Reconciliation Week

June 3, 2022 by Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann
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This week we are celebrating Reconciliation Week. It is a week dedicated to understanding what reconciliation is and what can be done to tackle the unfinished business of reconciling Australians with Aboriginal Australians.  

Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann with Indigenous Elders Dr Lois Peeler and David Jago both relatives of William Cooper, an Aboriginal who shortly after Kristallnacht led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German Consulate in Melbourne to deliver a petition condemning the “cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazis”.

It is not for no reason that Australia is known as the lucky country. The healthcare, opportunities for success, beautiful weather and the landscape are the stuff of envy throughout the world. However, despite these opportunities, it is no secret that Aboriginal Australians have been left behind from much of this prosperity.

Each year, Reconciliation Week is held at the end of May and the beginning of June and is a time for Aussies to learn about the history of Aboriginal persons, their culture and how each of us can contribute to a more vibrant and richer Australia.

It is not random that reconciliation week is held on these dates each year.

On the 27th of May 1967, Aboriginal Australians were recognized in the most successful referendum held in Australia’s history. This referendum saw 90% of Australians vote toward creating powers for the Government to recognise Aboriginal persons in the law and count them in the census.

A historic wrong was recognised and made way for the beginning of a new era of mutual recognition and respect.

Another important day in the calendar was the 3rd of June 1992, which was when the Australian Court decided on the Mabo decision, which successfully challenged the “terra nullius” concept that Australia was empty when it was settled by the British.

In Judaism, there is a concept of one recognising one’s wrongdoing and apologizing before one can move on and have the other party forgive them. This is known as doing “Teshuvah”-repenting for any prior transgressions.

Maimonides, the famous 12th-century Jewish scholar outlined the four most important steps in order to apologise and do Teshuvah. The first step is to acknowledge your mistake and ask for forgiveness. Without acknowledging the transgression and asking for forgiveness critical steps toward making amends have not been taken.

The second step is to express remorse. This means showing regret and deciding not to repeat the behaviour that led you to the point where you had to apologize in the first place.

The third thing is to do everything in your power to correct the transgression that took place and show the person that you have hurt that you intend to change your behaviour.

The final step in repairing prior misconduct and to choose to act differently if the same set of circumstances occurs.

When looking at these principles for forgiveness, we can see that we are still far from fully reconciling with Aboriginal Australians, which is why Reconciliation week is such a unique opportunity.

It is a time to reflect. A time to think about things that we could do differently. And a time to acknowledge the historic wrongs that lead Aboriginal persons in Australia to experience such suffering and difficulties.

As Jewish people, we are part of an ancient culture and religion, and we can appreciate the way history moulds and forms us as a people. Aboriginal Australians are no different as the most ancient traditional continuous culture in the world. During Reconciliation week we stand with them and work to right the wrongs and gain forgiveness.

Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann is the spiritual leader of Melbourne’s Ark Centre.

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