The Museum recently held its second erev Shavuot Tikkun a night of learning and we were again filled to capacity. The theme this year was Calling Australia Home and the audience was taken on a memorable emotional journey.
In the first half of the evening visitors were treated to personal stories and reflections of migration to Australia from the earliest days in the 19th century to Julie Meadow’s memories of growing up in Carlton in the 1940’s; Adele Meren coping with being Jewish and Australian in the 1950’s and 1960’s to what Daphne Gaddie and her family felt like in making a new life leaving South Africa in the 1990’s. The stories were uplifting and emotional and reflected a time of great change and optimism.
In the break cheesecake nourished on another level. When we resumed we were overwhelmed by the face of migration today – stories of great courage and heartbreak delivered with dignity and purpose giving everyone of us privileged to be in the room, much to think about. Dana Krause talked of her sense of mission in taking on a job as an immigration lawyer and the relationships she has built. A grandchild of Holocaust survivors she expressed a great sense of purpose and resolve in doing this work and her energy and passion were palpable.
The stories of migration today then unfolded. From Abe Nouk – the dark skinned smiling 6’4” Sudanese poet whose story of poverty was chilling, yet his personal journey so inspiring talking of his English illiteracy three years ago, to him becoming an award winning hip hop poet today and yet what he avoided talking about was even more eloquent.
Hameed Nida the gentle Afghani Hazari who had been a medical student in Kabul till the Taliban compelled him to flee a rich educated life standing with such poise and telling a story that belonged in a Kafkaesque novel. His quiet courage and gentle tone made one think so much about the fruitless and unjustified demonising of the other that perpetuates hate.
The impressive Jessie Taylor, a young Australian refugee advocate from a middle class background inspired not only with her own story of fostering a 14 year old Afghani when she was only 27 years old but also her ongoing work in advocating and championing those with no voice. As she said.. “that’s what makes me get up in the morning”.
Gary Samowitz from Jewish Aid then referenced the powerful What would you do video and gave us all pause to think about this issue in a very personal way. Everyone who was there was moved and touched. The evening went for several hours and even when it was over people lingered to talk with the speakers and to share their feelings. If a Tikkun is about learning and if learning is about change then this evening was a powerful embodiment.
Here is one example of the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received. “I want to congratulate you on organising such a Tikkun event. I thought the night was absolutely amazing and was talking about the event into the small hours of the night and the following morning. Being one of the few gentiles in the audience I was mesmerised and spellbound by the stories of the Jewish women who had come to Australia under such different circumstances to my own migration from the UK in 1972. At times I found myself wiping away a tear at their descriptions of a world where they could remember no anti-semitism and where all religions shared the same street and the same aspirations – a child’s world that they loved unreservedly.
Those women made you feel proud to be a human being and an Australian. The second half of the evening put the audience on a roller coaster. Stunned by the sheer talent and performing ability of the Sudanese man – Abe Nouk and to think that he had mastered the English language in such a short time gave you goosebumps. His story telling skills dragged you into his imaginative world- a world that carried hope and even a strategy for meeting adversity by allowing the flickering candle flame to do whatever it will…whereas the young Afghani Hameed Nida made me feel helpless and sad. Helpless because the world has got itself into this awful mess and there seems so much unnecessary suffering about which I feel so powerless. I went to Afghanistan in 1971 and again in 1976 and I loved my time there as the people were so welcoming and “innocent”- now it is probably the last place anyone would want to go. How does this happen? This man’s journey was heart-breaking and I could have cheered when he told us that he had received his RMIT degree in 2012-how does anyone do this? His story was a triumph of the human spirit, the sort of spirit that our government is trying to squeeze out of any person who is seeking a better life here. Both men were the essence and life blood of any nation that wants to be strong as well as be able to look itself in the face and know that it is worthy. Unfortunately we know that we cannot do this at the moment. I have a friend who went overseas last month and told everyone she met that she was a New Zealander because she couldn’t face the shame of what she knew would be searching questions. Do our politicians really believe they are doing the right thing or we all taking on the mind-set of shock-jocks and bumpkins? As someone in the audience commented afterwards,” The whole of Australia should have been here tonight”. Sadly they weren’t but I am glad I was. Thanks for such a stunning evening .. I thought it was one of the best evenings out for many a year”