Celebrating 25 years of Stand Up’s Impact

February 24, 2019 by  
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Social justice organisation Stand Up, started out 25 years ago as an Australian Jewish community idea to raise money for international disasters, has today grown into so much more.

Gary Samowitz

On 29th July 1994, the Australian Jewish News reported on the launch of a community appeal to support the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, called “Keshet”. When describing what had motivated the establishment of Keshet, spokesperson Dr Mark Baker said, “Jews understand all too well what Elie Wiesel means when he says the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference”. This new organisation aimed to give expression to the Jewish ethic of active tzedakah (justice) by providing an ongoing fund for humanitarian relief. And so Keshet, which would later be known as Jewish Aid Australia, and today as Stand Up, was created!

In the early years the organisation focused on fundraising for local projects and the all too frequent international emergencies. The man-made disasters in Rwanda, East Timor, and Kosovo, ignited refugee crises that resonated deeply within the Australian Jewish community.

In a handwritten note on the back of a cheque for the Kosovo appeal in 2000, one elderly Holocaust survivor wrote, “I am so pleased to be donating to help the refugees of Kosovo, imagine what could have happened if the world had stood up for us like this in our time of need”.

Natural disasters caused by flood, drought and earthquake also prompted relief efforts that were generously supported by the Jewish community.

During the first six years, Stand Up also established ‘Annual Programs’ – including Homeless Youth (1995), Koori Education (1996) and Breaking the Isolation of the Elderly (1999) – as well as a homework club for homeless people and families in crisis at Hanover Welfare Services (2000). And it was the growth of these local activities that began to encourage more members of the Jewish community to become actively engaged in the organisation’s programs. Stand Up’s volunteer base expanded swiftly to include groups of Jewish university students who provided weekly mentoring, friendship and role modelling to people in need.

In 2000, Stand Up’s founders decided that the organisation could create a greater impact on the communities it engaged with, and its own volunteers, by focusing on building deeper and longer term partnerships.

That year, the organisation also took on the challenge of creating a food rescue program. A Stand Up committee member had returned from a trip to the US with a remarkable story – people in New York were collecting unserved food from ‘simcha celebrations and distributing it directly to the hungry and homeless. Within weeks Melbourne City Harvest was established. Stand Up volunteers began picking up left over food day and night and delivering it to Hanover Welfare Services and the Salvation Army to distribute. The program and its reputation grew rapidly to include the collection of unopened, packaged foods from Cabrini Hospital, which were delivered to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. By 2002, Melbourne City Harvest had merged with another food rescue start up called One Umbrella. This organisation is now called Fareshare, an entity that has also grown, and today delivers over 2.5 million meals annually to Melbourne and Brisbane’s hungry and homeless.

Ric Benjamin, Sandra Dudakov, Ronit Prawer, Dr Arnold Shmerling and Ros Loff.

In 2002 Keshet changed its name to Jewish Aid Australia, and in 2004 employed its first – and still going – employee, Lisa Buchner (Stand Up’s Refugee Programs Director). In 2004, strong ties also began to be forged with the Sudanese refugee communities in Melbourne and Sydney. In 2005 Shalom in Sydney began a holiday program in a remote Aboriginal community in northern NSW called ‘Derech Eretz’ (Way of the Land). These original community partnerships continue to thrive today through Stand Up’s Refugee Support Department and Aboriginal Partnership Programs.

Stand Up has also built a vibrant social justice education department that today delivers innovative programs for youth and young adults on a range of contemporary global issues – including Stand Up ABC (And Be Counted), a popular social justice education program for Bnei Mitzvah aged students, and the Stand Up Fellowship (a 6 month personal development & social impact journey for emerging leaders aged 24 – 32).

Over the last 25 years Stand Up has been a transformative organisation for the Jewish community, turning skeptics into believers, and believers into doers. It has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to create a meaningful difference in disadvantaged communities. Its volunteers reflect the diversity of the Jewish community; in age, gender, skills, and religious affiliation, and it encourages a strengthened sense of Jewish connection in those who feel they are on the fringes of the community.

Stand Up strives to break down commonly held stereotypes by connecting people from diverse backgrounds together and allowing them to share special moments. Through these connections Jewish Australians have the opportunity to see, hear and learn more about Australia’s diverse communities. And reciprocally, Jewish Australians have the chance share their history and experiences with those who may never have met or befriended a Jew before.

After being granted DGR status, the board raised funds to appoint the first CEO in 2009. Gary Samowitz moved down from Sydney and enthusiastically embraced the challenge of being Stand Up’s first CEO. Since then he has grown the organisation’s impact to new levels through his energy, compassion and drive. “Stand Up is proud to have been a catalyst for social change over the last quarter of century”, he reflects. “We are looking forward to celebrating our 25th Birthday with our supporters, donors and volunteers; past, present and future. We also encourage the Australian Jewish community to show their support by getting involved in our ‘25 Challenge’, a fundraising initiative to help us meet the organisations future challenges and possibilities.

In 2019, Stand Up is proud to be running 18 different social justice programs with over 150 active volunteers, supported by 14 staff in Melbourne and 5 in Sydney – all of this is fuelled by over 1000 generous donors.

Stand Up has mobilised the Australian Jewish community to be Upstanders, not Bystanders, and the organisation is looking forward to its next chapter of growth and pursuing social justice.

More information about Stand Up and to get involved in the 25 Challenge visit: http://standup.org.au/25

Report from: Dr Arnold Shmerling and Ric Benjamin. 

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