ZCV’s 76th Annual Assembly brings together the past, present and future of Melbourne’s Zionist community

On Tuesday 18 November, delegates from 52 affiliated organisations and interested observers of the Zionist Council of Victoria, gathered for the 76th Annual Assembly to hear keynote speaker Yaron Shavit and honour community icon Mr Philip Chester with the prestigious Jerusalem Prize.

The award is the highest honour and is presented jointly by the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), ZFA and ZCV for outstanding support for Israel. Former winners of the Jerusalem Prize include the late Sir Zelman Cowen former Governor-General of Australia, Prime Minister John Howard, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Sam Lipski AM.

ZCV President Mr Sam Tatarka, in his fourth year at the helm, was elected for his third term of President of the state roof body said: “I am blessed to work with such a truly wonderful community and serve as President of such a special organisation.” Mr Tatarka started the proceedings on a sombre note with a minute silence for those killed in that morning’s synagogue attack in Jerusalem and other victims of recent terror attacks in Israel.

Keynote speaker Mr Yaron Shavit immediate past chairman of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and a member of the World Zionist Organisation’s executive board shared his personal story as a sabra with more than 30 years IDF reserve service and reflected on the need for reciprocal partnerships between Israelis and the Jewish communities of the Diaspora.

“We are aware of the challenges involved in supporting the State of Israel and our biggest challenge these days is to put Israel firmly in the hearts of the next generation. Israel faces new challenges with Israelis choosing to live outside of their homeland. It is not the simplest nor easiest choice to make Israel your home but we need to encourage future generations to do this.”

Also present were State and Federal politicians as well as H.E. Ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, the Ambassador of Israel to Australia. In his address to the Assembly, the Ambassador commented how overwhelmed he was with the tremendous support Australian Jewry shows Israel. “I have deep respect for the remarkable passion you have shown Israel and the extraordinary strength you have shown by standing up for Israel especially in the difficult days of Operation Protective Edge.” 

“The Zionist Council of Victoria and the Jewish community were there to offer help and support for Israel. You stood up against the vicious anti-Israel articles in the press and the anti-Israel demonstrations. You stood side by side advocating for Israel. With you, I know Israel will rise above this – you are us and we are you and this is not just a slogan.”

In presenting Philip Chester with the Jerusalem Prize, Sam Tatarka said: “Philip has given years of selfless dedication to the community and Israel. He began his community service at the young age of six when he joined Betar and served with AUJS, ZCV and ZFA volunteering his time and expertise. He is focussed, bright and without ego.”

In his acceptance speech, Mr Chester said: “I am truly humbled by this great honour. I never went to a Jewish day school and I didn’t spend much time as a child in shule. Betar introduced me to Zionism; my work in AUJS allowed me to visit Israel and inspired me to embrace my heritage.” 

Mr Chester spoke of his many personal highlights including the establishment of the Israeli scouts (Tzofim) which started at Beth Weizmann this year and the appointment of a Russian speaking Shaliach for the Russian community. He also spoke of the need to engage younger leaders. “Despite what you hear about the apathy of Gen Y – they are in fact very passionate about the community and want to participate. Israel is the key to continuity in our community and the Zionist youth movements are critically relevant to this continuity.”

The Community Volunteer Award was presented from the Zionist Council to Adele Hulse for her outstanding work at the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia as facilitator and editor for the Write Your Story Project. The first non-Jewish recipient of the award, Adele has worked with the library for 15 years and during that time has become fluent in Yiddish. Adele’s relationship with the writers does not end once the book is finished. She is still very much part of their lives and has been known to continue seeing some of them on a regular basis.

The Assembly included the President’s report which was a visual journey of the past year, showcasing the Council’s work. The new look interactive ZCV website, which offers up to date news and information and makes it even to connect with Israel, was also launched.