference and launched the so called Pittsburgh Platform, one of the formative documents of progressive Judaism.  In part it read ‘we hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age…’.  In other words, we do not consider the Torah to be binding on us, when it seems to conflict with our modern understanding and insight.  Now in 1885 it is likely that many of those wise rabbis of the Pittsburgh platform may well have been strongly homophobic.  Hopefully today we are not.  When we say that all are created in the image of God, we must truly mean it.  All are different, and in sexual identity, some are heterosexual, some are homosexual, and some are in between, or move over time in their sexual identity.  Today we understand that some people have a mismatch between their physical and emotional sexual identity.  None of this makes people better or worse, right or wrong.  Progressive Judaism, progressive religions in general, should not be prejudiced against any sexual identity.  We must address and check our own prejudice, and consider and treat each person as an equal creation of the one, all-loving God.

This is why I spoke last year and again last month at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Multicultural conference.  So far as we are concerned, people can be Jewish and Gay, and indeed for years we have been ordaining outwardly gay rabbis within our movement.  Rabbi Zylberman kindly directed me to a website and centre at Hebrew Union College for the study of human sexuality and Judaism.  There I found a prayer for coming out, and even one to use whilst taking medication for changing gender.

I am reminded of what an orthodox rabbi said at the end of the Jewish Christian Muslim conference last year: What I have to go back and explain to my congregation is that I didn’t meet Christians and Muslims, I met PEOPLE.   It is the same with the Queer conference.  I didn’t meet Homosexuals and Gays and Queers and Lesbians and Trans-sexuals – I met people, with cares and concerns about their lives and our world, just like everybody else.  Sometimes, people like to meet in interest groups, where they share something significant and feel safe and comfortable – like AFL, or an Italian, or an Israeli, background.  So we shouldn’t be surprised when gays sometimes also prefer to meet together – indeed they probably face far more prejudice from wider society than Italians or even Israelis!

I am delighted, therefore, to say that we at LBC are able to offer the Aleph group for gay Jews a home for some of their Shabbat, Pesach and New Year Havurot.  And gathering together is also empowering.  The more numbers, the more so.  This is why the Gay Pride rallies have become so important.  You might be aware of the huge battle being waged, so far through the courts, but sadly perhaps this week also on the streets, in Jerusalem.

This week the High Court finally ruled that is could go ahead, but  Yaacov Ederi, the minister responsible for Jerusalem, called on police commander Ilan Franco to reconsider and to transfer it to another city given the confrontations expected.  MK Nissim Zeev of Shas also called for the march to be stopped, saying that the participants should be sent for treatment. According to him 90% of the residents of the capital are against this demonstration.

On Tuesday the police arrested 14 orthodox protestors at an anti-Gay Pride demonstration. On Thursday they released 8 of them. They are not allowed to be in Jerusalem during the next two weeks.

On Thursday evening it was reported that the parade may be cancelled. If the police manpower necessary to safeguard it will interfere with general police operations, they may cancel it, says. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.  Sounds like he’s been got at!

I don’t have the latest update – but no doubt Israel will be back in the news again this week!  And of course, I hope it goes ahead safely and spectacularly.  Jerusalem is the capital for all Israelis, not just the ultra-orthodox – within which also, I understand, and as you would expect, there are more than a few gay Jews to be found.

The bible, as we saw, was preoccupied with what it considered to be inappropriate sexual relationships, and, though we would no longer accept its definitions, we would concur that there are appropriate and inappropriate sorts of relationships, and times and places.  Sex is ultimately a personal and private matter, as long as it is not exploitative or harmful.  Perhaps it is really not the realm of religion?

Finally, I mentioned Aleph a few moments ago, but Melbourne also has a Jewish lesbian group, and one of its key members over many years was a lovely woman named Rochelle Millar who I got to meet  just a few times over the past few years.  Rochelle was also involved in running the Australian Gay Multicultural council that organises the conferences.  Like me, she hailed from the United Kingdom, though her accent revealed that she came from across the Scottish border.  She arrived here when she was 14.  Michael Barnett knew her for longer than I did so I thank him for this information. He tells me that Rochelle was very proud of being a gay woman, and also of being Jewish.  Through both communities she made many lifelong friends and was loyal to them all.

Rochelle had an infectious laugh and smile and a sense of humour and outlook on life that made people want to be around her.
Sadly, the pneumonia with which she was first diagnosed turned out to be aggressive lung cancer, and her health deteriorated fairly rapidly over the past few months.  Yet up to the very end Rochelle had a smile on her face and a laugh in her voice.  She was an amazing woman that everybody loved and who loved everybody.  I believe that this was the closest to a Jewish ceremony that she had, and I am proud to be able to share it with you and with Michael and her other friends who are here this morning.  I think Rochelle would be smiling, and would be proud.  And I hope that we, as individuals and as a community, will all be a little more open to those who are a bit different, in some way or other, from ourselves.  After all, are we not all people, and all made in the image of the one, loving God?