IN 2016, I had the extraordinary opportunity to lead a United Israel Appeal (UIA) mission to Israel. There, I attended a sensational evening honouring four UIA stalwarts from around the world with the prestigious Keren Hayesod Yakir awards.
They were presented by Israel’s former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.
Rabbi Lau was the youngest survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camps. During the dinner, I told him that my grandfather Mendel Glick (founder of Glick’s Cakes and Bagels) was also a survivor of Buchenwald. He asked me about the other survivors in Melbourne, and spoke incredibly movingly about his shattered childhood during and after the Holocaust, and his aliyah to Haifa as one of 5000 refugees permitted entry under the British Mandate.
Rabbi Lau is a truly inspirational Jew and a brilliant orator who moved the audience to tears. It was an absolute honour and privilege to have spent time with one of the most remarkable Jewish leaders in our times.
I then met Brigadier General Gal Hirsch – a legend among our people. As a former commander of the Galilee Division, Hirsch stood with us at the Syrian border and shared his remarkable story:
On the day of his bar mitzvah, he and his family climbed Masada to celebrate at the synagogue there, but just as his family arrived on the mountain, they were met by IDF soldiers who had the heavy duty of informing them that Hirsch’s cousin had been killed in action. Following the shiva (seven days of mourning), Hirsch committed then and there to serve our beloved country Israel at all costs.
Among other roles, Hirsch commanded Paratroopers Brigade 202 as well as Shaldag – the Air Force’s elite commando unit. He also served as commander of the Binyamin region and as the chief of the IDF’s officers’ school, Bahad 1.
After sustaining horrific injuries, he was rehabilitated to the point that he could move his trigger finger again. He took that as a sign he was still needed, and he continued his service to the IDF after his recovery. He was called on multiple times by successive Israeli prime ministers to lead elite force missions and he responded with alacrity to all such calls. His resilience, perseverance, strength of character and undying love for Israel is an inspiration to us all!
Then, at the Ayelet Hashachar absorption centre we heard a firsthand account from one of the 8000 Ethiopian olim who came to Israel among the first group during Operation Moses, saving them from terrible persecution they had experienced. She told of her harrowing story of travelling on foot through the Sudan desert to reach the planes. Many died on the way due to dehydration and exhaustion.
When they finally arrived in Israel, they faced the stark realisation that their language, traditions, religious practices and total ignorance of modern society made it almost impossible to successfully integrate in Israel. Keren Hayesod addressed this problem by funding absorption centres across Israel to support and educate these new olim and provide what they need to not only live in Israel, but to thrive here.
As I played with the children at the absorption centre, I saw firsthand the enormous benefit these children received. Learning about Torah and yahadut, Israeli culture and of course the Hebrew language, gave these precious Jewish children the start in life that so many of us in Australia take for granted.
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