Anti-Semitism is rearing its head in schools and universities across Australia, with one Jewish leader taking the issue up with a deputy vice-chancellor of a major university and another calling for the swastika to be banned.
Children in primary school are among those who have recently been targeted, and an outbreak of anti-Semitic graffiti has led the chair of the Melbourne-based Anti-Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, to call for the current “swastika epidemic” to be tackled by law.
In Sydney, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said legislative action was “vital”.
“The alarming spike in anti-Semitic incidents is evident across the board, from the tertiary sector and schoolyard to the workplace and online space,” he said. “Just this week we received a call from a student looking to switch universities because she has copped relentless anti-Semitic abuse. Two weeks ago, I met with the pro vice-chancellor of one of our major universities to discuss the rise in incidents on that campus.”
That meeting was in relation to incidents at the University of Sydney, he said.
He said TAFE NSW recently introduced protocols for staff and students in regard to racism, anti-Semitism and intimidation “and we’ve seen a rash of Nazi swastikas on Bondi beachfront — the symbol of the ultimate in race hatred”.
Dr Abramovich said the swastika should be banned across Australia, following a spate of graffiti attacks in Melbourne.
Similar incidents have occurred in Canberra, where rabbi Shmueli Feldman said his Chabad ACT centre had been egged and vandalised and he and his familyverbally abused. “Children as young as 11 are being taunted in the playground by other children with slurs like ‘We love Hitler’, ‘Heil Hitler’ and things of that nature,” he said.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry recorded a 59 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents last year, and anecdotal evidence suggests there may be a rise in graffiti attacks this year.
In Melbourne, cafe owner Aliza Shuvaly, whose mother-in-law is a Holocaust survivor, found someone had scrawled the words “The Holocaust is a lie”, along with a swastika, on the fence outside her cafe in Chadstone.
Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO, Chair of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Taskforce on Child Protection and Chair of the ECAJ National Working Group on Child Protection, arranged and moderated a high-level panel of experts, including the NSW Children’s Guardian Janet Schorer, to discuss Child protection in the Jewish community: Awareness, Prevention, Redress at the July plenum.
Each panelist brought their expertise to the topic, covering: the legal framework, government assistance, child-safe standards, community training, the National Redress Scheme, reporting to police and ethical issues.
Jewish House CEO and National Mental Heath Commissioner Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM gave a moving address, describing how he’s witnessed survivors of child abuse break down in tears when offending organisations provided an apology. He also urged Jewish community organisations to join the National Redress Scheme. Rabbi Kastel’s notes can be read [HERE].
Bettina Cass writes:
After the Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the introduction of the National Redress Scheme, the over-arching responsibilities to maintain child-safe spaces have changed and we must adapt to ensure that all of our organisations comply.
The strong message is that child protection is a communal responsibility, involving religious and lay leaders, teachers, parents and all who have any responsibility for children. The special panel of five distinguished experts covered the ways in which institutions can embed and ensure child-safe spaces, through well-understood, preventative child-centered practices.
The overarching message is that our community needs the information, confidence and resolve to respond effectively to the statutory requirements and ethical procedures essential for child safety. The morally compelling issue of signing on to the National Redress Scheme to ensure institutional apology, counselling and financial redress for past survivors of child sexual abuse was also well-covered.
The expert speakers were Janet Schorer, the NSW Children’s Guardian whose office has responsibility for all aspects of child protection; Julianna Demetrius, Assistant Ombudsman in the NSW Ombudsman’s Office, who is preparing on-line information for faith-based organisations on Child Protection; Deborah Blackman, Director of Educare, Protecting our Children Together who conducts regular training sessions for schools, synagogues and youth movements; Rabbi Mendel Kastel, CEO of Jewish House, who led Jewish House to be the first Jewish organisation in NSW to sign up to the National Redress Scheme; and Peter Wertheim, co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, who reported on Jewish community organisations’ responses to the National Redress Scheme.
