Berger Fellowship study tour of Israel

Complex, inspiring, resilient, diverse and unique were some of the ways Israel was described by the participants of the inaugural NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Berger Fellowship study tour of Israel.

The group of young-adult Labor Party officials recently returned to Sydney and shared their insights at a boardroom lunch hosted by the Board of Deputies.

They had undertaken a high-level, seven-day tour that included meetings with journalists, Middle East analysts, counterterrorism experts, young entrepreneurs, NGO representatives and Palestinian officials. They also visited the Knesset, Yad Vashem, Ziv Medical Centre, the Office of the Chief Scientist, the Anzac Memorial in Beer Sheva and the Syrian and Gaza borders, and enjoyed visits to the Old City in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, Bethlehem, Masada and the Dead Sea.

The participants were: David Latham – State Organiser, NSW Labor; Erin Watt – National Secretary, Labor Environmental Action Network and organiser, United Voice Union; Darren Rodrigo – former adviser to Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten; and Edward McDougall – adviser to Steve Kamper MP and Immediate past president, Australian Young Labor. They were accompanied by Michael Zelas of the Board of Deputies Public Affairs Committee.

All were impressed with the breadth of the program and felt they better understood the perspectives of both Israelis and Palestinians and remarked on the lack of hope on both sides. They were grateful to have gained a better understanding of the regional situation, in particular the Syrian war and its global implications.

Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff commented: “Engaging with future political leaders is core business for the Board of Deputies, but the Berger Fellowship has provided a meaningful way to exchange ideas throughout the year and host the participants at numerous events.

We acknowledge the enormous generosity of Joshua and Lesli Berger, who co-sponsored the program with the JCA and had the foresight to initiate it.”

Building Bridges

Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff with students at Xavier Catholic College in Skennars Head, northern New South Wales. From left: Dane Wilson, Aden Corbett, Jasmine Waller, Sage Rodgers
Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff with students at Xavier Catholic College in Skennars Head, northern New South Wales. From left: Dane Wilson, Aden Corbett, Jasmine Waller, Sage Rodgers

AN unnamed community of 300 Israeli and Jewish families, a newspaper which publishes a blog asserting that Israel was responsible for 9/11, a genial Catholic bishop who is due to lead a religious delegation to Israel and in-depth studies of the Holocaust being undertaken at high schools throughout the area.
These were among the take-outs from an intensive bridge-building tour of the Ballina-Byron Bay-Lismore area of northern New South Wales which NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff conducted last week.

The Board undertakes tours of regional NSW annually, traversing the state from Coonabarabran, Forbes and Dubbo to Albury-Wodonga, Broken Hill and Wagga Wagga.

Tackling 20 engagements in five days, Alhadeff met with the Catholic Bishop of Lismore, the Deputy Speaker of the Federal Parliament and the mayors and councillors of Lismore and Ballina, delivered presentations on the Holocaust at numerous schools, addressed three Rotary Clubs, was interviewed by media and donated 100 books on Judaism, Israel and the Holocaust to four public libraries.
He also had three meetings with Jewish and Israeli residents of the area, who included law professors, macadamia farmers, klezmer musicians (one of whom has performed at the Sydney Opera House) and hippies.

“These tours are always rewarding and productive and a vital aspect of the Board’s work in terms of establishing important connections between the Jewish community and key sectors of regional NSW,” Alhadeff said. “The reception was overwhelmingly positive, notwithstanding concerns which were voiced at harshly anti-Israel invective which appears in certain media all too frequently.”

In terms of size, the Israelis – over 1000 in the Byron Bay shire – rank second only to the German expatriate community. “They are informal, have no name, yet maintain a vibrant community life with Gold Coast Rabbi Mosheh Serebryanski and his wife Bluma their de facto spiritual leaders,” Alhadeff said, “regularly driving from Queensland to run classes and celebrate festivals.”
The group, which operates in private homes, is endeavouring to rent premises which would function as a community centre.

Board of Deputies education manager Suzanne Green presented on Judaism at schools in Skennars Head and Ballina.

Celebrate this great river and its many tributaries

Vic Alhadeff, Weekend Australian
December 5, 2015

A minor storm erupted at a Sydney primary school some years ago when it installed a 2m Christmas tree in the foyer. Pupils were encouraged to place beneath the tree gifts to be donated to Bear Cottage, which cares for children with terminal conditions.

The student body included a healthy mix of faith and ethnic groups, including Baha’i, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Asian, and in acknowledgment of the impending Jewish festival of Hanukkah the school also placed an eight-branched candelabra in the foyer.

Incensed at the prominence accorded the Christmas tree, the mother of a non-Christian pupil complained to the NSW Department of Education that the school had trampled on its multicultural and multi-faith ethos — despite the fact most of its pupils were Christian.

