'Let’s embrace who we are'

Showing Off Jewish Values

But are we comfortable to teach our children that Jews just look after Jews?

The Australians United Against Antisemitism rally. Photo: SB Creatives Photography
The Australians United Against Antisemitism rally. Photo: SB Creatives Photography

Us Jews like to stick together. We take care of each other, and we have so much in common. Challah, chicken soup, switching tables in restaurants, complaining about hotel rooms. And most importantly, Israel.

And right now Israel needs more support than ever, physically, vocally, spiritually and of course financially, as she fights for her survival. But there is a trap here. And critics are baiting us to fall into it. And that is that we see ourselves only as members of the Jewish community, not as members of the human race. That we are only Jews, not Australians. That we only look after our own. The danger of  looking exclusively inward, of falling into that ghetto mentality that we find so comfortable, is that we open ourselves to criticism. We become who critics say we are. And more importantly we aren’t being the best of what it is to be Jewish. The Jewish community of Australia is big hearted, caring and generous. We are significant supporters of the arts, of medical research, of those less privileged than ourselves. After all,this is a country which gave so many holocaust survivors and their children the chance to have great lives.

But are we comfortable to teach our children that Jews just look after Jews?

Or should we demonstrate to our children and the wider community that Jews care about all people, about all worthwhile causes,about all injustices? Shouldn’t we demonstrate by actions that we are so much better than those who seek to undermine us. Or do we play into their narrative? Right now us Jews are under threat from a world which has turned on us, more than we have seen in our lifetimes. And we need to look after each other and  Israel more than ever.But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where so many people are disadvantaged. Where governments let people down.As a community we are big hearted enough and we have the resources to look after both Israel and others in need here in Australia. Now, I’m not saying that we should support those who criticize us or Israel’s right to defend herself. We absolutely should not. But let’s not become the people who our enemies wrongly accuse us of being. Let’s show the world that we are a caring decent people. Because we are. And if we don’t and we retreat to thinking only of our community, as though we live in some alternate universe where the non-Jewish world doesn’t really exist,aren’t we nourishing the narrative of those who criticise us.

After all, it is so very Jewish to care about other people. Jewish values like Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness, compassion , empathy and generosity towards others) and Tikun Olam (repairing the world and working towards social justice and equity) and are in our DNA. I know what you’re thinking. How does a guy who went to Melbourne High and only occasionally goes to Schule know this? It’s because I’m fortunate enough to have contact with amazing educators like Dan (Samo) Samowitz and Speedy Shatari who devote their lives to teaching these beautiful Jewish values.
So I say let’s embrace who we are. Let’s be shining examples of what it means to be a strong Jew in a damaged world. We can and must support Israel, and we can and must support our Jewish community, but we shouldn’t forget those outside our community who need help. We are big and strong enough to do it all and we should,not just because doing so will be a source of pride to our own community, but because it’s right.

Henry Kalus is a Senior Partner of Kalus Kenny Intelex lawyers and a Member of the Board of Stand Up, Jewish Commitment to a Better World.

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