Compiled by Garry Fabian
Booksellers agree to pull books
MELBOURNE, 19 May – Three of Australia’s biggest book retailers this week agreed to pull a number of virulently anti-Semitic titles from their websites, following an investigation by a community watchdog.
Among the poisonous works that could be purchased on the Borders and Angus & Robertson websites were The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which alleges that Jews are plotting to take over the world, and The International Jew by Henry Ford,
which states: “Whichever way you turn to trace the harmful streams of influence that flow through society, you come upon a group of Jews.”
Visitors to the stores’ websites could also purchase Martin Luther’s The Jews and their Lies, in which the medieval theologian describes Jews as “base, whoring people, full of the devil’s feces, which they wallow in like swine.”
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, meanwhile, was also available online from Dymocks.
The investigation into the sale of hate literature on the net as part of the community alert to this type of display, and campaign against, cyber-racism.
After alerting the retailers to the pernicious nature of the books they were selling via their websites, on Tuesday all three agreed to withdraw them.
Dymocks buying manager Sophie Groom said: “We have taken the decision to remove the title from our website and this will be completed within the next two business days.”
Briony Lewis, general counsel for Redgroup Retail – the parent company of Borders and Angus & Robertson – also confirmed that the publications were being pulled.
The swift action taken by the retailers was welcomed by community leaders.
Expressing his disappointment that “such vehemently anti-Semitic and racist literature can be so easily obtained”, John Searle, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), said: “Nevertheless, I’m pleased the bookstores concerned have immediately agreed and acknowledged that it’s inappropriate for such
books to be available. It is precisely the dissemination of this kind of material that leads to ongoing problems of vilification and racism within our community, which the JCCV, together with other organisations, is working to eradicate.”
The sentiment was echoed by Vic Alhadeff, CEO of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.
“Given the disturbing ease with which the internet is abused and pernicious and racist material disseminated, it places an onus on all disseminators of information to exercise care and diligence over what they put out there,” he said.
“We therefore applaud these bookstores for their responsible approach when the issue was raised with them..”
Cannes coup for small film maker
MELBOURNE, 19 May – Ariel Kleiman’s status as one of Australia’s fastest-rising film talents was confirmed with the recent announcement that his short film, Deeper Than Yesterday, will be screened at Critic’s Week as part of the Cannes Film Festival.
Critic’s Week has showcased films by up-and-coming filmmakers for nearly 50 years, and has given artists such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Jacques Audiard and Ken Loach their start.
Kleiman, 25, leaves for the French Riviera on Sunday, on the second stop of his festival-hopping itinerary.
In February, he was in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival, where another short he wrote and directed, Young Love, won an honourable mention. He was also the director of photography on Muscles – a film by long-time friend Edward Housden – which has been nominated for the short film Palme d’Or.
“We make these films in a little bubble and we work pretty hard on them for quite a while,”Kleiman said. “So it’s definitely a nice feelingeven just to have it screened so other people can see it. It has been a crazy couple of months.”
And Kleiman will get his wish.
Cannes is comfortably the world’s most prestigious film festival and has long been considered a hotbed for talent-spotting and a launcher of careers.
Deeper Than Yesterday is one of seven shorts that will be screened as part of Critic’s Week, along with seven feature-length films. At nearly 20 minutes, Kleiman’s film is an awkward length and was too long to be considered in the short-film competition at Cannes.
“I was quite surprised [the film was selected for Critic’s Week] because I thought Deeper might have been too long. I didn’t know how it would be accepted at film festivals, because it’s quite a commitment to watch for a short. I had low expectations.”
Set on a submarine, Deeper Than Yesterday is a Russian-language film that explores the effects of prolonged isolation on a group of sailors. As the men become increasingly savage towards one another, they discover the body of a woman floating in the water.
The film was the Victorian College of the Arts student’s third-year project and was shot in eight days with a Russian-speaking cast, comprised of security guards and members of a local Russian drama school.
“I wrote it in English and then we workshopped it with the actors. I understand Russian, but I
don’t speak it. The actors really made the script their own in Russian, which was great.”
On a tight production schedule that allowed little room for error, Kleiman and his crew spent eight days bunkered down in a decommissioned submarine docked near Hastings, on Victoria’s Western Port Bay. But it wasn’t the first choice for the film’s location.
“Originally when I thought of it, it was going to be about a group of fisherman that find a woman in the ocean, but we couldn’t find a fishing trawler that would let us shoot on there. But it was probably a blessing because the sub was amazing.”
Kleiman and his housemates – girlfriend Sarah Cyngler, the film’s production designer, and Benjamin Gilovitz, a producer – built corporate websites to pay for the making of the film.
Kleiman said sharehouse living inspired Deeper Than Yesterday. “I guess the concept of living with people and
being with the same people day in and day out, I think that might be where it came from.”