Discussions were held between the Department of Education, the school, the aggrieved mother and leaders of her faith group in what proved to be a futile attempt to resolve the issue.

In fact, all the organisations at the table concluded that not only did the school have the right to erect the tree, but it should be commended — for celebrating the faith of the majority of its pupils, doing so in a meaningful way and at the same time acknowledging that Hanukkah was approaching.

Former NSW communities minister Victor Dominello liked to evoke a metaphor when discussing this country’s multicultural ethos and the challenges inherent in integrating into it: Australia was a strong, flowing river, he would say; each culture, each faith, each tradition, was one of innumerable streams flowing into it, strengthening it, enriching it, yet ultimately part of this one great river.

Jewish tradition speaks of a parallel approach, expressed in the maxim “The law of the land is the law”.
The rationale is an understanding that adhering to the authority of the country in which one resides is pragmatic; the law of the land should be regarded as binding.

We are at the time of year when shopping centres and schools across the country host nativity pageants and install Christmas trees, while millions of Australians will soon wish each other “Merry Christmas”. As it should be.

The inevitable cancellations of the above, and of Easter bonnet parades, for fear of offending others should not happen, nor should diluting the positive message of Christmas by substituting a saccharine and meaningless “Happy holidays” for what should be acknowledgment of a significant occasion.

The success of a multicultural society — and its failure, as is increasingly evident in parts of Europe — is predicated on a symbiotic relationship between majority and minority.

It relies on a firm base of mutual respect — a social contract that encourages every minority group to own and celebrate its distinctive identity to the utmost while acknowledging and respecting the right of the majority group to do the same. It’s a two-way street.

Ideally, groups should be open-minded enough to go further and not only promote their particular traditions but be sufficiently confident in the validity of their story to acknowledge others’.

Hence the candelabra alongside the Christmas tree at that school. Hence the multiplicity of faith events that NSW Parliament House regularly hosts, from Iftar dinners during the month of Ramadan to a Hanukkah celebration two weeks ago.

But absorption of the host nation’s value system becomes difficult if people immigrate to this country physically yet remain ensconced — even trapped — emotionally and psychologically in their country of origin via a self-perpetuating cocoon that takes the form of email, Whatsapp, FaceTime and cable television.

The inevitable result is a clash of expectations and values, and intolerance of diversity. So some institutions make allowances by misguidedly cancelling nativity plays and substituting “Happy holidays” for “Merry Christmas”.

Former Commonwealth chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote in The Dignity of Difference that “universalism is an inadequate response to tribalism and no less dangerous. It leads to the belief — superficially compelling, but quite false — that there is only one truth about the essentials of the human condition and it holds true for all people at all times.” In heaven there is truth, he wrote; on earth there are many truths.

Whether it’s about respect for our national anthem or respect for difference, we cast aside liberal democratic values — and the right to positively embrace our distinctive traditions — at our peril. It’s a slippery slope.

It’s Hanukkah next week, it’s Christmas later this month; let whoever wishes to acknowledge and celebrate these and other festivals be encouraged do so. Proudly.

Vic Alhadeff is chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Twitter: @VicAlhadeff

The Forgotten Narrative – Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran

For the almost 5000  Jews of Arab and Iranian descent residing in Sydney, formal acknowledgement of their history was a long time coming. The little known, and rarely discussed exodus of up to 900,000 Jews from Arab lands and Iran was commemorated at a moving ceremony hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies in conjunction with the Sephardi Synagogue and the Sydney Jewish Museum

The event attracted over 370 people, and marked the first time that the Australian Jewish community had publically acknowledged and celebrated the history of the Mizrahi Jews, descending from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Kurdistan.

Dr Racheline Barda, historian of Egyptian Jewish descent, retold the history of the ‘forgotten refugees’ who now call Australia home. She told of the resilience of the refugees, and their commitment to reinventing themselves despite the pain, dispossession and dislocation that they inevitably experienced. Various other speakers told of their personal and familial links to their Arab homelands and the often arduous journeys that led them to be in Australia today.

Board of Deputies Community Relations Manager Lynda Ben-Menashe said in her closing remarks, “Like non-indigenous Australia generally, our Jewish community was built by waves of immigration. The stories of our immigrants from Arab lands and Iran have not been told or heard in the mainstream and we thank all of you here tonight, especially so many guests from the wider NSW community, who have come to listen to them.”

One Baghdadi Jewish woman, reflecting on the evening, acknowledged that the speakers brought distant memories flooding back, and also reminded her of how grateful she is to be in Australia.

A law passed in 2014 by Israeli MK Dr. Shimon Ohayon, designated November 30 the day to recognise the plight of Arab refugees from Arab lands and Iran.
The event will be held annually in NSW as well, with even larger attendance expected in years to come.

