New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies

The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies is the umbrella organisation for almost every Jewish group within the State.

Contact details

CEO: Vic Alhadeff

Tel: 9360 1600


Secord reports on Israel visit

February 17, 2013 by  

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NSW State Shadow Minister for Water Walt Secord has reported on his recent visit to Israel organised by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.



I am Labor’s Shadow Minister for Water and – more relevant to today’s talk on our recent parliamentary mission to Israel – the deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.

As background, I worked for four years as a journalist at the Australian Jewish News from 1988 until 1991 – where the current NSW Jewish Board of Deputies executive director Vic Alhadeff was my deputy editor.

I attended this study tour to Israel as one of two Labor representatives. In a job that can be overwhelmed by discussion papers and briefings, I try to keep in mind that seeing things first-hand provides the greater insight.  That is why I try to see things for myself.

Yair Miller, Ian Sandler, Robert Borsak

Yair Miller, Ian Sandler, Robert Borsak   Photo: Kim Lewis

And that is why I support parliamentary study tours – and on behalf of the NSW Labor Party, I thank and congratulate the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies for organising this one.

For the record, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies member Yosi Tal and Board of Deputies Vice President Yaron Finkelstein were fantastic as hosts. Yosi organising the visit to Yair and Sandra Miller’s wedding was inspired and personal; and Yaron was a true “fixer” of problems for the delegation. It was their personal touches that made the study tour a special experience.

I also liked the multi-party nature of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ mission and enjoyed interacting with my non-Labor colleagues in a non-combative context. And I hope that you can continue this format for future tours.

This was my second visit to Israel in two years. Since 1995, I have been involved in organising or participating in a number of parliamentary study tours as an MP and as a political staffer. In terms of organisation and planning, this was one of the best.  It struck the right balance between expertise and on-the-street experience.

Too often, study tours want you to listen to a long line of speakers on the same subject – but there was no repetition in this tour and there was a genuine attempt to present different perspectives – including speakers from the Left side of Israeli politics. But we also acknowledge the difficulty in getting politicians for the tour as we were at the height of the Israeli general election – but the quality of speakers was outstanding.

David Clarke, Isabelle Shapiro, Professor Bettina Cass, Rev Fred Nile and Walt Secord

David Clarke, Isabelle Shapiro, Professor Bettina Cass, Rev Fred Nile and Walt Secord      Photo:  Kim Lewis

I also acknowledge the effort to provide Palestinian and Israeli Arab perspectives, such as meeting the Governor of Bethlehem and the Abu Gosh Israeli Arab education officials

As for myself, I always try to do my study tours in a sequence or with a theme and a specific purpose. Last year, I did a March of the Living inspired trip – culminating in a trip to Yad Vashem. I used to write about the March of the Living tours when I was a journalist at the Australian Jewish News.

My previous study tour in 2011-2012 started in Armenia as I wanted to learn more about the first genocide of the 20th anniversary and to visit their national genocide museum in Yerevan. The context here is of course Adolf Hitler’s infamous 1939 quote: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

After Armenia, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and then flew directly to Israel and toured Yad Vashem. I then visited Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan to see a contemporary context of genocide. Halabja was where Saddam Hussein in March 1988 unleashed chemical gas attacks on the Kurds killing 5,000 people.

As a person who has studied the Shoah, I believe that, as Nobel Prize winner and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi said: “Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.”

So while visits such as these are often challenging, they are vital to promoting that which must never be forgotten.

This year – 2012-2013 – on my personal study, I visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Armenia, Georgia; Israel and the Palestinian Territories, including Bethlehem and the Aida refugee camp and the ancient ruins of Western Armenia; Turkey, Istanbul, Anzac Cove at Gallipoli and finally, Cairo, Egypt. Let me say that Israel was the centrepiece to my study tour.

But before I speak to that let me briefly discuss why I visited Turkey and Egypt. I visited Turkey for two reasons: Firstly, I wanted to continue my exploration of the Armenian Genocide. I visited ancient Armenian sites in Western Armenia – Kars, Van and Ani

And secondly, I also wanted to see Turkey within in the context of what the late-Harvard University Professor Samuel Huntington has described as the “Clash of Civilisations”. That is the interaction and conflict between Islam and the West..

I think Turkey is interesting in light of the recent activity of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in regard to Israel and the Flotilla and the struggle in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and the rural areas between political Islam embodied by the debate on the “scarf” against the backdrop of Turkey’s secular tradition.

