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The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Jewish news of Australia and New Zealand

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Shechita outlawed in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand , May 28 — he days of a Jewish mother making the traditional chicken soup for the family Friday  night Shabbat dinner have come to an end for New Zealanders.

The country has issued a new Animal Welfare Commercial Slaughter Code which stipulates that commercially killed animals must be stunned before slaughter.making halachic slaughter impossible. The new regulations take immediate effect.

Whereas Kosher beef will be able to be imported into New Zealand, the country clearly stipulates that the importation of chickens is banned.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence of Sydney’s the Great Synagogue was formerly spiritual head of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation.

He told J-Wire: “There is a strong body of veterinary and animal welfare research which continues to confirm shechita as a humane method of slaughter of the highest standard. Further, the NZ government and its animal welfare advisors have failed to answer substantial challenges by scientists of international repute to the research and the premises on which its recent determination has been made.  Significantly, tests have not been done on animals under shechita conditions.”

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Council (NAWAC) report on which the minister made his decision recognised “that the rights of the New Zealand Jewish community to practise its religious beliefs accorded by the Bill of Rights Act must be balanced against animal welfare considerations.”

It stated that there were alternatives short of an outright ban on shechita available to the government.  Nonetheless, the minister has chosen the most extreme option.

“There is no balance.  A deliberate decision has made to override the Jewish community’s acknowledged rights.  This is a case of misplaced values, bad science and bad legislation.”

John Hellstrom, the Chairman of the National Animal Welfare Advisory committee said: “The Code sets out general principles and recommendations for best practice, ensuring animals do not suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain and distress when they are killed.”

He told J-Wire that in New Zealand Halal meat for the Muslim community is not affected as the animal is stunned before being slaughtered.

There is no direct appeal against the decision which is effective with 24 hours of publication but there could be an opportunity for a judicial review to consider if the banning of Shecita is contrary to New Zealand’s Bill of Rights.

The chicken soup the Jewish community grew up with will be no more.at least in a Kosher format.

Hellstrom said: “Whereas there is no problem with importing beef there are a couple of diseases which concern New Zealand with respect to chickens. The only chicken meat which is imported has been processed but unprocessed chicken cannot be brought into the country.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry told J-Wire that “the MAF understands that commercial Shechita of poultry has not taken place in New Zealand for some years due to a lack of interest.”

“Not true” says Sydney-based Rabbi Moshe Gutnick who is the acting President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.

In his role as Rabbinic Administrator of the Kashrut Authority of Australia and New Zealand, Rabbi Gutnick has made many trips to the New Zealand city of Invercargill where the kosher ritual killing has taken place for years. He told J-Wire: “We send shochtim from Sydney on a regular basis and I can assure you that chickens were slaughtered as well as meat-producing animals. This decision by the New Zealand Government, one which has a Jewish Prime Minister, is outrageous. We will be doing everything possible to get this decision reversed. One of the last countries I would have expected to bring in this blatantly discriminatory action would have been New Zealand.”

David Zwartz chairs the Wellington Jewish Council. He told J-Wire: “I am sure there will  objections made that this action is an
infringement of the right of Jews to observe their religion.”

For New Zealand’s Jewish mothers and grandmothers who have added love to the Shabbas chicken soup with its giblets there will be only a simple and far less involved procedure.  Hellstrom added: “Kosher chicken soup cubes are obviously processed so there will be no problem importing them.”

Shechita is banned in Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Ethics or religion in schools

SYDNEY, 3 June  A debate over religious education has flared, as 10 public schools piloted an ethics course as an alternative to religious instruction this term.

Although many children remain enrolled in special religious education (SRE), some students opt out of these classes, wasting time at school because of no secular alternative.

While this program is still in a trial phase, Jewish SRE provider Academy BJE expressed concern.

Meanwhile, representatives of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) and Jewish schools met NSW Education Minister Verity Firth on Monday to discuss how students were recruited to the course. Firth was reportedly supportive of the community’s concerns.

“Our position is that Jewish children should not be targeted to leave their SRE classes and invited to opt for the ethics classes instead,”
JBD chief executive Vic Alhadeff said.

“The default position should be that Jewish children automatically attend SRE classes, and that the only way they can choose the ethics course is through their parents expressly requesting in writing that they do so.

