Friday, 31 January 2014

History made for Jewish GLBTI in Melbourne aka 35 years on - a bat mitzvah

Many years ago, I created the saying that something is truly powerful and comes from ones soul when a person feels like they floating on clouds while simultaneously having the strength to body-slam Andre the Giant.

Last night was one of those powerful moments.

This story starts way back in October 1978, when I was bah-mitzvahed at Temple Beth Israel in Alma Road, St Kilda, Victoria, Australia. Obviously, back then, I didn’t know what I know about myself now. I knew at that point there was “something going on re gender” but couldn’t explain or understand it. I remember being very nervous that day and someone going off to get peppermint tic-tacs. I remember Rabbi John Levi pulling a pocket compass out and saying that I would find my direction in life. And I remember the party in our back yard and that the weather was a perfect 25C for a week for the visiting relatives from England, Texas and elsewhere.

I also remember feeling a little strange and not understanding why at the time. With hindsight, I now know why. A ritual that was about my coming of age as a man wasn’t really going to cut it for this person. :)

I’ve written in Tiffany Jones and Luke Gahan’s pioneering Australian book “Heaven Bent,” published only last October about my experience re religion and spirituality. As of last night, 31 January 2014, there needs to be an addendum. The compass mentioned by Rabbi Levi has honed in more finely on my true direction i.e. being closer to my soul

Ever since I was contacted (by Jonathan Barnett of Keshet, thank you Jonathan) to say this service was happening, I felt incredibly excited on many levels. I had only been back to Temple Beth twice since that day in 1978. I actually read from the Torah for 2 weeks in a row. The first week I read the final passage from Deuteronomy, the next week was the opening words of Genesis. The week after was the bah-mitzvah for my best mate at Sunday school. I missed all of World Championship Wrestling 3 weeks in a row (c’mon, you know I had to mention wrestling).

Apart from weddings and funerals, I have not been to a formal schul service since then.

35 years.

And then...last night. Like the opening words of Genesis at the time of Simchat Torah, I began again.

Everyone had a sense of, in the words of Gorilla Monsoon, “history made” (another wrestling reference, sorry) as we gathered for pre-service wine, cheese and nibblies last night. It sure as heaven was historical. I rang my mum from the Temple grounds just before everyone arrived in excitement. A 90-year old Jewish gay man was in attendance – how awesome. I would love to meet and talk with him. 2 state politicians, David Southwick, MLA Caufield and Clem Newton-Brown MLA Prahran were in attendance. Both Clem (a nice Catholic boy) and David stayed for the service.

So many Jewish and GLBT friends were there. Some had come especially and missed their usual Friday night service elsewhere. I am extremely moved my dear friend Mandy and her partner, the latter who is not Jewish (what, you are not Jewish? J ) attended. For Mandy’s partner, it was his first ever Jewish service – well, always an experience. That Mandy attended was very special for 2 reasons: one being Mandy helped to achieve greater connection between my family and me a few years ago. The other, hold that thought...

The service was just right. It went for an hour in length, with respect for all, humour and acoustic guitar music. This kosher bisexual transgender cowgirl found that last bit highly acceptable.

And then came my turn to give a short reading. No nerves this time. I deliberately took time to pause and smile before reading and did so at the end too. The smile is still on my face this morning.

The Rabbi’s address at the end of the service was beautiful. To quote:

“We have moved on...” [re the journey of welcoming GLBTI Jews] in a response to complaints from a few people about the service.

“Community is not just you and you and you...genuine lasting community...requires us.” (emphasis both mine and his).

“Orthodox means fixed in Greek.”

“We are stronger because of our diversity.”

“We recognise there has been pain, there has been hurt, there has been suffering.”

The service was filmed by “The Schtick” on Channel 31/44 this space.

And then afterwards – the photos will say it all...well, nearly. To the people who know my parents, who came up introduced themselves and thanked me for what I am doing...thank you for saying that. After the afterwards...thank you to Jonathan C and Tali for hosting dinner at their home and for their great food.

I feel more connected within myself after last night. I hope that connectedness within me can radiate outwards in helping my efforts to ensure GLBTI people, Jewish or otherwise, feel more connected within themselves and more connected to their community/communities.

Something says this was the Bat Mitzvah (coming of age ritual for a Jewish woman) I had thought about but had never had...until now. Completeness.

As someone who works better with quiet thought, the saying “my temple is within” is one that works for me. I may or may not ever go to another schul service again. That’s not the point. To know I am part of a community where I am welcomed is the point. We can only have too much of that in our lives.

And last...take that earlier thought off hold. For me, this was the first time I had voluntarily attended a schul service in 48 years of living. For others, including Mandy,  it was the same or similar e.g. their attendance was for weddings etc – sort of semi-voluntary.

That, last night, we all went voluntarily, comfortably, proudly and happily to schul perhaps says it all.


  1. Beautifully written. I'm so delighted you have had a positive re-visitting with your shul and community. You certainly are welcomed.


    PS Rabbi Gersh is a breath of fresh air at TBI. So glad he has been a part of this important step forward.

  2. Andi - many thanks and although I met Rabbi Gersch for the first time on Friday and don't know a lot about TBI, I felt instantly comfortable in his company - good vibes :)

  3. Thanks for sharing, Sal. Gives a catholic boy an insight into Jewish lore.