We lose a special friend

January 24, 2018 by Henry Benjamin
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Audrey Hodges-Bunting visited Israel in the early 1980s and returned to Australia with a vision to bridge any divide between Christian and Jews…and she continued her work up until she passed this week on the Gold Coast at the age of 91.

Audrey Hodges-Bunting: the photo taken on her last day by Dalia Ayalon

Fraser Harding, formerly president of Celebration Shalom said: “Audrey first visited Israel in 1980. That experience changed her life forever. She returned to Australia with an overwhelming desire to support Jewish people, having gained an insight into the prejudice and persecution that they had suffered over the centuries – including and especially that, which had come from Christian communities.  Being a Christian herself, this attitude appalled Audrey.

On  her return to Australia, together with her husband Beau, Audrey set about to make contact with a few members of the local Jewish community on the Gold Coast of Queensland.  She became a friend to them and this finally led her to found an organisation known as Celebration Shalom Incorporated.

The main thrusts of this organisation were to:

  1. Educate the Christian community about this devastating history, which had been brought against Jewish people over the centuries including the Holocaust.
  2. Support the Jewish Community by demonstrating unconditional love, with no strings attached, to indicate that there are Christian people who not only regret the errors of the past, but who want to reverse the tide of history in that regard.

From 1982 until 2002, Audrey was responsible for holding an annual festival on the Gold Coast, which impacted thousands of Christian people and made an impression to a significant number of members of the local Jewish community. This festival included speakers from prominent members of both the Jewish and Christian communities who taught at seminars over a three-day weekend. These included Rabbis and Christian Clergy. A key person to assist Audrey was Dalia Ayalon, who convinced and introduced some prominent members of the Jewish community to understand and be supportive of what Audrey was doing. Various Federal and State politicians, and the Gold Coast Mayors became involved in the festivals during those years.”

Audrey was supported by a strong group of Christian people including the Rev Fraser Harding who became President of the organisation, remaining in that role until 2002. A key element of these festivals included representation from a number of Holocaust survivors. Audrey arranged to interview several of them and produced booklets telling their personal stories. Fraser Harding is arranging to have those stories collated and published in book form.

Sadly, in May 1993 Audrey’s husband Beau died. However in honour of the work that both Audrey and Beau had achieved, the Jewish National Fund (Keren Hayesod) organised to have a grove of 5000 trees planted in the Australian Israel Friendship Forrest at Carmiel in the Galilee region of Northern Israel.

Arrangements were made for the ashes of Leslie (Beau) Hodges to be buried under one of those trees.  Rev Fraser Harding led a group of Christian pilgrims to undertake this task in October 1993.

During her life Audrey received a number of awards including:

  • The Jewish National Fund
  • Nomination for the Australia Day Award in 1994
  • Nomination for an Award by Rotary Australia
  • The Centenary Medal in 2003 for distinguished commitment to the promotion of cultural diversity in Queensland

Audrey was invited to meet with the Governor-General of Australia – Sir  William Deane –  with respect to her contribution to community involvement

Although the activities of Celebration Shalom ceased in 2002,  an outcome of the impact of the organisation has led to the commencement and development of other organisations, including Bridge for Peace in Australia and Good News for Israel, both of which continue as significant supporters of Israel within Australia.

 

Dalia Ayalon had spent her what seemingly normal last day with her on the Gold Coast.  She told J-Wire: “To me she was a close dear ‘Mum’ figure and family as she had a true loving heart. We had shared many special times together, happiness and grief.

We had three beautiful days together and at the age of 91 on Saturday evening we went out to a outdoor fair. She told me that she had made all her plans and arrangements and the photo I took of her should be used for her funeral. A few hours later she had a heart attack and yesterday she was gone. As if she waited for me to see me and spend our last great meaningful time together.

I was introduced to Celebration Shalom in 1987 as a journalist for SBS Jewish Radio prompted by the then Israeli Consul Shemi Tzur

He asked me to come and investigate them to find out their motives especially with Jewish community always being suspicious.

I did and produced a 45 minutes radio program on Celebration Shalom and also got involved and was the mediator between the two communities.

She added: “Audrey has been the woman of vision and passionate driving force behind all of that supported by an amazing team of true loving Christians with no ulterior motives. They promised to stand hand in hand with Israel and the Jewish proletariat and in time of  crises in Israel they wrote numerous letters of support to Israel especially to the government and media.”

During the worldwide Let My People Go campaign to free Soviet Jewry in the 1980s, Celebration Shalom fundraised and paid for several flights of Jews to migrate from Moscow to Israel.

Audrey Hodges-Bunting has received the Australia federation Medal for her work and was an olympic torch runner in Australia.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff sent the following tribute to Ms Hodges to be read at her funeral: “I came to know Audrey Hodges when she invited me to address the Celebration Shalom conference in Queensland on a number of occasions.

One could not but be overwhelmed at the extraordinary support for Israel which Celebration Shalom evinced and which Audrey Hodges inspired, with approximately 1200 supporters present on each occasion. And that support extended beyond the spiritual and the emotional to the practical and the meaningful, generating significant funds which enabled numerous flights to rescue beleaguered Jews from the evil Soviet empire and take them to Israel.

Audrey Hodges was a remarkable individual who made a remarkable impact. May her memory serve as an inspiration to others.”

 

 

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