Yiddish scholar ‘loved her life’

Melbourne's 'Yiddish treasure' Danielle Charak passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Danielle Charak passed away at the age of 84. Photo: Charak family
Danielle Charak passed away at the age of 84. Photo: Charak family

Melbourne’s ‘Yiddish treasure’ Danielle Charak has been remembered for her warmth, positivity and wisdom after she passed away at the age of 84 following a long battle with cancer.

“She quit this world against her will – she had so much more living to do,” her children Alan Charak, Anette Charak and Pearl Joel told The AJN.

“She loved her life. She loved life. Despite multiple cancer diagnoses over almost 16 years, and the resulting rounds of treatment, and pain, she kept going with life until the last possible moment. She never, ever let her illness or her treatment interfere with her positive attitude and her passion for life.

“She had a positive view of how one could – and should – use one’s potential, perhaps a result of her good luck at having been saved as a child.”

Charak was born in Brussels in 1939 and when the war came to Belgium, she was put in the care of a non-Jewish family, who looked after her for a year until 1944. She was reunited with her parents and older sister after the war and the family moved to Melbourne in 1949.

Charak taught at Mount Scopus and for many years wrote the Yiddish VCE exam and was an examiner, lectured at Monash University and was recognised internationally as a Yiddish scholar.

She spent four years as executive director of the Australian Institute for Jewish Affairs and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), was a member of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) and spent a decade in Yiddish radio, broadcasting on 3EA, later renamed SBS Radio.

Her friend and colleague at Kadimah, Renata Singer, told The AJN of Charak’s “love for life, intellectual capacities and ability to connect with people”.

“She loved everything about living – her family, her work, her friends. There was a depth to her,” Singer said.

“She was probably the person with the deepest and broadest knowledge of Yiddish literature in Melbourne.”

Mount Scopus principal Rabbi James Kennard said, “We are saddened by the passing of a well-remembered and much-loved teacher. Scopus’s first Yiddish teacher, who also taught French and other subjects, inspired many students to connect to their Yiddish heritage, and showed care and love for each child in her classes.”

Charak’s children said the outpouring of love for their mother has been “comforting and illuminating”.

“Magnificent messages – people remembering her amazing talent and impact as a teacher; her scholarship; her competence and influence as she worked in so many community organisations; and her generosity to, and interest in, people.”

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