August 26, 2007
New Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem, addresses the ZFA’s 80th-anniversary
celebrations in Sydney on Sunday. Photo: Ingrid Shakenovsky
THE Zionist establishment in Australia remains as relevant today as it did at its inception 80 years ago, newly-installed Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem told celebrations for the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) last week.
“The Zionist Federation is so very special because it remains, after 80 years of many accomplishments, an integral and resilient element in the fabric that holds together Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
“Maintaining the link between us and you, between Israel and the Diaspora, is the most fundamental, critical issue to sustaining us.”
In his first public Jewish community appearance since presenting his credentials to Governor-General Michael Jeffery in Canberra, Rotem told more than 100 dignitaries and communal leaders at Sydney’s Moriah College his new-look embassy would be an inclusive arm of Australian Jewish and Zionist life.
Among those who welcomed the new envoy was NSW shadow minister for infrastructure and energy Peter Debnam.
“Australians will embrace him very quickly,” Debnam said.
Debnam, the member for Vaucluse, also praised the work of the ZFA.
“The wonderful contributions of so many people who do so much good work. I applaud their community spirit and ongoing energy.”
Earlier in the day, the ZFA held its 80th-anniversary plenary, addressing topics including current Zionist challenges.
Keynote speaker Hagai Meirom, treasurer of the World Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency, told the AJN Zionism is constantly evolving, resulting in numerous challenges.
“We found out that although when we say Zionism, we mean the State of Israel ... we don’t grow real Zionists in the State of Israel and also here we have to work very hard with the young generation to educate them about Zionism.”
Meirom, a former Labour member of Knesset, said there is an evolving debate in Israel and the Diaspora about the role of Zionism in the year 2007 and a need for Zionists all over the world to revitalise themselves and focus on new, relevant projects.
During his visit, Meirom visited several Jewish schools, as well as the Board of Jewish Education in Sydney.
“I have visited many Jewish communities, and I don’t believe I have seen such great schools anywhere in the world.”
But Meirom said the main purpose of his visit was to thank the community for its fundraising efforts, particularly after the Second Lebanon War last year.
“We came to thank them for the big efforts that they are doing to raise money for the State of Israel and also above and beyond for the $5 million extra raised for the emergency campaign.”
ZFA president Philip Chester praised the involvement of “large groups of activists, especially young people, suggesting new activities and helping us energise and focus to do even better than we are doing today”.
Another key issue discussed at the plenary was the “black hole” that swallows 20-30 year olds in the Jewish community, after they end their tertiary studies but before they reconnect with Zionism through the Jewish school system or other organisations.
ZFA honorary treasurer Greg Blashki said: “There is an enormous opportunity to focus on kids through the youth movements and the Jewish schools, and sometimes with AUJS [the Australasian Union of Jewish Students], but the challenge is to keep them involved once they come back from the Israel programs.”
Although Hagshama already tries to attract this age group, the ZFA is aware that more needs to be done to better utilise their enthusiasm.
Guests at the concluding function included the ZFA’s immediate past president, Dr Ron Weiser, who praised the organisation for introducing Hebrew and Israel programs into the schools and providing ongoing training for Jewish educators.
The evening concluded with a tribute to longstanding Queensland community worker John Lipski, who recently retired.