Walt joins Emanuel

June 19, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Well-known supporter of Israel and Jewish causes NSW Labor frontbencher Walt Secord has revealed to parliament that he and his wife have joined Sydney’s Emanuel Synagogue.

Walt and Julia Secord

In May, Walt Secord became a “non-voting associate” member of the Emanuel Synagogue along with his spouse, Julia Levitina who became a “full member”.

Several years ago, Emanuel Synagogue changed its constitution to allow non-Jewish spouses to join the congregation – as family members.

Canadian-born Secord who is deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel and Deputy Opposition leader in the NSW Parliament’s Legislative Council made the comments in an adjournment speech in State Parliament on June 18.

Ms Levitina, who is Jewish was born in Moscow and migrated to Australia 28 years ago. She was previously a member of the Emanuel Synagogue but lapsed in attendance after her daughter left the Emanuel School to study overseas.

Mr Secord has had a life-long connection to the Jewish community and worked for four years at the Australian Jewish News as a journalist from 1988 to 1991. In 2011, he re-established the Parliamentary Friends of Israel and became its deputy chair.

As a child, Mr Secord grew up on a First Nation reserve in southern Canada and his childhood mentor was an Auschwitz survivor.

Mr Secord and Ms Levitina have already attended two separate services – since they joined.

Mr Secord told the NSW Parliament: “I should add that I have not converted to Judaism, but with this new step, I can now attend my partner’s chosen place of worship and share this connection. This is a deeply significant moment in my life, which I reflect on here.”

“Members who know me will know that my entire life has been inter-connected with the Jewish community, both here and in Canada. They would also be aware that I grew up on the Mississauga of the Credit First Nation reserve – and my early life, as a bi-cultural and indigenous child was changed by the influence of an Orthodox Jewish man, who had survived Auschwitz. He was frum(observant) – and taught me about kashrut (Jewish dietary practices); the State of Israel; and the horrors of racism and the Shoah (the Holocaust).

“The world, he opened my eyes to was, therefore not necessarily brighter – but it was broader … and I wanted to understand it.

“Since 2012, I have visited Israel twice; Yad Vashem three times; the Palestinian Territories twice; and I have also made pilgrimage to sites all around the world commemorating the Shoah and Armenian and Iraqi Kurdish genocides.

“In Sydney, I have spoken at Bosnian and Rwandan genocide commemorations and events marking the Appin and Myall Creek Aboriginal massacres. These travels and experiences have been quite extensive, and emotional.”

Mr Secord ended his speech by referring to Shavuot and the Book of Ruth.

“Ruth – one of my favourite figures of the Tanakh the Hebrew bible– was a religious convert. As Shavuot affirms, the Hebrew Bible and Jewish people are not closed systems, but rather are potentially universal systems that welcome all who, in sincerity and faith, pledge their fate with that of the Jewish people. And as Ruth declared to Naomi in her memorable words: `Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God’.”

He added: “These words strike me with great poignancy as I reflect on my journey from a bi-cultural and indigenous child in rural Canada hearing about the Shoah to a spouse more than 40 years later attending synagogue in Sydney’s east. Perhaps these are great coincidences.  Perhaps the journey was inevitable.”

(Mr Secord is also Shadow Health Minister, Shadow Mental Health Minister, Shadow Minister for Medical Research, Shadow Minister for the North Coast and Shadow Minister for the Arts – as well as Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel and the deputy chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Armenia. He became a State Member of Parliament in 2011 and had previously served as chief of staff to Premier Kristina Keneally and Director of Communications to then-Federal Opposition leader Kevin Rudd.)

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