The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish news

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Compiled by Garry Fabian

A survivor’s homage to her floating angels

MELBOURNE, January 11, 2010— Judy Kolt wrote her World War II story, Tell It to the Squirrels, in honour of her father. She had spent World War II in perpetual flight,  hidden by nuns in a convent boarding school,  disguised as a blind child in an institute for  the blind, hidden in an old people’s home, in different homes and ghettos and on a farm.

She and her older sister, Tosia, were two of at  least 13 Jewish children sheltered by the nuns in a boarding school of 30, while her mother disguised her Jewish looks by dressing like a prostitute.

”They put their own lives at risk and completely  disregarded the dangers. They smiled right  through it,” Kolt said yesterday. ”When I first saw them I didn’t think they were  human. With their long clothes, I couldn’t see  their feet and thought they were floating angels.”

Kolt, born Izia Jablonska in 1936, has just  published her remarkable story, Tell It to the Squirrels, with the help of another remarkable  story, the Write Your Story program.

The program began with 10-weeks of state-funding  to help elderly Jews record their histories for  their children and grandchildren.

Eleven years later, it has produced 85 books and  another six anthologies of shorter stories, and  is about to link up with Monash University.

The authors pay the costs, and may print as few as 40 copies, but some are sent to various archives.

Founder Julie Meadows, 74, herself a Polish Jewish emigrant at two, said 10 people responded to an advertisement in The Australian Jewish News in 1998, seven of them Holocaust survivors. By the second week, she realised it was vital social
history and decided to keep it going.

”In 11 years I’ve raised more than $200,000 of funds. I pick pockets, and I never stop and it’s hard – I can’t even sell a raffle ticket – but I’m passionate about it,” she said.

”I consider this holy work. This is my synagogue. When you hear stories like Judy’s, it’s full of miracles.”

Kolt’s father fought with the underground and was eventually captured, which was why the nuns rushed Judy and Tosia to the blind institute, but not before he saved not only his own family but many other children.

The nuns took many photos of the Jewish children in communion clothes to protect them if arrested.

She wrote her story because she wanted her children to know the grandfather they never met and to honour the nuns and other heroes.

”They were special people who against all odds saved a handful of people, and from that handful there’s a whole generation now.”

At first she saw the audience as just her family: three children, six grandchildren. But she felt an urgent need that the Holocaust be remembered as ”it is already being denied and forgotten”.

”It’s not just an episode in the lives of Jewish people, it’s important for all humanity. There are witnesses who will never forget it, but for how much longer? I was a child, and I’m in my 70s now.”

That’s why Julie Meadows has not run short of material. People who remember the war are getting older, and their children are urging them to record their lives.

JCCV seeks guidance on gay issues

MELBOURNE, 13 January – The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is to establish a reference group to better understand the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the community.

The announcement follows a meeting last month between senior members of the JCCV and a number of people who identify themselves as gay or lesbian.

Describing the discussions as “frank and wide ranging”, council president John Searle said participants agreed to set up the roundtable to address issues of vilification and discrimination against gay or lesbian Jews, and to look at the
mental health implications of exclusion based on sexual preference.

“Commencing in early 2010 this reference group will explore and develop strategies to address these issues as they relate to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, with a view to bringing together appropriate partnerships
with service providers in the community.”

While the make-up of the reference group has not been finalised, Michael Barnett, the head of Aleph, a Jewish group for gay men, said it was his understanding he would not be included in the group.

“John Searle does not want to talk to Aleph,” he claimed.

Barnett, who has been engaged in ongoing dialogue with the JCCV president as well as other membersof the Jewish community, public office holders and leaders in the gay and lesbian community, has repeatedly accused some communal organisations and individuals of homophobia.

Searle, however, reiterated his commitment to fighting prejudice and discrimination, whatever its form.

“The vilification of any members of the Victorian Jewish community is intolerable,” he said.

“The JCCV recognises that its role extends beyond the so-called mainstream and intends to work with all its members in ways that are acceptable to the entire community.”

As to gay or lesbian Jews who may feel alienated from communal organisations, he added: “One of my main ambitions on assuming the presidency of the JCCV was to bring disconnected Jews back to our community, a difficult task by definition.”

Another synagogue faces cash problems

MELBOURNE, 13 January – The city’s only Sephardi synagogue has been left without a rabbi, with the community struggling financially and membership dwindling.

