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Candid Talk About Sex : Synagogue Sponsors Seminar for Youths

February 26, 1987|DAVID WHARTON | Wharton is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

The rabbi hesitated, struggled with words that would make clear her sentiment on a delicate subject.

"Any kind of sex, any kind of, well, position . . . everything is OK with Judaism as long as it's an adult relationship, it's committed and nobody's forcing anybody to do something they don't want to do," said Rabbi Leslie Alexander. "Sex in Judaism is a very positive, wonderful thing. We don't have all that excess baggage that says sex is dirty."

Several of the girls and boys in an audience of teen-agers shifted, embarrassed, in their seats. True, these high school students had come to Adat Ari El Temple in North Hollywood to hear about sexuality, but perhaps some weren't expecting such candor.

"They're really open here," marvelled Oleg Korchmar, 15, of Tucson, Ariz. "They talk about a lot of things."

Adat Ari El last weekend held a kinnus , a convention, for 275 teen-agers from Arizona, Utah and California who are members of the nationwide United Synagogue Youth. The two-day symposium, titled "Perspective on Sexuality," featured several panels of experts who discussed premarital sex, homosexuality, AIDS and just about every other aspect of sexuality.

Temple officials boasted that presenting such material to teens in a religious setting was "history in the making."

Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Encino offers sexuality classes to its youths but has never gone so far as hosting a seminar with doctors, psychologists and family counselors. Other religious organizations and churches around the Valley said that teaching safe sex, contraception and acceptance of homosexuality was indeed unique to the religious community.

"We have premarital classes for our couples," said an official at Grace Community Church of the Valley in Sun Valley, who asked not to be named. "We've never done anything quite like that, nor would I think we plan to."

The talk at Adat Ari El's conference came in equal doses of religious morality and realistic acceptance of modern mores. Discussions ranged from biological to medical to emotional.

"We walk a very thin line because we have certain religious guidelines we respect," said Stan Beiner, the temple's director of education and youth. "At the same time, we realize what's going on out there."

The first topic of discussion for the weekend was the most difficult: homosexuality. Judaism is clear in its rejection of homosexuality, Beiner said.

"We are also cognizant of the fact that there are going to be some kids who will be facing this," he said. "It would be wrong to say, 'No! You can't do that!' "

So a rabbi told the teens that, just as Jews who do not keep kosher are welcomed to temple, so too are homosexuals. A psychiatrist discussed recognizing and dealing with sexual identity. A social worker spoke on accepting and respecting gays in society.

For a break from this debate, the teens held a '50s dance party Saturday night.

Sunday was back to work, though. The morning opened with a film on AIDS narrated by actress Rae Dawn Chong.

"AIDS isn't anybody's fault. There's no one to blame except the virus," Chong said in the film. "So, if you want to have sex, use a condom."

The word "condom" and the discussion of it in the film brought isolated titters. Otherwise, the kids listened attentively. Afterward, Dr. Larry Sher, a pediatric immunologist at UCLA, told several case histories and answered questions about the virus.

"We will not find a cure for AIDS for a long, long time," he said. "That's part of life. That's what you're going to see every day."

The group then broke into sections according to age. The older kids quickly fell into a discussion of love and lust.

Lori Goodman, an official from the Los Angeles Regional Family Planning Council, described lust as "thinking from the waist down" and love as thinking "also with the heart and mind."

"I don't know if you've ever seen monkeys have sex together," said Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism. "It looks like, from our perspective, that it's simply a physical act. With humans, it should be more than that."

Dorff quickly added that males ejaculate more often between the ages of 16 and 18 than at any other time in their lives.

"You are under a lot of physical pressure," he said.

Talk in the 14-year-olds' group was slightly more genteel. They were mostly interested in the intricacies of going steady and talking on the telephone.

"You can go to a dance and have a really good time without going with someone of the opposite sex," Janet Woznica, a psychologist, told the group. Not that many of the teen-agers appeared convinced.

The discussions weren't always engrossing. Some of the teens, those at the back of the room, whispered or giggled among themselves from time to time. But, for the most part, the participants seemed interested in what was being said and were eager to ask questions.

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