“This is the hardest conversation I’ve ever had – but the harder a conversation is to have, the more important it is to have it,” said David Tsor, as he began addressing the 250 guests at the Sydney Jewish Museum for the annual commemoration the Plight of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran organised by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
Aged 21, David is the descendant of Iraqi and Libyan Jews who fled the Middle East in the 1940s to Israel and other countries as a result of persecution. The audience grimaced and gasped as David described the horrors that befell many members of his family and the Jewish community of the Libyan capital Tripoli during a three-day pogrom in November 1945 during which 120 Jews were murdered and hundreds more injured. Jewish businesses, homes, schools and synagogues were vandalised and destroyed. The violence suffered by Jewish individuals, including children and pregnant women, was harrowing.
David told the audience that Libyan Jews, some of whom had families living in Libya dating back centuries, had been rounded up in 1942 – some sent to labour camps in Libya and Tunisia, others sent to concentration camps in Italy, eventually being transported to the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.
Shadow Minister Walt Secord MLC, Ethnic Communities Council of NSW CEO Mary Karras and Multicultural NSW Acting CEO Ross Hawkey were among the VIPs in attendance, as well as 25 faith and ethnic leaders.
Janine Joseph, incoming AUJS President at the University of Sydney who is of half Ashkenzaki half Sephardi heritage, implored the community not to “conflate being Jewish with being Ashkenazi, as if specific aspects such as Yiddish or Gefilte Fish are a binding force for all Jews”.
She said that the Sephardi/Mizrahi community faces the danger of losing its diverse set of cultures if we do not educate our children about the richness of their heritage and identity.
“I believe this history deserves to be taught in our schools alongside Holocaust education, but also be included in Holocaust education because Nazi propaganda infiltrated the Arab world and influenced Arab leaders. There were concentration camps in Libya and Tunisia, and some of those Jews were transported to the camps in Europe. And like the ‘Righteous among the Nations’, stories of Muslims hiding and protecting Jews from persecution are plentiful”.
At their AGM in September, AUJS unanimously passed a motion to increase the wider community’s awareness of its Sephardi and Mizrahi members. [Full resolution text].
“My hope is for an inclusive space where a forgotten narrative will not only be remembered, but celebrated alongside Ashkenazi culture, not out of a sense of obligation, but out of pride and a desire for exploration”.
After the speeches, candle-lighters came forward to each light a Hannukah menorah in memory of their relatives from Arab lands and Iran – six countries being represented: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco and Yemen.
The commemoration was interspersed with uplifting Mizrahi and Sephardi musical numbers by Emanuel Synagogue’s Cantor George Mordecai and his band, that encouraged audience participation.
Shannon Biederman, Curator Collections at the Sydney Jewish Museum, announced that funding had been secured for a permanent Mizrahi/Sephardi exhibition and her team was currently collecting stories and artifacts.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies President Lesli Berger said “The destruction of Jewish life in Arab lands is a tragic chapter in our history that must be told. We must tell of the generations and families ripped from their ancestral homes and acknowledge that the pain caused by those events still lingers in those families today. We as a community have a responsibility to recognise that there are many among us who still harbour that pain and we must dedicate ourselves to ensuring that we commemorate those events in the same way we recognise the other many tragedies to have befallen our people.”
November 29, 2018
Vic Alhadeff is CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. He travelled to Germany as a guest of the German Foreign Ministry.
THE cry was as jarring and intrusive as it was unexpected. Huddled against a bracing Frankfurt autumn morning, the delegation of Jewish leaders from centres as diverse as Novosibirsk, Siberia, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, was listening to an outdoor briefing about the turbulent history which lay behind a sign that simply said “Judenmarkt”.
Just metres away was an elongated grey wall, its surface punctuated by tiny metal boxes – simulated coffins? – each bearing biographical details of one of the 11,500 Jews of Frankfurt who were murdered in the Holocaust. And behind the wall a now-disused Jewish cemetery.
Suddenly, a cream-coloured Mercedes taxi raced towards us; as it passed, the driver lowered his window and yelled “Alles luege!” – which translates, unfortunately, to “All lies!”
