A 70-year strong connection between the Victorian Jewish community and Israel
On October 28, the State Zionist Council of Victoria will celebrate its 70th anniversary and the 70th Annual Assembly, a gathering of 51 affiliate organisations and more than 250 delegates. While we as Zionists and the world have changed with time and technology, the core connection between Victorian Jews and the State of Israel has remained rich with activism and support.
Dr Marianne Dacy of the Archive of Australian Judaica at Sydney University has written about early Australian Zionism (1894-1927) and here in Victoria, we should be proud of the fact that our community members were active Zionists early on.
Dr Dacy writes of the Victorian Zionist League being established in 1902, and that the leaders of the movement were supported by the older, established Australian Jewish families. Yet, together with this early support came an interesting dynamism that followed a support trend in other Australian cities, the short lifespan for Zionist organisations.
Dacy writes about a Mr. R. Richardson who, in 1902, detailed the formation of the Victorian Zionist League “…with a present membership of 60, and A. Goldman as President.” In the same letter, the draper and clothier asks for Zionist literature to be sent in three languages: Hebrew, German and English. Another letter from R. Richardson in 1908 reports on the formation of an additional Victorian Zionist organisation. On November 19, 1913, in a letter to the Zionistiches Zentral Bureau, Berlin, M. Richardson writes from 59 Bourke Street, Melbourne,” …Our Society has amalgamated with a new Society that has during the year been formed here in Melbourne. Our membership is consequently larger than formerly, being somewhere in the vicinity of 170…”
Such activity continued until 1938 with the formal establishment of the State Zionist Council of Victoria.
There is not a lot of documentation from the early days of the SZCV. The “Emergency Manifesto” dated July 7, 1948 read: “On behalf of all Victorian Zionists we …unite with our fellow Zionists in Australia, New Zealand, other parts of the British Empire and the world over in rejoicing at the great and historical event of the proclamation of a State of Israel in Tel Aviv on Friday, May 14th, 1948.”
The first Zionist Assembly was convened alter that year on November 18, 1948 and attended by representatives from 15 organisations, including many who remain very active members 70 years later: Betar, Habonim, the Jewish National Fund, the Mizrachi Organisation, United Zionist Revisionist Party, WIZO and the Zionist Federation of Australia.
We also know from a report to the “First Conference Since the Establishment of the State of Israel” that the outstanding function of the year was the reception tendered by the State Zionist Council of Victoria to the Consul General For Israel and Mrs Y.H. Levin and the Consul for Israel and Mrs G Doron at the Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday September 14, 1949. It was said that the hall was full to capacity with almost 2,000 people and “…the enthusiasm and atmosphere demonstrated that Victorian Jewry was fully aware of the significance of the arrival in this country of the first diplomatic envoy of the State of Israel”.
The excitement of such large-scale functions has not wavered with full houses at Yom Ha’atzmaut concerts and festivals, major public forums, speaker and Israel advocacy events.
Yet 70 years later, the SZCV is well aware that the community is not always attracted by organized events. Whereas once, the regularly-scheduled SZCV informational forum “This Month Tonight” functioned as a mass update for the community, today people can choose to activate their Zionism by attending an event with a speaker, listening to it via podcast at a time of their choosing or read about it online. As Ginette Searle, Executive Director of the SZCV points out, “We are learning to change with the times and in 2008, Zionist activity is no longer a “one size fits all proposition.”
Dr Danny Lamm, who is the 18th President of the SZCV, says Melbourne’s reputation as a strong Zionist community speaks for itself. “What started as a roof body of 13 organisations in 1938 grew to 28 organisations by 1998 and then almost doubled in 10 years, with 51 organisations now affiliated to the SZCV in 2008”, he says.
“We are really proud of the fact that our role at the SZCV is not only to represent and interact with the community but also to promote our affiliates interaction with the community, partnering with them wherever possible and relevant, and strengthening them, whether at major events such as this year’s Shuk HaShishim Family Festival for Israel’s 60th or on a weekly basis via our EventZ newsletter”, commented Dr Lamm.
Pinpointing an achievement of his 6-year term at the helm of the state’s Zionist umbrella organisation, Dr Lamm is particularly satisfied with the broad communal and political bi-partisan relationships that the State Council continues to develop. “The annual Yom Ha’atzmaut cocktail reception, for example, held jointly with the JCCV, brings together the Victorian Premier, Leader of the Opposition and 400 people, and has been doing so for many years”, he explains.
“Our Annual Assembly is another good example of these high-level relationships”, continues Dr Lamm. “The keynote speaker at the 70th Assembly will be Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland. “We look forward to the Attorney General’s vision and views on Israel and the Jewish community, particularly with recent issues of security threats here in Australia and issues such as the broadcast of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station into Australia from Indonesia” said Dr Lamm.
Mr McClelland visited Israel in 2006 as an AIJAC Rambam Fellow.
Also at the Assembly, Sir Zelman Cowen AK GCMG GCVO will be awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize. The award is jointly presented by the State Zionist Council of Victoria, the Zionist Federation of Australia and the World Zionist Organisation of Israel, recognising the outstanding contribution of an Australian to the Jewish community and to our relationship with Israel. Sir Zelman’s outstanding contribution to the Zionist and Jewish communities of Victoria and Australia extends throughout several decades on a local and national level.
“The SZCV’s 70th anniversary is a great milestone for reflection, but more significantly, an opportunity to examine how we approach the next 70 years”, concludes Lamm. “Zionism is changing dramatically and the 70 year connection we mark this month is also the launch of a whole new set of challenges that we must meet and embrace”.
For more information contact:
SZCV Executive Director, Ginette Searle 9272 5544
SZCV Director of Public Affairs, Elly Shalev 9272 5519
The State Zionist Council of Victoria leads and encourages Jewish and Zionist activity and expression within Victoria, to represent the Jewish community, to promote and communicate Israel’s interests within the broader Victorian community and to promote Victoria’s relationship with Israel.
For more information, please visit the State Zionist Council of Victoria website www.szcvic.org