Police booked for lunch

February 15, 2013 by David Werdiger
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JBD – Jews of the Melbourne CBD – have started 2013 with a function featuring Chief Police Commissioner Ken Lay APM and Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant.

Meeting overview

Meeting overview

Rabbi Kluwgant started proceedings by asking the question: “why keep the law?” The Jewish answer is that there is a higher moral imperative for all the laws in the Torah, even the ones we might consider logical (such as the prohibition against murder). The Torah also recognizes the importance of maintaining peaceful and harmonious co-existence in society, and the Talmudic principle of “dina d’malchuta dina” establishes the importance of abiding by the laws of the land in which we live.

But what happens when the laws of the land conflict with Judaism? The Rabbi’s own great-grandfather was exiled to Siberia for committing the terrible crime of distributing matzot for Pesach. Certainly, in repressive societies, the laws of the Torah override conflicting civil laws. This, the Rabbi explained, is the origin and context for the prohibition against “messirah” – reporting another Jew to law enforcement. This was instituted in situations where it could be expected that the person reported would not receive a fair trial or be persecuted, which does not apply in contemporary Western society.

Chief Commissioner Lay considered the challenges of how religion intersects the law, and noted the relevance of the current Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non- Government Organisations. While the police force is now ethnically diverse, only fifty to sitxy years ago there were still relics of years of Protestant/Catholic divisions throughout the force. The chaplaincy system was introduced in 1974, and has made great strides since that time, becoming a multi-faith chaplaincy service, and helping police officers understand differences within society.

The Commissioner noted that we are entering a difficult time with the Royal Commission into sex abuse, and serious allegations have been made against the Catholic Church and other organized religion. The police have made extensive submissions, including recommendations about mandatory reporting which can present challenges to existing practices, but he noted the tremendous goodwill amongst all the groups to work together and confront the issues.

Moderator Stefanie Bradley identified the importance of diversity in the workplace and society, which KPMG seek to promote through partnerships and events such as this. But how to build the bridges between groups? Both speakers spoke of the importance of visible leadership, maintaining an open door for dialogue, and spending time just getting to know each other. The two speakers’ mutual appreciation of single malt whisky was a testament to this, and in both cases their efforts have been allowed to flow down their respective hierarchy and effect great progress over the last ten years.

Jewish chaplains in the police force have not only helped explain the nuances of Jewish community life to police officers, but have even led to a significant increase in Jews choosing a career in the force, where they often become de facto ambassadors.

Also in attendance at the event were senior officers in Israel’s road safety department, who have been working closely with Australian police to make significant reductions in the road toll in Israel. Major General Bruno Stein, from the audience, commended the Commissioner’s efforts, and noted that both parties have learnt much from this partnership – both culturally and in addressing the matter of road safety.

The issue of dealing with first generation immigrant communities was raised from the audience, and the Commissioner acknowledged the challenges, noting that cross-cultural misunderstandings do sometimes occur and these are issues that Victoria Police training is continually focused on. While there is a willingness to engage, it often takes until the second and third generation for bridges to be firmly established. The Rabbi pointed out the importance of a willingness to be educated, which can help bring together the mutual understanding of cultures, and the need to observe the local laws. All acknowledged the value of bringing together people from different cultures and the importance of listening.

In conclusion, JBD President David Werdiger moved a vote of thanks, and noted that as our society is a mix of many communities, it is dialogue that helps us understand each other. Both KPMG, through its diversity and inclusion program, and JBD recognized the need to balance work life with spending time to enrich our souls, our spirituality, and our culture.

The event was hosted and sponsored by KPMG, Stefanie Bradley was MC and moderator.

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