The irony that the vicious invective occurred during the final presentation on the final day of a week-long government program titled “Jewish Life in Germany” was not lost on the international visitors, while visibly rattling our guide’s composure.
A commendable initiative of the German Foreign Ministry, the comprehensive schedule of briefings, memorial visits and participation in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht immersed us in the fraught situation in which the German government and the nation’s 250,000 Jews find themselves.
Headlining the most disturbing aspect of the evolving landscape is the eruption onto the political scene of an extremist party with neo-Nazi elements, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD). From a standing start, it burst into prominence in September 2017 and now occupies an alarming 92 seats in the Bundestag (German parliament), making it one of the country’s largest opposition parties, while boasting MPs in all 16 of the nation’s state parliaments.
Exploiting widespread anger at the 2015 influx of one million Syrian refugees, its principal platform is opposition to Muslim immigration. In this context it presents itself as a safe harbour for Jews, launching a Jewish group at a recent meeting in Wiesbaden. The good news is that only 19 Jews showed up, while 400 Jews staged a counter-demonstration and affirmed that they would have nothing to do with the AfD, consistent with the policy of the country’s peak Jewish organisation.
While the rise in antisemitic incidents is attributed in part to the left, to Islamists and to refugees, an estimated 94 per cent are perpetrated by far-right extremists – all of which has motivated Germany’s Foreign Ministry to establish a position dedicated to combating antisemitism and liaising with German Jewry. The appointee is Dr Felix Klein, who addressed us at last week’s Kristallnacht ceremony in Frankfurt and is building a department to devise a strategy to promote Jewish life in Germany. At the same time, 300 municipalities across the country are engaged in programs against hate.
While German Jews are spread across 103 communities throughout the country, creating significant logistical challenges, there are many positive events on the country’s Jewish calendar. They include: Jewrovision – the largest music festival for Jewish youth in Europe, annually bringing together 1000 Jewish teenagers for an entire weekend; Kippa Day, when the mayors of Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich and Cologne invite male citizens to turn up at City Hall wearing a kippa as a mark of solidarity with Jewish citizens; a project to educate Syrian refugees about the Holocaust and antisemitism; the import of Arab-speaking Israelis in an effort to build bridges to the refugees; and a conference last week by Jewish youth on the future of Germany’s Jewish community with the upbeat theme “Because I want to live here”.
Meanwhile, Berlin leads the way in publicly acknowledging the Holocaust. Apart from the iconic landmarks such as the massive memorial just 200 metres from the Brandenburg Gate and its major museums, 6000 Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) – metal plates – are inlaid into pavements across the city at the sites from where Jews were deported, their personal details engraved.
And, chillingly, we came across a bus stop outside a large hotel featuring massive billboards with information about Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann – because the hotel is located on the site of Eichmann’s headquarters, from where he directed the killing operations.
So the situation is complex. German Jews – who today include possibly as many as 30,000 Israelis – are overwhelmingly positive, while expressing concern at the emergence of the AfD. At the same time, an increasing number of British Jews are applying for German citizenship in the event that Jeremy Corbyn becomes that country’s prime minister.
Yet there are Germans – a growing phenomenon among younger demographics – who are angry with the Jews because of the Holocaust, who in fact have not forgiven the Jews for the Holocaust. There are 1600 years of rich Jewish history in Germany, they point out; why this obsession with 12 of those years?
How succeeding generations tackle and answer that most vital of questions will hold a key to the future of that country’s Jewish community.
By Michelle Blum November 29 2018
Until several years ago, Israeli television regularly screened public advertisements warning citizens that “Israel is drying up” and urging them to conserve water.
Israel’s lack of water security, compounded by a long drought, was considered by strategic experts as a potential existential threat to the state — on a par with war and famine. But within a few years Israel turned it around.
The alarming TV ads have gone. Today, notwithstanding the fact it inhabits one of the driest regions on Earth and is in the fifth year of drought, Israel has the water to meet the needs of its population, farmers and industry.
How did this come about? And what are the lessons for Australia as we yet again struggle with drought?
Israel is a drier country than Australia, receiving average annual rainfall of about 435mm compared with our 534mm. More than half of Israel is desert.
Obviously, Israel is also much smaller than Australia, less than one-third the size of Tasmania, receiving 0.2 per cent of Australia’s total rainfall volume.
Despite this, it supports a population of eight million, exports significant agricultural produce and still has enough water left over for gardens, to wash cars and to fill swimming pools.
This has been achieved through three water “revolutions”, with a fourth about to start.
The first was in the 1960s, with the more efficient use of water in agriculture, and in particular the widespread adoption of drip irrigation. By placing water directly on to the root zone of crops, minimising evaporation, and keeping soil moisture content at optimum levels, farmers discovered they could grow more using less water. Today, the black tubular piping and drippers made by Netafim and first developed on a kibbutz in Israel are seen around the world, including on thousands of farms across Australia.
The second revolution was prompted by the realisation that Israel could not afford to waste its water. Large-scale water recycling was the answer, gradually adopted from the 80s onwards. Today, Israel collects, treats and purifies more than 80 per cent of its waste water, recycling it for agricultural use four times more than the next-best OECD nation, Spain.
The third revolution came in the early 2000s, when Israel’s growing population and failing rains threatened to widen the gap between available water resources and needs. Its response was to build five desalination plants in a decade, with the first coming online in 2005: now 70 per cent of the country’s drinking water comes from desalination. Two new plants are under construction.
Israel’s population grows by about 1.5 million people each decade and, with the growing risks to rainfall patterns posed by climate change, it needs to stay ahead of the curve. It is now embarking on its fourth water revolution, involving technology in all aspects of water use and management. These innovations include breeding more water-efficient crops, increasing the re-use of waste water, and using big data and analytics to improve water network efficiency and detect leaks and burst underground pipes.
Several of the Israeli technology companies at the forefront of these innovations have found their way to Australia. Fluence Corporation is a leader in providing modular and deployable solutions for the treatment and re-use of waste water. Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies is pioneering commercial technology to harness water for crop-growing from background humidity, using condensation, and to optimise root zone soil temperatures for greenhouse crop cultivation.
And TaKaDu is helping water utility companies across Australia save thousands of megalitres of water and millions of dollars by using algorithms and artificial intelligence to identify and track leaks in real time.
Today’s is not the longest drought Australia has experienced and it certainly will not be the last. But although droughts will remain a way of life here, we can be better prepared for them. Key to this is using our existing water resources more wisely and building resilience into our water network and infrastructure.
Israel is a showcase for how innovation, technology and a willingness to try new approaches have allowed a country to thrive and prosper notwithstanding a tough and dry climate. Australia can learn much from it.
Michelle Blum is chief executive of the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce.
By Helene Cadry
My siblings Janet and Eddy and I were born in the Iranian capital Tehran. The paternal side of our family had lived in Iran for many generations and culturally assimilated into society, as had many Jews living in various other cities such as Shiraz, Mashad, Isfahan.
Iranian Jewry is one of the oldest Jewish communities, having settled there about 2,700 years ago, and for the last 1,400 years living under Muslim rule.
On the maternal side, my grandfather was born in Mashad – a city renowned for its forced conversion of Jews to Islam in the early 1800s. He met and married my grandmother in Jerusalem and traveled extensively for business, eventually settling in Shiraz for several years. As the leader of the Jewish community there, my grandfather built a house with a synagogue where the congregation would gather to pray.
Living in Tehran with my family during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi we enjoyed a privileged lifestyle, could integrate freely with other Iranians and be part of a vibrant, productive Jewish community. This was a period often referred to as “The Golden Age for Iranian Jewry”. We lived close to our large and loving extended family with whom we shared many simchas. My siblings and I attended a French school where lessons were conducted in French and Farsi.
As a young man my father traveled extensively, studying Industrial Chemistry at a French University and working for the famous Coty company before returning to Tehran to establish his own successful cosmetics manufacturing business. He predicted that the future of the Jewish community in Iran would not remain “so golden”. We left Tehran for Sydney in 1952, leaving behind the extended family, the majority of whom eventually made new homes in Los Angeles and New York in the 1960s. However, we were blessed to have an addition to our family with the birth of my younger brother and sister – the twins Bobby and Denise in 1958.
With the overthrow of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and subsequent executions of innocent, prominent Jews, my family was grateful for our father’s foresight.