Dr Michelle Meyer, CEO of Tzedek, Australia’s support and advocacy group for Jewish survivors of child sexual abuse, was invited to join the panel but was unable to be in Sydney. Her paper was tabled and referred to.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies strongly encourages all community organisations and members to play an active role in reinforcing the Jewish community’s commitment to child protection, the establishment and maintenance of child-safe institutions and signing on to the National Redress Scheme.
On July 16 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum hosted a high-level panel at the Sydney Jewish Museum on the topic ‘Child protection in the Jewish community: Awareness, Prevention, Redress‘.
One of the panelists was Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM, CEO of Jewish House and National Mental Health Commissioner. Below are the notes on which he based his address to the plenum.
Acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eorah nation its elders past present and emerging.
Thanks to Bettina and all on the panel.
I stand before you today as a Chabad rabbi who has served the Sydney Jewish community for more than 30 years.
As someone who has run many camps and youth programs within synagogues and other religious institutions and as a Jew in this wonderful community.
I stand here knowing that over the years there were children who were abused in our community – in synagogues, schools and youth programs.
I have in some cases reported cases to the police.
I have sat with victims/survivors who did not want to go to the police.
I have seen firsthand the devastation for the person who has been sexually abused.
Whether it’s the person who says I wake up every day and wish I was dead or supporting others to survive their pain.
Whether it is trying to help the person who turns to drugs to survive or the person who talks about the number of friends who have taken their lives because they could not cope – I have seen it all.
Some would ask does this really happen in our Jewish community, in our schools, synagogues and youth institutions.
The answer is unfortunately yes.
Today, standing in front of the formally elected members of our communal roof body I believe it is an appropriate time to say – I am deeply and sincerely sorry.
We let these children down.
It is our communal duty to commit to doing everything in our power to make sure that children are safe in our institutions and that those who have been abused are provided with appropriate redress which includes an apology, compensation and funding for their treatment.
While we could talk about what people thought 20-30 years ago on how to report etc. today there is no question.
If there is a suspicion of such a matter it must be immediately reported to the police and then guidance must be sought as to how to handle it within your institution.
As part of my work at Jewish house where we have seen and supported a number of survivors, I believe strongly that we as a community must show leadership and address these issues in our institutions and community.
I will highlight some of the work already done but there is much more to do.
We have facilitated the training rabbis with the NSW Ombudsman and Children’s Guardian, Cathy Kezelman, FACS.
We have advocated for synagogues and religious institutions to be included in the reportable conduct scheme and have been part of the reference group to help standardise best practice across all religious institutions with the ombudsman’s office.
We have worked with a number of camps and other organisations including Synagogues to implement and standardise procedures for reporting.
We have worked closely with the board of deputies and ECAJ to see that this is put on the agenda as well as working with Tzedek to share with them how to help the communities around Australia.
We have participated in a number of community forums and conferences to discuss child safety.
All of the above is important and is a good start, but we need to stay vigilant and ensure the safety of our children as our number one priority.
I think its important that organisation sign up or have a redress program in place.
We need to hold organisation to the highest standard and ask them if they have their policies in place and up to date, their Venue Audit and signage, latest training for their staff, appropriate communication with their members.
Together we will make sure our kids are safe and supported.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies is the elected representative roof body and voice of the Jewish Community of NSW.
Our vision is to maintain and enhance a united NSW Jewish community, adequately resourced, enjoying physical and political security as part of a harmonious, inclusive, democratic Australian society.
We are currently recruiting for the new full-time role of Public Affairs Administration Assistant which provides admin support to the Public Affairs team. This includes ensuring the efficiency and reliability of the database as it relates to the membership of the JBD, Jewish community and sectors related to the work of the Public Affairs team.
Provide administrative assistance to the Public Affairs team, including research and correspondence
Assist with all NSW JBD events as required
Assist with all aspects of monthly plenum meetings, including registration and attendance.
Keep database up to date for relevant areas for the Public Affairs team
Research and contact constituent and communal organisations to ensure that information in the database is up to date.
Process membership forms, invoices, prepare mail-outs and prepare the logistics needed for the NSW JBD to run recruitment drives and follow up lapsed members. In addition the PA assistant will help with the logistics involved with JBD elections.
