When Dayenu – Sydney’s Jewish GLBT+ Group, had it’s first float in Mardi Gras 2000, it caused a lot of friction within the Jewish community. Since then many hostile views have been tempered with evermore compassion. Progressive communities have a strongly gay-friendly ethos, and many Orthodox congregations welcome their queer members, regardless of the technicalities of the halachic injunctions, which remain in place.
The upcoming plebiscite is seen by many as a political powerplay, a subversion and distraction from the law-making faculty of government. Australia is the last democracy to fall into alignment with the global validation of gay relationship, under the law. 23 countries have already passed same sex marriage laws.
This is not a time to be complacent that the change is inevitable. Many of us are called upon to return to grass roots activism, in which every conversation which influences someone’s view, can make a difference to gay folk across Australia and the world. The Marriage Equality website which great resources to assist people willing to engage in the conversation. [http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/conversations]
In Lev Raphael’s book Journeys & Arrivals, “Ron Ben Ezra recalls that around eighty percent of the Israelis urged to sign petitions about ending employment-related discrimination agreed that it was not fair, irrespective of whether they thought homosexualty was moral or immoral. Most surprising was that it was not possible to predict who would sing a petition based on class, background or age. ‘All those stereotypes went out the window for me. Even Orthodox Israelis signed.’”
This is not a time to challenge the Halachic position in relation to homosexuality. The plebiscite is not a Halachic survey, it is a queston of fairness, an example of Tikkun Olam [“Repair of the World”]. Each of us is given the opportunity to help shape history, and the moral fibre of this “fair” country. My prayer is for a civil society in which people are free to love, regardless of whether it follows a specific narrative. Marriage Equality makes space for more “love” in the world and more “chaverim ohevim” (loving companions).These qualities are highly valued within the broad Jewish narrative.
The Talmud teaches us that “To save a life, is to save a world” A disproportionate number of gay folk suffer from depression, anxiety and a range of mental health issues, most alarmingly gay youth suicide. Supporting this plebiscite sends a message of hope to these people. Many of them are estranged Jews, who could not find a home within the heteronormative communities which exist. Some remain within the community, either hiding their gay identity, or perhaps simply hiding feelings of shame and unworthiness, which further undermine their psychological well-being.
“Let us remember that we are all b’tzelem Elohim, created in the image of God. Let us remember that none of us are free until all of us are free. Let us strengthen our commitment to work for justice for all. May we be guided to be forces for healing and peace. May we wisely and strongly deploy our resources, energy and faith in service of Tikkun Olam and the Holy One.” [Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal newsletter in regard to Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.]
We should also remember that Jews and Gays share a common history in the atrocities of the Sho’ar. There is a memorial in Green Park next to the Jewish Museum which honours those gays who were also persecuted in those dark times. The pink triangle which came to be the symbol for gay identity, was first used to label gay prisoners in concentration camps, like the yellow star which was assigned to the Jews.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Many Jews I speak with have a long-standing support for gay rights. They feel that the issue of Marriage Equality is a non-issue. However, this is not the case. GLBT+ folk suffer from this drawn out examination of our right to love. It is very painful. The stress of being called upon to argue for this bears heavily on a culture which has suffered so much in so many ways. Each of us has the ability to ease some of this pain.
Another aspect of Tikkun Olam might be to reach out to Jewish LGBT+ folk and find a place for one or two at your table during the upcoming High Holydays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
I saw a facebook post of a daughter noting that her father was planning to vote “no” to the plebiscite. His justification was that “The government are asking me what I think, so I’m going to tell them.” His comment turns this potentially ground-breaking opportunity to stand for a better world, into an opinion poll, like whether you like chocolate cake or cheesecake. Eating cake comes down to a preference, making space of gay folk to express their love is a matter of moral conscience, and it has a big impact on their overall sense of well-being. It hurts.
I notice the television promotion for the plebsicite/survey focusing on the call to “change” marriage laws to include same sex. It is human nature to resist change. The man on facebook I referred to earlier is actually very supportive of gay rights. We must be vigilant to the tendency for many of us, to resist change and uphold conservative values at the expence of our deeper commitment to freedom and equality under the law.
At a recent forum organised by the National Council of Jewish Women, someone raised a question that “marriage” was between a man and a woman. Couldn’t gay folk find another word to describe their union? However, the dictionary definition is not restricted to those limitations. It can take time, for people to realise that the changes have already taken place.
Tiernan Brady (Executive Director of Australians for Equality) speaking at the same forum, commented that the day after the law has been passed in all 23 countries around the globe, the issue is no longer an issue, and life goes on as normal. “No one is less married or more gay.”
Robert Griew, a member of the Emanuel Synagogue who is committed to the cause of justice for Aboriginal people and a former CEO of the AIDS Council (ACON), made the following point when I was talking to him about the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
There is a parallel, Robert said “Surely it is time that we move beyond a community divided; that we see how much we all have to gain from acting from the unity between people and our common humanity, not in a society based on exclusion and denial.” I urge you to consider this line of thinking in relation to the issue of Marriage Equality and the upcoming Plebiscite.
In a recent email I recieved from the Prime Minister’s office, I was informed that “The Prime Minister and his wife Lucy will vote yes and they will be encouraging others to do the same.”
Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14. Hillel is”If I am not for myself, who is for me? and if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Reflecting on last weeks parsha, Shoftim, with its imperative to “pursue justice”, I urge each of us to find our own ways to promote the importance of walking the talk in regard to civil liberty for LGBT+ folk within the Jewish family, and beyond.
Ufros aleynu sukkot shlomecha – Spread over us the shelter of your peace.
We need your help.
Kim Gotlieb is the President of Dayenu – Sydney’s GLBT+ Group email@example.com www.dayenu.org.au