JCCV, GLBT, and all the rest of us!
By Malki Rose
At the JCCV Plenum meeting in May 1999, delegates, non-delegates and rabbis spoke with impassioned fervour on the question of whether or not to admit Aleph, Melbourne’s only Gay Jewish group, into the protective shade of the JCCV umbrella. After more than two hours of heated discussion, voting took place and the results were 46 against and 39 for Aleph Melbourne affiliating with the JCCV. The motion was lost.
Two years ago Johnny Baker wrote an editorial piece in the AJN, in which he called for the dissolution of the JCCV, on the grounds that perhaps they were no longer sufficiently effective for the changing needs of the Jewish Community. Several others, including myself, wrote letters and spoke with the JCCV questioning whether ALL Jews were being supported in the community. They felt the JCCV’s approach to inclusiveness to be sorely lacking.
But two years on and a whirlwind of change and positivity has swept through the corridors of Beth Weizmann, with one of the community’s most contentious issues being placed firmly at the forefront the JCCV’s agenda of Jewish community concerns. In recent months, Mr John Searle, JCCV’s president, has established a Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (GLBT) reference group to gauge the needs of GLBT Jews in Victoria.
“While we are not in a position to argue or change where Jewish Law stands on these issues, we are most certainly in a position as a community structure to decipher, through this reference group, what sort of discrimination and vilification GLBT Jews are being subjected to by the rest of the Jewish Community, and figure out ways to combat this”, Mr Searle stated.
“While we at the JCCV, and certainly in my time as chairman of the ADC, are always combating any vilification perpetrated against the Jewish Community as a whole, we also recognise that there are plenty of internal issues within our community which need tackling as a matter of priority”.
We are indeed blessed to already have the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence in Melbourne, which has been assisting families and individuals in our community by offering support, counselling or refuge from family violence situations.
Last year, the JCCV also set up the Youth Alcohol Project and has been working with our schools to combat issues like teenage binge drinking, something to which Jewish kids are certainly not immune.
Mr Searle said that the GLBT reference group, comprising of a mix of individuals who had approached him with their concerns, also seeks to gauge the mental health concerns and risks, which young GLBT Jews may be facing.
Thus far, the reference group, which includes a qualified psychologist, has noted that there are relatively few instances of discrimination or vilification being perpetrated against GLBT Jews by ‘straight’ Jews.
Perhaps it is possible that smaller numbers of openly gay Jews equates to less instances of vilification or discrimination?
In speaking with Mr Searle, I suggested that some of the discrimination and exclusionary behaviour may also be too subtle to measure and also far more prevalent in the Orthodox community where the Halachic concerns play a stronger role in the community’s treatment or subtle exclusion of GLBT Jews.
Many GLBT Jews, having been excluded by the Jewish community as deviant or ‘people best avoided’, become disenfranchised and abandon the Jewish Community, seeking solace in the potentially more accepting embrace of the non-Jewish GLBT community, whose inclusiveness seems much more all encompassing.
The problem of course with this is that they are then by default left with a sense of disconnection from their Judaism itself. Such disconnection from one’s identity, cultural roots, family and community can lead to the slippery slope of malaise and low self-esteem. This could be a trigger, which ultimately results in disengagement and even severe depression.
According to Mr Searle, a key aim of the reference group is to work at a grassroots level with Jewish Schools to ensure that when these issues of sexual identity begin, as they do in adolescence, that the schools are equipped with the proper resources and support. That they are able to provide counselling on this specific issue and create a safe and protective environment for teens grappling with their sexuality.
“This is the outset and we have to ensure that teens in this situation do not fall through the cracks and become isolated. Surely it would be isolating enough to already feel different and unable to talk about this with one’s family and peers,” Mr Searle stated.
A recent programme on 60 minutes documented a Victorian Secondary school, Princes Hill Secondary College, which has been the first, hopefully of many, to have an openly encouraging policy towards gay and lesbian students. More than ten of the students spoke to camera, describing with broad and genuine smiles, the joy they experience in being able to come to school each day as their best and truest selves and flourish in a nurturing and supportive environment and without threats to their self-esteem.
The question is whether or not Jewish Schools would ever consider partaking in GLBT reference programmes or engaging with the JCCV’s reference group – at least in the interests of mental health. This is not a halachic issue, and as Mr Searle mentioned to me, not within his or the JCCV’s reach to be able to effect change on halacha. This is simply about compassion, support and protection. The JCCV was set up as an umbrella organisation to protect the needs of all Jews in the Victorian Jewish community. This reference group is a wonderful step in being able to effectively create this support and protection.
More than 10% of teenagers find themselves facing sexual identity issues and some of them are Jews, some of them are your kids or at the very least, someone else’s, some of them are in Jewish schools, and all of them need to feel supported by their community.
When a Jewish community forum was held to discuss the pressing and urgent issue of sexual abuse in the community, one Jewish school chose to be noticeably absent from the event and from participating in any way; the ostrich approach.
For the JCCV to be able to combat the internal issues of this community, whether they be youth alcohol abuse, family violence or mental health, it is clear that prevention is markedly easier and better than cure, and this will require cooperation and support from all sectors of the community.