Assist with intern recruitment and management
Assist with the leadership course
Ensure that meetings for the Public Affairs team and committee are set up and cleaned afterwards and assist with other needed logistics for these meetings.
Key Performance Indicators Under the direction of the Public Affairs Manager:
Maintain an up-to-date database of all members, Constituent and Communal Organisations.
Membership processes are streamlined and membership numbers are increased.
Correspondence is prepared in a timely and professional manner.
Ensure daily office needs for the Public Affairs team are met.
Professional Experience and Qualifications
Experience in the use of CRM/database systems,
Strong experience in office systems.
Knowledge of the NSW political landscape and the Jewish community
Experience in a similar role.
Personal attributes for success in the role
Ability to focus and complete tasks and projects within the agreed time-frame
Proven ability to work well under pressure and problem-solve
A high level of self-motivation, attention to detail and the ability to multi-task
Communication and team skills
Excellent verbal and written communication skills
Ability to deal with the changing priorities of the Public Affairs team and CEO.
To apply, email your resume and and cover letter to Public Affairs Manager Byron Danby by July 31: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Anderson, Chief Executive Officer Beverley McGarvey, Chief Content Officer
Dear Paul and Beverley
If one harboured any doubt about the inflammatory tone of Todd Sampson’s Body Hack program on Gaza on June 25, 2019, I invite you to read the brief selection of Facebook comments on the show’s Facebook page Todd Sampson’s Body Hack post 10:06pm June 25; (please see below).
The egregious lack of balance – despite Mr Sampson declaring during the program that he was “not taking sides” – has predictably led to an outpouring of hate mail against Israel, and by extension against the Jewish community, to the extent of members of the public drawing analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany. We understand the importance of ratings for a commercial network, but the lack of context or balance – or indeed, of journalistic or ethical responsibility – for what the network put to air on this occasion was appalling.
Mr Sampson lamented the lack of medical supplies and electricity experienced by Gaza’s major hospital; yet did not deem it relevant to mention that Hamas – which controls Gaza – has diverted untold millions of dollars of international aid building sophisticated tunnels to be used to abduct and murder Israelis. He depicted heartbreaking scenes of Palestinian children who had sustained injuries in the so-called peaceful protests at the Gaza-Israel fence; yet did not deem it relevant to ask any Palestinian parent why they would take children to what was – according to Mr Sampson’s own apt description – a war zone. The litany of such examples of his “taking sides” – to borrow his own expression – and of a consequent lack of context or balance is damning, flying in the face of his repeated expressions of grief and sorrow at Palestinian suffering, as against his fleeting and heavily qualified reference to Israeli civilian suffering.
The film has been screened, the damage has been done. The purpose of this letter is to respectfully urge you to be mindful on future such occasions of the imperative to ensure balance and context when depicting such fraught and complex situations. In fact, I wrote to Network Ten a fortnight before the program was screened to urge that the voice-over accompanying the footage be measured and balanced. Very unfortunately, the opposite occurred.
Child protection in community organisations is a collective responsibility.
Acting together with full knowledge and awareness, we must promote child safe cultures and best-practices.
After the Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the introduction of the National Redress Scheme, the over-arching responsibilities to maintain and sustain child safe spaces and practices in our community have changed and we must adapt.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies is hosting a panel of experts on Tuesday July 16 at 7.30pm on Awareness, Prevention and Redress: Child protection in the Jewish Community. All deputies, Board members and community members are encouraged to hear from topic experts and take part in the Q&A discussion.
Delivered on June 18 at the Sydney Jewish Museum Education Centre to the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum.
Ladies and Gentlemen, before anything else tonight I must make mention of a person whom I think epitomizes more then anyone else what this topic is about. You see, the question of Freedom of Religion is really asking whether someone can live a full life as a contributing member of society and Australian Citizen and at the same time live a fully observant life as a Religious Person, in our case as a Jewish Person.