Alhadeff said the JBD supports the initiative, but their “concern is to protect and preserve Jewish continuity”.

At the moment, it is only proposed to offer ethics lessons to students in years 5 and 6 who are not already receiving religious instruction.

Close to 50 per cent of Jewish children in NSW are taught by Academy BJE, according to principal Rachele Schonberger, but she is worried that with an ethics program, Jewish students might miss out on learning about their heritage.

“We want to give them access to the beauty of Judaism,” she said, adding that ethics classes have nothing to do with Jewish morals, history or spiritualism, which “distinguishes a Jewish child from one that is not”.

Lesley Holden, a parent at Crown Street Public School in Surry Hills and the pilot coordinator of the school’s community group, told The AJN she believes that students who are not involved in SRE classes are essentially discriminated against because they are not engaged in any meaningful activity at that time.

Holden said that, as a parent, she was “quite upset that there was no meaningful alternative for her son while scripture classes were on”.

In a media statement, Firth said ethics classes are intended to encourage students “to think and talk about things like fairness, honesty, care, rights and responsibilities”, rather than introduce a competing theology.

Melbourne Communal Appeal abandoned

MELBOURNE, 3 June – Plans  to introduce a Victorian Jewish communal appeal have been scrapped after research revealed the Melbourne community raises more money than Sydney.

New South Wales’ Jews have raised funds to support communal endeavours via the Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) since the 1960s and for decades, discussions have raged whether its southern neighbour should follow suit.

A subcommittee of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) was set up in 2008 to explore the prospect of a communal appeal in Melbourne. In March this year, the subcommittee was given a push by some of the Jewish community’s most generous donors, led by David Smorgon.

Smorgon, together with other donors, funded the appointment of a top consultant to speak to 14 community organisations and confidentially go through their finances.

The results were announced to the JCCV and donors last week.

“Our funding is pretty much on par with NSW funding, therefore there doesn’t seem to be a great need to go to a communal appeal,” JCCV president John Searle said. “A communal appeal would not raise more money. In fact, it might raise less money.”

The example Searle gave was that if 10 organisations call the same household during the course of the year, they may raise $100 each, but if a Victorian communal appeal were to call, it is unlikely to receive a $1000 donation from the same family in one lump sum.

He admitted “there is a fair bit of surprise coming out of this report. It is shattering all the myths.”

Smorgon added he was pleased to “once and for all get the facts” and that the idea of a Victorian communal appeal can now be “put to bed”.

“The findings are reassuring because they show the strength of the community,” he said.

David Balkin, the president of the NSW JCA, indicated the report was not as clear-cut as it appears.

“They say they raise slightly more than we do, but Melbourne has a much richer community than us,” Balkin said. “They have far more billionaires than we do and they are a bigger community. We shouldn’t be the benchmark because if Melbourne had a JCA like we do, they would raise more than they do today.”

Despite answering one question, the report raised a number of other issues.

Smorgon said it revealed that the fundraising burden was not being spread around. “We’ve still got too many people who don’t give.”

Searle listed other concerns, including that the next generation of philanthropic families will not support the Jewish community like their parents and grandparents have done; the substantial fundraising struggle faced by smaller community organisations and schools; the future of bequests; and how to go about central communal planning without having control of the purse strings.

Balkin certainly agreed with Searle’s final point.

“I’ve seen the report and I can understand what they are saying, but they are missing out on the planning,” he said. “Donors give us money as an intermediary because they think we know what the needs of the community are better than they do.

Balkin also took a swipe at the JCCV, indicating Sydney’s equivalent, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, benefits from increased funding.

“Clearly the most obvious example of the consequence is our JBD, where we have a well-respected and well regarded advocate for our
community at the state level and Victoria has always struggled with that.”

Celebrating eight decades

MELBOURNE, 3 June – With Temple Beth Israel (TBI) celebrating its 80th birthday this week, the emphasis is on youth, as the synagogue looks ahead to its next eight decades.

Australia’s oldest Progressive congregation works closely with the Leo Baeck Centre, Bentleigh Progressive Synagogue and Kedem, the three other congregations of the Victorian Union for Progressive Judaism (VUPJ), and is a major voice on the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ), which serves Australia and the region.

