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