I must therefore make mention of my grandfather of Blessed Memory, The Hon Joseph Max Berinson QC, a Minister in both Federal and State Politics who was always held up as an example of how one could serve Australia at the highest level and at the same time live a full Jewish Life. On becoming the Western Australian Attorney General in the early 80’s my grandfather gathered his staff together and told them he would not be contactable from late Friday afternoon until Saturday night and that if he was ever at a function where food was to be served, they should arrange for him to be served a plain undressed salad and that if anyone asked they were to state unequivocally that it was not because he was vegetarian but because he was Jewish. Tonights plenum falls out just a few days from his first Yartzeit, a year since his passing and I am honoured to be speaking here tonight with Mr Ruddock who served in Federal Parliament with my grandfather.
My grandfather’s life is of course a story about a wonderful man with extraordinary talent who used everything he was given to benefit his community and society at large. But it is also a story about the amazing country that we live in. My grandfather was born in Australia to penniless immigrants from Tzfat in Northern Israel. He grew up in a country that, despite the challenges his parents faced, gave him every opportunity to succeed and at the same time live an observant Jewish life as an Orthodox Jew. Before anything else, it is important that we take a moment to reflect, not just about the achievements of my grandfather but on what that means about the country we live in and how fortunate we are to be citizens of this great country.
I have been asked to address this topic as a Religious leader and person of faith and therefore I would like to begin by talking about a principle in Jewish Law that might not be familiar to everyone. That is the prohibition of what is called in Hebrew Ona’at Devarim, which could be loosely translated as harmful or abusive language. In Judaism we are instructed that even or maybe especially when dealing with sensitive topics one must be very careful in the way we transmit these messages. It is always important to find the balance between giving over religious instruction as a Rabbi or teacher and doing it in a way which is not offensive or harmful to individuals or groups of people. I acknowledge that at times that balance can be difficult or even impossible to get right but we must make every effort to embrace all parts of our community as individuals. Therefore, I am not here to give an opinion about whether Israel Folau’s contract should or should not have been terminated, I will leave that to the legal professionals. But I can tell you that when looking at the prohibition of Ona’at devarim and the obligation that we have to be sensitive and caring to all members of our community and society at large, it is clear that his language was regrettable. For me as a Rabbi this is not an issue of religious freedom. I believe passionately that a person should be able to believe, express and teach with freedom. But as a Rabbi I believe with equal passion that all teachings, especially religious teachings should be conveyed with empathy and sensitivity. So my concern is not so much how to frame legislation and regulations. My concern is to appeal to all people – to secular people to understand the critical importance of faith to the hearts, minds and souls to people of faith, but equally to people of faith to speak and teach with sensitivity and care.
Having said that I do want to say a few words on the notion of discrimination. Discrimination has become something of a dirty word in society and for the most part I believe that is largely a good thing. However, there are times when exemptions to anti discrimination laws can be a necessary and indeed positive thing, when it is used to confer benefits on a particular person, or class of persons, for the betterment of society and in my particular case to enhance Jewish Religion and continuity. I don’t think anyone here would argue that setting up a group of talented science students in a school or University is something that would not be for the betterment of society at large, despite the fact that it would mean that many students would not be allowed entry into such a group. This is really exclusivity for a greater good, rather than what we think of, negatively, as “discrimination”. In the case of Jewish Religion, this “exclusivity” takes place, and this is with both regards to a Synagogue and Jewish schools, in order to enhance, foster and ensure the continuity of the Jewish Religion. In other words, there can be no sensible criticism of exemptions from anti-discrimination law when it is practiced in order to enhance and foster a good cause – and it will come as no surprise for you to hear that I regard Judaism as a pretty good cause. And that means that Jewish Schools and shules should be able to advance the cause of Judaism by being ‘exclusive’ in favour of those who share those values. So, membership and privileges should be reserved for those who share those values and are committed to their advancement.
In fact this is best illustrated by what is really the only court case in Australia about discrimination in a Jewish School. And it happened at the School at which I was a student at that very time. And it was decided on legislation that my late grandfather had supervised as the Attorney General when the Equal Opportunity Act in WA was passed in the 1980’s.
IN that case the School’s conduct was held to be completely lawful. That is because the statute allowed for an exemption that was practiced in good faith, in favour of adherents to advance the cause or ethos of the School.