Incidentally, I was in Istanbul on the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink –the Armenian editor murdered by a Turkish nationalist because of his outspoken views on the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s failure to recognise its past.

I have to admit to complex views on Turkey.  Turkey must face the Armenian Genocide and unreservedly acknowledge it, but we in the West have an interest in supporting democratic, secular Islamic States like Turkey and Indonesia.

I would like to take this opportunity to note and express my support for Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council’s efforts to encourage Asian journalists in the region to visit Israel.

As for Egypt, I have to admit that my visit was for what I describe as almost selfish reasons.

It was a depressing visit. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that it will be very difficult to travel there in about a year.  I also fear for its Christian community there and for their future. If events continue to worsen there, I believe that there is a case for Australia to consider giving Coptic Christians in Egypt recognition as refugees.

On my tour to the Jewish and Christian sites in Cairo, I asked how many people usually take the tour and the guide said about 60 people a tour.  There were only two of us on that one tour.

Tourism is the third largest contributor to the national economy there. The current events and unrest are having an important impact on Egypt, which will only worsen the situation. I was there two days before the second anniversary of the events of Tahrir Square.

Some brief thoughts on Egypt. If Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi loses the next election, he must willingly hand over power to a new Government. I believe that the true test of a post-conflict society is the secondelection; the second government or the changing of administrations.

I also visited Coptic Christian sites and Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo.  I was excited to visit Ben Ezra Synagogue as it was where the famous Rabbi Moses Maimonides worshipped when he lived in Cairo –which leads us happily back to the subject of Israel.  Many moments will stay with me for life.

The light plane flight to the Israel-Lebanon border was one. You see the security concerns and geography in stark terms:  Israel at its narrowest. I think it is about 14 kilometres at one point.

 The emotional meeting with former Melbourne resident, Arnold Roth – the father of a victim of terrorism was unsettling, but worthwhile.  It put a face to terror and its impact, but also showed someone rebuilding their lives – after unbelievable tragedy.  There were personal highlights too, such as taking my parliamentary colleague Luke Foley, who is a proud Catholic to his first Shabbat meal. It was at the Tel Aviv home of IDF reserve spokesperson and Australian expatriate, Guy Spigelman who attended Macquarie University. They actually knew each other from student politics. We shared Shabbat meal with Guy’s wife, children and his parents, Dr Mark and Rachel Spigelman.

 Other highlights included: Gate-crashing the wedding of NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president, Yair Miller and his wife, Sandra in Jerusalem;

Witnessing my parliamentary colleague and National Party MP, Rick Colless locate the World War I grave of a family member at Be’ersheva Commonwealth War Cemetery; and going out on the Sea of Galilee with Paul Steiner who is the son-in-law of Josie and Ian Lacey of Bellevue Hill.

It turns out that Paul Steiner is the president of the Israeli Greywater Association so we took the opportunity to talk about recycling water policy and my parliamentary duties as the Shadow Minister for Water.

As a general observation, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies tour added more layers of appreciation to the complexities of the region. The Erez Checkpoint operated by the IDF between Israel and Gaza showed the complexities of balancing security concerns of Israel. One thousand trucks a day go through the facility. They balance the day-to-day operational needs of Gaza residents and business people such as medical support, including transferring people to Israeli hospitals for cancer treatment.

 As well as the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies portion, I added on several days to explore Israel myself. Last year, I visited the Gadot Observation Point near the Golan, Masada, Tiberias, Sderot, Gush Etzion, the Dead Sea, Ramallah, Nazareth, Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat and Jordan.

 This year, I visited the Baha’i Temple in Haifa and travelled to Kibbutz Kadarim and got taken on to the Sea of Galilee by motorboat.

 To get a real first-hand experience, I caught an Egged bus from the roadside at Kibbutz Kadarim to Akko and then Tel Aviv.  I sat with IDF soldiers going home for Shabbat. They helped me when I got to Akko.  They were puzzled by why a Sydney man with a Canadian accent would bother to take public transport rather than get a driver. But, as I said, some things should be experienced first-hand. It can really shift your view on matters. I guess this raises the question of whether this trip has shifted my view on any matters in relation to Israel.

