So by now you will have received an invitation to our community’s commemoration of the centenary of ANZAC, which is being coordinated by JCA Executive Committee member Garry Browne AM (because he doesn’t have enough on his plate!). The event will be at the Great Synagogue on Sunday, 3 May. Through the magic of Trove I found a copy of Rabbi Cohen’s Pesach sermon from 1916, the first time the sacrifice at Gallipoli was marked at the Great Synagogue:
“We now pay our first annual tribute to the brave sons of our country who made that shore a place ever-sacred for Australians. Our hearts strain with love and longing towards that distant strand, and those remote waters because they enshrine a most precious deposit, the remains of the lamented sons of our congregation who took their share nobly, and paid their price promptly for the renown which they brought for the name of Anzac.”
It really is impossible to overstate the devastating impact WW1 had on the young nation of Australia. It is estimated that the lives of one in 10 men aged 18-45 were cut short. The forest of War Memorials that dot every suburb across Sydney and every country town is the visible scar of that pain. I remember when I was at school in the 70s and 80s an old digger would come to hear the bugle on Anzac Day. He seemed so old then, a veteran of the First World War. And yet here we are, 100 years after Anzac and there is now nobody alive whose heart “strains with love and longing”. There is nobody who feels the pain of loss at Gallipoli. Anzac has receded into history.
I was thinking about that when I received another invitation, to another commemoration – for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
We are so very privileged to still have with us today those whose hearts strain with love and longing. And yet it is only a matter of time until – unthinkable as it is – our Shoah, joins the ranks of historical tragedies which are marked, and remembered, but not personally felt. And I’m not sure we quite know how to deal with that.
One thing which is clear is that the generation who established the Sydney Jewish Museum, as difficult as that must have been – and painful, were clearly visionaries. I feel that every day I look out my window in the building next door and see busloads of schoolkids from all over Sydney (including this week a group of girls in hijabs) coming to our museum, to learn our story, and the most important universal lessons of respect and conscience and courage.
I actually grew up with the Museum. My mum did the original oral history, and back then we only had one computer and she would sit late into the night transcribing interviews, which I must now admit was more important than beating the high score on Tetris. She recently moved home and found a shoebox full of audiotapes – very unpolished interviews with survivors. I’ve been listening to them in the car (because that’s the only place I can listen to audio cassettes these days). What strikes me as I listen to these voices, most of whom are of people who have passed away, are the hearts strained with love and longing.
We were so lucky as a community that these oral history projects, and the Spielberg Shoah Foundation recorded these testimonies. And to have an institution as fine as our Sydney Jewish Museum to house them. And to have our JCA to support that museum so that it can keep its doors open. One wonders what oral histories could have been recorded by the families of the “lamented sons” lost at Anzac.
Our community in action story this week features Eva and Ibi and Flore – survivors whose stories will feature in this year’s Board of Deputies Shoah event. You can read more here.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
P.S. There will be another opportunity for our community to tell its happier stories, thanks to a wonderful initiative by Waverley Council celebrating our rich history and contribution to the community: “Eat, Pray, Naches”, see the flyer below. Submissions close April 17.