Looking back at the year that was

'5783 has been peppered with milestones'

From left: Nicole Meyer, Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich leave the Victorian County Court last Thursday after Malka Leifer was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
From left: Nicole Meyer, Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich leave the Victorian County Court last Thursday after Malka Leifer was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Our community is relentlessly forward looking. This persistent planning ahead has no doubt stood us in good stead when we have faced existential challenges. But sometimes, we need to take a breath and reflect on how far we have come, before again setting off.

Luckily, our Jewish calendar builds in a few reflection points. While Rosh Hashanah is usually a time for personal introspection, we should also take a moment for community introspection.

From my vantage point, I can see that the Jewish year 5783 (2022-23) has been peppered with milestones for our Jewish community. While looking back, our community leaders, including at the JCCV, continue to plan for an even more successful year ahead.

No doubt, the most consequential local milestone was the sentencing of former Adass Israel School principal Malka Leifer. Over the 15 years since the horrific allegations came to light, community leaders, politicians, lawyers, police, and most importantly Dassi, Nicole and Elly, have fought to bring Leifer to justice. Finally, in 5783, it happened: Leifer was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Our own sense of relief cannot compare to that which Dassi, Nicole and Elly must now feel.

The prize for biggest emotional rollercoaster of 5783 must go to Israel at 75.

Seventy-five years of a sovereign Jewish state in our biblical homeland should not be underestimated, especially in light of the challenges faced. And our community celebrated with gusto at home. We also travelled to Israel in enormous numbers in school groups, with youth movements, on family visits and on missions with business leaders, political leaders and other influencers. No one came back disappointed: Israel is as vibrant, colourful and laden with spirituality as ever.

But we cannot reflect on 5783 without also acknowledging that the rollercoaster plummeted to almost subterranean levels. The domestic political situation in Israel has been dire, not just in the Knesset but on the security front. On average, one Israeli has been killed in a terrorist attack each week of 2023. Each victim should be remembered, and each attack condemned in the strongest terms, but there are two that stand out. The first was the January gunning down of seven worshippers at a Jerusalem shule; the second was the drive-by shooting of Lucy Dee and her daughters Rina and Maia in April. At the top of our list of prayers for 5784 needs to be peace in Israel and an end to the killing.

Turning our attention back home, over the past Jewish year, both Victoria and New South Wales have held state elections. In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews was re-elected, reiterating his support for our community with funding commitments to bolster security at Jewish facilities, support the Jewish Arts Quarter precinct, combat antisemitism and continue a popular Chanukah festival in the city. Andrews also emphasised his staunch support for Israel, putting him at odds with an increasing number of his ALP colleagues.

In NSW, the community ushered in a Labor government led by Chris Minns, who has promised to boost community security, enhance Holocaust education and fund an expansion of the Sydney Jewish Museum. This year showed the depth of engagement we have with both governments and oppositions, and the support that political leaders show for their Jewish constituents.

This reflection would not be complete without a look back at the most influential Jewish figures of 5783.

Dassi, Nicole and Elly are a shoo-in for a nomination. Their courage, persistence and fortitude is an example to us all.

But Julian Leeser MP also deserves a nomination. It takes hard work and perseverance to be appointed to the frontbench, but less than a year after becoming Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Julian resigned from both positions because of his personal belief in the importance of a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum.

Whether you agree with his political stance or not, Julian’s conviction is admirable. He said, “I’m resigning without rancour, but on a point of principle … what I want to be able to say to my children in the future is that your father stood up for something that he believes in.”

The final nominations would have to be AFL Rising Star winner Harry Sheezel and World Champion silver medallist Jemima Montag. Our Jewish community has had success in so many fields, and Jemima and Harry are excellent role models at the top of their respective games.

Finally, Jewish dinner-party story of the year must surely go to Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Invited to represent the Jewish community at King Charles’ coronation, Rabbi Mirvis observed all the rules of Shabbat at St James’ Palace before walking to Westminster Abbey.

“My wife and I had been wondering, was this the very first time that Shabbat candles were being lit within such a regal context and surroundings?” Rabbi Mirvis pondered afterwards.

Naomi Levin is the chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV).

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