The exposure of Kleiman’s films has earned him a contract with Warp Films (which produced the 2006 indie hit This is England) to pen a feature, which he is currently writing with Cyngler.
Change of guard at Victorian Zionist Council
MELBOURNE, 19 May – It’s the end of an era at the Zionist Council of Victoria (ZCV), with president Dr Danny Lamm announcing last week he will retire from the post at the next Annual Assembly.
The longest-serving president of the organisation, he has held the role for eight years, two longer than any of his predecessors.
“I have had a tremendous amount of job satisfaction doing the job on behalf of the community and Israel,” Dr Lamm said. “I look back on this period with only satisfaction.”
When asked why he is stepping down, he said simply “it’s time”.
Dr Lamm credited his board for “a really productive period”, that has included advances in advocacy, public speakers, improving the utilisation of Beth Weitzmann Community Centre
and the purchase of 304 Hawthorn Road, adjacent to the centre.
“I have had tremendous support from my board all the way through,” he said. “We have had a really good level of cooperation.”
Remaining chairman of Beth Weizmann Community Centre, Dr Lamm said his retirement from ZCV
would not be the end of his community work, revealing that he is in discussions with another organisation.
ZCV executive director Ginette Searle said that the organisation would announce a replacement
later this year to coincide with the Annual Assembly.
The ZCV is the main representative body for more than 59 Zionist organisations. It enables the expression of Zionism in Victoria.
Court weighs weighty edifice issue
MELBOURNE, 21 May – The Sassoon Yehuda Sephardi Synagogue found itself fighting a Supreme Court injunction over a large sign on the synagogue’s facade last Friday.
Victoria’s Supreme Court dismissed the injunction asking for the signage, which identifies the St Kilda East centre as the “Lyndi and Rodney Adler Sephardi Centre”, to be removed before Saturday, when a ceremony was to be held in honour of one of the congregation’s founders, Jacques Balloul.
The prominent sign is a modification of an earlier, less conspicuous, version.
Costs of $5000 were awarded against the applicant, solicitor Dan Horesh, a nephew of Albert Sassoon Yehuda, the shul’s founder, who is the executor of his late uncle’s estate.
The estate last year launched legal action, claiming the founder was entitled to naming rights to the centre in perpetuity, based on donations he, and later his estate, have made.
A loan for an undisclosed amount was forgiven by the estate due to the centre’s financial
difficulties, and the centre is currently carrying another loan from the estate.
After the injunction was refused, Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, who heard the case, recommended the matter be resolved via a civil trial.
Rodney Adler, who is not a party to the case, told The AJN this week that when the shul approached him around 18 months ago, it was “in great financial trouble”. Pressed to help by Sephardi friends, the Adlers donated $150,000 in exchange for naming rights.
“I live in Sydney . I’m Ashkenazi . We don’t go to the shul, we’re not Melbourne people,” said Adler, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to criminal charges relating to his dealings over insurer HIH, and served 30 months in prison.
He bristled at comments made in court by Horesh’s lawyer David Sharp that the Adlers made the donation by way of “re-establishing themselves in society, particularly Jewish society”.
“It’s got to be a lot more than one little synagogue whose name is going to change my global perception,” he said.
Sephardi Centre president Paul Berman said the Adler name pertained to the centre as a whole, and that the synagogue would continue to be known as Sassoon Yehuda.
“We wish to honour all the benefactors who contribute greatly to the operation and the survival of our community,” he said.
Jewish contender for parliamentary seat
SYDNEY, 21 May – When nominations closed for ALP preselection in the Sydney seat of Wentworth last
Friday, lawyer Steven Lewis discovered he was the only contender with his hat in the ring.
The business executive turned lawyer will be formally declared as Labor’s candidate next month, pitching him against Liberal incumbent Malcolm Turnbull, as Australians switch into election mode.
Lewis remained the sole candidate for preselection, after NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) colleague Robin Margo withdrew from the race.
“I’m excited and honoured . We’ve always said it’s going to be a very tough campaign. While you’ve got to be realistic about it, the nature of the electorate is changing.
“There are a number of factors that voters will take into account. Are they looking to the future to have a local member represent their local interests, or to the past?”
Lewis said at this year’s election he would offer voters a grassroots alternative.
“Malcolm Turnbull has been preoccupied for a number of years now with much wider issues, [including] the leadership of his party. My goal is to be a good local member.”
Asked if, given Turnbull’s record with the Jewish community, this challenge will become a battle for the hearts and minds of eastern Sydney’s Jews, Lewis emphasised that the community “is oneof a number of groups that make up the electorate”.
“I’m not a Jewish candidate. I just happen to be a candidate who is Jewish. That’s a very important distinction,” the longtime JBD member said. “I’ve had a long association with the [Jewish] community and I hope that association
continues . It would be very nice if the [Wentworth Jewish] community have a representative in Federal Parliament, but that is not the only reason people vote. But I certainly would be a vocal and supportive representative of
the Jewish community’s needs and concerns.”
