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The Jews Down Under

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

A roundup of Australian Jewish news … by Garry Fabian in Melbourne

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Building Connections of Communal Harmony

SYDNEY – Seventeen-year-old Enzo Somosi may not always broadcast his Jewish
identity. But when a special envoy from the NSW  Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) visited his Coffs Harbour school to give a presentation on the  Holocaust last week, he felt compelled to wear his kippah during the proceedings.

“If anybody asks me, I’ll be honest. It’s not something I hide,” Somosi, the grandson of
Holocaust survivors, he said.  “But I found it  necessary on this occasion to show respect.”

The presentation was part of a whirlwind five-day  tour of NSW’s mid-north coast taken by JBD CEO  Vic Alhadeff and education manager Lynda Ben-Menashe.

The trip was a bridge-building exercise that saw  the pair meet more than 1000 people, including  leaders of the Uniting, Anglican and Assembly of  God churches, MPs, city councillors, Rotary club  members, media personnel and students.

“It’s all about relationships,” Alhadeff said.  “The objective of generating understanding of the  Jewish people ­ who we are, what Judaism is  about, the Holocaust, racism, anti-Semitism and Israel.”

Jewish connections emerged unexpectedly  throughout the tour, he added. Among them was the  admission by a Pentecostal church head that his  great-uncle was former Jewish governor-general Sir Isaac Isaacs.

Another student at a Catholic college revealed  that four of his Jewish grandmother’s eight siblings perished at Auschwitz.

“It was particularly gratifying to note how much  interest there is in the Holocaust and the
lessons that emerge from it,” Alhadeff said.

So far, the response has been positive. “We got  more than we were expecting. The boys were blown  out of the water,” said Mark Harrison, a history  teacher at The Armidale School, an Anglican  boarding school for boys, which was one of the tour stops.

“It was the perfect lead-up to our study of  Germany up to the beginning of World War II. The  presentation had an emotional charge, and the  boys picked up on it. They were really appreciative of them coming to our class.”

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Jewish School receives $1.5 million government grant

MELBOURNE – Adass Israel School has been awarded a $1.5 million Government grant for
the construction of a hospitality and training centre to be located at the school’s main campus in King Street, Elsternwick a Melbourne southern suburb.

The grant is part of the federal Government’s  multi-billion dollar Trade Training Centres in Schools program.

While all secondary schools were eligible for  grants worth between $500,000 and $1.5 million,  funding approval was based on the needs and application of each school.

Education Minister Julia Gillard said the funding will be used to construct and equip a training  facility at the school, with the new building to  include a kosher hospitality kitchen complete  with cooking, preparation, storage and multi-purpose areas for a training restaurant and general hospitality learning.

With grants worth $387 million available in the second round of the Trade Training Centres in Schools program, applications of almost double this were received.

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Australian Government denies shift on Mideast Policy

CANBERRA – The federal Government has  denied a shift in Middle East policy, despite
changing Australia’s vote in the United Nations  on a motion on Palestinian self-determination.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign  Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said Australia’s UN  voting pattern is strongly based on the country’s  “long-standing support for the Middle East peace process”, including a two-state solution.

Representatives of the Executive Council of  Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the Zionist Federation  of Australia (ZFA) and the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)  wrote to the  Prime Minister and Foreign Minister asking for an  explanation about the vote change.

The vote in question was in a committee of the  General Assembly earlier this month. The motion  reaffirms the right of Palestinian people to  self-determination and urges all states to help  the Palestinian people realise this.

While the motion itself is not considered  controversial, preceding statements refer to the
International Court of Justice’s controversial  ruling on Israel’s security barrier; to East
Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state;  and to Palestinian relief agencies, which some argue have been found to do more to exacerbate  Palestinian problems than solve them.

In previous years, Australia has abstained on the  vote, but this year the country voted in favour.

The DFAT spokesperson said even thought the motion referenced the International Court of Justice’s ruling, that ruling was only an advisory opinion.

“We will not oppose a resolution in the General  Assembly on the Middle East simply because it  refers to that advisory opinion,” she said,  indicating somewhat of a shift in tack.

The spokesperson added: “As we clearly  demonstrated in our opposition to the Goldstone
resolution, we continue to support Israel’s right  to live in peace within secure and internationally recognised borders.

“Similarly, the Government is committed to the  Palestinians’ right to a state of their own.”

