After four years, my term as President of ARZA Australia is drawing to a close, as is my term as Vice-President of the Union for Progressive Judaism. It has been a pleasure and a fantastic experience to hold these positions.
The role of President, with the support of the ARZA team gave me the opportunity to help guide the Australian Progressive Movement’s Zionist responsibilities in support of Israel and Progressive Judaism. This was complemented by being elected to the role of Vice-President for the UPJ. I believe these dual roles had many benefits. It meant that with the co-operation of the Moetzah, now the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors, Progressive Judaism in Australia has been able to speak with ONE VOICE. In this regard our three Progressive organisations, ARZA, the UPJ and the ARC often combined publicly to express our views on issues in unison, through statements, press releases and occasional opinion pieces.
It is my fervent hope that this level of cooperation between our organisations will continue. With this in mind, Ayal Marek has been nominated for the position of President of ARZA and Vice-President of the UPJ. The journey for ARZA over the last four years achieved much, but I have no doubt the new president will take up the challenge to deliver much more. He is an Israeli Australian, and like most Israelis passionate about politics. He is a family man, married to Karen and runs his own successful business.
ARZA, being the political arm of the Australian Progressive movement, has particular responsibilities to fulfil each year. The most important role is to ensure the number of members is at a maximum so as to gain the largest possible representation for the ARZENU slate representing the world Reform/Progressive congregations and partners at the World Zionist Congress. Putting it bluntly, the greater the number of delegates from the Progressive Movement, the louder our voice will be heard, and the more likely our Progressive values and views will be reflected in the decisions made for Israel.
The next Congress will be held in 2025. As I am sure you are aware it may well be the Congress that sets the future for Israel for many years to come. Over the past year, the Israeli governing coalition representing mostly the right and hard right Ultra-Orthodox parties was led by a Prime Minister more intent on avoiding a jail term than serving the Israeli people. He and his extreme fanatical ministers went about trying to destroy the very foundations of the democratic institutions delivered to Israel in 1948 with the Declaration of Independence. The people of Israel (secular, religious and non-Jewish) came out in their thousands for months to protest and loudly proclaim their abhorrence for what their government was attempting to do.
The disaster that emerged in October and is continuing, is in no small part due to the complete failing of the Netanyahu Government. Its focus on everything but the security of Israel and the needs of the diverse population made the country weak and vulnerable – ripe for the butchering attack by Hamas on the communities near the Gaza border. Communities that many of us have visited and financially supported through JNF and KKL.
And so, we cry tears of frustration and mourning for the Jewish Homeland that should be there in safety and security for all the generations of world Jewry to come. For us, for our children, and for our children’s children, through the ages. ARZA would like to see every single member of every Australian Progressive Shul a financial member of ARZA. This is why we encourage synagogues to add our membership to the invoices sent to synagogue members annually. The full amount is then banked on ARZA’s behalf. We also warmly welcome those who are not members of synagogues, but who wish to have their voices heard in Eretz Yisrael in the name of the Progressive values we so treasure. Our membership fee is very reasonable and lower for Netzer members. It is available online and is protected under Australian and State Privacy legislation.
My personal challenge over the last four years has been fulfilling what I regarded as my obligation. That is to communicate with ARZA members and on a regular basis to keep our community up to date about what is happening in Israel; religiously, politically and socially. Helping our community understand the fundamental principles embedded in the Israeli Declaration of Independence and support actions to fulfill its ideals, particularly ensuring equality for all inhabitants, socially and politically irrespective of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I believe ARZA, in this way has encouraged a true Zionist commitment by our community. This is evidenced recently by the enormous expression of emotion and support for our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael. For this we say thank you.
One of ARZA’s greatest joys was seeing 28 young Jewish Australians go to Israel on the first ever Progressive Taglit Birthright tour early this year. While the opportunity for young people to travel to Israel is now very limited, I hope that Taglit and the Netzer Shnat program will return with peace.
I would like to offer a vote of thanks to Netzer, their leaders and Shlicha for the wonderful way they have worked with ARZA. Sefi and his wife Sara really helped us make the Taglit program happen. The Netzer Federal Mazkir, Avishai Conyer has shown true leadership, friendship and the ability to bring the adult and younger members of our movement together. I hope Naama and Hadar, our new Shlichim, also enjoy working with us and have a wonderful experience here in Australia.
Finally, I have just a few thankyous. My role in ARZA and the UPJ would not have been possible without a great deal of support, encouragement and friendship from the board of each organisation (ARZA and UPJ) but also from those who had come before me and offered their sage advice and assistance.
It’s been a pleasure working with David Knoll and the entire UPJ Board. I’m sorry I can’t mention them all. David has an unusual sense of humour and works far too hard for his own good, but he’s done a great job with the support of Brian and the team.
I would like to thank Steve Denenberg who was my predecessor, giving me great advice and being prepared to negotiate the ARZA mandates and chair some meetings at my request. I think he is still going to be the resident chair when needed. Tony Leverton as Treasurer has kept the books magnificently. We can’t let him go just yet. That is until he finds his own replacement. Philip Levy, who retired last year as the keeper of the membership portfolio. We really miss him. Rabbi Fred Morgan, my Rabbinic Advisor and friend. I’m sure he’ll hang around to be the voice of reason.
Finally, I thank those on the current board who have become part of the succession plan for the New ARZA. They are Ayal Marek; a fluent Hebrew speaker who is to be our new President. Ben James as Vice-President is also a fluent Hebrew speaker having lived and worked in Israel for two years. Cassie Barrett will continue as Secretary. She works for Jewish Care delivering community education programs, to provide training in many spheres. Avishai Conyer is an ex officio member of the board but intends staying on after his Netzer term finishes. He also speaks Hebrew, is studying law and has wonderful experience and been actively involved with the next generation of our movement.
I know these young people will attract others who they will inspire but still be supported by those on the ARZA board who have the benefit of experience. It will be a time for innovation and new ideas. Very exciting!
Helen Shardey OAM
ARZA Australia – President
Union for Progressive Judaism – Vice President
World Union for Progressive Judaism – Executive Board