The Slater & Gordon lawyer said he also wanted to fight for improved mental health care, noting that his electorate includes The Gap, “which is unfortunately a place where a lot of people go to take their lives”. He is also keenly interested in improving the conditions for homeless people and helping with measures on the environment.
Lewis, 53, cut his political teeth protesting against the visiting Springbok rugby team from apartheid-era South Africa in 1971.
He joined the ALP in 1979 and is currently the Premier’s appointee on the NSW Election Funding Authority. Lewis was involved in the campaign to free Soviet Jews and visited the Soviet Union in 1988 as the personal assistant to communal icon Isi Leibler in negotiating the release of refuseniks. He was also involved in the contempt-of-court case against Fredrick Toben that saw alleged Holocaust denier jailed for three months last year.
Gutnick slams super tax
MELBOURNE, 24 May – Mining magnate Joseph Gutnick has fired a broadside at the Federal Government’s
proposed mining profits tax, claiming it will have a “negative impact” on Australia. He is pessimistic about Australia’s booming mining sector’s chances of staying at full throttle once the proposed impost is introduced.
Gutnick owns US-listed Legend International, a phosphate mining company exploring Queensland’s
Georgina Basin, which through North Australian Diamonds has a controlling stake in Merlin.
The productive diamond mine in the Northern Territory is one of only three in Australia and produces a high proportion of gem-quality stones.
He also has interests in various countries, including gold exploration in Canada.
“When you talk to fund managers and investors, they look at Australia now as a sovereign risk. But it is not only affecting the mining industry – it’s a disaster for the mining industry – but it’s affecting Australia.”
He has heard from foreign investors who are now wary of Australian bonds and there is insecurity
about what Canberra will do next. “Australia is [geographically] far enough without this supertax.”
Gutnick said he is still hopeful the tax “will be substantially changed or given up”. But with
opposition from state premiers and treasurers, he ponders whether it will ever be implemented.
Turning to the political ramifications of the tax, Gutnick said the Government was starting to feel the heat. The tax was “not something people ever expected to happen”.
The former Melbourne Football Club president famously followed the advice of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who urged him 22 years ago to search for gold and diamonds in the outback.
Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World
Compiled by Garry Fabian
Outback dreams come true for kids
TOOMELAH, New South Wales– In an outback Aboriginal community in north-west NSW, there’s an air of excitement among the
Aboriginal children as they await a visit by a group of young Jewish adults.
The visits have become a regular feature in the Toomelah and Boggabilla Aboriginal settlements situated in remote country near the
NSW-Queensland border, where the Jewish volunteers spend 10 days working with Aboriginal children on holiday programs.
Organised by Jewish Aid Australia (JAA), in association with the Shalom Institute of NSW, the visits are part of the Derech Eretz program held each January and July.
This year’s summer group comprised 13 people, mainly university students from Victoria and NSW, who left Sydney on January 23 on a two-day busride to reach the Aboriginal communities. The group was led by JAA CEO Gary Samowitz – who was making his eighth visit – and included Monash University student and former SKIF rosh Rebecca Shonberg, 21.
“As soon as we arrived we got a warm welcome from the kids. They had been looking forward to our arrival,” said Shonberg.
The main activity is a holiday program for children in the Aboriginal communities of Toomelah and Boggabilla in arid country near
Goondiwindi, about 370 kilometres south-west of Brisbane. Toomelah is an isolated settlement with only a few buildings, including a school, while Boggabilla is situated on a main highway with shops and more facilities.
“When you first arrive you get a shock – it seems like you are in a third-world country in our own backyard,” said Shonberg. “Most of us are from Caulfield or Bondi and have never been to an Aboriginal community before.”
A typical day involved conducting holiday activities for children aged2-12 years during the morning, while attending lectures from members of the local community during the afternoon.
“The holiday program was important for the kids – otherwise they would be roaming the streets with nothing to do,” said Shonberg. “The kids loved it and would keep coming back every day.
“One day we went into Goondiwindi and drove around in our mini-bus for 10 minutes announcing a kids’ holiday program. When we got back to the meeting place there were dozens of kids waiting for us.”
Conditions were hot with temperatures reachingmore than 40 degrees and the volunteers were thankful that their motel was air-conditioned.
“It was not a holiday, but it was a fun and rewarding experience. It was a way of giving something back to the wider community while
learning about ourselves and what being a good Jew is,” said Shonberg.
All the participants volunteered for the Derech Eretz program to help assist in humanitarian projects in the wider community and to practise
the Jewish concepts of tzedakah (justice), chesed (kindness) and tikkun olam (repair the world).
Samowitz said Derech Eretz was established five years ago to build a relationship with indigenous communities that would allow for intensive engagement and learning by student-age volunteers
while helping the communities.
