Solidarity with persecuted minorities

The inaugural ‘Solidarity with the persecuted minorities of the Middle East’ event was held on November 23, attended by approximately 150 people. The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies hosted the event at the Sydney Jewish Museum and partnered with the NSW Council of Christians and Jews, NSW Ecumenical Council and the Baha’i, Yazidi, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Assyrian and Greek Orthodox communities. Dr Rachael Kohn from ABC Radio’s ‘The Spirit of Things’ moderated the panel discussion which included: (alphabetically) Ninos Aaron, Assyrian community; Dr Panayiotis Diamidis, Hellenic community; Venus Khalessi, Baha’i community; Nikki Marczak, representing the Yazidi community.

Remembering the 850,000 Jews forced out of Arab countries

Approximately 200 people attended this second annual event at the Sydney Jewish museum which focused on the Farhud – the pogrom against the Jewish community in Baghdad, Iraq in June 1941. Survivors of the pogrom and their descendants attended the event along with other members of the Sydney Mizrahi community and friends from the Coptic, Assyrian and Aboriginal communities and representatives from the Uniting Church and Sydney Alliance.

The keynote address was delivered by academic Dr Celia Romm Livermore and Julie Lippmann gave a personal testimony of the Farhud.

A moving video of Elisha (Marvin) Cohen was played, detailing the tragedies and brutal treatment his family suffered living in Iraq under the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein.

During the event, Sydney Jewish Museum CEO Norman Seligman, announced they would provide space for an permanent exhibition for the Australian Middle Eastern Jewish community as part of the museum’s expansion program.

New York’s Rabbi Bob Kaplan visits Sydney

The Board of Deputies Community Relations Committee arranged an intensive, 10-day speaking tour for Rabbi Bob Kaplan – a trailblazer in the world of inter-communal relations and Director of Intergroup Relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York Inc.

Rabbi Bob (as he is affectionately known) met with a broad range of individuals and organisations in Sydney including: Multicultural NSW, Rabbinical Council of NSW, Sydney Alliance, Rotary Peace Building Group, Limmud Fest (Central Coast), AUJS leaders and faith leaders from numerous groups such as the Uniting Church and Muslim Women’s Association. Rabbi Bob also provided expert advice to Board of Deputies staff on a number of projects and upcoming youth fellowships.

Welcome back fellows

Madeleine Holme, Lesli Berger, Brigid Meney.
Madeleine Holme, Lesli Berger, Brigid Meney.

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies hosted a lunch to welcome home seven of the ten participants on the Joshua Berger Family Fellowship study tour of Israel.

The 2016 group comprised political advisers, union officials and party executive members. It was the first visit to Israel for all the participants.

The participants were:

  • Thomas Aubert – Deputy Director, NSW Nationals
  • Benjamin Chapman – Chief of Staff, Health Services Union NSW
  • Greg Dezman – Central Executive and Central Council member of the NSW Nationals
  • James Fox – Senior Industrial Organiser, Ambulance Division, Health Services Union NSW
  • Madeleine Holme – National Political Strategist, United Voice union
  • Brigid Meney – Senior Media Advisor, NSW Office of Premier & Cabinet
  • Alistair Mitchell – Chief of Staff, Office of Steven Ciobo MP, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment
  • Simone Roworth – Advisor, Office of Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Luke Walladge – Private media and campaigns consultant and former senior political advisor for Labor Party MPs at the state and federal level
  • Felicity Wilson – State Executive member, Liberal Party of NSW

At the lunch, the participants shared their impressions of the mission and their appreciation of the complexities of the region.

The fellowship is organised by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and generously supported by Joshua and Lesli Berger.

Interfaith Activities

Creative Responses to the Holocaust

Remembering the Farhud

While the Jews of Europe were facing death across Nazi Europe, the Jews of Iraq encountered brutality at the hands of former colleagues, neighbours and fellow citizens in a massacre known as The Farhud. It took place on June 1-2, 1941, coinciding with what Iraqi Jews called “’Iyd Ez-Zyagha” – Shavuot.

