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My Brain Hurts

It is quite possible for the mind to be overstimulated by a wave of activity and emotion. 

I am fortunate to be part of a community that has hosted a Festival of Jewish Learning over the past week that has included much contemporary content about the situation facing the Jewish world today, and the response mechanisms in play.  Adjacent to the festival were other events. 

These condensed few days of hearing from some of the most articulate, compassionate and heroic speakers I have ever encountered has prompted a flood of endorphins.  For amongst the trauma, confusion and dystopian world in which Jewish people currently live remains goodness, purpose, intent and hope.  This alongside resolve, resilience, courage and care.   

Just a small selection of the activity involving very special people, the world’s best, is profiled below:

7 October:  Faith and Mental Health

On Sunday night a symposium on “October 7 and Faith” alongside a session on the impacts and social services for mental health was held at Dianella Shule Mizrachi Perth.  Though live screen presentations Noa Lewis and Michal Ohayon Senthouse shared their stories of strength and resilience.  Both border on the unfathomable bounds of human comprehension. 

Noa, a former Rebbitzen of the Shule, is in charge of the IDF Women’s Chevra Kadisha and CEO of the Echad outreach organisation.  She is widely known in Israel and around the world for her incredible accomplishments.  The intensity of her activity from 7 October, working to identify and bury bodies and provide solace for the bereaved has been relentless.  All the while her husband and children have been in active service.  Noa described how she and her team were impacted by both the volume and condition of the murdered victims in the aftermath of the massacre, and the rapid response mechanisms required to cope with an unfolding situation, the details of which were not fully known at the time. 

Michal introduced us to the life work of her brother Moshe, and his son Eilad who was following in his footsteps.  Moshe’s social activism spanned more than two decades in Ofakim, initially established to meet the demands of a lower socio-economic demographic.  He initiated local, national, and international programs to assist children at risk, individuals with disabilities, and adult/child mentorship programs, and became CEO of the 929 project.  Both were murdered defending Ofakim.  When the attack on Ofakim occurred, Moshe and Eliad both rushed to the streets to protect their neighbours with disabilities, helping them reach safe rooms.  They encountered terrorists and engaged in a shootout to prevent the attackers from reaching the main Synagogue amidst the celebration of Simchat Torah.  Moshe and Eliad sacrificed their lives for their people.

Noa and Michal brought to life the reality of how Israel has responded to several months of supporting the war effort.  Their request was to take pride in the people of Israel and their Jewish values.

Following their presentation, the forum engaged with half a dozen speakers associated with mental health and counselling.  In practical terms regional and local experiences and resources, as well as guidance on approaches towards coping with trauma and the impact of anti-Semitism were discussed.  A timely, if not overdue opportunity to bring into the public domain some of those issues that have affected so many individuals .

Defending Israel Against Injustice

The Breckler Troy Hall at Carmel School was packed to and beyond capacity for a legal overview and explanation of the International Court of Justice genocide case.  Expertly presented by Lisa Zilberpriver, Supreme Court of WA Associate, and Justice Rabbi Marcus Solomon.  The presentation covered some of the procedural circumstances that led to the acceptance, consideration and interim judgement of the ICJ, as well as well as exposing some of the potential consequences of the activity. 

The presenters left it up to their audience to determine whether it was judicial or political motivations that led to the court’s finding that it is plausible that Israel’s acts could amount to genocide.   

This was followed by the keynote address of journalist and business owner Gemma Tognini.  Well known for her weekly column in the Australian, Gemma has been a staunch advocate for media truth in the Gaza conflict.  She has stood strongly for Israel’s right to pursue the elimination of terrorism and spoken out strongly to condemn the rise of anti-Semitism in Australia.  Above all she has exposed the hypocrisy and immorality of intersectionality between feminist and LGBTQ advocacy and anti-Israel activism.

Gemma shared her family’s story of migration to WA including her background of growing up in Perth and entering a career in media and journalism.  She shared her experiences of touring Israel in mid-2023 on the RAMBAM fellowships program, which had a profound and “lifechanging” effect on her.  The visit took her to Jewish community’s near the Gaza border, and to Palestinian refugee camps.  The latter caused her to question how decades of foreign aid had perpetuated the refugee status of inhabitants as opposed to supporting solutions.

The Perth Jewish community turned out in force to acknowledge Gemma’s recent contributions to the opinion columns of the Australian. We were treated to the most humble and heartfelt presentation, delivered with great ethical clarity.   It is rare to find such a high-profile media personality who is also a warm and critically thinking free spirit, and who oozes humility.  Gemma seemed genuinely surprised by the tributes paid to her by our community in support of her work.

Gemma’s departing message was that there is more support for Israel than people realise, and that the Jewish community is not alone.  The vocal minority can be intimidating, but fair-minded Australians stand against anti-Semitism and have great empathy with Israel’s war objectives, thrust upon the country by an intolerable massacre. 