“The Jewish community has the resources and the responsibility to help those in need,” said Samowitz. “The Aboriginals have a beautiful
culture but their communities need assistance.”
He said the Derech Eretz program had built a strong relationship with the Toomelah and Boggabilla communities and the Aboriginal elders
had praised the work of the long-term project.
“The volunteers that go to these Aboriginal settlements learn about issues facing the Aboriginal community through first-hand
experience and by meeting community leaders.”
In 1988, then-justice Marcus Einfeld, in his role as head of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, visited Toomelah and
was shocked by what he saw. The inhumane living conditions and the lack of basic services such as electricity, sewerage and clean water moved him to tears.
The Toomelah Report, which was the outcome of that visit, stated that “no Australian citizen should be living in such conditions in 1988,
especially when the conditions are determined and provided by the organs of the government”. The report made a range of recommendations, many of which were later implemented.
Samowitz said the Aboriginal people could look to the Jewish community when it comes to preservation of culture, memorialisation of past genocide and community unity. But in turn, the
Jewish people have so much to learn from the Aboriginal community about humility and understanding the land.
He said there were plans for the Derech Eretz program to expand to other Aboriginal communities in the future.
Samowitz said another benefit of the Derech Eretz program was that it helped volunteers who were not strongly involved in the Jewish community to meet other young Jews.
“Some people are not actively involved in the community and this program provides an opportunity to make other Jewish friends,” he said.
“On one program we had a volunteer whose first Shabbat experience in many years was on a remote Aboriginal community.”
Israel supplies Australian troops
CANBERRA–Fears of a diplomatic fallout over the forged passport affair don’t seem to have hampered trade between Israel and Australia.
Israeli company Elbit Systems, which supplies the Israel Defence Forces, was this week granted the $349 million contract to supply command, controland communications systems to the Australian Army.
Australian Minister for Defence Personnel Greg Combet said the deal is a big step forward for the Australian Defence Forces (ADF).
“The introduction of this new capability will increase the ADF’s battle space awareness, automate combat messaging and assist in the
successful conduct of operations,” Combet said.
Not only is the relationship a trade one, but some of the contract will be completed in Australia.
“Systems integration testing will be performed in Melbourne, while vehicle integration into over 1000 army vehicles will occur in Brisbane,” Combet said.
The new system will provide new technology in battle to more than 1500 Australian soldiers and it will also be rolled out in the Royal Australian Air Force.
Elbit CEO Joseph Ackerman said the order would be completed over the next three years.
“Australia is a very important market for Elbit Systems, and we are extremely proud to be selected by the Department of Defence for this major program,” Ackerman said.
Goldstein seen as player with a bright future at top level
MELBOURNE, 18 March – After a strong finish to the 2010 season, it is clear that Todd Goldstein is part of new coach Brad Scott’s plans for the Kangaroos this year.
The 201-centimetre ruckman has featured heavily in North Melbourne Football Club’s eye-catching pre-season so far, including a gutsy win against reigning (Australian Football League) AFL premiers Geelong in the first round of he NAB Cup and a promising NAB Challenge win against the 2008 champion Hawthorn.
Goldstein’s form leading up to North Melbourne’s round one clash against Port Adelaide on March 28 has been solid, with the 22-year-old staking his claim to a spot in the side’s best 22.
“I don’t think I’ve really been this confident in myself before,” Goldstein said.
“I’m just hoping to cement a spot, get more confident and try to put consistent performances together. I didn’t do that in the first half of
last year and that’s what kept me in and out of the side.”
A third-round pick for North Melbourne in 2006 National Draft, Goldstein played 13 senior games in 2009, including the last seven of the season.
His breakout performance came against Melbourne in round 19, when the talented big man booted five goals, as well as taking 17 possessions, 17 hit outs and seven marks.
“I know that when I get do get picked that I can perform to the level that’s required. In the first few games I wasn’t really sure whether I
deserved it or not, but once you start playing you get a bit more consistent and it really does make the difference.”
But with one of the most inexperienced lists in the AFL, Goldstein’s role at the club has expanded to include mentoring. In his fourth year
at the club, Goldstein says he enjoys passing on some of the benefits of hi experience in the system.
“This is my fourth year now and third full pre-season so you do learn a lot in the first few years. If you look at the club we’ve got 32
players who have been drafted in the last four years, so we’ve got a lot of young blokes. I’m still seen as part of that young group, but you
definitely pass on your experience to some of the boys and try to help them survive the rigours of AFL footy. It does get pretty hard and does become a bit of a grind if you’re not able to cope with it.
Letting in the light
MELBOURNE 19 March – An amateur leadlighter and a Jewish artist have teamed up to complete 10 colourful stained glass windows at Blake Street Hebrew Congregation (one of the newer congregations in Melbourne).
The windows, which reflect Jewish and Israeli themes, were created by synagogue committee member Professor David Abramson together with ZsuZsi Hartman.