Paul Berman, president of the Sephardi Association of Victoria, has confirmed that Rabbi Yehuda Cohen’s contract had not been extended. It is due to expire on January 31.

It is understood that Rabbi Cohen, who has been at the synagogue for five years, will not return to Melbourne after taking annual leave over the summer.

“We’re in the financial position that we need to get a part-time rabbi,” Berman said. “He wasn’t able to consider that as an option.”

Sephardi Association members, which number about 150, were informed of Rabbi Cohen’s departure in November last year. A newsletter to members said
that with “decreasing membership and high holy day donations, coupled with increasing operational costs”, the board could not afford the expense of a full-time rabbi.

Berman added: “There are members within our congregation who are disappointed, who have made connections with Rabbi Cohen and feel it is a shame that he hasn’t been able to stay, and there are members who are looking forward to a new beginning with someone new.”

The outgoing rabbi had tried to build up the Sephardi community, which is seeking younger members, but Berman admitted his organisation is going through “trying times”.

“Our donations were the lowest they have ever been in the history of the association over the past high holy days.”

While the search for a new, part-time rabbi is undertaken, Rabbi Ben Hassan, a shaliach at Leibler Yavneh College, will lead services.

Rabbi Hassan arrived in Melbourne at the end of last year. He is English-born, but undertook his rabbinic studies in Israel.

“He is very excited to be involved with a Sephardi congregation and certainly he is
assisting us at the moment,” Berman said.

A formal search has begun, but the president said the Sephardi Association would be limited somewhat due to its financial difficulties.

“We don’t have a bucketful of Sephardi rabbis here in Australia,” he added.

Knives & Forks at ten paces

SYDNEY, 13 January – A last-minute deal between two different kashrut authorities this week have saved a Sydney wedding from being thrown into turmoil. Just 48 hours before the big day, it seemed guests at the simcha might go hungry after the
family’s attempt to bring kosher meat from Melbourne to the event was blocked.

The hosts had turned to Victorian kosher caterer Eshel because it offered more competitive rates that they could get locally. And for religious reasons, they wanted meat certified by Melbourne’s Adass Israel Kosher Certification
Authority.  However, the policy of the NSW Kashrut Authority (KA) prevents meat from other kosher authorities being used by a caterer or restauranteur in the state unless a KA supervisor has overseen the slaughtering process or the KA
has provided special permission.

A number of kosher consumers have long claimed the policy is anti-competitive, and legal action was threatened in 2005. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission later granted immunity to the KA, though it was said it was “not an endorsement of its policy”.

In the end as a one-off arrangement, the parties involved  in the function resolved that an Adass shochet and a mashgiach (supervisor) would fly up to Sydney to supervise the event, but the meat would be sourced from Sydney.  It is understood
that the KA’s rabbinic coordinator, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, even went so far as to provide the funds to pay for all the expenses, including the meat.

This latest incident, however, has once again raised concerns about the potential for a kashrut turf war. It has also highlighted Sydney’s lack of competition in kosher catering and the perception that prices are higher than in Melbourne.

At present, there is only one kashrut authority in Sydney.  Melbourne, meanwhile, has a number of kashrut organisations. Supervision is carried  out by Adass, Mizrachi’s Kosher Australia, Kosher Veyosher , and the Chabad Kosher Committee.  Adass charges “about $1 a head for supervision, while Sydney’s KA charges anywhere from $1.20 to $6.60 per head, depending on the catering charges per person.

Paying tribute to Raoul Wallenberg

MELBOURNE, 18 January – The heroism of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved up to 100,000 Jews during the Holocaust, was honoured on the weekend.

Melbourne survivors gathered at a ceremony at St Kilda Town Hall on Sunday January 17 at 11am to pay tribute to Wallenberg, who disappeared 65 years ago.

The annual event has the backing of B’nai B’rith’s Raoul Wallenberg Unit and the City of Port Philip, with personal involvement of Mayor Frank O’Connor.

Susan Ginesy, who was born in Budapest, was saved from deportation to the death camps when she was placed in one of the protected houses set up by Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat. She has written about her experiences in her memoirs, When I Was There . And Now.

Avraham Zeleznikow, who is a member of Raoul Wallenberg Unit and the elderly citizens committee at the City of Port Philip, said that while “most people are familiar with the story”, Wallenberg’s heroism needs to be commemorated,
particularly in St Kilda and surrounding suburbs, where many Holocaust survivors live.

