In November 2023, Jewish Care will celebrate its 175th anniversary, continuing to help individuals and families in the Victorian Jewish community receive the support they need to meet their challenges.
Holocaust survivors Avram and Masha Zeleznikow and their young son John who arrived in Melbourne as refugees in 1951 were one such family.
Both parents were university students before coming to Australia. Avram studied Yiddish and Masha was halfway through a medical degree. In 1953 John contracted polio and subsequently spent the following three years in hospital. His sister was born in Australia about six years later. Avram worked as a labourer, while Masha looked after the children.
In 1958 Avram’s wage was barely meeting the needs of the Zeleznikow family. With a loan from the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society (the precursor of Jewish Care) the family took over the lease of a milk bar in Acland Street St Kilda reopening it as Café Scheherezade. The family lived behind the café.
“It was fairly small and cramped with two children and two adults,” John Zeleznikow recalled.
The café became a magnet for other refugees.
“The eastern European, central European community came to our restaurant,” Zeleznikow said.
“They were middle-aged traumatised men, mostly single, probably living in a boarding house. They wanted somewhere to go where they could meet up with people who spoke their language and talk about what interested them.”
Café Scheherezade became the centre of Jewish life in St Kilda and a refuge for new migrants who frequented the café for great coffee, traditional Jewish food and community connections. It was viewed as an extension of the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society and Montefiore Homes.
Residents of aged care homes Pras Court, Rose Court and Montefiore would have coffee there almost every day free of charge, hold discussions and read newspapers.
Zeleznikow’s parents had a history of community activity in Poland before the war and he has been volunteering with Jewish Care for more than 50 years. He was elected to the Australian Jewish Welfare & Relief Society Board in 1973 at the age of 23; at the time he was the youngest person on the board and has served on several board committees.
His father Avram made significant contributions to Jewish Care. He joined the Executive of the Jewish Welfare and Relief Society in 1969 and held numerous roles including honorary secretary, co-treasurer, vice-president and president from 1990-1992.
Masha founded the Tuesday Club which ran for 30 years. She met Russian doctor immigrants at the airport, organised accommodation and supported them to get medical qualifications to practise in Australia.
An avid athlete, Zeleznikow has completed a staggering 200 marathons since 1971 raising thousands of dollars for Jewish Care in the process. He told The AJN: “I remember Ron Clarke and I wanted to run like him, but I was never anywhere near as good as him.”
Zeleznikow is a professor of technology and law, specialising in artificial intelligence and dispute resolution. He also supervises research at La Trobe University.