Remembering the Farhud

While the Jews of Europe were facing death across Nazi Europe, the Jews of Iraq encountered brutality at the hands of former colleagues, neighbours and fellow citizens in a massacre known as The Farhud. It took place on June 1-2, 1941, coinciding with what Iraqi Jews called “’Iyd Ez-Zyagha” – Shavuot.

For descendants of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, the Farhud was its equivalent of Kristallnacht – an event which rocked an established community, whose members were prominent in all fields of endeavour in Iraq – he arts, literature, public administration, the law, banking and overseas trade.

In the space of 48 hours more than 180 Jews were murdered, 600 injured, countless women raped and 1500 homes and businesses destroyed. Communal leadership estimated that 14,000 of the 90,000 Jews in Baghdad suffered directly in the Farhud.

The Farhud will be commemorated at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum next week on Tuesday 26 April at the Sephardi Synagogue, featuring Dr Myer Samra as guest speaker.
During the Farhud, thousands of protestors took to the streets, murdering and raping Iraqi Jews, looting homes and businesses in mob violence directed at the Jewish communities in Baghdad and Basra.
Just two months earlier, a coup had been staged by Nazi sympathisers, inspired by propaganda from German Consul Dr Fritz Grobba and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Haj Amin Al-Husseini, a Nazi sympathiser.
The British led a counter attack and the coup leaders fled the country on 29 May, 1941. Many Iraqis had supported the coup, and felt aggrieved by Britain’s role in the country, as colonial administrator under a League of Nations mandate from 1921 to 1932, and its continued “interference” in the affairs of independent Iraq thereafter.

Thousands of Jews fled Iraq in the wake of the Farhud. Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, hostility among the populace flared up once more, and by 1951, all but 10,000 Jews out of a pre-war estimated total of 150,000 had left the country.

In 2015 the United Nations proclaimed June 1 International Farhud Day in memory of those who were killed, in honour of those who survived, and to commemorate those who later became Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Dr Samra is a lawyer employed by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and a specialist in children’s law. He is also a part-time lecturer in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney on the Jewish communities of India and China, and is the editor of the Australian Journal of Jewish Studied. He will speak about the experiences of the Jewish community during the Farhud, touching on his family’s experiences as well.

In 2011, the Sephardi Synagogue commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the Farhud, featuring a lecture from historian Edwin Black. This year, the 75th Annivesary of the massacre, will be the first time that our community as a whole will be commemorating the Farhud.

Interfaith for young students

 Back from left: Callum Elks (St Paul’s Catholic College), Talia Miller, Bar Shulman and Olivia Chen (Masada College); front from left: Mona Sukkarieh (Amity College), Mark Makram (Masada College).

Back from left: Callum Elks (St Paul’s Catholic College), Talia Miller, Bar Shulman and Olivia Chen (Masada College); front from left: Mona Sukkarieh (Amity College), Mark Makram (Masada College).

ABOUT 150 Muslim, Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Christian and Jewish students from eight high schools came together to participate in the “Respect, Understanding and Acceptance” schools harmony program.
Devised and run by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the program annually brings together about 1000 students from over 35 schools across Sydney and caters to students in Years 9, 10 and 11.
The latest iteration of the program attracted Year 9 participants from Masada College (Jewish), Galstaun College (Armenian), Amity College (Muslim), St Paul’s Catholic College, Auburn Girls High School (government), St Spyridon College (Greek Orthodox), Marist College Eastwood (Catholic) and Brigidine College (Catholic).
Convened in the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Education Centre, the students met for a day of discussion, interaction and learning about each others’ cultures and traditions, followed by a focus on racism and the need to counter it. Each school delivered a presentation on its predominant culture and the students broke into groups to explore the impact that racism has had on their lives.
Delivering a closing address on leadership and racism, Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said the program encourages students “to respect difference and to have the guts to speak out when they see someone being marginalised or discriminated against”.

“It’s about recognising the humanity in others, particularly if we come from different backgrounds,” he said. “It’s about demonstrating leadership when we are challenged and not looking the other way.”

St Pauls Catholic College teacher Joanne Kalayzich said: “I haven’t been to the program for a few years, and this was the best one yet”, while Masada teacher Alex Symonds said “our students were changed by the experience and will be more aware of how they speak about other people”.

