Ze’ev Bashan: 1951-2021

March 5, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Ze’ev Bashan, a former President of the JNF in Australia has passed away in Israel.

Ze’ev Bashan

Sydney was his home but he was a regular visitor to Israel and was unable to return to Australia because of COVID.

Alan Slade is also a former president of the JNF. He told J-Wire: “Ze’ev Bashan made a significant impression on everyone with whom he came in contact. His substantial contribution to JNF in NSW is significant and, I believe, generally unrecognised and unacknowledged. Ze’ev was the instigator of Green Sunday and the driving force behind many other projects and initiatives. He was a rare sabra, in that, as an expatriate Israeli, he actively participated in Australian Zionist activities. We mourn his passing although he will live forever in the hearts and memories of all of us who knew, loved and valued him.

Shalom Norman was the JNF shaliach to Sydney during Ze’ev’s involvement in the organisation.

He delivered the eulogy at Ze’ev Bashan’s funeral in Hebrew. The following is the English translation:

“For the past two decades, Ze’ev was an almost inseparable part of my life. We first met in August 2002, at a meeting of the JNF board of management in the old building on Oxford Street in Bondi Junction. It was my first day as a JNF Emissary (Shaliach) to Sydney. After an orderly committee meeting according to the local protocol, Ze’ev, who was one of the JNF NSW vice presidents at the time, whispered in my ear – “Let’s talk ‘mama loshen,’ Israeli style……”  And so, that evening, the first of my six and half years working as an Emissary in Australia, ended with an IDF-style briefing in a Chinese restaurant at the top of Oxford Street, that included an overview of the community and all its factors, as well as a who’s who of  Sydney’s Jewish community.

Ze’ev had high respect for the community in Sydney, but in all the years that I knew him, he remained an outsider in his public activities. Fundraising at that time generally targeted primarily the wealthy and prosperous members of the community, but Ze’ev in the spirit of the popular Blue Box culture, cared about the “ordinary people,” and he treated community members with modest means exactly the same way as he treated the greatest of the philanthropists. Bashan was always sensitive to include all community members in all communal activities and initiatives, no matter their financial circumstances, and he considered people’s connection to Israel and the Zionist vision as the ultimate goal. In the 1990’s Ze’ev pioneered the idea of Green Sundays in Sydney – a popular fundraiser that was operated by volunteers who reached out by phone to thousands of Jewish families in the community to raise funds for environmental and forestry projects in Israel. For Ze’ev, this connection and the sense that all members of the community were able to share in active Zionist enterprise, were the heart of the matter and he invested all his efforts to reach each and every household in the Jewish community no matter their social or financial status.

Ze’ev took on the important role of the community’s liaison with the Israeli delegation to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He was very proud of this role and the fact that it allowed him to march with the Israeli delegation and behind the Israeli flag at the opening ceremony of the Games. He also initiated a memorial for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics constructed on the grounds of Moriah School.

In 2003, Ze’ev was elected President of JNF in New South Wales. As head of the organization he was at the forefront of several challenges with local community organizations and he conceived of and managed major community events on an unprecedented scale with world-renowned speakers such as former US Vice President Al Gore, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, and others. At these events, considerable funds were raised to promote large-scale projects in Israel including the construction of the amphitheatre at the Intelligence Corps Heritage Center in Glilot; reservoirs in Tifrah and Nevatim and purification plants in Shomeriya, Hatzerim, and Sde Teiman. By creating much-needed infrastructure and water resources, these projects had an important impact on the settlements of the northern Negev. During his visits to Israel, Ze’ev frequently visited these sites, was involved in reviewing the plans and personally knew every one of the people involved with the project, from the decision makers, planners, the engineers and through to the last of the local farmers.

This year marks 25 years since the first KKL-JNF Emissary was sent to Australia and I would not be mistaken if I say that it is impossible to contemplate the great achievements of these Emissaries without mentioning Ze’ev. The Bashan’s – Ze’ev and his wife Dinah – opened their home to the Emissaries (and usually to any related guest from Israel who was visiting the community). Even in the last few years, when his strength waned due to health reasons, he continued to be the first port-of-call for any matter or request that had something to do with Israel. He supported and vigorously promoted the Tzofim (Scouts) in Sydney, and opened his heart and home to the youth movement’s Emissary from Israel.

For Ze’ev, there was no dividing line between his public activity and the circle of his friends. They were always connected. Ze’ev was a creative man of action – an outstanding professional who also knew how to roll up his sleeves and stack chairs and clean up after an event. In everything he did, he always added his wry sense of humour with a saucy smile and wink, but above it all, it was impossible not to feel his warmth, compassion, and generosity and his deep commitment and loyalty to his friends and to his ties to Israel.

Even in his final days in ICU when his voice was strained and hoarse, he had a long conversation with me about the future of KKL-JNF as an organization in Israel, the upcoming elections in Israel, and his next visit to Israel’s periphery when he would recover.

According to Jewish tradition, it is a “great mitzvah” to praise a person after his death, but such praise should not be excessive, to prevent the soul in heaven from suffering if it hears undeserving praise. In Ze’ev’s case,  the word excessive does not apply – it did not apply in his life, nor does it apply now as we speak of him and his deeds.

We cannot shake off the feeling that his passing was premature. I know that my world and the world of many who knew him and who were touched by his work, has become a bit smaller without Ze’ev’s presence.

Today, as we say goodbye to Ze’ev, we stand here with you, Dinah, Tal, Michelle, Yoni, and Ronit, who were also full partners in all the chapters of Ze’ev‘s public life. It was a great privilege to have known him, to have worked with him and to be counted as his friend. “

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