'I will never forget their kindness'

Stories of support in these dark times

So many of us have received supportive messages from people who want us to know that we are not alone – that we have friends in the Australian community.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Rabbi Yaakov Glasman outside St Kilda Shule.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Rabbi Yaakov Glasman outside St Kilda Shule. 

The Jewish community is feeling vulnerable.

I hear stories of young members of our congregation experiencing intimidation in universities because they don’t subscribe to a particular worldview. I hear stories of members of our congregation involved in the arts, whether through their creative skills or through their philanthropy, who feel intimidated simply because of who they are or what they believe.

I heard firsthand the story of Maggie and Josh, a young Jewish couple who were forced to close their 10-year-old small business in Thornbury because they were made to feel so unwelcome by the locals who hold strong political views. These are the stories that have punctuated our lives for the past six months.

But there are good stories too. So many of us have received supportive messages from people who want us to know that we are not alone – that we have friends in the Australian community who view as abhorrent the wholesale character assassination of so many Jews in Australia because of the conflict in Gaza and Hamas’s disgracefully anti-Jewish propaganda. I have over the months received dozens of heartwarming text messages from people of all walks of life, offering their support and a shoulder to lean on.

And these good stories are coming not only from a grassroots level but also from people with influence and large platforms, from social influencer Nate Buzz to social commentator Douglas Murray, from US Congressman Ritchie Torres to US talkshow host Dr Phil.

And of course, we, in Australia, look to our leaders and listen to their voices. We listen out for the voices that echo resonantly through the corridors of power. We hear many different voices, but through the passage of time there have emerged voices that stand out. Voices that are consistent. Voices that do not oscillate. And most importantly, voices that are informed not by politics but by principles, not by ratings but by reason, not by votes but by values.

A voice worth listening to is one based on truth. In Hebrew, the word for truth is “emet”, consisting of three Hebrew letters – aleph, mem and tav. Fascinatingly (and perhaps providentially) aleph is the very first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, mem is the very middle letter and tav is the very last letter. The reason for this is because emet, or truth, must be consistent from beginning to middle to end. A voice that waxes and wanes because of the zeitgeist of a particular moment in time is not a voice of truth. Truth must be based on a moral clarity that understands the difference between good and evil.

Last week I attended in Burwood, Victoria a meeting of Christian pastors whose purpose was to comfort and stand with the Jewish community to call out and push back against Un-Australian antisemitism. Many Christians are showing their love and support by speaking up with moral clarity to stand on Judeo-Christian values and keep our neighbourhoods safe for all.

It was incredibly uplifting to have been surrounded by like-minded Australians whose religious beliefs inspire peace, unity and togetherness rather than the divisive rhetoric we’ve seen from some over the past six months. At a time when so many in the Jewish community are feeling isolated and vulnerable, it’s deeply reassuring to know that there are so many wonderful Australians who have our back.

Even in the world of politics, which is not often associated with truth, we have heard some wonderfully supportive voices.

St Kilda Shule, where I am privileged to serve, is obviously an apolitical organisation that invites political leaders from both major parties. The Prime Minister visited us six months ago and more recently the Victorian Premier.

Two weeks ago we were honoured to afford our community an opportunity to meet the federal Leader of the Opposition Mr Peter Dutton MP and I must say the community’s reception to his visit was incredible. He spoke powerfully about the evils of antisemitism and Australia’s need to support Israel as one of its most important allies.

His message resonated with the hundreds of attendees in the shule and I am very grateful that Mr Dutton took the time out of his busy schedule to connect with our community, especially during a time of such vulnerability for us.

To be clear, we as a community cannot and should not sweep the horrific rise in antisemitism under the carpet. We must be aware and we must be vigilant.

But at the same time we cannot allow it to define us. We must, as we have for generations in the face of adversity, find the strength to rise above it with deep pride in our Jewishness and unyielding love of our spiritual and ancestral homeland, Israel.

And we must also be grateful for the many in the wider community who have reached out in support to show us that we are not alone. I, for one, will never forget their kindness.

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman is rabbi of St Kilda Hebrew Congregation.

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