During 1944, Wallenberg, who was posted by his government to Budapest, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews by thwarting attempts to transport them to Auschwitz.

Working illegally, he issued thousands of protective Swedish passports, and intervened to have Jews pulled off trains heading for Auschwitz.

When the Soviets invaded Budapest in January 1945, Wallenberg was taken into “protective custody”, and was last seen on January 17 of that year.

Some years later, the Soviet Union responded to a growing outcry for Wallenberg’s whereabouts by claiming simply that he had died in custody.

A memorial tree at St Kilda Town Hall is surrounded by a reflective seat, inscribed with the talmudic saying: “Whoever preserves the life of a single human being, it is as if he had preserved an entire world.”

Moshiach men sanctioned by rabbi

MELBOURNE, 15 January – The head rabbi of Melbourne’s Chabad community this week moved to excise a controversial fringe group from the Jewish community.

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner, dayan of the city’s Yeshivah College, called on the so-called “Moshiach Men” to be shunned for publicly flouting the Fast of Tevet.

The group is best known in the wider community for their regular antics around St Kilda East. Followers dressed in yellow shirts and novelty hats wave large flags and sing songs proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah, who they believe to be the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Late last month, a small number of people associated with the Moshiach Men flouted the fast of Tevet 10 by hosting a party at a private home and recording the celebration, which was posted on YouTube.

The video and the event riled Rabbi Telsner, who called the action a chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) and in complete contradiction to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings.

“In light of the above, I find it necessary to rule that until the perpetrators of these deeds stand before a Beis Din of three Rabbonim, and seek forgiveness and correction of that which they have done, they are to be ostracised by all
members of the community,” Rabbi Telsner wrote in a strongly-worded letter that has since been widely circulated.

He elaborated, writing that the Moshiach Men should not be counted as part of a minyan and cannot be given an aliyah to the Torah.

“Similarly, one should not speak to them or have any business dealings with them,” the Chabad rabbi added.

A representative of the Moshiach Men declined to comment on the letter, saying it had not been specifically addressed to the group.

Rabbi Telsner also refused to elaborate on the drastic measures he had taken against the group, which considers itself part of Chabad Judaism.

Apron art promotes tolerance

MELBOURNE, 15 January  –  An apron might be a symbol of domesticity, but for a group of 13 women, it became a symbol of tolerance and diversity.

Women from Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Jewish backgrounds gathered for a two-day interfaith workshop last month facilitated by Jewish Care, Prahran Mission Multicultural Program and the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

The women, who have all been touched by mental illness or have experienced some kind of abuse, designed and decorated aprons to represent their own personal journeys.

Jewish Care CEO Bruce Salvin said: “The workshop provided an opportunity to share experiences, tell stories and build trust.”

Heading for record feat

SYDNEY, 15 January –  -A fitness challenge with a friend has catapulted Jarryd Rubenstein to internet stardom and the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Sydneysider was recorded completing 26 consecutive “muscle ups” — a feat no one around the world has been able to match.

For the mortal athletes out there, a muscle-up is a combination of a chin-up and a dip in one movement, something that, according to Rubenstein, “shouldn’t be tried unless you can do 20-25 chin-ups first”.

Training is Rubinstein’s passion — he exercises at North Bondi beach “as long as it’s notsnowing” – fuelled by 16 months with the Israel Defence Forces Sayeret Golani unit.

His time in Israel converted him to a regime in which, he said, he has “not picked up a weight in five years”.

Back in Australia since 2008, the chiselled 26-year-old who works in wealth management trains religiously by the beach, doing exercises that use only his body weight for resistance.

Jewish Community acts on Haiti tragedyMELBOURNE,  15 January–To all concerned Jewish community members:

In Haiti, tens of thousands of people are reported dead and the death toll continues to rise after the most devastating earthquake to shake the region in two hundred years.

Schools, hospitals and thousands of homes have been destroyed and over three million people have been left without adequate food, shelter, healthcare and basic infrastructure.

All proceeds from this appeal will be distributed to CARE Australia, which is a non-religious and non-political Australian charity, who are conducting a large scale relief and rescue operation:

“CARE is deploying additional emergency team members to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where the worst earthquake in 200 years
destroyed houses and left thousands homeless.

While the exact death toll from the 7.0-magnitude quake is not yet known, it is expected to be catastrophic.

