Walt Secord MLC talks warmly about the Jewish community in parliament

Hansard Transcript
June 18, 2019 (18:49)
The Hon. Walt Secord MLC


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 Jewish News, 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