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'Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh'

A speech by Alain Hasson, CEO JCA 

Thank you Ian, Nova, Sharon, Dan, David and our JCA One Day Choir, Ilan Kidron and the Glassbreakers band, Lara Goodridge, Evie Smith, Rose Grausman and the Sydney Jewish Choral Society, and the many other wonderful singers from the Sydney Jewish community.
Also thank you in advance to former Canadian Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper and Former Australian Foreign Minister, the Honourable Alexander Downer for joining us this afternoon for what I know will be a fantastic fireside chat.
10 years ago, I attended the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. As with all American conferences, this was on scale beyond anything I had seen or experienced. We heard from then vice-President Joe Biden, the notorious RBG and many other American leaders and philanthropists. But, without question, the standout keynote was late Commonwealth, Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Rabbi Sacks began his speech with the words Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh - All Jews are responsible for one another.
He kept repeating this phrase. Each time louder and with more intensity. Each time as if trying to drive this message deep into the heart of each and every one of the 8,000 community members in the room. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh.
I left the room inspired and thinking yes, I understand. The Jewish diaspora has a responsibility for Israel and Israel has a responsibility for the Jewish diaspora. But the truth is it is only now following the October 7th attacks that I feel I have truly begun to understand and fully appreciate the meaning of this saying - We the Jewish people have a global responsibility for one another.

Like Nova, I have also recently returned from a visit to Israel, having travelled as part of an Australian Jewish Funders mission of solidarity, and to attend the international Jewish Funders Network conference.
While the primary themes of the conference were resilience and hope, the core essence was definitely one of Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh bazeh - acknowledging now more than ever the symbiotic relationship of Israel and the Jewish diaspora and the unbreakable bond of the Jewish people, no matter where we live.
Like many tragic events before it, we will all undoubtedly remember where we were and what we were doing on the 7th of October 2023. I was overseas in France on holiday with my family. Being away from work and home it took some time for the magnitude of the sadistic terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas to truly hit us.
Just as the gravity of the situation began to sink in, I was pleased to receive a message saying that the NSW Government had taken swift and appropriate steps in deciding to light up the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House, under which we are proudly gather this afternoon, in blue, and in white. This was intended to be a demonstration of democratic allyship with Israel and our Jewish community.
However, sadly, all of us here this evening will know, this demonstration of solidarity and support was mutilated, and our spirits rapidly moved to those of despair, loneliness and anxiety as we were informed that a mounting protest would make it unsafe for us to attend the lighting of the sails.
When the media coverage started to surface of the protestors lighting flares and burning an Israeli flag on the forecourt of this iconic symbol of NSW and Australian community, an institution that so many Jewish community members have been involved in, and a site where many of us have shared special memories such as wedding photos. I felt a further loss, that something had been stolen from me and from our community. These feelings quickly turned to fear for our community’s future and then to anger.

Anger then turned into resolve to not idly stand by. It became a priority of JCA’s to find an opportunity for us, as an Australian Jewish community, to regather at the Sydney Opera House and to demonstrate that we are a proud, resilient part of our Australian and Jewish communities and that our strength as a Jewish people, is in our ability to always get back up, to refuse to be victims and to stand united, both locally and globally.
Today’s sold-out event, 6 months to the day of the terror attacks, is a demonstration of exactly that and I thank you all for being here with us this afternoon and for standing united as and with the Jewish community.
The fact is, moments like this is exactly why JCA was created.
Many here today will be aware JCA was formed in 1967 as a consequence of the Arab-Israeli 6-day war. This was a pivotal moment for our local Jewish community.
Our founders understood then, as we still understand today, that while we must stand united with Israel, we must also band together at home and ensure equal support, certainty, strength, and security for our own local Jewish community. Today is no different. Almost 57 years on from our foundation, JCA must now draw on the collective power of our deep communal roots and bonds.
On my visit to Israel, it became apparent that Israeli leadership have begun to realise that the fight for the Jewish people extends well beyond the borders of Israel. While they are fighting the physical war, in many conversations it was acknowledged that it is largely the Jewish diaspora who are on the frontlines of combatting the growing barrage of antisemitism.
One of the most striking insights for me was by global Jewry stalwart Natan Sharansky, who noted that “it is easier today to be a proud Jew in the IDF than it is to be a proud Jew in the diaspora”.

As everyone here this evening is unfortunately well aware, antisemitism is not a new virus, but we need to recognise that its rate of mutation has drastically increased over recent months. So much so that the global rates of antisemitism are now understood to be approaching or at their highest levels since the Holocaust.
Some might say that this should have been expected. Being almost 80 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, only an estimated 2% of the world’s current population was alive in 1945 and hence for the overwhelming majority, the evils of the Holocaust and global war are not part of our experienced memory but are instead, and only if we are lucky, a part of ones’ schooling and taught history.
Together with the increasing complexities of biasedly selective social media newsfeeds and the viral ability to spread both misinformation and disinformation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that history can be so easily forgotten, rewritten and leaving the very frightening possibility of its repetition.
But we stand here together this afternoon and say Never Again.
As we have begun to understand though, Never Again didn’t mean we as a Jewish world will never again be threatened. Instead, it means that never again will we be unprepared or unable to protect or advocate for ourselves.
In the words of historian Ian Kershaw, The Path to Auschwitz may have been built by hatred, but was laid by indifference. We as part of the NSW & ACT Jewish communities, as part of the Australian Jewish community, and as part of Global Jewry cannot allow indifference to prevail in Australia or anywhere.
While my visit to Israel was deeply challenging and emotional, it was equally inspiring and uplifting. Hope was a core theme of the Jewish Funders conference and again the learnings and wisdom of the late Rabbi Sacks were drawn upon. Rabbi Sacks said “people often confuse optimism and hope. They sound similar. But in fact, they are very different. Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better. Hope is the belief that if we work hard enough together, we can make things better. It needs no courage, just a certain naivety to be an optimist. It needs a great deal of courage to have hope.”
The determination, resilience, courage and spirit of hope amongst the majority of Israelis was palpable. As part of a visit to the Nova campsite, we were privileged to hear from a remarkable survivor, whose parting words to us were “we will dance again” I came away from my visit wondering how do we transport this hope, resilience, and inspiration to the Australian Jewish community?
Like the people of Israel, we must get back up, we must prepare, we must work together to find solutions, we must advocate and most importantly we must educate.
My parting reflection is that over the last decade or more we as community have largely relied on optimism. We are now faced with a time where we can no longer just be optimistic. We must evolve to a community of hope, courage and resilience - determinably taking our future into our own hands. Now more than ever we need to not only stand up and support Israel but must stand up and increasingly support our own local Jewish community.
To succeed and to thrive we need to refocus on investing in and building our community rather than just maintaining and preserving it.
Building is harder. It takes more time, skills and resources. We also can’t just focus on the undeniable and pressing needs of advocacy and security but must also ensure that we have the resourcing and capacity to strategically plan and invest in our future generations’ love for and connectivity to their Jewish identity and traditions – otherwise what are we ultimately protecting and building for?

There is no hiding the fact that doing so is going to cost us. This year we estimate we will need at least an additional $3million to cover our community’s needs, which is a 20% increase on last year.
Therefore, it should go without saying, that your support tonight of JCA and our local Jewish community has truly never mattered more. Together let us reaffirm here today that we are a strong, resilient, courageous, vibrant, proud and most importantly hopeful Jewish community.
Thank you.
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh – All Jews are responsible for one another.

ENDS