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The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish News

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Battle of the bottle

SYDNEY, 10 June – A Jewish youth organisation has  come under fire for using free alcohol, purchased  with thousands of dollars of communal funds, to
entice young people to participate in Jewish life. While the community continues its search for  long-term solutions to the well-known disconnect  between young adults and Jewish Sydney, Fusion  just focuses on getting 20-somethings through the door.

“We get Jews to a function room. That is our main  aim and goal and that is what they [Shalom  College, which is fully funded by the Jewish  Communal Appeal] are giving us money for,” Fusion coordinator Danielle Kacen said.

Fusion was established last year as a part of  young Jewish group, Network, to cater for 20 to 25-year-old Jews.

“Alcohol is part of getting people, but I’m doing a good job and I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do,” Kacen added.

It is understood that there was a bar tab of more  than $3000 at a recent event, Summerfest.

One participant, Leeran Gold, 20, said that while Fusion’s events are fun, there is too much of a  focus on alcohol. “There was a massive bar tab at  Summerfest,” she said. “I had four free drinks,  which is ridiculous because of the prices of their drinks at Ravesis in Bondi.”

She added: “Most people were drinking, but not everyone got smashed.”

Gold, who has been involved with the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, Hillel and Communal  Security Group, said she felt the money could be put to better use.

“When I thought about the amount of money that  was spent on the bar that night, I realised it  could have sent a person on an Israel program,  planted 300 trees in Israel or gone towards a  Magen David Adom ambulance,” she said. “When you  really think about it you feel a bit silly spending the money on alcohol.”

She also felt there was too much pandering to the culture of drinking among young people. “If they spent money on live music or entertainment then I
would go because it would be fun.”

Kacen’s superior, Network director Cara Katz,  disagreed that alcohol was used to attract people to functions. “We have never used alcohol to  entice people to functions and Summerfest was a very successful night.”

However, the Summerfest flier (pictured) clearly  depicts a large bottle of beer and promotes a “free bar tab” and “free entry”.

“The focus was to connect young Jewish people and  drinking was a by-product of that,” Katz said.

When approached for a comment,   Shalom Institute  chief executive Hilton Immerman, who oversees the  running of Network and Fusion, agreed the flier
does use alcohol to attract people.

“Personally, this is not the type of marketing  that I would use to engage people but we are  entrusting them [Fusion’s staff] and I will  discuss this flier with them,” Immerman said.

“But if they succeeded in getting 200 young  adults to this event then it is a worthwhile point.

“I think it’s obvious that we are offering  companionships and a social event in the flier,” he added.

Jewish House CEO Rabbi Mendel Kastel said alcohol abuse is a problem in the community. “I find it a very sad day when Judaism and the community is
reduced to the point when the only way we can get the community together is by enticing people with alcohol,” Rabbi Kastel said. “There is a lack of
creativity, engagement and want to engage people.”

He called alcohol a form of short-term engagement because young people “come, get smashed, then go home”.

“We need to find a long term solution that keeps them engaged in the community.”

Gaza Flotilla dominates Community body discussion

MELBOURNE, 10 June -The plenum of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria affords the opportunity for all members of the Victorian  Jewish community to be informed about and to  express their views on a wide range of issues of community concern.

There were three major topics of discussion at  the June plenum, and a number of subsidiary  matters.  Unsurprisingly proceedings were  dominated by the recent so called ‘peace’  flotilla to Gaza and the potential outcomes for
local Jewry.  As guest speaker David Michelson of  the Community Security Group noted, “While we obviously can’t control the Middle East situation, we can manage its repercussions here by strategic planning and responses.”

In his address, Michelson made the point that anti-Israel protests in Victoria were taking a decidedly more aggressive tone, with increasing  calls for ‘martyrdom’ and ‘war’.  Protestors were  increasingly apparently Muslim, rather than the  hard left who generally had constituted the  majority in recent years.  While the local Turkish Muslim community has largely seen as  generally more moderate in its views, the  flotilla issue has resulted in rallies dotted
with Turkish flags amongst the more common Hezbollah and Hamas placards.

While the danger rating was currently at 5 (6 is  the maximum), Michelson observed that staying  both calm and vigilant and immediately reporting
suspicious incidents were the most effective ways  of thwarting potential dangers.  JCCV president John Searle noted the dedication and professionalism of the CSG and asked Michelson that its members be made aware of the community’s appreciation.

The second matter that occasioned considerable interest was the continuing saga of the Melbourne’s Chevra Kadisha’s seemingly cavalier  attitude to the condition of Lyndhurst Cemetery, despite numerous public complaints.  As John
Searle noted, while MCK was a private organisation, it nonetheless had a moral
obligation to the Jewish community.  Where it had let down the community was in the areas of accountability and transparency.  Seemingly it is  out of touch with the despair and anger felt by so many of its users.

John Searle advised that there had been considerable discussion, both oral and written, with the MCK trustees.  Unfortunately the latter had been long on promises and short on providing outcomes.  The JCCV had reluctantly brought the Australian Jewish News up to date, ‘reluctantly’  because it would have preferred a more amicable and mature process of reaching a positive
result.  It remained to be seen whether adverse  publicity would achieve a more fruitful outcome for the community.

Finally, plenum delegates also spent considerable time discussing the proposal for a community hub at 304 and 306 Hawthorn Road.  The Jewish
community has long outgrown the latter premises  (Beth Weizmann) and funding was now being sought  from the State Government to develop both
properties.  This proposal includes the creation of the Jewish National Library and Resource Centre of Australia (an amalgamation of various  community libraries including Makor) as the  centre of an expanded cultural and educational centre.  In addition to the establishment of this new entity, the resultant reconfiguration would provide a state of the art Jewish Community
Centre, resulting in more Jewish community organisations being accommodated.

Part of this plan involves the relocation of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission to Beth Weizmann where it would share joint premises with
the JCCV.  This move would enable a  rationalisation of resources for common fields of endeavour, particularly in the areas of  anti-discrimination, research, combating racism  (including antisemitism) and interfaith  work/dialogue.  The ADC has been the JCCV’s  anti-discrimination arm for a number of years,
but its effectiveness in this regard has been limited by the organisations being housed in different locations.  The provision of a ‘one-stop shop’ for these matters would create a more efficient and effective process, and greater
convenience and less confusion for users.
Population shift sees demise of a shule

MELBOURNE, 11 June – geographical shift of congregants has led to the demise of Burwood Hebrew Congregation in Melbourne’s southern suburbs.

The 46-year-old shul, which held its services at  Mount Scopus Memorial College, drew some 130 worshippers in its heyday, but could barely
summon a minyan in recent years, secretary Dr Gerald Segal said this week.

“This year our membership was down to 27. People have moved out of Burwood and district, and from Waverley. We had all that area, but there are
very few Jewish people living there now.”

Dr Segal said several of the shul’s congregants have indicated they will go to services at Auburn Road Centre, located at Bialik College.

While it has had several ­chazans, budgetary  limitations meant Burwood synagogue has not had its own rabbi for some years, he said.

“The services were fantastic and family-friendly. Everyone always got called up. They would always make sure everyone felt involved. It’s sad to see
it end,” said Dr Segal, who joined the synagogue in 1978, at the urging of his cousins. He has been secretary for five years, serving with president Jock Orkin.

A farewell event will be held on June 27, to which the shul has invited Mount Scopus principal Rabbi James Kennard and president Lisa Kennett to
share in almost half-a-century of memories.

“We’ll have a closing ceremony and a plaque  erected to say that Burwood Hebrew Congregation existed,” Dr Segal said.

The remainder of the shul’s budget will be donated to Mount Scopus College.

Cross-border kashrut debate continues

SYDNEY, 11 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 said 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 – did not return The AJN’s
calls, other rabbis said the KA letter misquoted the report.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, 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.”

Closer links of community bodies advocated

MELBOURNE, 11 June – The Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) has confirmed its intention tophysically and metaphorically move closer to the
Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), announcing a plan to relocate to the Beth Weizmann Community Centre.