Courage in the face of Nazi brutality

This article featured in the Weekend Australian February 6, 2016 by Vic Alhadeff

Greek couple Jim Gouskos and his wife Denise at their home in the south of Sydney. Picture: Britta Campion
Greek couple Jim Gouskos and his wife Denise at their home in the south of Sydney. Picture: Britta Campion

Zakynthos is a magnificent speck in the ocean off the west coast of Greece. One of 1400 Greek islands, it is said that the Greek goddess of hunting, Artemis, hunted in the woods of Zakynthos.

The island was the scene of an extraordinary act of courage which saved an entire community from annihilation. That story was not widely known until recently, however, and it will be honoured in Sydney tomorrow evening.

For five centuries Zakynthos was home to a tiny Jewish community. Mainly tradesmen, artisans and glaziers, the community numbered 275 and blended seamlessly with the rest of the island population.

In October 1943 German forces arrived on Zakynthos with orders to round up the Jews and deport them to Nazi camps in mainland Europe — to their deaths. They made three stark announcements: an overnight curfew was imposed on Jews from 5pm to 7am; Jews were ordered to place a sign on their apartment doors indicating how many people lived there; and anyone helping Jews to hide or escape would be shot.

The commander of the German garrison, Paul Berenz, summoned the mayor, Loukas Karrer, and Bishop Chrysostomos Demetriou, and informed him the Jews would eventually be deported. Bishop Chrysostomos, who spoke fluent German, declared he would follow the example of Archbishop Demaskinos of Athens, who had publicly stated: “I spoke to the Lord and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.”

He argued that the Jews were indigent and a small community and there was no reason to target them.

Mayor Karrer warned the island’s Jews that danger was imminent and all 275 were given refuge in Christian homes in the various villages. The people of Zakynthos considered the Jews part of their society and had seen Jews elsewhere in Greece transported to the death camps. They refused to hand them over.

In October 1944, Commander Berenz again summons Mayor Karrer, but this time demands a list of Jews, including addresses and professions. If Karrer fails to return the next day with the requested list, Karrer will pay with his life.

Karrer rushes to Bishop Chrysostomos, who declares they will give them a list. The next day, he and the bishop meet German officer Alfred Lit and hand him two sheets of paper. One is a letter from Bishop Chrysostomos to the German High Command, insisting that the Jews of Zakynthos fall under his protection and will not be handed over. Furthermore, he and the mayor are prepared to follow them to the gas chambers, if necessary.

And then, in a monumental act of courage, they tell the officer that the second sheet of paper contains the names of the island’s 275 Jews. “Here are your Jews,” says the bishop. “If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me and I will share their fate.”

Yet that sheet of paper contains just two names — Chrysostomos Demetriou, bishop of Zakynthos, and Loukas Karrer, mayor of Zakynthos. Perplexed, the German commander sends both documents to the German High Command in Berlin, requesting instructions. The order to round up the Jews of Zakynthos is revoked and the German forces depart. Not one of the 275 Jews perished.

In 1948, in recognition of the heroism of the people of Zakynthos, its Jewish community donated stained glass for the windows of the Church of Saint Dionysios on the island.

In 1953 an earthquake rocked the island and the first ship to arrive with aid, food and medical supplies was from Israel with a message that read: “The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their mayor or their beloved bishop and what they did for us”. Israel’s Holocaust Museum duly honoured Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Karrer with the title “Righteous Among The Nations” and Greece’s Jewish community erected marble monuments of the courageous pair on the site where the island’s synagogue had stood before the earthquake.

Tomorrow night I have the honour of addressing Australian descendants of Zakynthos, including Zakynthos Association president Jim Gouskos, and saluting them for the inspirational courage and humanity of their people. In a world with so much prejudice and bigotry, it is people such as Loukas Karrer and Chrysostomos Demetriou who enable us to keep our faith in humanity alive.

Vic Alhadeff is chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. This is an extract from his address to the NSW Zakynthian Association and the NSW National Council of Jewish Women of Australia. Twitter: @VicAlhadeff

Team-building at the Board

To mark the end of an extraordinarily busy and productive year, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies staff participated in a team bonding morning at Taronga Zoo. The staff were divided into teams and had to complete a range of activities and question-based tasks.


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.