JNF Gala Dinner in Sydney

October 29, 2014 by Roz Tarszisz
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The recent war experiences of an IDF Major, first hand insights into life in the Negev plus the personal history of the son of a Nazi officer combined to make a packed programme at JNF’s annual dinner.

Young Ben Jason-Easton from Melbourne led the two national anthems for over 750 guests primed to learn exactly what made the son of a WW2 German tank commander turn to Judaism.

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull

Board member MC Pam Krail introduced guests to Federal Minister for Communications and member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull who compared Australia and Israel’s water problems. Giving charity “is a form of love” said Turnbull as he exhorted guests to donate generously.

Jason Easton

Ben Jason-Easton

The evening’s theme, “Supporting Israel’s Frontline South” focused on the Eliav Project. Eliav resident, Avigail Ben Aryeh, explained the struggle to maintain normal life and keep children safe. There are 70 families with 190 children living in caravans waiting for permanent housing. Despite its hardships, there are many families waiting to join desert community.

An IDF officer talked about his recent Gaza war experience and how deeply he felt the loss of soldiers under his command.

Son of a WW2 tank commander, Dr Bernd Wollschlaeger was born in Germany in 1958. His father was a Nazi officer awarded the Knight’s Cross personally by Hitler. As he grew up, his father refused to discuss the past with him.

He was 14 in 1972 when the Munich Olympics changed his “personal history”. Germans watched the unfolding tragedy on television when Israeli athletes were taken hostage and their subsequent massacre by Palestinians. This led him to ask his father him about the Holocaust but he was refused.

 Avigail Ben Aryeh All pix:  Henry Benjamin

Avigail Ben Aryeh
All pix: Henry Benjamin

“I lived in the shadow of history but no-one would talk about it” he said.

The teenager started to read and research. At 18 he took himself to Israel and visited Yad Vashem.

Raised a Catholic, he sought out the local Jewish community for answers. He became a Shabbos goy* for a small synagogue of Holocaust survivors. This started him on a spiritual and learning journey and eventually he converted to Judaism. His parents disowned him.

In 1987, he finished his medical studies, made aliyah and served in the IDF. For many years Wollschlaeger kept his history s secret but when his own teenage son questioned him, realised that he had to face the past in order to make sense of the future.

Wollschlaeger maintains that he is “nothing special” and that it is his duty to talk about the past so that murder is not tolerated. He does regret that he did not make peace with his parents, particularly his mother.

JNF National President Peter Smaller got a round of applause when he said that NSW was “the jewel in the crown” of JNF Australia.


Dr Bernd Wollschlaeger

Dr Bernd Wollschlaeger

*a Gentile who attends to practical matters in a synagogue so congregants do not have to break the Sabbath.

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