The project took three years, with Hartman coming up with the artistic concept and Prof Abramson, a computer science expert at Monash University, putting the windows together.
Prof Abramson said both he and Hartman learned a lot during the process – “she learned a lot about the physical limitations of glass, and I learned a lot about design and colour”.
The windows will be officially unveiled at Blake Street Hebrew Congregation on April 10.
Ancient siddurim arrive at Yad Vashem – via Australia
MELBOURNE, 19 March – Two ancient prayer books have made their way out of hiding in Hungary and into Yad Vashem’s archives – via Australia.
Melbourne couple Andrew and Erica Romer were following in the footsteps of Erica’s Hungarian ancestors, when they happened across the books more than 20 years ago.
In a story that sounds like a Hollywood cliche, they met an old friend of the family who gave them the ancient machzors (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayer books).
Honoured to receive the responsibility of looking after the historical books, the Romers kept them safely in their home before meeting a Yad Vashem executive, who suggested they donate them to the Holocaust museum.
The tale began during the couple’s visit to Budapest in 1989, when they visited an old Orthodox synagogue in the city’s backstreets.
Andrew, a lawyer, said the shul’s caretaker looked closely at his wife, asking her if she was related to a girl he had known as a child.
“He recognised Erica’s mother in Erica,” Andrew said. “So a little relationship developed between the two of them, and he took us to a normally out-of-bounds area upstairs.
“He explained to us that every now and then, when he finds people he thinks he can trust, he takes the opportunity of squirrelling out an item or two.”
The attic was full — floor to ceiling — of old religious books and silverware that had been protected in the safe haven during the Holocaust, and then into Hungary’s communist era.
The Romers were not entirely sure how to respond when the caretaker asked them to accept two old books — which were close to A3 in size, heavy and fragile.
“We took them back to the hotel and thought, ‘What are we going to do with them now?'”
Despite the risks of taking old books out of a then-communist country, the Romers wrapped them in layers of soft clothes and buried them in their luggage.
When they arrived back in Melbourne, they stored the books carefully in a cool, dry place, but decided to leave them in their original condition rather than having them restored.
It was at this time that Andrew discovered the precise vintage of the books – the Yom Kippur machzor dated back to 1703 and the Rosh Hashanah one to 1811.
Fast-forward a few decades, and Andrew got to know David Metzler, the director of Yad Vashem’s English-speaking desk, who suggested the family might like to add them to the museum’s 20,000 item collection.
“The machzorim donated to Yad Vashem by the Romer family are fine examples of what appear to be prayer books that were in use in synagogues, rather than in private use,” Metzler explained.
“The care that was obviously taken to preserve these old tomes, even under the circumstances of the Nazi occupation, is clear, and we are
grateful that the caretaker of the synagogue saw fit to pass them on to the Romers so that they could be preserved for the future.”
With the help of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, particularly chef de mission Eli Yerushalmi, the Romers donated the books to the museum. Because of their delicacy, they could not just be posted or shipped.
Instead, the embassy organised for them to go in the diplomatic post. They arrived earlier this month in Jerusalem, and are now in the care of the artefacts’ department, where they are being preserved and restored.
The next step is to document them and look under the microscope to discover the books’ histories.
“The Australian Jewish community has been a source for many artfacts in Yad Vashem’s collections, both from the large survivor community in Australia, and from individuals from the Jewish and general community, who continue to see us as a place that commemorates, as well as telling the history of, the Holocaust.”
Jewish soldier identified
CANBERRA, 19 March – One of the First World War diggers buried in Fromelles was this week identified as Jewish Anzac Berrol Mendelsohn.
For almost a century, relatives of the Australian soldier were left wondering what happened to him after he went missing in the 1916 Battles of Fromelles.
Then on Tuesday morning, retired Melbourne professor Oliver Mendelsohn received a phone call from military authorities informing him that his great uncle was among the 75 identified troops
that were unearthed from a grave containing 250 bodies two years ago.
“I was quite emotional,” said 65-year-old Oliver when he found out his DNA sample had helped identify his lost uncle. “I’m kind of amazed with this technology.”
Lieutenant Mendelsohn enlisted in the Australian Army at age 24 and served in Gallipoli before heading to the Western Front in 1916. According to military records, he was hit by a shell during the advance near the German trenches on July 20 and died instantly. His body was never recovered.
“His mother was tormented with not knowing where his body lay, and she corresponded with the army for years, trying to make sense of his death,” the nephew said.
Last month, the soldiers – apart from one – were re-interred in individual, unmarked graves. Those who have been identified will now have their headstones inscribed and unveiled in a commemorative ceremony on July 16.
The family said it was making arrangements to organise a Jewish headstone for the soldier.
Oliver said he would like to attend the service, but “it would depend on its nature”.
He and relatives of other missing Jewish diggers recently expressed anger that a ceremony earlier this year to re-inter the soldiers was “exclusively Christian”.
