On Armistice Day in 1923, General Sir John Monash officially opened the NSW Jewish War Memorial building, which for many decades housed the vibrant Maccabean Hall communal hub, and since 1992, the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM).
Exactly 100 years on, 240 people flocked to the museum last Sunday for the NSW Association of Jewish Service and Ex-Service Men and Women (NAJEX) 2023 Remembrance Day service, including NAJEX patron and Governor of NSW Margaret Beazley, and Monash’s great-grandson Michael Bennett.
The service included, as always, components such as the Last Post, a minute’s silence, and the lighting of candles in memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice when serving in Australia’s armed forces.
But some new ones were introduced, including a prayer for the IDF and for the hostages taken by Hamas.
During the communal wreath laying, yellow roses were mixed with red ones for the first time.
As NAJEX president Roger Selby explained, the colour yellow, now has “become symbolic of an expression of solidarity with the Israeli hostages seized by Hamas on October 7 and a call for their freedom”.
“We all need to remember them today too.”
When introducing the service, Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton said, “As we meet to commemorate wars that in some cases ended many decades ago, we have another war on our minds – the war Israel is currently fighting against Hamas.
“The commitment of Australian Jews to the Australian flag in all wars fought since federation, is both well known and beyond question.
“At the same time, almost all of us have family in Israel.
“Our Jewish values and our Australian values align exactly.”
A new temporary exhibition at the SJM tells the story of the 100-year history of the building, which Selby reflected upon by reciting Monash’s own words there on November 11, 1923.
Monash had said the memorial also had “the aim of keeping the Jewish people together, preserving the creed and perpetuating the faith”.
Keynote speaker, Major General Jeffrey Rosenfeld, read part of Monash’s letter to his wife, Vic, in March 1917, about his loathing of the horror and waste of war. Monash had written, “My only consolation has been the sense of faithfully doing my duty to my country.”
Rosenfeld said, “I feel exactly the same way, and I’m sure all those serving members and veterans do here today.
“I have been involved personally in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Battle of Fallujah, and against ISIS or Daesh, in the Battle for Mosul.
“These are merciless, cruel enemies that do not abide by the laws of armed conflict.
“Israel does, and we [Australia] do.
“We are here to remember the courage and sacrifice of those Australians, and our allies, and in particular the Jewish citizens who fought to preserve our freedom and democracy.”
Selby praised the boys and girls from Third Rose Bay Judean Scouts, and school students, for their active participation, including Masada College year 12 student Alex Silver who delivered a speech of tribute for Monash.
Selby also announced the 2023 winners of the NAJEX Youth Leadership Awards: Kian Hamburger (Emanuel School); Eliya Cohen (Kesser Torah College); Joshua Marx (Masada College); Ezra Franklin (Moriah College); and Zali Judd (Mount Sinai College).