And in my humble opinion, so it should be. Every faith or indeed every club must be able to advance its own cause by favouring those who commit to its values.
So in broad terms may I summarise by referring to what I think are 3 important things:
There should be protection to allow people to believe, teach, and express their religious faith;
The price of that protection is that religious people must use it with sensitivity, care and respect;
Society should permit and indeed encourage exemptions from anti-discrimination laws undertaken in good faith to advance a good cause.
I would now like to turn my attention to the Religious Freedom Review put together by an expert panel of which Mr Ruddock was chair.
First may I thank and congratulate Mr Ruddock on his team for a thoughtful and thorough consideration of the matter which reflects a deep respect for and understanding of the needs and aspirations of people of religious faith.
I noticed that among the recommendations the report seeks to balance the tensions between the various sensitivities in a comprehensive and thoughtful way. One of those ways is to permit religious institutions to implement their religious beliefs without constraint but to have an available policy that sets out the practice so that it can clearly accessed and understood.
I think that is a fair and appropriate solution to a difficult problem.
But can I just make this observation as a religious practitioner: Yes I am a Rabbi and Rabbis are trained to deal in rules. But in reality most of my energy is invested in people, not in rules. Often that requires balancing tensions and sensitivities in a way that requires common sense and almost always, compromise. In my experience, most tensions and problems in real life are not solved by the application of hard and fast policies, but by thoughtful compromise, decency and common sense.
So while I accept that the policy-based solution is fair and appropriate, and perhaps the only sensible solution, as a practitioner I hope that such policies do not actually become a barrier to solving real life problems by appealing to people’s decency and the need to sometimes compromise on rules and policies to achieve harmony and get on with life. At the end of the day, you can have every policy under the sun; but unless people are prepared to prioritise common sense and harmony where that is reasonably possible, policies may well not put an end to disputes.
And may I conclude with one final observation. I am often asked if I feel discriminated against as a religious person. The truth is that in the environment in which I operate the answer is ‘no’. This is a great country that does not discriminate against Jews or any other religious minority.
But I am very often told that people with religious faith feel marginalised and often ridiculed in public discourse. They are made to feel morally or intellectually inferior. They feel embarrassed to take a position based on their religious believes or that it is simply not socially acceptable.
I think this a really tragic development in our society. Sadly, no report, policy or law can reverse this. Only creating an environment and culture where religious beliefs are respected and valued can alter these sorts of attitudes. And again, that cuts both ways. Secular Australia must learn to respect and value that which millions of religious Australians share. But at the same time, religious leaders and representative’s must communicate and reach out in a way that engenders respect for the values they represent. Those beliefs and values do not need to be accepted – but they can surely be communicated in a way that fosters respect.
Ladies and Gentleman, I began this speech by talking about my grandfather and therefore think that it is appropriate to conclude with a sentence that has been used by everyone from the then Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition down, to sum up his life. It is from the Bible from the Book of Micha the Prophet where we are told
“What is good and what does the Lrd require of you except to be just and to love and to diligently practice kindness and walk humbly with your g-d.” Legislation is required and is critical in ensuring that we continue to be able to practice our religion freely in this great country. But what is equally as critical is the ability of all Australians to be a little bit more humble, kind and tolerant in their dealings with others. As a person of faith, I have an obligation to be sensitive and embracing of all parts of our society and in return I am confident that those who do not share my beliefs will be equally so.
Members who know me will be aware that my entire life has been interconnected with the Jewish community both here and in Canada. They will also be aware that I grew up on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation reserve and my early childhood as a bi-cultural Indigenous child was changed by the influence of an Orthodox Jewish man who had survived Auschwitz. He was frum, or observant, and he taught me about kashrut—Jewish dietary practices—the State of Israel, the horrors of racism and the Shoah, or the Holocaust. The world he opened my eyes to, therefore, was not necessarily brighter but it was broader and I wanted to understand it. My father’s reserve was a tiny community of 660 people, so I am well aware of living as a minority in a larger community. Today it now numbers 2,330 enrolled members. Similarly, Jews constitute about half a per cent—0.5 per cent—of the world’s population.
