Lest we forget

November 7, 2018 by Henry Benjamin
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The Remembrance Day service commemorated at the Sydney Jewish War Memorial marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending WWI.

Following wreath-laying and the kindling of the memorial lights, Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins spoke about the significance of the service.

In his chaplain uniform, Rabbi Kamins said Armistice Day commemorates the more than 15 million people, military and civilian, who had been killed and also the 23 million military personnel wounded.  It was called the “Great War”, the war to end all wars.

But Rabbi Kamins said: “Except it did not.  War has continued to be waged, now in a new and unconventional manner.  Over these last 100 years more than 127 million people, many of them civilians, have been killed in wars fought around the world, particularly in the horrors of genocide as exemplified in the Shoah during what then became known as World War II.  Many events happened in the aftermath of this: the United Nations was formed, the four-part Geneva Convention promulgated, the Refugee Convention promoted.

The Great War became World War I and Armistice Day was renamed – as Veterans Day in the United States, and as Remembrance Day in Great Britain and Australia, a day to commemorate all war dead. And wars just keep coming and coming, albeit of a different and complex nature, increasingly civil wars, asymmetric wars and wars involving weapons of technology – nuclear, biological, chemical and artificial intelligence.

So on this Remembrance Day, we remember the many facets of war, especially that the war to end all wars did nothing close to that.

We remember our nation’s involvement in wars fought in this last century – from WWI and WWII to the post-war occupation of Japan, involvement in Korea, the Malayan Emergency, Indonesia and Viet Nam; and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan along with many peacekeeping missions around the world.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins

We remember the gallant service of men and women from our country in the prosecution of these wars, going to the front lines to fight for and defend the values we hold dear – among them freedom, democracy and equality.  We remember today, in particular, General Sir John Monash, widely acknowledged as one of the great Australians, an outstanding military and civilian leader as well as a great contributor to Australian life. (He was a founder of Australia’s first Rotary Club, the founding president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, one of the principal organisers of the annual observance of ANZAC Day, and involved in the opening the this Jewish War memorial.)

We remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in their military service, and we remember those who have suffered deep wounds —beyond the physical, to the emotional and psychical.  And we remember that until recently PTSD was not even discussed, deepening the scaring they and their loved ones have suffered, as families have been broken and suicides have devastated.

We remember that despite the Geneva Conventions, civilians have become the largest victims of war – children impressed into military service, women raped and enslaved.  We remember all those innocent civilians who have been killed, maimed and displaced through these wars over the last 100 years, and we remember that despite the 1951 Refugee Convention, we now witness the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

How do we respond to the plight of the refugees fleeing war and seeking asylum according to conventions we have signed? How do we respond as well to those racists and antisemites, those Amaleks who murder innocent civilians? We remember that despite our saying “never again”, genocides have not abated nor antisemitism disappeared.

We remember that after 70 years Israel still does not have secure and recognised borders. We remember that attacks on it and Jews everywhere continue.

Lieutenant General Gillespie

This day, we remember to honour those who have served and those who have suffered, and we remember our 11 brothers and sisters murdered by a modern-day Amalek at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh: David and Cecil Rosenthal, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, Irving Younger, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Melvin Wax, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, and Rose Mallinger.”

The remembrance prayer was read about the co-CEO of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim and Psalm 23 from the members of the 3rd Rose Bay Scout Group and students of Mount Sinai College.

Psalms and prayers were recited by Lesli Berger, president of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies and Charles Aronson.

Harvey Baden introduced keynote speaker was Lieutenant General Kenneth James “Ken” Gillespie who served as Vice Chief of the Defence Force from 2005 until 2008, then Chief of Army from 2008 until his retirement in June 2011.

Opening his address, Lieutenant General Gillespie said that 18 million “souls” had perished in the First World War. From Gallipoli from the 25th April 1915 and the battles until the end of the war “had a profound effect on this country”. He said that the preparations for the 100th anniversary have allowed the correction of fables and preparation of a legacy for the future.

Lieutenant General Gillespie presents the NAJEX Youth Awards

He said that his visit to Beersheva and the launch of the Mark Dapin book on Jewish military history had been personal highlights. Lieutenant General Gillespie told those present that there were 2,300 Jewish enlistees in the first force. He spoke of the Zion Mule Corps in Gallipoli and the UK Jewish Legion in Palestine and Egypt.

Having escorted many Australians through the WWI battlegrounds including Gallipoli he said: “The vast majority of visitors do not understand why the First World War occurred.” When they learned about how the assassination Arch Duke Ferdinand was not the cause of the war but what triggered it.  It was the cause of the failure of a decade treaty alliance system and the growing effect of imperialism, nationalism, militarism and the breakdown of old empires said that the younger generations now see the war and the role Australia played in it in a new light.

Turning the toe French involvement he said their military had blunted the German advance and the French experienced losses both military and civilian.

Referring to how the Australian education of WWI, everyone knows about Gallipoli but few know about the Western Front.

Peter Allen and Roger Selby

Lieutenant General Gillespie spoke about the events in the months approaching the ANZAC centenary. He said: “Their sacrifice, their ideals and their fame will continue to influence our society.

Together we remember our dead and in particular our Jewish service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. They have every reason to rest content with the obvious success of their success. We haven’t forgotten. We do remember. We have and will continue to learn from them and hopefully, we will continue to prosper. Lest we forget”

Dr Keith Shilkin made a warm tribute to the memory of Sir John Monash focussing on his civilian life following his outstanding career as arguably Australia’s finest general.

Lieutenant General Gillespie presented the NAJEX Youth Leadership Awards.

The solemn service was chaired by Roger Selby who made a presentation to Peter Allen for the work involved in organising the centenary.


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