The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) hosted its 2016 Biennial Conference in Melbourne on the 4th December at Beth Weizmann Centre with over a hundred people in attendance. We not only reviewed our operations for 2016, but used the full day forum as an opportunity to launch our programs and priorities for 2017, which will be a milestone year for the ZFA and the Zionist movement in Australia and worldwide.
A large youth delegation from the Australian Zionist Youth Council (AZYC) and the Australasian Union of Jewish Student (AUJS) attended along with representatives from the various state Zionist Councils and ZFA affiliate organisations from across Australia.
Program highlights included Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University who gave some answers to the question “How Zionist are we” but in doing so, raised challenges for our movement into the future.
We were delighted to welcome to the conference Alan Hoffman, the CEO and Director General of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who neatly summed up role of the Agency in Australia with the question: “How do we bring Israel to young Jews (in the Diaspora) and how do we bring the experiences of world Jewry to Israel?”
He reinforced the strong partnership between the Jewish Agency and the ZFA in implementing such key projects as bringing out shlichim for youth movements and communities around the country, bringing young adults to Israel on various programs, the Zionist Seminars program which brings young Israeli informal educators to work with schools, our joint efforts with the Russian speaking Jewish community and meaningful people to people engagements through the Arava Australia Partnership.
The keynote address by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria was in every sense a message of support and positivity and focused on the value of the Arts as a means to connect communities and people. Fifield asserted that: – “The world has a responsibility that Israel is never forsaken and Israel needs its friends abroad and I am one of them.” Indeed you are, Mitch, thank you.
Ambassador for Israel to Australia, H.E. Shmuel Ben-Shmuel applauded the hard work and effort of the ZFA, saying:- “The ZFA is one of the most active Zionist organisations across the globe… and is an inspiration and guiding force to the various councils and youth movements across the nation.”
A media panel exploring “Israel in the Media – Global Challenges towards 2017” featured Rita Panahi; Herald Sun columnist, James Campbell; Herald Sun Political Editor and Jamie Hyams; AIJAC Senior Policy Analyst and was moderated by Australian Jewish News National Editor, Zeddy Lawrence. In a sometimes fiery and always lively discussion, panellists debated various topics, which included the relevance of the media today, as Hyams said: – People are feeling that the established media are letting them down, so they look somewhere else. People don’t trust what they are being told in the press and there’s a massive divide between mainstream views and the media. So many see the media as an elite class that doesn’t speak for them. This divide is something the media needs to address.”
The ZFA brought the stories behind our programs to life with a new initiative “Z Talks”. “It’s one thing to read the annual report, another to see the images but making it personal, hearing from the people whose lives we impact upon, brings the operations of the ZFA to light” said ZFA Executive Director Ginette Searle in introducing the segments.
Gabi Hodge, aged 22 travelled to Israel for the very first time 3 years ago on a KangaRusski Taglit-Birthright bus. She went from never having lit Shabbat candles to becoming a member of the first Kangarusski Moishe House: – “In three years I went from having my first Shabbat to having one every week in my very own house and I believe other Russian Jews should have this experience.”
16 year old McKinnon High School student and recent alumna of the Diller Teen Fellows Melbourne, Anita Voloshin said the Diller Teen Fellows program has changed her:- “Now… I have started a non-for-profit called Aunt Flo, in which we hope to aid in female empowerment and opportunity starting in India. And, most importantly, now I have a reason to believe that a Jewish identity can apply to just about anyone.”
The traditional mezuzah ceremony for new olim was, as always, emotional and as always, gave prominence to this most important personal expression of Zionism. The olim were from across the generations, their mother tongues varied but from the children to the elderly their eyes were bright with anticipation. Shira Wenig and her husband Shmuli are making Aliyah together with their five children. In delivering her powerful and inspirational “Z Talk” Shira said they are moving to Israel because: – “We are making Aliyah for our children. So that we’ll already be there and they won’t have to choose between Israel and family one day.”
In closing the conference, President Danny Lamm noted the significance of the coming year.
In 2017, the Zionist Federation of Australia will mark its 90th anniversary, having been established in 1927, with our inaugural honorary President – Sir John Monash. In 1927, the State of Israel had not yet been established, the shoah had not yet taken place. Despite the effluxion of time, the tremendous changes in how we engage with information and with each other, our values and principles have remained constant – creating a meaningful connection between Australia, the Australian Jewish community and the Jewish homeland, Israel.
2017 will also mark significant anniversaries for the Zionist world:
- 120 years since the first Zionist Congress;
- 100 years since the Battle of the Lighthorse Brigade in Beersheva;
- 100 years since the Balfour Declaration;
- 70 years since the UN partition vote; and of course
- 50 years since the 6 day war and the reunification of Jerusalem.
It will also be a year of a major “first” in Australian Zionist history – the planned first ever visit of a sitting Israeli Prime Minister to Australia – an eagerly anticipated and important visit for Israel, Australia and our Jewish community.
Dr Danny Lamm said: – “A visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Australia would be a historic occasion, it would be the first time a sitting Israeli Prime Minister would visit our country and it would cement the close friendship and growing bilateral relations between Israel and Australia.”
The ZFA is proud of its history and role in leading our community in its support for Israel. We’re proud of the range of programs provided to implement the vision of developing, enriching and supporting a meaningful relationship between the Australian Jewish community and the State of Israel.