Federation of Australian Jewish ex-Servicemen president Wes Browne said his organisation would make every effort to ensure Lieutenant Mendelsohn was honoured as a Jew.
Senior defence force rabbi Ralph Genende said he was also hoping to have rabbinic representation at the unveiling of the tombstone.
“The positive identification of Jewish remains has only intensified our efforts to ensure that there be Jewish rabbinical representation
preferably Australian at the service. We are heartened by the support we have received in many quarters,” he said.
Often described as the bloodiest 24 hours in Australia’s history, the Battle of Fromelles is the military’s biggest single loss of life to
date, costing almost 2000 Australian lives.
A Shlep beyond the big city
LISMORE, NSW– Somewhere in the outback – Down a winding, dusty country road in northwest NSW, three young rabbis drive their “Mitzvah Tank” van near the town of Lismore.
It is erev Shabbat, and they’re on a quest to find some Jews.
They pull up at the home of a 40-year-old Jewish woman named Clara, whom they had heard about through a friend. Their aim is to drop off a
Shabbat candle-lighting kit and have a quick chat before continuing on their journey.
Once inside, however, they get a little more than they had bargained for.
“She just stared at it for a moment and started sobbing,” recalled one of the travelling rabbis, Shmuel Loebenstein. “She explained that her late
mother was the last one to have lit Shabbat candles in her family.”
Now, 10 years later, with her own set of candles, the woman could finally do so again.
It was a small step towards rekindling her faith, but a significant one.
And it’s just the kind of action the rabbis of Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia (Chabad RARA) hope to inspire from their missions into some of the more remote parts of Australia, where Jews are few and far between.
This year marks the 10th anniversary since the group first started taking to the road to meet Jews living outside the capital cities and help them to reconnect with their heritage. According to its founder, Saul Spigler, the group is thriving.
From its Caufield-based headquarters in Melbourne, it routinely dispatches small groups of mostly young rabbis in their early 20s, to
areas as far afield as Cairns and Darwin for periods of up to 10 weeks at a time.
Travelling in a painted canary-yellow van – with the words “Do A Mitzvah Today!” emblazoned on its side – the men organise everything from circumcisions and weddings to the provision of mezuzahs, teffillin and Jewish books.
They also host Jewish festivals and in the coming weeks for Pesach, the centre has lined up a number of sedars in cities scattered across
Australia – including Nowra, Newcastle, on the Sunshine Coast and in Townsville.
“We’ve got people on the road for more than half the year,” said Spigler, who also works as a practicing lawyer.
“Some haven’t seen another Jewish person for 40 years, and we just turn up. Sometimes you just talk to people. We try to help as much as we can.”
The 55-year-old founder said he originally came up with the idea more than 30 years ago, when he took a road trip in his early 20s with a few of his mates around Australia.
At the time, he discovered a number of disenfranchised Jews living in rural towns.
“Everyone had a different reason for being somewhere, and these people had been isolated from their own. I saw a real need to care about these Jewish people.”
Years later in 2000, he officially opened the Chabad centre and since then, the group has steadily grown.
Apart from its missions, it has also set up programs such as JNET “Torah over the phone”, which pairs remote Jews with mentors, and runs summer and winter camps for youth. It also takes advantage of modern technology, offering video-conference shiurs via Skype, and is
exploring the idea of setting up an online Jewish school for children.
“I didn’t believe it would go that far, that’s for sure,” said Spigler.
For Rabbi Moshe Loebenstein, Chabad RARA’s director of operations, however, it’s the face-to-face contact with remote Jews that is the
most rewarding part of the job.
Recently, he traveled to Cairns to host a Shabbat dinner and met a young Jewish couple living in the northern town of Cooktown. The woman worked as a doctor in the local hospital.
“They drove three hours just to meet some other Jews. They had been isolated from any form of Judaism and just wanted to see another Jewish person and share a l’chaim,” he said. “It was so beautiful to see what we could do for them. They made some friends and contacts, and I can only hope they’ll keep in touch in between the times that I cannot be there.”
It’s these kinds of encounters that motivateSpigler and the rabbis to keep doing their work.
“Every time you scratch the surface, you find anew story and I guess that keeps me going,” said Spigler.
Victorian Premier pays tribute to Jewish contribution
MELBOURNE, 22 March- Victorian Premier John Brumby paid tribute to Victoria’s Jewish community for its role in fostering diversity and
multiculturalism in the state at a United Israel Appeal (UIA) fundraising dinner last week.
“Victoria’s Jewish community, the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in Australia, has itself played an immense role in making our state so diverse, so multicultural, so multi-faith and
so tolerant,” the Premier said.
Brumby added that his government’s efforts “to stamp out religious and racial vilification have received immeasurable support from Jewish communities here in Victoria”.
He recalled the Jewish community’s support when, as Opposition leader in the mid-1990s, he worked closely with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria to develop a framework for racial
vilification legislation that was brought into law by the ALP government in 2001-02.
