IN THE MEDIA
The Blessing of Australia
Jan 26, 2023 | Jeremy Jones
Australian Jewish News – 26 January 2023
There is just so much for which to be thankful. The physical environment. The vibrant democracy, the many cultures which are both merged and maintain their own unique features. The place of refuge which has become the home of a flourishing Jewish community. Above all, Australia has presented, and continues to present, boundless possibilities and opportunities.
I had the privilege of attending the 2023 NSW Australia Day Address, delivered by Amar Singh, who is both literally and figuratively the driving force behind Turbans 4 Australia. The road to developing a charity that sends trucks with food and other necessities to communities and individuals in need began with him being subjected to racist taunts.
Amar wears a turban. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, Amar was one of many innocent Australians victimised at the time by racist bullies – who in addition to being despicable were apparently unable to distinguish the Islamists of Al Qaida from devout Sikhs.
I remember meeting with Sikh leaders at the time to strategise on how they could work on breaking down prejudice. They wanted the advice of the Jewish community as, in their perception, Jewish Australians have been singularly successful in becoming fully part of Australian society without sacrificing culture or identity.
At the Australia Day Address and other similar functions over a number of years, I have taken the opportunity to talk to Indigenous Australians and listen to their views on the choice of January 26 as our National Day and how this day can be best used to help direct the public conversation in the direction of building a better, compassionate, understanding Australia.
Very often, my interlocutors talk about Australian Jews who have made real differences to their lives. Mark Leibler, Dr Colin Tatz zl, Barry Cohen zl are among the names mentioned most often, but a number of others are mentioned repeatedly. But more than of individuals, I hear an overall positive impression of Australian Jews as being genuinely, altruistically committed to fighting racism and injustice and working towards helping other Australians reflect on the past and present and form a vision for the future.
In 2008, when my extended family celebrated 150 years in Australia, there was evidence in full view of the way Australia had afforded opportunity and possibility. There were 6th generation observant, Orthodox Australian Jews, as part of a full spectrum including some who were immersed in Judaism and others for whom it was not central to, or even part of, their identities, which is testimony to the choices we have had. Some of the family were artists, some authors, academics, soldiers, teachers, business people, doctors – and much else. Quite a number had received Imperial or Australian honours, some served in local government, quite a few had served as leaders of communal organisations.
Jews served in Australian parliaments when still denied the right to vote in Britain and Australian Jews have flourished in areas to which, in many places, we have been denied recognition or opportunity. The monumental figure General Sir John Monash did as an Australian what his Jewish heritage would have denied him in too many other countries. While antisemitism has been ever-present, it has not been the official standard at any time, and it has coexisted with a philosemitism with virtually no comparisons.
Today we have Jewish parliamentarians and local government representatives from the Labor Party, the Liberals, One Nation and the Greens, and in recent years there have been Jewish representatives of other parties and serving as Independents. We have an argumentative, opinionated, passionate Jewish body politic, which is a sign of the strength of Australia’s democracy and the confidence of the Jewish community.
We have wonderful institutions, quality day schools, a cohort of diverse, interesting and energetic rabbis, a range of informal education opportunities and cultural offerings which are the envy of much of the Jewish world – and other communities regularly look to Australian Jews as forming the exemplar of a minority in a multicultural society.
I would also not underestimate the significance of the work in Interreligious dialogue in Australia and the importance of Australian Jewry in the Asia/Pacific religious landscape. We have had a real impact on the global attitudes of Catholic and Protestant churches towards Jews and are in the vanguard of building relations with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs.
We have been vocal in support of persecuted groups ranging from the Baha’i in Iran to the Rohingya in Burma, lent assistance to other Australians experiencing hardship and been active and prominent in global Jewish affairs.
We who are fortunate enough to be born here, and those who made a decision to come here, live in a society where an acceptance of the legitimacy of Jews is never in question – in a land of natural beauty and a standard of living of which much if the world can only dream.
The theme of Australia Day 2023 is “Reflect, Respect and Celebrate”. As a Jewish community, we can reflect on our good fortune as well as the need to constantly contribute to building a better society, respect the cultures and institutions which make this country unique and a great home for the Jewish community, and celebrate not just what we have enjoyed in the past but the opportunity to build an even greater Australia.