But in an era of membership turnover across Melbourne’s synagogues, and a proliferation of smaller minyans, long-established shuls of all stripes are struggling to hold the interest of congregants and to draw in new worshippers.

Finding tomorrow’s leaders can be a challenge that begins in the cradle, and TBI’s leadership team are doing all they can to meet it.

Rabbi Fred Morgan, TBI’s senior rabbi, harked back to the recent Shavuot morning service, and a ceremony celebrating the beginning of the life cycle. “We invited all babies born over the previous year onto the bimah for a special blessing with parents and grandparents, under a tallit, which was a really beautiful event,” he said.

In the words of TBI’s executive manager Art Feinman, the shul’s Matan program, for children who do not attend a Jewish day school, is a place “to plant the seeds”.

Feinman also spoke about “leadership born out of music” through Junior Chazzanim, a group of teens who provide musical Shabbat accompaniment once a month.

Dana Bar-Zuri, shaliach of the VUPJ and Netzer in Victoria, said sending 21 Melbourne youngsters to Israel for a 10-month leadership program – among a total of 33 nationally – is a record.

Jerusalem-born Bar-Zuri arrived last year to take up her role. In coordination with Beck Fiala, Netzer’s Melbourne head, she runs educational programs, including twice-yearly seminars on Jewish and Zionist issues, and monthly forums on “hot topics” in Israel.

“I try to bring them a lot about the Progressive community in Israel and to see what type of issues they are dealing with, and compare it to the issues the Progressive community in Australia, especially in Melbourne, are dealing with,” Bar-Zuri said. Bar-Zuri said TBI teens relate strongly to projects promoting tikkun olam (repairing the world), and to topics such as the conversion bill
controversy and Women of the Wall.

“As Australian Jews, they feel very comfortable being Progressive, but they really want to know what it’s like to be a Progressive Jew in Israel – it’s very different.”

Max Gross, who has been appointed VUPJ youth activities coordinator, focuses on congregants and prospective congregants aged in their 20s, organising a mix of activities including Shabbat dinners, Zohar discussions and social outings. He also arranges youth groups to attend services.

With his Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) background – he was president of AUJS at La Trobe University – his aim is to attract and hold an age group that congregations find difficult to keep interested. Gross has identified “a very positive trend in
more young people coming to synagogue services”.

Feinman sees work with teens and 20-somethings a foundation for “a growing interest and real involvement in TBI in the 30s and 40s age group”.

On a more formal level, TBI president Brian Samuel believes in succession planning. He pointed to young professionals such as Dr Fairlie Wayne, David Marks and Ian Moore on the TBI board, as “people we can come back to in later years and ask to take a senior role”.

The addition of Rabbis Gersh Zylberman and Rayna Gevurtz to the team some years ago attracted young newcomers, and with the couple’s departure for the US, Samuel said a search committee will seek a new, young associate rabbi.

According to Rabbi Morgan, the cumulative focus on teens, young adults and people in their 30s and 40s is a sound basis for future development.

“We have exceptional leadership at present on the board, and teams working in social justice, pastoral care and hospital visiting,” he said.

He also noted that the TBI Friendship Club, a social group for those on the other side of middle age, is now 10 years old and welcoming
more than 100 people each session. “That’s the future too.”

Jewish students brace for negative reactions

MELBOURNE, 3 June – An escalation in tension around Australian university campuses is expected in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid.

Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) vice-chairman Glen Falkenstein warned students need to be aware and report any incidents.

“If a student is harassed or intimidated on campus, then we encourage them to contact their campus AUJS president or their equity and diversity unit.”

Falkenstein said there has already been increased activity on campus. Meanwhile, in order to best confront verbal attacks or hostile conversations over the flotilla crisis, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has emailed background information and interview
transcripts to community members.

The information provides legal background, indicating that “Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with Hamas” and as such
“maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognised measure under international law”.

Israel exercised its right to enforce its blockade after passengers on the boats provided “clear intention to violate the blockade by means
of written and oral statements”.

They have also circulated transcripts of official Knesset press responses from Israeli Government spokespeople.

Marching on Melbourne’s streets

MELBOURNE, 3 June – Australian cities became marching grounds for anti-Israel rallies this week in response to the Israeli navy’s raid on a flotilla attempting to break the Gaza blockade.