“As you know, there were quite significant differences in many of the multicultural communities about the value of that legislation.
So it was really the leadership of the Jewish community working with us and making that commitment that saw that legislation put into place in 2001.
“And in particular, in that regard, I would want to acknowledge the work of the Zionist Council of Victoria and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria because you’ve all worked so hard to
promote mutual understanding and tolerance and to
support the democratic fundamentals of dialogue and inclusion.”
Urging the Jewish community to support the UIA, Brumby noted that the organisation “is concerned not only with material assistance, but also with the preservation and protection of the neshamah,
the concept of the Jewish soul”.
He commended UIA’s initiatives in taking Jews and non-Jews, many from Victoria, to Israel on cultural exchange programs, “to share the values of the Australian Diaspora community” and to bring home new ideas to Australia.
He gave as an example the groundbreaking Victoria-Israel Science and Technology Research and Development Fund (VISTECH) – launched by Brumby as minister for innovation in 2005 – which has received 175 expressions of interest and is now into its seventh round of grants.
Special guest Kathy Kellerman, an American who made aliyah, also spoke at the function about the Keren Hayesod-UIA Nitzana Youth Village initiative in the Negev, where she lives and works.
She predicted that Israel’s south, comprising more than 60 per cent of the country’s land mass, would become a major population centre in the future, as sustainable water and power technologies, now under development in Nitzana, became widespread.
UIA Victoria paid tribute to veteran fundraiser George Kuran, 90, who told the gathering his passion for digging deep to help Israel was
sparked by a solidarity drive at South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation during the Six-Day War, and has grown ever since. In his honour, the UIA funded a 12-month scholarship for a young Victorian to take part in the programs at Nitzana.
Fabian is Australia bureau chief of San Diego Jewish World
Zentai gets Yuletide reprieve
PERTH 29 December – A grant of bail from the Federal Court has allowed accused war criminal Charles Zentai to spend Christmas with his family.
The Federal Court in Perth earlier in December ordered the 88-year-old to be released from prison, as he awaits the final decision on whether he will be extradited to Hungary to face charges over a 1944 murder.
Justice Neil McKerracher said Zentai was a low flight risk and granted bail for him, after the Commonwealth did not oppose a bail application from his lawyers.
Zentai’s legal team has successfully petitioned the Federal Court to review a decision by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor in October, which approved a submission from the Hungarian government to extradite him to face court in Budapest.
The Perth resident is charged with involvement in the murder of Peter Balazs, a Budapest teenager, who he allegedly arrested for not wearing the mandatory yellow star.
Zentai is accused of bringing Balazs back to a military barracks where he was allegedly involved in beating the Jewish teen to death, before dumping his body in the Danube River.
Two Hungarian army officers were convicted shortly after World War II for their parts in the murder.
Zentai has denied the charges since they were laid in 2005, and claimed he was not in Budapest on the date of the murder.
He was located as part of Operation Last Chance, an initiative of the Israel-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre to bring aging war criminals to justice.
A climate change focus for rabbi’s
MELBOURNE 29 Decemner – Climate change issues became a hot talking point in shuls around Australia last Shabbat as rabbis raised the issue to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
The 12-day gathering of global leaders concluded at the weekend without a binding resolution on a new worldwide climate treaty.
Following a call by Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Lord Jonathan Sacks to speak about the environment in sermons, Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), sent a request to all member rabbis to
dedicate at least part of their sermons to highlight the importance of preserving the environment in accordance with the Torah and halachah.
Rabbi Glasman, who is the rabbi at the North Eastern Jewish Centre, said he was pleased that the rabbinate was taking a leading role in this area.
“The Jewish community is aware of the importance of the environment,” he said.
“In my sermon I noted that there are many opinions about climate change, but it is better to err on the side of caution. We don’t lose anything by adhering to the warnings about climate change.
“It is a basic mandate of the Torah to preserve the environment. We are the custodians of the earth for the sake of God and future generations.”
Rabbi Glasman said that on a personal note he felt the result of the Copenhagen conference was “disappointing”, but should also be seen positively as a step in the right direction.
Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black of the Leo Baeck Centre, Kew, gave one of his first sermons about the environment in 1988 and returned to the topic last Shabbat.
“Reaching an agreement at the Copenhagen conference was always going to be a hugely challenging task,” he said.
Rabbi Keren-Black, who founded the Jewish Ecological Coalition in 2003 and more recently the interfaith environmental group GreenFaith, said it was imperative that the nations of the world develop an action plan on climate change.
Change of scene for soccer star
SYDNEY 30 December – Six months ago, Steve Solomon was the lightning-quick skipper of Australia’s junior Maccabiah football side, who did a bit of sprinting on the side at school.
Now, after blitzing all before him in the state and national school athletic championships, the 16-year-old has been scouted by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
He will train in Canberra during his school break, before spending the year in Athletics Australia’s under-19 talent squad in Sydney.