Levaya:  Daniel Perez ZL

At the very moment that Gemma Tognini’s presentation finished, a live stream started for the funeral of Daniel Perez ZL, a fallen soldier who was kidnapped on 7 October.  Only recently evidence had emerged and been validated of Daniel’s passing, prompting the announcement and arrangement of a funeral.  His body remains held captive by Hamas.

Daniel is the son of Rabbi Doron and Shelley Peres, formerly of South Africa.  I once met Daniel at an Israel night cricket league game.  His father, Rav Doron, CEO of Mizrachi Olami, is a leader who has inspired and whose activity guides religious Zionist Jewish community affiliates in communities around the world, including ours.  He is a person whose influence has touched hundreds of thousands of people, and through the broadcast of his son’s funeral, reached futher still across Israel and the world. 

Tears swelled as I watched the ceremony, and as a friend sent through a video of thousands of people in Daniel’s hometown of Yad Binyamin lining the streets in tribute.  Adorned with flags, solace and song, the outpouring of grief and gratitude for Daniel’s sacrifice captured the very essence of Israel. 

The speeches at the funeral were heart wrenching.  Watching from so far away, but being so connected to the Mizrachi Olami community layered even more emotion and intensity onto consecutive days of awe inspiring activity.  I have joined with many people around the world to daven every day for Daniel’s safe return since news of his capture first circulated. Tragically, it is a prayer which has not been answered by his return. 

Being virtually connected to this funeral was for me yet more real time unfolding of Jewish history and Jewish destiny all tied together.  More information about this tragic event and the Funeral broadcast is on this link.  The Jews of Perth along with the entire Jewish nation wish comfort to the Perez family amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Douglas Murray

The culmination of days of insight came with a live presentation by Douglas Murray.  I was greatly enthused by having two high-profile and well informed non-Jewish advocates for media truth, speaking about Israel in Perth on consecutive nights.

The opportunity to hear Douglas Murray speak in Perth was too good to pass up.  His address at an at- capacity Astor theatre attracted a diverse audience, including a large cross-section of the Perth Jewish community.

Much of the conversation was about Israel and was up to expectation. Douglas Murray delivered a clear and honest account of what is really happening.  He offers the perfect blend of cynicism and rhetoric to combine with his factual knowledge and journalistic expertise.  Although his assessment was more pessimistic than Gemma Tognini, nonetheless, like Gemma he delivered an honest and forthright commentary. 

Amongst the more interesting topics were Douglas Murray’s views on immigration.  He cited the factors of numbers, speed, and identity as the critical elements of sovereign risk.

On the topic of antisemitism, he candidly said that social media antisemitism is a numbers game. Anti-Israel advocates are more powerful in getting their message across because they are so much more numerous than we are, and the algorithms work in their favour.  They also have more money.

Some of the more pertinent insights from the evening included the observation that an individual’s perspective changes when inside a warzone.  He described how the pace and purpose of life changes.  “Suddenly all those small matters are no longer really important.  Nobody is concerned to ask other people what their pronouns are.“

Through the chat Douglas Murray also called out an almost obsessive western world media focus on the US elections.  He suggested that much of the USA’s domestic political confrontations were not a lead story for the UK and Australian media.

On the topic of social issues he said that “Woke” is starting to go away.  The consequences of platforming opponents have been emerging and many people are starting to better understand the notion of responsibility.  He described social media as “an antechamber and mirror of the dispossessed” pointing out that criticism of Israel and other causes was inherently the exposure of a fault and the very limitations of the person asserting allegations.  For example, free speech and cancel culture.

At the conclusion of his address Douglas Murray again expressed confidence in what he thought would be the ultimate success of Israel’s response to the 7 October massacres and containment of Hamas.  However he also advised his audience to resist predicting too much of the future.  He advised “we need to be humble looking forward, as we are not always very humble looking back”.

My Brain Hurts

It has taken me a couple of days to collect my thoughts and attempt to sleep with a myriad of overflowing thoughts and a chasm of reflection. 

Across all presentations there were some common themes.  The first is to acknowledge just how much the Jewish world and its interaction with other nations has changed since October 7.  As we are still in the midst of such an intense responsive environment, including exacerbated media bias, each and every person has to step up to take on a more active role.  The second is to not get downtrodden or intimidated by the scale of invective.  The ethical and moral foundations of Am Yisrael remain eternal.  

The past week of inspiration and connection has intensified the surreal feeling that has us standing in the middle of history itself.  I am in awe of the capability and service of the speakers who have delivered so much chizzuk and hope, mostly not celebrity speakers but rather people I have personally met and worked with at different times in either communal or professional settings. 

Israel has adopted the mission statement ביחד ננצח – together we will win.  From the flurry of activity this sentiment is exactly what has been demonstrated to the Jews of Perth over the past week. We must maintain the momentum.

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