Lest we forget

November 19, 2010 Agencies
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The Victorian Association of Ex-Servicemen and Women remembers those who gave their lives for their country…from Harold Karpin:

Lest we forget

A significant number of Jewish Australian soldiers fought in World WarI. Many now lay buried in foreign lands under a simple military headstone bearing a Magen David. In fact, 82 of these were Jewish boys from Victoria or those who served with Victorian raised units. For those who may not have had the opportunity of paying a visit to a war graves cemetery the first thing to be noticed is the lack of discrimination or separation. Just as these soldiers fought as one, so they are buried as one….Magen Davids  lay scattered among the symbols of other religions or sects or on headstones without any religious symbol.

In the early 1920s the Jewish returned soldiers of Melbourne began to meet informally as a group on occasions such as Remembrance Day in order to form a Minyan and recite the mourner’s prayer or Kaddish in memory of those killed in action in the 1914-18 War. The problem of where to meet gave rise to the thought for the need of a single monument or site  to honour and record the names of those fallen. In 1924, building on this need, the Chevra Kadisha in Melbourne undertook the responsibility for the erection of an obelisk in the grounds of the Melbourne General Cemetery.

On the 14th  December 1924 the obelisk, was unveiled and consecrated by Chaplain Rabbi Danglow, Rabbi Joseph Abrahams and Chaplain Rabbi (later Sir) Israel Brodie who later was to become the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. It is recorded that General Sir John Monash,GCMG, KCB, VD, also played a part in the service.

Originally, the oblisk had 64 names for WWI. However, a further 18 were added about eight years ago when research ‘discovered’ these long forgotten dead Jewish soldiers.

Sadly, in 1947, a further 62 names of those Victorian Jews who were killed in action with Australia’s forces in the 1939-45 War were added around the four sides of the base to honour the fallen of World War II.

In total there are now 144 names on the obelisk … 82 from WWI and 62 from WWII. It is worth noting that the large majority of these soldiers had volunteered for service, as opposed to being conscripted. It is also interesting to see the repetition of family names between the two wars, names now familiar to most Victorian, if not Australian Jewry

For many years VAJEX, considering it a great Mitzvah, took it upon themselves to re-establish the tradition of meeting as a Minyan, reciting Kaddish and performing a solemn remembrance service. And so it was that VAJEX members and friends again gathered at the obelisk on Sunday 14th November to  honour and bless the Victorian Jewish soldiers killed in service during WWI And WWII.

It was a solemn overcast day on which members and official guests gathered for the ceremony. Perhaps the crowd that witnessed the unveiling of the obelisk was much larger, but what it lacked in numbers it certainly made up for it in enthusiasm and the wide combination of faiths represented… all were welcomed by the VAJEX president, Mr Ben Hirsh.. Rabbi(Capt) Dovid Gutnick davened the prayers relevant to the occasion and Mr Charles German JP read Psalm 43.

Mr Geoff Burrows, Chairman of R & SL Kindred Organizations was the Guest of Honour, He served in many senior positions both within the Victorian Police Force and the RSL. He is currently responsible for the conduct of the ANZAC Day Service. Mr Burrows was invited to speak on the importance of Remembrance Day. He did so by summarizing it in three distinct categories: Remembrance of the Dead and those affected by the wars; A celebration of the end to the WWI, then considered to be ‘the war to end all wars’ and a brief summary of important dates during WWI. Once again, Maj Gen Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, VD was acclaimed as probably the most important and effective general of the war. In closing, Mr Burrows, reminded the gathering that “the (Remembrance) Day was an occasion to remember the past, but, more importantly, to look to the future.” Maj Gen Jeffrey Rosenfeld CstJ lay a wreath as Patron of VAJEX. This was followed by a number of dignitaries on behalf of their individual communities and organizations.

Mr Felix Sher said Kaddish on behalf of his son and all other Jewish deceased soldiers. Mrs Ruby Grose closed the ceremony by the reading of the poem In Flanders Fields.

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