Having been hand-picked by the sport’s roof body, Solomon now has his eyes firmly on the track, and aims “to represent my country, hopefully at the Rio Olympics”.
The meteoric shift from soccer enthusiast to Olympic sprint aspirant comes on the back of a phenomenal athletics season.
Representing the Cranbrook School, Solomon won the long jump and broke the Combined Associated Schools’ (CAS) longstanding 200-metre record,
while also setting a new best in the 400-metre event.
He began turning heads when he went to the NSW State Championships and broke the 400-metre hurdles record in his first attempt at the race, while also winning the 400-metre flat race.
He collected another booty of gold representing NSW at the Australian All Schools in Hobart, winning his pet 400-metre event in the under-17
division, while also collecting a win in the 4×400-metre relay. In just his third hurdles race, he was pipped on the line to claim silver.
Solomon will now enjoy the benefit of the AIS’ resources - an exciting proposition given that he has hardly trained beyond his school’s seasonal athletics program and runs a personal best of 48.32 over 400 metres, and 53.70 in the 400-metre hurdles event.
“I’m completely open-minded to it and willing to give everything a go to see how far I can take it,” Solomon enthused.
“I’ve always been running, but this year everything has fallen into place . I was quietly confident, only because I knew I’d beaten the other competitors before, but was very surprised at the same time - particularly with the hurdles. It was only my third hurdles race.”
Lifeline for Masada College
ADELAIDE’–This city’s only Jewish school, Massada College, will continue operating this year after members of the Australian Jewish community have rallied to donate to the beleaguered school.
Primary among donors was Melbourne-based philanthropist Joseph Gutnick who has given the college $100,000.
Calls by Australian rabbis from their pulpits have also paid off, with members of one Melbourne synagogue reportedly pledging thousands of dollars to assist the school.
The primary school faced immediate closure if it could not raise the required funds and quickly. The South Australian Government offered an undisclosed amount of assistance to Massada if it could match it with community money.
School president Yuval Yarom said they were grateful for all the assistance, which will help Adelaide’s families provide their children with a Jewish education.
Gutnick told The AJN he is please to be in a position to help the school, just as he has helped numerous communal organisations across Australia in the past.
“No community can exist without a Jewish school,” he said. “I hope everyone will help to keep this school going.”
He also urged others to chip in for Adelaide’s Jewish community.
Gold Coast shule’s Rabbi in jeopardy
BRISBANE, 7 January – It may be the high season in Surfers Paradise, just a few kms from Brisbane, but the Gold Coast Hebrew Congregation has been forced to send out an urgent appeal for support.
The synagogue relies on a small handful of benefactors for much of its revenue, but donations are dwindling, and the fundraising fall means the shul is seriously considering slashing the rabbi’s salary.
“One of our benefactors, for personal reasons, cannot afford to support us financially as much as he used to,” Gold Coast shul president David Rebibou explained.
The AJN also understands that another of the congregation’s major donors passed away in recent years and the next generation of his family has reduced its annual donation.
The loss of support, which has left the shul with a $90,000 shortfall, means the synagogue may be required to cut Rabbi Nir Gurevitch’s salary.
“We don’t know if the rabbi will accept it, or look for another position,” Rebibou said of the congregation’s full-time spiritual leader.
Rabbi Gurevitch’s contract expires on February 12 and the president said the shul must raise the required money before that date.
“I am a big supporter of the rabbi . we would like to keep him.”
A crisis meeting was held recently and the decision was taken to contact community members — not just in Queensland, but also interstate — for assistance.
“We sent something like 400 pledges,” he said. “When people from Sydney and Melbourne come to the Gold Coast, there is a shul to service their needs, in terms of the synagogue, kosher food, services, Shabbat.”
Surfers Paradise has had its own Orthodox congregation for 52 years, serving both the local community and interstate visitors to the popular holiday destination. As well as regular minyans and Shabbat services, the synagogue also has a mikvah and community hall.
Rebibou said the congregation is strong, it is just in need of financial assistance.
“We’ve increased our membership, but a big drop in income like this is difficult.”
Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World
TEHRAN (WJC)–The head of Iran’s soccer federation was forced to issue a public apology and a member of his staff resigned after the federation mistakenly sent a New Year’s greeting to its counterpart in Israel. “It was a big mistake sending an e-mail to Israel’s football federation,” Ali Kaffashian, president of the Iran Football Federation, said in a statement.
“However, I am sure the director of the foreign relations office did not do it on purpose.”
Kaffashian said Iran’s soccer association routinely sent greeting cards to all members of world football federation FIFA, except for Israel. Iran has refused to meet with Israel in international sports competitions.
Mohammad-Mansour Azimzadeh Ardebili, the head of the league’s foreign relations office, had resigned over the matter, Kaffashian said.
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress