There is nothing we can add that has not already been said about the
recent atrocities in Paris. Our thoughts are with our friends in France, as they are with our family in Israel each and every day. We feel this week is an appropriate time to reflect a little.
We made a decision at the start of this year to commence every JCA Executive and Board of Governors meeting with “something Jewish”. This week Stephen Chipkin, our President, returned from a trip to Israel in his capacity as Chair of Weizmann Australia. For the “something Jewish” at our Executive Committee meeting, the day after he returned, Stephen reflected on his trip in the context of the recent escalation of violence in Israel.
This is how Stephen Chipkin, commenced the Executive Committee meeting this week:
Last week I visited the original laboratory of Chaim Weizmann on the campus of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. It was Weizmann who conceived back in the 1930s (more than a decade before its formation) that the modern State of Israel needed world-class scientific research to succeed. How prescient he was.
There is a photograph of Weizmann in his laboratory standing over his beakers of chemicals and Bunsen burner with a cigarette dangling from his lips. No workplace health and safety inspector in sight. Luckily the whole Zionist experiment did not end in a chemical explosion there and then. For the link between Weizmann, his chemicals, the State of Israel and our sense of being Jewish in this modern age, is a path not well understood.
Chaim Weizmann invented a chemical process for the production of acetone – a chemical of vital importance in the manufacture of explosives and the success of the British war effort in WWI. Weizmann’s contribution was noted by Lord Balfour (amongst others) and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 followed not long after – a critical precursor to the formation of the State in 1948.
Some years ago on a previous trip, I sat on the lawns of Chaim Weizmann’s House on the campus of the Weizmann Institute to witness Shimon Peres receive an Honorary Doctorate. In his acceptance speech, Peres said: When our land is small to the north and even smaller to the east, there is only one direction you can look to. It is up. Upwards to the unlimited boundaries of our imagination, hopes and dreams. That is Israel and our people, he said.
Last Friday at Machane Yehudah in Jerusalem, I saw our people in all their vivid variety. Despite thinner pre-Shabbat crowds than usual (the recent knife attacks were having their intended effect), Jews of every description amongst the piles of fresh challahs, the traders and the hustle – Ashkenazi, Sephardi, the Charedi with their medieval Polish garb and tzitzit, the Zionist Orthodox with their knitted kippot, the secular and everything in between – different shapes, sizes, colours and backgrounds. Outwardly with little in common, yet sharing a deep and profound connection.
What is it that binds Jews together, I ask. Is it our history, our tradition, our teachings, our values (to do what is good and just, to make the world a better place)? Or is it a connection borne out of our shared story of survival and loss, or that God chose us or we chose God, or the fact that we learned to learn through questioning and argument? Is it the modern man-made miracle that is Israel? Or is it the remarkable achievements of a small people over the ages, not bound by the present, but always looking up in the direction of our imagination, our hopes and dreams?
Perhaps it is elements of all those things, fused together by the bonding process of time and faith.
And it made me think of JCA and its role in this long chain. Perhaps it is simply to keep mixing the elements – to help bring our local community together. By doing the things we do, we play a small but important part in the continuation of this unlikely and extraordinary heritage.