Legend of the community

Communal stalwart Jeremy Jones mourned

'There is hardly any area of Jewish communal life that did not benefit in some way from his expertise and dedication...'

Jeremy Jones. Photo: Giselle Haber
Jeremy Jones, "the rarest, and best, of leaders".

Federal Parliamentary Friends of Israel chair Deborah O’Neill, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and NSW Premier Chris Minns have joined a chorus of tributes to Jewish communal stalwart Jeremy Jones, who passed away last Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 64.

Jones was the director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), a former ECAJ president and life member, a former deputy of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, a veteran of interfaith affairs and a world renowned expert on antisemitism.

He helped to obtain Australian visas for Soviet Jews in the 1990s, was one of a handful of Jews – and the only one wearing a kippah – at the infamous Durban Conference Against Racism in 2001, and in 2002 prosecuted a landmark successful court case against Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben.

His work in promoting inter-communal harmony was officially acknowledged in 2007 with the Australian Human Rights Medal, and again in 2016 with NSW’s most prestigious honour, the Stepan Kerkyasharian AO Medal for Community Harmony. Jones was also a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

He was also involved in the drafting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.

In a Senate speech last Thursday, Senator O’Neill called Jones “a righteous man who was a faithful servant to his Jewish community here in Australia for more than four decades and a lifelong friend of Israel”.

“Jeremy also brought to all his affairs a deep sense of humility, virtue and the inalienable rights of people,” she said.

A motion recognising his contribution was due to be moved in the NSW Legislative Council on Wednesday night.

Dreyfus said, “Jeremy devoted his life to the Australian Jewish community, and to fighting antisemitism and racism.”

Minns said, “His was a lifetime of extraordinary commitment to interfaith relations, community harmony and service. Jeremy’s infectious enthusiasm and optimism, and his principled determination, were an inspiration to so many.

“His efforts have had a tangible and lasting impact on community cohesion in NSW, Australia and globally. Jeremy leaves behind a loving family and a tremendous legacy, and he will be missed by us all.”

Former prime minister Scott Morrison said Jones was a “faithful and dedicated advocate for the Jewish community”. Former Labor minister Mike Kelly said, “I feel like I have lost a member of my own family.”

Member for Macnamara Josh Burns and Member for Berowra Julian Leeser also paid tribute to Jones, as did NSW Legislative Council member Susan Carter, who knew him from university days and called him “the rarest, and best, of leaders”.

In his eulogy delivered at the Sydney Chevra Kadisha last Friday, Rabbi Shua Solomon of Bondi Mizrachi Synagogue spoke of how Jones gave “so much to the people around him, as well as appreciating the small beautiful things in life that most of us just seem to pass by”.

“Whether it was his consistent fight against antisemitism, the ability to take such amazing pictures that he would then share with everyone on social media or his consistent support of his beloved [South Sydney] Rabbitohs, Jeremy was able to commit himself wholeheartedly with such dedication and discipline to so many things in life,” Rabbi Solomon said.

“Even right up until a couple of months ago when it was no longer possible, he maintained his daily very early morning walks, was an Australia Day ambassador at the beginning of this year in two different places and travelled to Melbourne a few months ago to speak at Limmud.

“His remarkable consistency and dedication were accompanied with a deep humility that endeared him to so many people.”

He added, “Jeremy’s love and commitment to his family, as a brother, son, husband and father was deep and genuine.”

Jeremy Jones with former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres.

The Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) passed a motion at its AGM on Sunday recognising Jones – a student politician in his university days – as an honorary life member for his contributions to AUJS and the community.

“Throughout his life as a community leader he remained a mentor for AUJS students. First and foremost for many current and former AUJS members, he was a friend,” AUJS said.

AIJAC national chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein said “everyone at AIJAC is utterly devastated by the passing of our beloved, and widely admired and respected, colleague”.

“Jeremy always brought an extraordinary level of knowledge and insight about Judaism, public life in Australia, philosophy and morality, and human nature into his work for AIJAC, for which we will always be grateful,” they said.

“He also had a personal warmth, a kindness for those in need, an eagerness to teach and debate, and a wicked wit, all of which will be profoundly missed by everyone that worked with or knew him.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Peter Wertheim said for more than four decades, “Jeremy was a faithful servant of the Australian Jewish community and a consummate professional.

“There is hardly any area of Jewish communal life that did not benefit in some way from his expertise and dedication.

“He had a special passion for building relationships with other faith and ethnic communities and won over many friends, both personally and communally.

“He leaves a legacy that will serve as an example to the next generation of Jewish communal activists.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler recalled the first time he met Jones, at an AUJS seminar in Canberra. “From that time on, I was always so impressed at the way he could engage and inspire, and was always able to place himself above politics to pursue what was in the best interests of the Jewish community,” he said.

“Australia has lost a giant, and the Australian Jewish community is poorer for his passing.”

Tributes also came from the American Jewish Community and from Nur Munir, a representative of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Indonesia, which is the largest Islamic organisation in the world.

Jones leaves behind wife Naomi, children Gidon and Galit, and siblings Melinda, Peta, Amanda and Quentin.

Recalling their childhood, Peta Jones-Pellach remembered him as “a sweet little boy” while Amanda Gordon remembered “how cute he was when he called out proudly to his father that his name was ‘Gummy Jones’”. Melinda Jones remembered him waiting on the front veranda for her to come home from kindergarten, so that they could play together.

As an adult, his siblings said he was a hands-on father “from the time Gidon was born and his love of girls was never stronger than the bond he had with Galit”.

“To me it feels like overnight that he was transformed from a sweet child who would listen intently and learn from me to the accomplished young man who clearly had plenty to teach me,” Jones-Pellach said.

“Quentin already misses the weekly phone conversations he had with his big brother … Each one of us will miss him terribly.”

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