At its peak the Jewish population of Iran was 100,000. It is now estimated to be somewhere between 8500-15,000 – the largest Jewish community in the Middle East (outside of Israel).
Please join me on Monday December 3 at the Sydney Jewish Museum for the annual communal commemoration of the Plight of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran. Details below.
Helene Cadry is on the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ organising committee for the annual commemoration of the Plight Jews from Arab Lands and Iran.
Jeremy Spinak, Immediate Past President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, died tragically last week from cancer aged 36. Dozens of dignitaries paid their respects by attending his funeral service and minyan, including: Federal MPs Julian Leeser, Dr Kerryn Phelps and Mike Kelly; NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian; Ministers Gabrielle Upton and Ray Williams; Labor leader Michael Daley and Labor parliamentarians Luke Foley, Walt Secord, Penny Sharpe and Sophie Cotsis; and Nationals MP Tanya Davies.
Tributes to Jeremy have poured into the Board of Deputies office, whilst on Tuesday Michael Daley led the Labor Caucus through one-minute’s silence, an honour usually only afforded to former parliamentarians.
Statement by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian read by Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins at the funeral on November 18:
‘Jeremy was an outstanding community advocate and an amazing human being. He had a huge impact on everyone he met, including myself, and will be so sorely missed. Jeremy was dedicated to forging strong links between our multicultural and religious communities and was a champion of an inclusive and harmonious State. Whether mentoring young Jewish leaders, advocating for policy reforms or strengthening ties with the diplomatic community, Jeremy represented our State’s Jewry with pride and distinction. Jeremy’s leadership was crucial to the NSW Government’s passage of landmark reforms to protect our State’s communities from the incitement of violence, replacing section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.’
Extract from NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard
TRIBUTE TO JEREMY SPINAK
Mr RAY WILLIAMS (Castle Hill—Minister for Multiculturalism, and Minister for Disability Services) (17:19):
I offer condolences to Jeremy Spinak and the entire Jewish community. Today I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Jeremy Spinak at the age of 36, a person who has committed so much to the Jewish community and multicultural communities more broadly across New South Wales. During Jeremy’s tenure as President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, which he held up until three months ago, the organisation has grown from strength to strength.
A much loved and greatly respected leader of the Jewish community, Jeremy’s presence will be sorely missed. A tireless supporter of social cohesion and harmony across our communities, Jeremy focused on building a safer New South Wales for all our multicultural communities. He was a bridge builder between those communities. My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of members in the New South Wales Parliament, are with the Spinak family and the Jewish community during this time of sorrow.
Over 700 people came together at The Great Synagogue to pay their respects to the victims and survivors of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh. Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton read condolence messages from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Governor-General David Hurley AC DSC FTSE.
Rabbis from numerous congregations took part in the memorial service and the community was joined by representatives from many religious and cultural communities in addition to: Bruce Notley-Smith MP, representing Premier Gladys Berejiklian; Member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps AM; Walt Secord MLC representing Opposition Leader Luke Foley; Paul Green MLC; and Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies.
The memorial was organised by the Board of Deputies, The Great Synaoguge, Emanuel Synagogue and The ECAJ.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies is receiving applications for the Saul Symonds Summer Internship 2019 which runs for six weeks starting Monday January 14.
We’re looking for a university-aged person with a passion for Jewish issues, politics and Israel.
The work will be varied and may include a major project to be completed throughout the internship.
The Board of Deputies is the voice of the Jewish community and represents our interests to government, media and other ethnic and religious groups. The successful applicant will gain personal and professional skills from the community’s premier public affairs organisation.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 9am – 5pm. Offices closes at 3pm on Fridays.
Please send resume and cover letter (no more than one page) to:
Jewish Community Relationship Manager
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies
A stipend is paid.
Applications close Friday December 7.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies congratulates Dr Kerryn Phelps on her election as the Member for Wentworth.
Her electoral victory is underscored by the fact that she is the first Jewish Member for Wentworth in the long history of that seat and the first female Jewish MP in the federal parliament, bringing the number of Jewish MPs currently serving in the federal parliament to seven.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies looks forward to working with Dr Phelps as the incoming Member for Wentworth.