The federal Opposition was swift to criticise the vote shift.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said: “It is  deeply regrettable that the Rudd Government is  overturning Australia’s policy of refusing to  support one-sided resolutions against Israel in the UN General Assembly.

“Resolutions at the UN General Assembly that speak only of Palestinian rights to a homeland, yet make no reference to the right of the state  of Israel to exist, are inflammatory and counter-productive.”

The only countries to vote against the motion  were Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia,  Nauru, Palau and the United States. Only  Botswana,  Cameroon, Canada, Tonga and Vanuatu abstained.

According to the letter to Foreign Minister  Stephen Smith from the ECAJ and ZFA, “the
explanation given by Australia for its abstention  in previous years was that while Australia  recognises the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, the text of the motion  gratuitously ‘tacks on’ other matters, which are far more contentious”.

AIJAC’s letter also expressed disappointment  because the resolutions, while appearing to be  “ostensibly reasonable”, “omit any reference to  Palestinian obligations, and, in so doing,  perpetuate the counter-productive narrative that Israel’s policies are the sole obstacles to peace”.

This latest vote change comes a year after the  Rudd Government instructed Australia’s UN  representative to, for the first time, vote in  favour of resolutions calling for a halt to
settlement activities in the Palestinian  territories and for the Geneva Convention to be
applied in the Palestinian territories.

At the time, Smith said Australia adopts its  approach on a “case-by-case” basis and saw these  votes to correlate with Australia’s support for a two-state solution.

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Chabad House by the beach
MELBOURNE – It has long been said  that where there is Coca Cola there is Chabad and
now the Mornington Peninsula, a seaside area just  30 minures from Melbourne is no exception.

Chabad of Frankston and Mornington Peninsula will officially open its doors later this month,  providing services to Jews in the area.

“There are a lot of elderly people, quite a few  Russians, Israelis and Aussies, there are young adults, young families and uni students,” Chabad  of Frankston and Mornington Penninsula’s Rebbetzin Rivkah Bondar said..

“Some people have thought they were the only Jews  in the area when there are actually two other families in their street.”

Together with her husband, Rabbi Levi Bondar and their four young children, the family moved  permanently to Frankston, an outer suburb of  Melbourne some 40kms from the CBD,  in July.

In the lead-up to the opening of the Chabad  House, the Bondars ran services during the High  Holy Days. Rabbi Bondar also runs weekly shiurs  and the couple delivers challahs each Friday.

“People are so appreciative and happy to have us  there. They are always offering their help or their houses. It’s nice to be so appreciated,” Rebbetzin Bondar said.

Having established a minyan in Carnegie, which  began in their home with two people and grew to its own premises with more than 200 people, Rabbi  and Rebbetzin Bondar decided they wanted a new challenge.

“We wanted to build a community [somewhere] where  we, as a young, growing family, can live and afford to buy.”

Rebbetzin Bondar said since they made the move, they have received many phone calls from other young families who are keen for a sea change.

Despite the distance to Jewish Melbourne, the Bondar children still attend Yesodei HaTorah in  Elwood for school during the week.

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Toben Free  but web site to be monitored

ADELAIDE – Fredrick Toben has been  released from jail after serving a three-month
sentence for contempt of court charges stemming  from his denial of the Holocaust.

Toben walked free from South Australia’s Yatala prison early on November 12.

The Adelaide-based Holocaust denier, who spoke at  a 2005 Holocaust denial conference in Iran, can now add Australia to the list of countries including Germany, Austria and the UK, where he has served prison time.

His Adelaide Institute reported on its website that Toben was “unbroken and unrepentant, and appears very refreshed and relaxed after his little holiday”.

The website also stated he was “welcomed home by his friends and supporters who held a celebratory dinner for him on November 12. During his speech on the night, he vowed to continue his work in demolishing the Holocaust lies.”

Toben was taken into custody on August 13 after losing an appeal before the Federal Court, which earlier had ruled that he was in contempt of orders to desist from publishing false and offensive material about the Holocaust and Jews.

At the time of his arrest, Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) president Robert Goot described Toben’s activities as “outrageous denial that the Holocaust occurred and that six million Jews had been murdered by the Nazis”.

Goot said ECAJ would “be ­monitoring the website” and would “take such action as we consider appropriate”.

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The Australian – Polish Connection restoring an icon

MELBOURNE – In a town called Dzierzoniow in Poland, there once was a thriving
Jewish population. In what was once the centre of town, the Reichenbach Synagogue still stands — one of only a handful of shuls that survived both Kristallnacht and the ensuing years.