Photos: Giselle Haber Photography

Chanukah at Parliament House

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies attended the Pre-Chanukah celebration at Parliament House hosted by the Minister for Multiculturalism, Hon. John Ajaka MLC and Multiculturalism NSW. The event was attended by politicians, consul representatives, councillors, ethnic leaders and representatives from the Jewish Community.
Bruce Notley-Smith MP, chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel welcomed guests. The event was addressed by Minister Ajaka, Premier of NSW, The Hon. Mike Baird, State Opposition leader Luke Foley MP and President of the Board of Deputies, Jeremy Spinak. Rabbis representing diverse sections within the community were invited to light a candle of the menorah, followed by the festive song of Maoz Tzur.
The annual event, hosted by Multicultural NSW marks the upcoming Chanukah celebration still relevant in its tale of the Chanukah story, where good triumphed over evil.

Lunch with opinion-makers

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Luncheon Club continues to have opinion makers engage with members of the community around a boardroom table. Recent lunches include Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes MP and Head of the Institute for Zionist Strategies,Dr Yoaz Hendel, 

Mr Stokes spoke about his approach to planning, and the need to streamline processes that can currently take extensive time periods. The Minister defended the proposal to amalgamate councils, assuring audience members that the plan would have positive implications for the development of a more efficient Sydney in the future.

Dr Hendel emphasised the need for States to balance the rights and responsibilities belonging to their citizens with the need for more fastidious anti-terror efforts in today’s unstable climate. The Luncheon was a co-hosted by the Board of Deputies and the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.


Kristallnacht 2015

Remembering and understanding the lessons

Over 350 guests filled the Education Resource Centre at the Sydney Jewish Museum for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ annual Kristallnacht commemoration. The remarkable story of the enduring friendship between two men formed the keynote address by Cheryl Koenig OAM. Robyn Bloom described the experiences of her late father, Gerry Levy AM, during Kristallnacht, as did eyewitness Dr Joachim Schneeweiss AM, who said “radio waves were filled with screams citing hatred towards the Jews and it was not surprising that the events of Kristallnacht took place”. The program included memorial prayers, musical performances by Cantor Josh Weinberger and David Politzer with Robert Teicher on keyboard, with closing remarks by Board of Deputies president Jeremy Spinak.

“Today should be a day when we look around the world and see if there are any trends that may be warnings to us. Where there is Holocaust denial, we should demand better information and teacher training,” said Board of Deputies Shoah Remembrance Committee Chair Danny Hochberg in his welcome. “Where there are charges of Jewish conspiracies, we should condemn them strongly and swiftly. Where there is rhetoric that incites violence against vulnerable populations, we must answer with stronger calls for safety and respect for diversity.”

This event was made possible because of grants from Multicultural NSW, B’nai B’rith Trust, City of Sydney and the JCA Millie Philips Trust.

Photographs: Giselle Haber Photography

Reverend Nile at Luncheon Club

Luncheon Club

Reverend Fred Nile MLC recently addressed the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Luncheon Club.

Shabbat Dinners

Two Shabbat dinners were held recently. A Shabbat dinner was held at The Great Synagogue with NSW Young Labor for 100 participants. Guests were led on a tour of the synagogue by Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, after which they attended the Sabbath service and the dinner. NSW Young Labor president Todd Pinkerton thanked the community for hosting the event, which was addressed by Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff. The event followed a recent Young Liberals Shabbat.

Members of the Parramatta Jewish community gathered for a traditional Friday night dinner. The event was hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies as part of The Shabbat Project.



Nostra Aetate

The past, present and future of the Jewish-Christian relationship
About 400 representatives of a range of faith groups came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate at The Great Synagogue.
The program included a series of panel discussions with the theme “The past, present and future of the Jewish-Christian relationship”. The Catholic Archbishop, The Most Reverend Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, and Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Chief Rabbi of The Great Synagogue, delivered keynote addresses, while NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Jeremy Spinak urged all present to work for peace “in our time”.
The event was hosted by the Australian Catholic University, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Photos: Giovanni Portelli, Catholic Communications, Archdiocese of Sydney

Statement on Syrian refugee crisis

nswjbd-logoThe NSW Jewish Board of Deputies wholeheartedly supports the Australian Government’s decision to accept 12,000 refugees from Syria and to commit funds to humanitarian support for the thousands of Syrians and Iraqis who have been forced to seek refuge, many of them persecuted by Islamic State.

As a nation, we have a responsibility to be a sanctuary for those in need and play our part in the spirit of humanity and kindness. Now is the time for compassion and to ensure those who are most in need can establish a life in our country.

Through the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, our national roof body, we commend the Australian Government for taking the current humanitarian crisis into consideration in terms of refugee admission and in joining with the international community to extend support.

Vic Alhadeff 
Chief Executive Officer