In Melbourne, about 300 protesters waved placards and brandished Turkish flags in a peak-hour demonstration on Tuesday night.

Protesters were continually warned off tram tracks by police, with some waving posters bearing slogans such as “Boycott Israel” in front of tram windows.

The demonstration, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), was flanked by a heavy police presence, and eventually ended at the State Library.

Rather than officially attending the protests, members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) spent the evening calling
talk-back radio stations and writing to newspapers to counter the negative media in the wake of the crisis.

National chairperson Liam Getreu said the organisation decided they would “rather influence public opinion in the media than put up posters that will just be torn down”.

“We wanted to be smarter and rather arm people with facts,” he said

Warned by police not to attend the protest, Betar members in Sydney opted to hold a vigil outside the Turkish consulate in Woollahra. They held signs with slogans such as “Enough support for terrorism” and “Floating guerrillas not a peace flotilla”.

“It was a spontaneous protest in support of Israel and against the lies being spread about Israel’s intentions,” Betar’s Ari Briggs said.

Cross-border kosher contention

SYDNEY, 7 June New South Wales Kashrut Authority (KA) administrator Rabbi Moshe Gutnick has moved to diffuse tension between Melbourne and Sydney rabbis.

But he was adamant he does not regret distributing a letter, signed by 10 rabbis and the organisation’s director, in response to
rumours that Sydney’s Adass Israel community would not accept the kosher status of meat prepared in the Harbour City and plans to establish a breakaway authority.

Tensions flared after, for the second time in recent months, an ultra-Orthodox Sydney family employed a Melbourne caterer under the supervision of the Melbourne-based Adass Israel Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Beck.

An Adass representative told The AJN that the family did so because catering was cheaper than Sydney kosher catering.

He added that Sydney Adass Rabbi Shalom Silberberg had agreed to oversee the food once it arrived in Sydney, although it was to be prepared in Melbourne using Melbourne kosher meat.

This sparked a cross-border war of words, with the KA responding to unconfirmed claims that the Adass family had gone with a Melbourne caterer because it did not accept the kosher status of Sydney meat.

In addition, there was talk that Rabbi Silberberg was establishing another kosher authority.

However, the Adass rabbi refused to confirm whether that was the case, saying only that his work is in “its infant stages at the moment”.

“I really don’t want to comment,” he said. “I don’t know what is going on and I don’t want to embarrass anyone.”

Melbourne Adass Israel member Benjamin Koppel said he too was unaware if Sydney was establishing its own kosher authority.

“We only know what is in the public domain,” he said, adding that while the communities carry the same name in both states, they are autonomous.

However, this did not stop the KA examining in explicit detail the different shechitah (ritual slaughter) practices used in Sydney and in Melbourne in its letter. They quoted a review prepared by an American rabbi into a Melbourne’s kosher meat practices.

“The OU [Orthodox Union] shechts at a maximum of 750 birds an hour per shochet, some require as low as 600 birds an hour. In Melbourne, the rabbi found the amount being shechted was 1000 per hour!”

It said the rabbi also found chickens in Melbourne are being soaked in water at the wrong temperature.

But Koppel, who saw the rabbi’s report, said “he was very satisfied with all he saw”.

“He suggested a small number of enhancements and cost-saving measures.”

While Eric Silver from Melbourne’s Solomons Kosher Butchers – the only producer of kosher chickens in Victoria – would not comment
publicly -, other rabbis said the KA letter misquoted the report.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Klugwant, the head of the Organisation of Rabbis in Australasia kashrut subcommittee, said he found the situation “most disturbing and extremely disappointing”.

But Rabbi Gutnick said the KA’s letter had been taken completely out of context. “There should be absolutely no tension between Melbourne and Sydney,” he said. “The letter was crystal clear that we hold the Melbourne rabbinate in the
utmost respect. On behalf of the rabbinate of the KA, we eat the Melbourne shechitah when in Melbourne.

“The sole purpose of the letter was to point out that those who are trying to suggest that the Sydney chickens are inferior are simply incorrect.”

He called those who have misinterpreted the KA’s letter “mischievous and misrepresenting our position”.

“Perhaps those whose agenda it is to try and say that our shechitah is not good are trying to deflect from the essential issue by fomenting discord between Melbourne and Sydney.”

Fabian is Australia bureau chief of San Diego Jewish World

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