Progressive Judaism Victoria (PJV) has launched a new program to educate Melbourne’s Jewish community to deal sensitively with issues of sexuality and gender identity.

The educational program — Keshet — hails from the US and aims to educate Jewish leaders to create more welcoming environments for young LGBTI people.

PJV board member Jonathan Barnett is behind the initiative’s introduction and said the program would focus on raising awareness in Jewish schools.
“It’s about training the trainers,” Barnett told the Star Observer. “Basically, significant teachers, educators, rabbis, youth leaders get the training and they pass it on to their peers.

“It’s not a one-off thing, it’s a continuing activity.

The program is split into two modules, with a two-day training session for leaders and subsequent workshops for young people and families.Barnett said the program will operate similarly to state anti-bullying initiative Safe Schools Coalition Victoria, but in a Jewish context.

“One of the reasons this got started was to provide an inclusive environment for LGBTI Jews of all ages,” he said. “But you can’t say to a 30-year-old, now we have a wonderful warm place for you, because as a 12-year-old, they had no one to talk to.

“As a 12-year-old the community turned their back on them. How are you going to get them involved as a 30-year-old? It’s not going to happen.”

The push for LGBTI inclusion in Melbourne’s wider Jewish community has been rocky in recent years, with resistance in conservative quarters to a change in attitudes towards homosexuality.

“It’s very slow, I agree,” Barnett said.

“But I have patience because it takes time and when you’re dealing with sexuality, when you’re dealing with religious people, when you’re dealing with children, it’s always a challenge.

“Religious fundamentalists of any persuasion are always an issue. Are you ever going to change them? No. But we can change everyone else.”
The program was also backed by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) in December.

JCCV president Nina Bassat said the organisation has given in-principle support for Keshet and will help behind the scenes.
“What we hope to get out of it … is that the community is better briefed and better educated on an issue which causes a great deal of angst to members of our community,” she told the Star Observer.

The JCCV released a report last year which found members of the Jewish community face discrimination, harassment and abuse because of their sexuality or gender identity.


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