JCCV president and ADC deputy chairman John Searle confirmed the move, saying that “the best way to work closely is to be close”.

“This is something we’ve been talking about for a considerable amount of time,” Searle announced. “The relationship we have with them is sensational, [but] it’s sometimes difficult because we are not in the same building.”

A memorandum of understanding between the two organisations means that they are already currently working closely together.

ADC executive director Deborah Stone said it is “more logical” for the two groups to also be located “close together if physically possible”.
Currently, the anti-defamation organisation is based in Caulfield South.

Changes currently underway at Beth Weizmann to introduce the Jewish Library Australia – a national library that would bring together the various collections of Jewish books that already exist within the community – means that space at
the community centre should become available in approximately six months.

Searle said that while the ADC initially positioned itself to counter anti-Semitism and racism across Australia and New Zealand, over time its evolution has seen it operate mainly in Victoria. The move closer to the JCCV would complete this transition.

“I think it is more Victorian than anything else,” Searle said, adding that in NSW, anti-defamation work is “very competently” looked after by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

However the chairman of ADC, Mr Tony Levy in a press release to the Jewish News firmly stated that while the ADC works for the whole Jewish
Community, and had amended its constitution for non B’nai  Brith to obtain membership status in the ADC, it remained very firmly the B’nai B’rith
Anti-Defamation Commission, as a committed and proud member of the B’nai B’rith family.

Prime Minister reaches out to Jewish leadeship

CANBERRA. 11 June – Australian Prime Minster Kevin Rudd attempted to rebuild bridges with the Jewish community last Thursday in the wake of the
Government’s comments regarding the flotilla crisis and the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over the passport affair.

The Prime Minister, together with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, invited six Jewish community representatives for a frank discussion about recent events.

The six, chosen personally by the PM, were Australia/Israeli & Jewish Affairs Council chairman Mark Leibler, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot, Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester, Yachad Accelerated Learning Project convenor Helene Teichmann, Jewish Labour Forum founder Bruce Solomon, Australia Israel Cultural Exchange  founder Albert Dadon and Jewish Community Council of Western Australia representative Steve Lieblich.

Joining the group for a kosher dinner in The Lodge’s dining room were MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus. “The group discussed recent developments in relations with Israel, and confirmed that the bilateral relationship was
strong, and that the Government will be pressing ahead with the next phase of the relationship,” a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said.

It was the first time a Prime Minister had invited community leaders for an intimate, private meeting since Malcolm Fraser’s invitation following the First Lebanon War broke out in 1982.

According to participants, Rudd explained the Government’s decisions and the reasoning behind those decisions. Participants then spoke in turn, expressing their thoughts on recent events.

“The dinner was an important opportunity for those present to engage in a frank, friendly and constructive exchange,” Goot said after the meeting. “The meeting was both welcome and timely and the Prime Minister’s and Foreign Minister’s positive remarks on a number of new initiatives, gives us great confidence that the relationship between the Jewish community and the Government will continue to be close and cooperative as we focus on the future.”

Those initiatives include an official visit by Trade Minister Simon Crean to Israel from July 14-17 and the receipt of an official Israeli ministerial delegation by Canberra in coming months.

The Prime Minister expressed his own wish to visit Israel for a third time, but said domestic matters were keeping him at home.

Rudd emphasised that unlike most other countries, Australia had not called for a United Nations investigation after Israel confronted the flotilla of activists trying to break the Gaza blockade.

“There was no specific singling out of Israel for condemnation, just a condemnation of violence,” Leibler reported.

Rudd also called for a greater flow of humanitarian aid into the Hamas-controlled zone, but at no time spoke in favour of the removal of the blockade, noting that it was vital Israel prevented arms shipments into Gaza.

On the matter of passport forgeries and whether or not the Australian Government was right in its decision to expel an Israeli diplomat, Leibler
admitted that Rudd and some of the other dinner guests had “a difference of opinion there”.

Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

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