It was the start of a nexus in my mind and in my life between the expansion of my own horizons and a connection to people of the Jewish faith. Shortly after migrating to Australia in1988, I worked atThe Australian JewishNews, where I chronicled New South Wales Jewish life for four years. It was there that I met Jewish communal leader and interfaith activist Mrs Josie Lacey.
Since then, I have attended scores of Shabbat meals and Seders with her family. She has adopted me and welcomed me into her family. Since 2012, I have visited Israel twice, Yad Vashem three times and the Palestinian territories twice, and have made pilgrimages to sites around the world commemorating the Shoah, the Armenian Genocide and the Iraqi Kurdish genocide. In Sydney I have spoken at Bosnian and Rwandan genocide commemorations as well as at events marking the Appin and Myall Creek Aboriginal massacres.
These travels and experiences have been quite extensive and emotional. As the Deputy Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel, I often find myself at many Jewish and Israeli functions. A typical month will see me attending a wide range of communal events. To highlight just one of many in the past month, on 22 May I attended a fundraiser for Project Rozana, which funds the transport of sick Palestinian children to Israel for treatment. In addition, it helps train Palestinian doctors at Israeli hospitals. Project Rozana was thrust into the international spotlight after a board member, Dr Jamal Rifi, was threatened by extremists for his support of the charity. When I attended the event there was so much goodwill in the room. Both the Israeli embassy and the Palestinian Authority’s Canberra representatives attended the event. For a single night, hundreds of people were united in a common cause: reducing the suffering of tiny children.
On Monday 17 June I attended a stimulating discussion at Emanuel Synagogue, where its chief minister, Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, hosted Nablus-born Izzat Abdulhadi, the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia. I still hold out hope for and dream of a two-state solution: a Palestinian state and a safe and secure Israel—two states for two peoples. I hope that we have the privilege of seeing this occur in our time.
With all that background, the most significant development in my parallel life with Judaism occurred last month. My spouse, Julia—who is Jewish and was born in Moscow, having migrated here 28 years ago—and I attended our first religious service together as a couple at Temple Emanuel in Woollahra. It was conducted by Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio and Cantor George Mordecai and followed by dinner with Rabbi Kamins, whom I have known for more than 29 years. Since then, we have attended our second service at the Emanuel Synagogue.
Emanuel Synagogue was founded in 1938 as The Congregation of the Temple Emanuel and is today the largest Australian Jewish congregation, offering services across progressive, conservative and renewal streams of Judaism. Julia returned to the synagogue after years away from the shule. This was in large part because the Emanuel Synagogue amended its constitution to permit non-Jewish spouses to become associate members. Admittedly, this is a new development in Australian Judaism and is a tad controversial in some circles but it is not unusual in North America. I should add that I have not converted to Judaism but this is a new step. I can now attend my partner’s chosen place of worship and share this connection. This is a deeply significant moment in my life, which I reflect on here. It has not escaped my attention that it preceded Shavuot, a Jewish festival that coincides with the Book of Ruth. Ruth, one of my favourite figures from the Hebrew Bible, was a religious convert.
As Shavuot affirms, the Hebrew Bible and Jewish people are not closed systems but, rather, are potentially universal systems that welcome all who, in sincerity and faith, pledge their faith with that of the Jewish people. As Ruth declared to Naomi in her memorable words, “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.”
I am struck by the great poignancy of these words as I reflect on my journey from a bi-cultural Indigenous child in rural Canada hearing about the Shoah—the Holocaust—to more than 40 years later attending synagogue with my spouse in Sydney’s east.
Perhaps these are great coincidences. Perhaps the journey was inevitable. I thank the House for its consideration.
The PRESIDENT: The question is that this House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to.
The House adjourned at 18:54 until Wednesday 19 June 2019 at 11:00
The Great Synagogue opened its doors to young leaders in politics, community advocacy, interfaith relations and non-government organisations for the inaugural Youth in Politics Shabbat dinner hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
By Heath Sloane
As a major feature of the Board of Deputies outreach work, the organisation regularly invites key sectors of civil society to experience a traditional Shabbat service, followed by a dinner in with members of the local Jewish community.
