A torah walks the Bondi attack route

July 15, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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A shaliach, one of the victims of a vicious attack on a group walking home after Shabbat dinner in the Sydney suburb of Bondi in 2013, has walked the same route with fellow victims and members of a shule…carrying a torah with them.

Shlomo Ben-Haiem has completed his duties as shaliach for the JNF and left Sydney ten days ago to return to Israel.

Shlomo Ben-Haiem with JNF CEO Dan Springer at his farewell

Shlomo Ben-Haiem with JNF CEO Dan Springer at his farewell

But Education Shaliach Ben-Haiem had bitter memories to take home to Israel…not only of the attack but of the lack of support he says he received from Sydney’s community leaders.

Ben-Haiem was one of a group of six people set upon by a group of young men…an attack which saw  five of the victims rushed to hospital.  He had recently married his wife Ayala who was present when the attack took place but was not injured. Members of the group responsible for the attack were arrested and charged but no convictions were recorded. The five were walking home along a Bondi street after Shabbat dinner in October 2013.

At a farewell event a few weeks before his departure, Ben-Haiem addressed JNF supporters and staff telling them that he still felt the pain of the attack…not physical pain but the pain of being let down by the community. He told those present that leaders of the community had remained all but silent immediately after the attack and during and after the court case. He said that they did what many diaspora leaders have always done…buried their heads in the sand and waited for the pogrom to pass. He stressed that there is now a State of Israel so there is no longer any need to live in fear.

Shlomo Ben-Haim - injured in racist attack    photo: Henry Benjamin

Shlomo Ben-Haim – injured in the racist attack photo: Henry Benjamin

Ben-Haiem added that he hoped his words would be heard by “those who need to hear them’ expressing his wishes that there would be a change in attitude.

Among those who heard Ben-Haiem’s words was Rabbi Ritchie Moss, spiritual leader of Bondi’s Nefesh Synagogue.

He told J-Wire: “I heard this and was deeply troubled. I congratulated Shlomo for the bravery of saying what he said, and he told me, ‘Others should learn from Chabad, to walk tall and proud of their Jewishness and not worry what everyone thinks.’

It got me thinking. How can I change Shlomo’s feelings towards his time here? Then it hit me.

On Shlomo’s last Shabbat in Sydney, he came to Nefesh to read the Torah, as he had done for us and many other shules so many times. After the Torah reading, I got up in front of the shule and said: ‘This Shabbat is the last one Shlomo and his wife Ayala will spend with us in Sydney before returning to Israel. I want to thank Shlomo for all he has done for our community – his Torah readings, his lectures and classes, and his friendship to so many. He came on behalf of JNF to help raise funds, but he has given us much more than he has taken.’

I was thinking, what gift can we as a community give to Shlomo and Ayala as a token of our thanks? And I had an idea.

I then quoted Shlomo’s farewell speech and his frustration with the lack of leadership. And I continued: ‘Shlomo and Ayala are leaving Sydney with this bitter taste in their mouths. We can’t let that happen. We need to make a tikkun – we need to redeem Sydney. We need to redeem Bondi. We need to redeem Glenayr Ave. And we need to redeem our community’s silence.’

Rabbi Ritchie Moss and Rev Henry Amzalak dance with the new Torah

Rabbi Ritchie Moss and Rev Henry Amzalak dance with a new Torah

I then asked everyone to stand up. And I said: ‘We are now going to march with the Sefer Torah down Glenayr Ave, the very place where the attack happened. We will sing a victory march down the street with Shlomo learning us.’

And we did. Men women and children all came, the shul was left empty, as we sang Am Yisrael Chai down Glenayr Ave. The people in the street cafes made way for us and watched in amused confusion as we marched in our talleisim, with the Torah, singing proudly.

The whole way, Shlomo beamed with pride and shock. We were also joined by Zev Aronstam and Shlomo Behar, who were also hurt in the attack.

Shlomo later thanked me, saying, “I couldn’t imagine a better gift. You have turned things around for us. I am in tears every time I think about it.”

Shlomo Ben-Haiem told J-Wire: “The gesture made by Rabbi Moss has seen me leave Sydney on a much more positive note than I expected to. The walk along the same route with the torah is something I will remember memory for the rest of my life.”

Comments

One Response to “A torah walks the Bondi attack route”
  1. anne sarzin says:

    Healing words and healing action from a true leader of our community, one with compassion, originality and remarkable empathy. Rabbi Richie Moss of Nefesh is to be praised for finding such a creatively joyous and therapeutic way to redress a wrong, to alleviate the suffering of his friend, to erase a toxic memory, and to assert with praise and prayers what so many fear to reveal–pride in our Judaism and gratitude for the freedom to express and to practise our ancient rituals in a country committed to harmony for and between all its peoples.

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