Once an imposing structure with a glorious past, the Reichenbach Synagogue until recently stood  windowless, its support beams visible and its  facade showing the very signs of its age and struggle to survive.

Fred Moses, an Australian who has taken an  interest in the restoration of the shul after
visiting it, said that “one look at the still  imposing stature of the Reichenbach Synagogue
suffices to imagine its glorious past”.

“But at a closer look, one feels as if there were  a ghostly and sad atmosphere hanging over the whole structure,” he added.

Inspired by its history, Mr Moses is assisting a  foundation committed to restoring the Reichenbach  Synagogue to its glorious past, which before 1937, and again after 1945, was a religious hub.

The Beitenu Chaj — 2004 Foundation, or in English “Our House Lives on 2004”, is led by
Rafael Blau, who lived in Dzierzoniow (then Reichenbach) with his father for five years as a
child, before making aliyah in 1965.

Blau, who now lives in Be’er Sheva in Israel, spends his summer months in Dzierzoniow,
dedicating his full time to the foundation’s  activities in the restoration of the synagogue.

The foundation has begun works to restore the  synagogue, which upon completion will once again serve as a bustling shul and educational centre for the now growing Jewish population in Poland.

In addition to functioning as a religious centre, the Reichenbach Synagogue will also include a museum.

The foundation states as its objective to “make it possible for people from all over the world, Jews and non-Jews, especially young people, to get to know the story of the Jews in Poland, not just in relation to the horrors of the Holocaust,  but also to the ancient, rich heritage of Judaism, related to its contribution to the history, culture and the development of the Polish nation”.

The foundation has, to date, repaired holes in the synagogue roof, replaced windows, missing gutters and downspouts to stop rain and snow from coming in, and erected a fence around the synagogue.

“Much has been done, much is being done, but so much more has got to be done,” Mr Moses said. “It is most definitely an enterprise of great merits, which should be rewarded accordingly.”

Together with a group of others, including foundation vice-president Beata Sauermann, who  lives in the United Kingdom, and John and Maria  Koch from Canada, Blau is seeking further  assistance for the continued restoration project to “bring new life to the synagogue”.

Now in its fifth year, the foundation is obviously making progress, with the Reichenbach
Synagogue hosting its first service in more than 20 years on Rosh Hashanah.

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Maccabi Tennis shines at top tennis venue

SYDNEY – If you feel like a game of tennis, White City,where international  tennis
tournaments are played,  should be your first port of call.

That’s the message from new Maccabi Tennis Club president Steven Goldberg, who has taken over the Maccabi presidency for the third time, after James Beecher’s three-year tenure ended at the club’s recent annual general meeting.

Maccabi has settled into its new home at the  traditional heartland of NSW tennis after moving from Bondi last year, and while membership  numbers have increased, Goldberg wants to continue to build the club’s profile in the community.

“It’s a fantastic site, it’s just superb. an oasis in the city. There is a tranquillity there,
despite the hustle and bustle of the city,” Goldberg said.

“People should come down and try the facility, whether they want to become members or not. They’re supporting the only Jewish tennis club in Sydney.”

The club’s facilities include six floodlit synthetic courts, as well as a grass court and an
artificial clay court; a clubhouse; on-site  parking; and a streamlined coaching and junior
program under the management of Steve Loeffler, which aligns the coaching with the club, rather than setting its own agenda as an independent business.

The club had to overcome some members’ initial reservations about moving away from Bondi, but membership has since peaked at 185 — although the objective is to tap further into the community to attract younger members, women and players from the North Shore.

“It’s a much better location, a lot more attractive to those on the north . we really look
forward to catering to the whole Jewish community,” Goldberg said.

The club is an interested spectator in the dispute between the White City Tennis Club and
John Alexander, which has made its way to the High Court after the NSW Court of Appeal ruled in favour of White City.

The appeal prevents Alexander from creating his  dream sporting complex, while restoring the White  City Tennis Club as the owner of the property pending Alexander’s appeal. Maccabi awaits the verdict, as it will influence what happens to its clubhouse.

“We don’t mind who our neighbours will be,”  Goldberg clarified. “The plan is to share
facilities when they knock [the clubhouse down  and rebuild it]. Otherwise, we’ll use the
embankment going up to Glenmore Road.”

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  His email is fabiang@sandiegojewishworld.com

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