 Well, I still wholeheartedly support a two-State solution for Israelis and the Palestinians. But I am a realist. Right now, Israel does not have a realistic or practical partner in peace.  Fatah in the West Bank is struggling and its leadership are unable to even go to Gaza. Hamas in Gaza does not recognise Israel’s right to exist.  Egypt is in internal conflict and is sending mixed messages. It still has shaky peace with Israel, but it is a “negative” or cold war type of peace.  Syria is in crisis and is a failed State. This affects Israel and the whole region.  So this calls for realism, and for clear support of Israel’s right to defend herself.  But I hope for many things. I hope I am proven wrong about my urgency to see Egypt. For example, who would have imagined that Sadat would have ever made peace with Israel?  And for the record, you do not make peace with your friends; you make peace with your enemies.  I hope that shifts in Palestinian leadership allow a two-State solution to once again be a real, not theoretical, ambition.

 In conclusion, I hope that my parliamentary colleagues will seize future opportunities offered by the Board of Deputies to study these things first hand.  I, for one, am grateful for the insights and experiences gained. Thank you.

Plenum goes to Shul

January 29, 2013 by  

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The first-ever NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum to be held at Southern Sydney Synagogue will be held there next month in honour of the synagogue’s 70th anniversary.
The decision to hold the meeting there is in accord with the Board’s policy of rotating the venues of its monthly plenums among its constituent organisations.

Recent meetings have been held at Cremorne and Newtown synagogues, and Chatswood’s North Shore Temple Emanuel will host one later this year.

Vic Alhadeff

Vic Alhadeff

To be held on Tuesday evening, February 19, the plenum will feature a panel of members of the community who participated in the recent Board/HonestReporting advocacy mission to Israel comprising of Dr George Foster, a former president of the synagogue; Board Shoah Remembrance Committee chairman Michael Jaku and Marilyn Immerman, Head Teacher of Jewish Studies at Moriah College.

Located in Allawah 10 minutes’ drive from Sydney Airport, Southern Sydney Synagogue was founded in 1943; its founding president was Nathan Haneman. It comprises about 85 members encompassing the St George & Sutherland Shire areas and other neighbouring suburbs.

Board of Deputies chief executive officer Vic Alhadeff urged members of the community to attend. “The 70th anniversary of any communal organisation is an occasion of note,” he said. “When that organisation is a synagogue which has survived and flourished away from the main centres of the community, we should be there in numbers to recognise it and to honour it.”

The meeting will begin at 7.30pm.

Greek welcome for Holocaust studies

December 12, 2012 by  

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The Australian Hellenic Educators’ Association in New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland has welcomed the decision to make mandatory Holocaust education compulsory.

In a recently released media statement the association said:

“The Australian Hellenic Educators’ Association welcome the announcement of the NSW Board of Studies that study of the Holocaust will be mandatory for Year 10 students from 2014.
According to history teacher and AHEA President Dr Panayiotis Diamadis, ‘this decision provides scope for Australian students to learn about the Hellenic, Armenian and Assyrian Genocide as a precursor to the Jewish Genocide two decades later’.
The Hellenic and Jewish Genocides are a part of Australian history and deserve a place in the Australian History Curriculum. ANZACs witnessed the Hellenic, Armenian and Assyrian Genocides during World War One. ANZACs rescued survivors across the Middle East in 1917 and 1918. When they returned home, a number of ANZACs assisted in the humanitarian relief effort.
Leading members of the Australian Jewish community such as Sir Samuel Sidney Cohen were involved in the Armenian, Assyrian and Hellenic relief effort in the 1920s. When the Nazis seized power in Germany, these same people set about getting German and Austrian Jews to safety.
Between the 1910s and the 1960s, tens of thousands of genocide survivors found safe haven in Australia: Hellenes, Armenians, Assyrians, and Jews.
The Australian Hellenic Educators’ Association NSW-ACT-QLD will be working with the Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia, the Armenian National Committee, the Assyrian Universal Alliance as well as the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Sydney Jewish Museum on this exciting initiative. The effort will be to produce appropriate classroom resources and activities highlighting the role genocide has played in the Australian story in the last century.
This effort will not be restricted to the history classrοom – it will be extended across the curriculum to languages, visual arts and English.
Education is the best way to prevent future genocides. This is why the recent NSW Board of Studies announcement is of such importance: by studying genocide and its impacts, we learn about the forces that shaped Australia and the world.


Holocaust studies in NSW schools

December 9, 2012 by  

Major newspapers have reported that Holocaust studies will be mandatory in all NSW schools.

No statement has been issued by the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies to J-Wire.

Media reports state that the studies will be operative from 2014 and will be mandatory for all history students up to year 10.

Although reports quote the CEO of the NSWJBD, there is no mention if the studies will include the plight of Gypsies, homosexuals, the physically and mentally handicapped and political dissidents.