For descendants of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, the Farhud was its equivalent of Kristallnacht – an event which rocked an established community, whose members were prominent in all fields of endeavour in Iraq – he arts, literature, public administration, the law, banking and overseas trade.

In the space of 48 hours more than 180 Jews were murdered, 600 injured, countless women raped and 1500 homes and businesses destroyed. Communal leadership estimated that 14,000 of the 90,000 Jews in Baghdad suffered directly in the Farhud.

The Farhud will be commemorated at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum next week on Tuesday 26 April at the Sephardi Synagogue, featuring Dr Myer Samra as guest speaker.
During the Farhud, thousands of protestors took to the streets, murdering and raping Iraqi Jews, looting homes and businesses in mob violence directed at the Jewish communities in Baghdad and Basra.
Just two months earlier, a coup had been staged by Nazi sympathisers, inspired by propaganda from German Consul Dr Fritz Grobba and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Haj Amin Al-Husseini, a Nazi sympathiser.
The British led a counter attack and the coup leaders fled the country on 29 May, 1941. Many Iraqis had supported the coup, and felt aggrieved by Britain’s role in the country, as colonial administrator under a League of Nations mandate from 1921 to 1932, and its continued “interference” in the affairs of independent Iraq thereafter.

Thousands of Jews fled Iraq in the wake of the Farhud. Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, hostility among the populace flared up once more, and by 1951, all but 10,000 Jews out of a pre-war estimated total of 150,000 had left the country.

In 2015 the United Nations proclaimed June 1 International Farhud Day in memory of those who were killed, in honour of those who survived, and to commemorate those who later became Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Dr Samra is a lawyer employed by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and a specialist in children’s law. He is also a part-time lecturer in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney on the Jewish communities of India and China, and is the editor of the Australian Journal of Jewish Studied. He will speak about the experiences of the Jewish community during the Farhud, touching on his family’s experiences as well.

In 2011, the Sephardi Synagogue commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the Farhud, featuring a lecture from historian Edwin Black. This year, the 75th Annivesary of the massacre, will be the first time that our community as a whole will be commemorating the Farhud.

Interfaith for young students

 Back from left: Callum Elks (St Paul’s Catholic College), Talia Miller, Bar Shulman and Olivia Chen (Masada College); front from left: Mona Sukkarieh (Amity College), Mark Makram (Masada College).

Back from left: Callum Elks (St Paul’s Catholic College), Talia Miller, Bar Shulman and Olivia Chen (Masada College); front from left: Mona Sukkarieh (Amity College), Mark Makram (Masada College).

ABOUT 150 Muslim, Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Christian and Jewish students from eight high schools came together to participate in the “Respect, Understanding and Acceptance” schools harmony program.
Devised and run by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the program annually brings together about 1000 students from over 35 schools across Sydney and caters to students in Years 9, 10 and 11.
The latest iteration of the program attracted Year 9 participants from Masada College (Jewish), Galstaun College (Armenian), Amity College (Muslim), St Paul’s Catholic College, Auburn Girls High School (government), St Spyridon College (Greek Orthodox), Marist College Eastwood (Catholic) and Brigidine College (Catholic).
Convened in the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Education Centre, the students met for a day of discussion, interaction and learning about each others’ cultures and traditions, followed by a focus on racism and the need to counter it. Each school delivered a presentation on its predominant culture and the students broke into groups to explore the impact that racism has had on their lives.
Delivering a closing address on leadership and racism, Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said the program encourages students “to respect difference and to have the guts to speak out when they see someone being marginalised or discriminated against”.

“It’s about recognising the humanity in others, particularly if we come from different backgrounds,” he said. “It’s about demonstrating leadership when we are challenged and not looking the other way.”

St Pauls Catholic College teacher Joanne Kalayzich said: “I haven’t been to the program for a few years, and this was the best one yet”, while Masada teacher Alex Symonds said “our students were changed by the experience and will be more aware of how they speak about other people”.