“It is just morning here now,” describes CARE’s Country Director in Haiti Sophie Perez on January 13, less than a day after the quake. “I can hear helicopters working on the search and rescue. The immediate need is to rescue people trapped in the
rubble, then to get people food and water. We’re particularly worried about the children, because so many schools seem to have collapsed. Children were still in school in the afternoon when the earthquake hit, so there are many children trapped. It’s horrifying.”

The Australian Jewish community is being mobilised to support Haitians in their time of need. Please consider a generous contribution to JAA’s Haiti Appeal, to enable CARE to assist communities in Haiti to respond, recover and rebuild in the wake of this enormous disaster.

Thank you for your generous support.


Gary Samowitz
CEO, Jewish Aid Australia


Jewish charitable organisations are helping the rescue and relief effort in Haiti  after the Caribbean Island was decimated by an earthquake on January 13.

The Victorian chapter of Magen David Adom (MDA) is collecting  funds, as is Jewish Aid Australia (JAA).

Haiti’s president Rene Preval said that up to 50,000 may have been killed in the earthquake, which registered seven on the Richter scale. The International Red Cross has estimated that up to three million Haitians have been left homeless, injured or dead.

Many governments and non-government organisations have mobilised to help Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries. They include the Israeli Government, which together with the Red Cross and MDA Israel, is preparing to send a delegation of doctors and paramedics, as well as medical supplies.

In order to support the Israeli effort, the local MDA group is raising money for emergency and medical supplies to be sent to Haiti.

JAA has partnered with CARE Australia, a non-religious and non-political charity, which is conducting relief and rescue operations on the small island via emergency teams. Fundraising undertaken by JAA will be directed to CARE.

Israelis at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, 18 January – With the 2010 grand slam circuit kicking off at Melbourne Park today (January 18) with the Australian Open, there is
no better time for Israeli and Jewish players to build on the success of 2009.

Here are some of the key players to look out for over summer:

Dudi Sela

The spearhead of Israel’s Davis Cup side became only the fourth Israeli to play in the fourth round of a grand slam when he reached the final 16 at Wimbledon in 2009.

This time last year, Sela had to endure three-rounds of qualifying to play in Melbourne — where he eventually bowed out in the third round.

This year though, the diminutive stroke-maker arrives full of confidence, ranked 40th in the world and buoyed by a strong semifinal showing in Chennai, India,  where he gave world number 21 Stanislas Wawrinka a run. He followed that up with a first-round loss to Julian Benneteau at the Sydney International.

Shahar Peer

Israel’s number-one female player has found herself under fire from politically minded spectators in 2010, but was still able to maintain focus to reach the semifinals in Auckland last week.

The world number 30 claimed two titles in September — Tashkent, Uzbekistan and Guangzhou, China — to break a three-year winning drought. She is a Federation Cup spearhead for her country, but will be hoping for a better result in grand slams this year — her best result was reaching the third round at the US Open in 2009.

The second seed at this week’s Hobart International, she will meet Alona Bondarenko in the final on January 18

Andy Ram

Andy Ram is one of the world’s finest doubles exponents. In 2009, he reached the Australian Open mixed doubles final with Frenchwoman Natalie Dechy, and the US Open men’s doubles semifinal with Belarus’ Max Mirnyi.

The ninth-ranked player will likely team with France’s Michael Llodra this summer, after winning with Mirnyi in Miami and making five other finals last year.

Jonathan Erlich

Ram’s former doubles partner has suffered a dogged few years due to injury. The highlight of 2009 was his reunion with Ram in the Davis Cup, and a title in Turkey with compatriot Harel Levy in May.

However, the former grand slam doubles winner’s ranking has slipped to 187.

 Aleksandra Wozniak

Aleksandra Wozniak became the first Canadian woman in 17 years to reach the second week of a grand slam, when she lost to Serena Williams in the fourth round at the French Open last year.

The right-hander backed it up, reaching the third round at the US Open, and finished the year ranked 34 in the world.


  1. March 5, 2010 at 2:15 am

    The action taken to local and national disasters is noble but it’s a damn shame that so many citizens take advantage of the sad situations.

    I mean everytime there is an earthquake, a flood, an oil spill – there’s always a group of heartless people who rip off tax payers.

    This is in response to reading that 4 of Oprah Winfreys “angels” got busted ripping off the system. Shame on them!

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