Australian Jews stand strong

Across the country Jewish Australians have stood defiant, declaring we won't be cowed by rising antisemitism or anti-Israel demonstrations.

Photo: Peter Haskin/The Australian Jewish News
Photo: Peter Haskin/The Australian Jewish News

As the days since October 7 have passed, and we continue to come to terms with war and the ever-evolving details of the horror inflicted on slaughtered and kidnapped Israelis; we also grapple with the world that remains.

A world where angry rioters storm an airport terminal in Russia’s Dagestan, hunting for Jews.

Where the walls of Jewish businesses in France are daubed with the Magen David.

Where Jews are bashed on the streets of Chicago.

Where an ancient synagogue is burnt to ashy rubble in Tunisia.

Where chants of “Gas the Jews” echo before our national treasure, the Sydney Opera House.

Where every antisemite – and every ignorant person who has unwittingly succumbed to the narratives peddled by the Hamas PR propaganda powerhouse – is a keyboard warrior, emboldened to express their hate in shareable sound bites.

It’s a world in which we grapple with the silence of many “friends”, professional colleagues, fellow students, or peers in social justice spheres and movements in which we have dedicated our passionate voices – or have even led.

A world where Jewish lives are also valued, but …

It’s a world where #NeverAgain is happening again – right now.

Yet, across the country Jewish Australians have stood defiant, declaring we won’t be cowed by rising antisemitism or anti-Israel demonstrations. Jewish Australians are reclaiming the streets and public spaces in their cities to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people.

In Caulfield Park, over 400 people gathered on Sunday in solidarity with Israel and with one demand: Bring Them Home Now. The show of support was the fifth gathering since the war began.

Hamerkaz’s Rabbi Motty Liberow spoke at the event.

“I saw the tears and felt the spirit of unity, strength and feeling proud and tall. With God’s help, together we will prevail,” he told The AJN.

Director of Zionism Victoria’s Habayit Hallely Kimchi reflected, “[The rally] was very inspiring. And the only thing that will enable us to get through is [time] because we know, we’re not out of it yet.”

Caulfield MP and Victorian Deputy Liberal Leader David Southwick commented on the peaceful tone and calls for the release of all civilian hostages – “above the incitement and antisemitism seen at protests in Melbourne’s CBD”.

“Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live without violence – and the only way that can ever happen is by standing together against Hamas and ending their tyrannical rule in Gaza.”

A group of 30 women replicated a poignant demonstration at the rally, first enacted on the steps of Parliament House on Friday, drawing attention to the Israeli babies and children kidnapped by Hamas. Draped in an Israeli flag, every woman was accompanied by a empty stroller; each holding a poster depicting the face and name of a kidnapped child. The powerful display went viral on social media, across the world.

Further underscoring the imperative of releasing the young hostages, three Melbourne mothers – Kate Lewis, Jess Clark and photographer Cara Mand – created and captured an installation of 20 empty beds, each marked with the name of a kidnapped child and a small pair of shoes. “Our hope is that these children find safety and comfort once again in their own beds, tucked in and kissed goodnight by their loved ones,” said Clark.

Grassroots initiative United with Israel Australia NZ joined forces with OZ Team Aid Relief to send shipments of goods to Israel. Their next delivery consists of 800 boxes of clothes, school supplies for children, and nursing products for mothers.

Co-organiser Anat Dror told The AJN, “Many evacuees fled only with the clothes they were wearing. We are proud to be able to use our shock and devastation and turn it into positive action.” She urged those who wish to help to follow the United with Israel Australia NZ Facebook page.

Additionally, a plethora of Whatsapp groups have sprung into action; organising teams to plaster “kidnapped” posters across Melbourne, and coordinate efforts.

As The AJN went to press on Wednesday, a balloon display took place at Federation Square where Palestinian flags had flown last Friday, while plans were well underway for the Shabbat Project’s “Keeping it Together for Israel”; a communal celebration to be held at 5pm on Friday.

Over 4,000 members of the Sydney Jewish community – many clad in blue and white – gathered at Martin Place on Sunday morning to demand the release of the Israeli hostages in Gaza, before marching peacefully with flags and posters to First Fleet Park at Circular Quay. There, they sang songs of peace against the backdrop of the Opera House, where three weeks earlier, a mob had chanted “Kill the Jews”. The march was organised by a group of passionate Israelis without any assistance from the organised Jewish community.

Photo: Gareth Narunsky/The Australian Jewish News

“The reason we are doing it in the city is to give back the confidence to the Jewish community in Australia and in Sydney,” organiser Avi Efrat told the crowd.

“We are not going to be scared. We’ve come here to say what we have to say,” he declared to loud applause.

Anglican pastor Mark Leach, who waved an Israeli flag at the pro-Palestinian rally on October 9 that preceded the heinous Opera House scenes, told the friendlier crowd on Sunday, “Never again is mobilising the Australian community to say in our country, there is no place for antisemitism … No place for fear … No place for hatred.”

With less than 48 hours’ notice on Monday afternoon, more than 225 people congregated in Dudley Page Reserve in Dover Heights to lend their voices to a worldwide singing mash-up by global initiative Koolulam, raising awareness of the Bring Them Home Now campaign.

“The recording will be combined in a global musical video, to be released by mid-November, that will inspire harmony in all humanity and show the world we hold the hostages in our hearts,” a spokesperson for the group said.

On Friday, a moving installation of shoes and balloons representing those who were kidnapped by Hamas was set in Double Bay.

“We wanted to do something – to take some real action – and to tell the world,” Vivianne Toltsan, who helped to organise the display, told those present.

The same evening, a crowd of almost 1,000 gathered in Centennial Park for a pre-Shabbat service to pray for the return of the hostages.

In Brisbane, the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies (QJBD) set up a Shabbat table installation with 220 empty chairs in King George Square last Friday morning; and in Byron Bay, a demonstration for the Israeli hostages was also held last weekend.

In an address to Diaspora Jewry on Wednesday morning, Knesset member Benny Gantz stressed, “Like every Jewish generation, we find ourselves once again weeping for the murder of Jewish children. Entire families turned to dust at the hands of Hamas.

“But like every Jewish generation, we will outlive this evil.

“As we fight back, we will not apologise for wanting security. We will not bow down to terror … We will continue dreaming of peace, but we swear to deliver on our promise. The eternal safe, powerful, one and only Jewish state is here to stay.

“The nation of Israel lives. Forever.”

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