Courage in the face of Nazi brutality

This article featured in the Weekend Australian February 6, 2016 by Vic Alhadeff

Greek couple Jim Gouskos and his wife Denise at their home in the south of Sydney. Picture: Britta Campion
Greek couple Jim Gouskos and his wife Denise at their home in the south of Sydney. Picture: Britta Campion

Zakynthos is a magnificent speck in the ocean off the west coast of Greece. One of 1400 Greek islands, it is said that the Greek goddess of hunting, Artemis, hunted in the woods of Zakynthos.

The island was the scene of an extraordinary act of courage which saved an entire community from annihilation. That story was not widely known until recently, however, and it will be honoured in Sydney tomorrow evening.

For five centuries Zakynthos was home to a tiny Jewish community. Mainly tradesmen, artisans and glaziers, the community numbered 275 and blended seamlessly with the rest of the island population.

In October 1943 German forces arrived on Zakynthos with orders to round up the Jews and deport them to Nazi camps in mainland Europe — to their deaths. They made three stark announcements: an overnight curfew was imposed on Jews from 5pm to 7am; Jews were ordered to place a sign on their apartment doors indicating how many people lived there; and anyone helping Jews to hide or escape would be shot.

The commander of the German garrison, Paul Berenz, summoned the mayor, Loukas Karrer, and Bishop Chrysostomos Demetriou, and informed him the Jews would eventually be deported. Bishop Chrysostomos, who spoke fluent German, declared he would follow the example of Archbishop Demaskinos of Athens, who had publicly stated: “I spoke to the Lord and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.”

He argued that the Jews were indigent and a small community and there was no reason to target them.

Mayor Karrer warned the island’s Jews that danger was imminent and all 275 were given refuge in Christian homes in the various villages. The people of Zakynthos considered the Jews part of their society and had seen Jews elsewhere in Greece transported to the death camps. They refused to hand them over.

In October 1944, Commander Berenz again summons Mayor Karrer, but this time demands a list of Jews, including addresses and professions. If Karrer fails to return the next day with the requested list, Karrer will pay with his life.

Karrer rushes to Bishop Chrysostomos, who declares they will give them a list. The next day, he and the bishop meet German officer Alfred Lit and hand him two sheets of paper. One is a letter from Bishop Chrysostomos to the German High Command, insisting that the Jews of Zakynthos fall under his protection and will not be handed over. Furthermore, he and the mayor are prepared to follow them to the gas chambers, if necessary.

And then, in a monumental act of courage, they tell the officer that the second sheet of paper contains the names of the island’s 275 Jews. “Here are your Jews,” says the bishop. “If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me and I will share their fate.”

Yet that sheet of paper contains just two names — Chrysostomos Demetriou, bishop of Zakynthos, and Loukas Karrer, mayor of Zakynthos. Perplexed, the German commander sends both documents to the German High Command in Berlin, requesting instructions. The order to round up the Jews of Zakynthos is revoked and the German forces depart. Not one of the 275 Jews perished.

In 1948, in recognition of the heroism of the people of Zakynthos, its Jewish community donated stained glass for the windows of the Church of Saint Dionysios on the island.

In 1953 an earthquake rocked the island and the first ship to arrive with aid, food and medical supplies was from Israel with a message that read: “The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their mayor or their beloved bishop and what they did for us”. Israel’s Holocaust Museum duly honoured Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Karrer with the title “Righteous Among The Nations” and Greece’s Jewish community erected marble monuments of the courageous pair on the site where the island’s synagogue had stood before the earthquake.

Tomorrow night I have the honour of addressing Australian descendants of Zakynthos, including Zakynthos Association president Jim Gouskos, and saluting them for the inspirational courage and humanity of their people. In a world with so much prejudice and bigotry, it is people such as Loukas Karrer and Chrysostomos Demetriou who enable us to keep our faith in humanity alive.

Vic Alhadeff is chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. This is an extract from his address to the NSW Zakynthian Association and the NSW National Council of Jewish Women of Australia. Twitter: @VicAlhadeff