The reports, appeared exclusively in the Daily Telegraph and in the Sydney Morning Herald as well as The Australian online which carried the Telegraph story.

NSWJBD-Honest Reporting Advocacy Mission – Day 8

December 7, 2012 by  

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Twenty people – mostly members of Sydney’s Jewish community, plus a number of West Australians and Americans  – are currently participating in the inaugural NSW Jewish Board of Deputies-HonestReporting Advocacy Mission in Israel – Day Eight from George Foster.

The final day of the mission thankfully began at 10am to give time for packing and checking out but mostly a well deserved more relaxed start to the day. Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, began the day’s sessions. Gil is also very well connected to Israeli and Palestinian leaders and makes regular appearances on CNN and Al-Jazeera. He was quite surprised by Bob Carr’s response in summoning the Ambassador but he generally had a positive take on the negative international response to the E1 announcement saying that at least it gave the various Ambassadors world-wide a chance to explain Israel’s position first hand.

Despite the negative reaction he was hopeful that the international community would bring Abbas to the negotiation table. Gil emphasised that Netanyahu has committed himself to peace and has said so in many speeches, however he is equally adamant that Iran be dealt with first.

Apparently the deadline is set for June 2013 and it is no coincidence that Iranian elections are due to be held on 14 June. Netanyahu’s goal is to prevent war but if necessary Israel has the ability and legitimacy to launch an attack on Iranian sites but does not really wish to do so.

In terms of the Israeli elections he was sure that Netanyahu would win although economic issues will be more important in this election than previous ones. Gil believed that the coalition Netanyahu pursues will be more balanced on this occasion. Gil’s main message to us was that Israel was in need of our assistance in terms of educating people, advocacy and solidarity. It was certainly important for us to hear from such a well informed and prominent analyst.

The next speakers were Simon Plosker, Managing Editor, and Joe Hyams, CEO, of HonestReporting, who explained more of the manner in which HonestReporting functions. Joe pointed out a booklet available free from the HonestReporting website: The Israeli-Arab Conflict, and emphasised the importance of quick and even immediate responses when a crisis occurs such the Pillar of Defence operation. He also noted that compelling and emotive responses seem to get far better coverage than a litany of facts and figures. It was pleasing that the IDF now uses the social media to its full extent.

The group was then treated to David Olesker, Director of JCCAT, and an advocacy trainer, who has spoken at University campuses and other forums where he has been heckled and vilified just for standing up for Israel. David spoke about peer advocacy and the importance of “conceptual framing”. The success of any communication is in setting the conceptual framework which then will control the outcome. He spoke about “Elevator Conversations”, that is, the short conversations we all have with our contacts at work or even socially and about “bridging” where one refutes an allegation quickly and then moves on to your own agenda. David skilfully went through a couple of role plays with participants to illustrate how such interactions can be turned into positive advocacy for Israel. His most important point was that personal and human experiences carry a more powerful message than simply reiterating facts.

After a short explanation of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies roles and functions by Yair Miller, President, Col (Ret) Ben-Tzion Gruber gave a detailed and at times emotional presentation of the IDF’s Code of Ethics. He notes that often you have a very short time in a combat situation to make any decision but then illustrated his remarks with videos showing how the IDF will abort rocket strikes, even at the last minute, if there is any doubt that there will be collateral damage to the civilian population. This is particularly difficult in Gaza where the terrorists dress in civilian clothing and use human children as shields which he again illustrated with video clips. He pointed out that the IDF warn the population with leaflet drops, text messages and telephone calls when they intend to target a particular building which no other army in the world would do. He noted that in the recent Pillar of Defence offensive 1800 targets were hit by the Israeli Airforce with the loss of 177 people of whom 121 were terrorists. Yes there were civilians killed but this was extremely regrettable and the military mourn any loss of life. In the same 8 days there were 870 people killed in Syria.

The final stop of the mission was a very pleasant, if slightly sad, lunch at Gabriel’s Restaurant.

All participants expressed their gratitude to the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and HonestReporting for such a stimulating, revealing, exciting and information packed mission.

There is no doubt that this mission is of vital importance and adds immeasurably to the ability of participants to advocate even better for Israel. There is no doubt that there is no mission quite like it available in Australia today.

All agreed that it was most meaningful to have been in Israel itself to witness and be part of the vibrant life Israeli’s live and the many problems they face. We look forward to the next mission and believe it will be even more successful if that is at all possible.

Dr George Foster is a TAI graduate, former Executive Member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Board member of the Sydney Jewish Museum and the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendents.

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