No worries mate!…declares Michael Kuttner

February 10, 2014 by Michael Kuttner
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A short two week visit to Melbourne to attend a family Simcha provided me with the opportunity to meet locals, observe life in part of the “lucky country” and make some observations.

Michael Kuttner

Michael Kuttner

As I have noted on previous sojourns in Melbourne, the Jewish presence there, at least in the clearly defined areas where they are concentrated, is visible and seemingly vibrant. The proliferation of kosher establishments is impressive, the number of synagogues one can attend (or be broigused with) is amazing and the diversity of cultural events on offer all make for a community which has integrated well into the Australian lifestyle. Whether this sense of”no worries, mate”, holds a promise of future continuity or sows the seeds of possible assimilation along the American model, only time will tell.

Obviously a fleeting visit does not make one an expert but certain aspects come to mind which I would like to share.

Dominating the news while we were in Australia was the subject of the boat people who are arriving in rickety boats seeking asylum and a better life. The whole question of whether they are illegal infiltrators or genuine political refugees is of course the same conundrum facing Israel at present. The boat people are now being turned back or if that is not possible they are being interned in camps while their fate is determined. Some are being sent to Nauru and accusations of violence & mistreatment are made on a regular basis. Human rights groups accuse the Government of inhumanity in the face of a tragic situation and Australia has been lightly slapped over the wrists by UN groups while at the same time Indonesia has severe problems with the actions of the Australian Government.

Israel’s completion of the border barrier has almost stopped the influx of African illegal migrants but the question of what to do with those who are already here is still an unsolved matter. Like Australia, Israel is trying to repatriate them to a third country, detaining them in a secure facility and determining which are genuine political asylum seekers and which are merely trying to flee from poverty and see Israel as a place where the streets are paved with gold. Meantime the lives of the residents of South Tel Aviv where the majority of Africans squat has been made a misery, crime is rampant and some areas are now a virtual war zone. It is obvious that both countries must tackle this problem in a sensitive and humane manner. Italy and other European nations also face an avalanche of illegal infiltrators and thus it has become an international challenge. Israel, as expected, is picked out by the international community for special attention and thus we see yet again how hypocrisy and double standards prevail.

Australia has become much more multi cultural in recent years and the Asian influence is now very noticeable. This enrichment of Aussie society is great although we found it somewhat frustrating when corner dairy shop workers did not understand English and their attempts to answer questions resulted in a garbled mangling of the language. On the other hand we know from first hand experience how hard it is to converse in a strange tongue. Israel’s population comprises people from all over the world and language difficulties are one of the hardest obstacles to overcome, especially for those of us who are classified as “older” or senior citizens.

Another familiar aspect of life is the weather. Extreme heat in the summer with its attendant problems of water shortages and bush fires seem to be more common than ever. For us the contrast between post record snow falls and freezing temperatures in Israel and then facing 40 degree temperatures could not have been more drastic. Israel is slowly but surely overcoming the water shortage situation through the application of modern methods of desalination, irrigation and recycling and it would be ironic if in the near future we had enough water while Australia was still struggling to solve this problem.

During our entire stay in Melbourne, Israel was not mentioned once in the general media which I suppose from one point of view is a good thing. On the other hand it reinforced my long held belief that in the absence of terror, conflict, mayhem, crisis and scandal, the media has no interest in portraying positive news about the Jewish State. My discussions with members of the Jewish Community made me wonder how many actually availed themselves of the opportunity to obtain news and facts about Israel from other sources. It would be interesting to know what percentage of Jews (affiliated and unaffiliated with any Jewish group) read the Jewish News or J-Wire. Given that Australian Jews are usually portrayed as very “involved” what percentage of identified Jews actually actively support Israel connected campaigns, financial and/or pro actively.

In other words, is the task of countering anti Israel lies left to the relatively small core of informed and well heeled machers plus idealistic youth while the bulk of Jews are content to enjoy the good Australian life and remain oblivious to the rapidly creeping delegitimisation now engulfing Europe?

Even a small and seemingly insignificant example can be telling. I was taught that we should pray for the welfare of the country we live in and therefore every Shabbat and Chag the Synagogues I attended in New Zealand recited the Prayer for the Monarch and NZ Government as well as the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel and the IDF. In Israel, every Synagogue except those in the Chareidi sector, recite the prayer for the State of Israel and the IDF as well as in many places a prayer for soldiers missing in action .Imagine my surprise therefore that for the two Shabbatot I was in Melbourne the Synagogue I attended omitted these prayers. The explanation I was given was that at the end of the service the Rabbi recites a psalm which ostensibly amounts to the same thing. However this psalm does not mention the modern State of Israel and its break neck recitation in about 40 seconds while the rest of the congregation are packing up and getting ready to rush to the Kiddush is not a substitute. I am not sure how common this is but the fact that congregants, 95% of whom could be described as middle of the road non fundamentalist Jews, have accepted this situation is worrying.

Australia is a wonderful country and Jews could not have found a more welcoming environment in which to live, educate their children and generally have a worry free time. The current Government has restored a warm and more balanced attitude towards the Jewish State and the expression, “no worries, mate” would seem to sum up the situation in a nutshell.

The bottom line I guess is whether this will remain a permanent feature of Jewish life down under or whether it will breed complacency. Time will tell and one can only hope that the lessons of our experiences in similar situations in the past are signposts for the future.

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel where he is J-Wire’s correspondent.   


One Response to “No worries mate!…declares Michael Kuttner”
  1. Brian Wiener says:

    Michael…clearly you attended the wrong synagogues.
    the point you make is correct- but your conclusions are flawed.

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