The Zionist Federation of Australia held its Plenary Conference in Sydney on Sunday 25 August with a fantastic line-up of speakers and panel discussions.
The ZFA is the elected, representative roof body of the Jewish community in Australia. The plenary conference provides an opportunity to bring together representatives of affiliate organisations, Zionist and Jewish community leaders, Jewish community professionals, tertiary students and Zionist youth movement representatives from all over Australia for a day of deliberation, discussion and inspiration.
This was the first conference with new President Jeremy Leibler at the helm.
Since Leibler’s election in November last year, the ZFA has developed and endorsed a new strategic plan which focuses on three main pillars, representation, advocacy and connection. Leibler said, “While the mission statement accurately describes us as a “roof body”, we are not simply a roof body that oversees communal organisations. We are very much a grassroots movement, as evidenced by the number and diversity of people in this room.”
Dave Sharma MP, member for Wentworth addressed the plenary. No stranger to this audience, having served as Australia’s Ambassador to Israel before trading the diplomatic world for the political one, Sharma was very warmly welcomed by the audience. Sharma, who noted that one cannot appreciate the security challenges that Israel faces until you have been there, shared a good piece of advice that another Ambassador to Israel shared with him to “remember you are an Ambassador to a country, not a conflict”, which held him in good stead while he and his family lived in Tel Aviv.
Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Mark Sofer gave an eloquent overview on the current geopolitical landscape. He spoke about Israel’s relationship with the Arab world, where Israel is no longer seen as part of the problem, but a part of the solution. Countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco see that there is a much bigger enemy at play here, and they see Israel as their ally. In that sense, the relationship between Israel and the Arab world has never been as good as it is now.
Headlining the Plenary was author and commentator Professor Gil Troy, who had the audience enthralled with his enthusiasm and passion as he spoke about community, connection and engagement. Troy spoke of how we must value diversity of opinion within the Zionist “tent”, saying, “a big tent has to be open on all four sides. We need to bring more air and sunlight into the Zionist movement”. Professor Troy’s “Zionist Salon” session engaged the audience very actively, encouraging them to discuss and debate in small groups and come up with their own definition of Zionism and means to achieve effective change.
Another Gil who wowed the crowd was famed Israeli author and culinary journalist Gil Hovav, whose great-grandfather Eliezer Ben Yehuda revived the modern Hebrew Language. A master story-teller, Hovav had the crowd in stitches as he recounted stories about his great-grandfather and his dedication to speaking and raising a new generation speaking Hebrew.
Harry Triguboff AO is a long time supporter of the work of the ZFA in the area of engaging the Russian Jewish Community in Jewish life, Zionism and Israel. For the past five years, he has been the supporter of our “Kangarusski” project, an initiative which has developed leadership, volunteerism and activism in this segment of the community, and which has generated important programs including Limmud FSU and provided the leverage for the ZFA to assign dedicated Taglit Birthright Israel buses for young adults from Russian Jewish backgrounds to visit Israel. We were pleased to have been able to personally acknowledge Mr Triguboff’s outstanding, visionary contribution at the conference.
The conference audience was treated to two very interesting panel discussions. The first, entitled “Jewish Community Engagement – the Impact of Israel Experiences” featured Gil Troy along with Rachel Swartz, Y2i, Yair Miller, CEO UIA, Alain Hasson, CEO JCA and Noa Shaul, Chairperson, AZYC. The second panel featured Jeff Lin – President, State Zionist Council of WA, Sharene Hambur – President, Zionism Victoria, Jason Steinberg – Vice President, State Zionist Council of Queensland , Ehud Hauben – President, State Zionist Council of SA and Richard Balkin – President, Zionist Council of NSW.
Later in the day, the Zionist Federation farewelled members of the Sydney Jewish community who will be making Aliyah in the coming weeks. New Olim are traditionally presented with a mezuza by the ZFA before they depart – a blessing from their home of origin to their new home in Israel. Making Aliya is the highest expression of Zionist connection, one which is celebrated in the Zionist movement. The mezuza presentation ceremony is both touching and profound, highlighting the individual experiences and motivations of the new olim, whose stories are as diverse as they are inspirational.
Summing up the role of the ZFA, Jeremy Leibler concluded, “Our mission is to nurture and continually cultivate a sense of being Jewish that celebrates our rich traditions and proud values, and that will inspire and sustain future generations of Jewish Australians.
And we must do so out of a firm belief that the Jewish People and the State of Israel, through our values and traditions, have something intrinsically important and valuable to offer the world.”