Attended by 120 people, the dinner was held at the Great Synagogue with Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton officiating at the Shabbat service. Representatives from the four major political parties delivered keynote addresses, including Harry Stutchbury (President of the NSW Young Liberals), Paul Mills (Senior Vice President of NSW Young Labor), Jock Sowter (President of the NSW Young Nationals) and Damiya Hayden (Convenor of the Greens NSW Standing Campaign Committee).
The guests comprised a sizeable contingent of young emerging political leaders, including Hornsby Shire Greens Councillor Joe Nicita, NSW Young Liberals Branch Presidents Haris Strangas (Miranda/Cook), Lachlan Finch (Mosman), Hugo Robinson (Ryde), and NSW Young Labor Western Sydney Executive Joshua Robertson and Secretary of Greek Friends of Labor George Psihoyios.
The Young Greens were represented by Co-Convenors Everett O’Donnell and Alysha Hardy, while the Young Nationals were represented by Michael Hansen (Vice Chairman), Nat Openshaw (Secretary), Angus Webber (Treasurer) and Olivia Kerr (NSW Nationals Compliance Manager). Representatives from the NSW libertarian movement also attended the dinner, including Brian Marlow (Campaign Director) and Satya Marar (Director of Policy) from the Australian Taxpayer’s Alliance. In total, over 70 general members from the across the respective political parties were also welcomed on the night.
Diverse ethnic and religious communities represented at the event included: Ramneek Singh (Chair of the NSW Young Sikh Professionals Network), Silipa Burgess (National Convention Leader for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), Daniel Gobena (Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency), Miguel Vera-Cruz (Organiser of the NSW Youth Parliament of the World’s Religions) and Sydney Alliance Community Organisers Eve Altman and Sukhi Kaur.
University of Sydney campus leaders in attendance on the evening included Liliana Tai (President of the University of Sydney Union), Dane Luo (Vice President), Janine Joseph (Campus President of AUJS), Julia Kokic (Interfaith Officer), Gabi Stricker-Phelps (Women’s Officer) and Nicholas Comino (Treasurer, SRC Inter-College Collective), while the University of NSW was represented by Humaira Nasrin (SRC General Secretary).
Reflecting on the meaning of Shavuot taking place the following day, Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton reminded the guests that “as the Jewish nation was forged in the desert, so too are leaders forged in adversity”, imploring the audience, regardless of their political affiliation, to “use their time in their ‘desert’ to listen, learn and grow”.
Opening the dinner, Chief Executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff revealed that the guest list featured “one quarter from the Liberals or Nationals, one quarter from Labor or the Greens, one quarter for interfaith, NGO and campus leaders, while the remaining quarter of the room did not hold party affiliation”. Mr Alhadeff concluded his address by encouraging all in attendance to take advantage of “the diversity of opinions and experiences represented here tonight, offering us all a rare occasion to meet, exchange ideas and build relationships with others across the entire breadth of the political spectrum”.
Each of the four keynote speakers shared their personal stories and insights, touching on current affairs and their own experiences. NSW Young Liberals President Harry Stutchbury recapped on the Young Liberals’ role in the recent election, calling on the guests to be active in the political process for issues that affect them. Senior Vice President of NSW Young Labor Paul Mills shared the story of his mother’s migration journey to Australia and commitment to the shared values of Tikkun Olam. Young Nationals President Jock Sowter explained the mandate of his party, and delivered an unequivocal apology for an alt-right incident in October 2018, reaffirmed his commitment to “rejecting bigotry within and outside of the party”. Convenor of the Greens NSW Standing Campaign Committee Damiya Hayden concluded the speeches by discussing her own journey to Judaism, explaining that the values that brought her to Judaism are the same values which compel her to be in the Greens.
Bringing the evening to a close, Board of Deputies Public Affairs Committee Chair David Ossip reflected on the “long history of persecution, hostility and distain directed towards the Jewish people”, remarking that “it is truly exceptional that we can sit together, having come from every side of the political spectrum, and quite literally break bread together.”
Heath Sloane is the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Public Affairs Officer