Mark Baker remembered as ‘one of Australia’s leading Jewish public intellectuals’
Tributes are flowing for well-known academic, Holocaust historian, award-winning author, social justice advocate, Mark Baker, who passed away yesterday, aged 63
Tributes are flowing for well-known academic, Holocaust historian, award-winning author, social justice advocate, Mark Baker, who passed away yesterday, aged 63, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
His funeral service was held at 11am today, in St Kilda.
A proud grandfather, father of four, and husband, Baker was director of the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC) at Monash University from 2008 to 2018, and worked at the university since 2002 as an Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, and Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
In a Facebook post this morning, the ACJC described Baker as playing “a pivotal role in turning the ACJC into Australia’s leading centre for Jewish intellectual life”, also pioneering study tours to Israel, Africa and Europe that had “a transformative impact on hundreds of students”.
“Mark was one of Australia’s leading Jewish public intellectuals, often serving as a commentator for major Australian news outlets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, antisemitism and the Holocaust.
“His vision and charisma left a deep impact on Monash University, and on Melbourne’s Jewish community. He will be greatly missed . . . our thoughts are with his family in this very sad time.”
Baker was in the process of finishing another book, when he died.
His most well-known books are two memoirs, The Fiftieth Gate: A Journey Through Memory, and Thirty Days: A Journey to the End of Love.
The former, first published in 1997, delves deeply into his parents’ memories and experiences as Holocaust survivors, and their journeys from Poland and Germany, to Jerusalem and Melbourne.
The latter, published in 2017, is a moving memoir of his first wife, Kerryn, who died aged 55, 10 months after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Other organisations Baker was involved in included Stand Up (as founder of Keshet, which became Stand Up), Shira Hadasha shule in Melbourne (which he founded, and was president of from 2006 to 2016), and New Israel Fund (NIF) Australia (joining its advisory board in 2016).
In a Facebook post this morning, NIF Australia expressed its devastation about Baker’s passing, and described him as being, “larger than life, as a passionate advocate for a progressive Israel, and [he] nurtured a strong cultural Jewish life in Australia”.
“He has had an immense impact on our work, including being part of our Advisory Council since its foundation in 2013, a member of NIF’s International Council, speaking at several of our events, and [as] a vocal leader of NIF’s values.
“Our condolences go to Mark’s family, friends and loved ones. His loss will be deeply felt.”
Rabbi Ralph Genende said Baker “wasn’t just a historian and writer, he was a macher and a maven”.
He cared passionately about his Jewish community and its politics, and his Judaism really mattered to him.”
Baker is survived by his wife Michelle, four children, and three grandchildren.