PM 2020 Summit and Pesach

When the 2020 Summit was announced by PM Rudd, the general media contained several articles noting that the event clashed with Pesach and that members of the Jewish community felt this was inappropriate and exclusionist.  Hastily, a separate summit was organised, and the Government did all it could to accomodate a Jewish viewpoint within the event.  The Australian Jewish News (AJN) picked up on this, including a well written editorial that noted a number of Jewish Australian’s would attend anyway.  They summised that these people did a disservice to the Jewish community by being involved in a public event on Yom Tov, albeit as individuals.

The AJN has since changed its stance.  In an almost apologetic fit there have been articles, op-ed comment, and letters from Jewish participants that have attempted to justify the involvement of Jewish people in a national forum, at the expense of Pesach.  The AJN has now asked “Did the community cry wolf?” and written that the leadership have possibly misread the mood of the community and over-estimated how many invitees would be willing to miss a seder for the summit.  This is ironic as it was the AJN that took the moral highground and stirred up this position in the first place.  All those sentiments expressed that a Jewish person’s lack of respect for their own tradition reflects poorly on all of us now count for naught.

The new position is that individuals attending any event in their own right, not officially representing a Jewish organisation, should not be subject to labelling.  As free arbiters, it is they who make a decision based on their priorities.  Only about 10% of Australian Jewry is observant Orthodox, the balance do not strictly hold the mitzvot of Shabbat, Kashrut and Yom Tov.  What difference should Pesach make to them, and why should we expect they refrain from ego-boosting noteriety?

Except for the fact that Jews get judged collectively.  An identifiable Jew in the public spotlight is an identifiable community ambassador whether they like it or not.  They get labelled as a Jew before they get labelled as a person, because the racial and ethnic overtones within Australian society create an ethos that gives you a brand and a stereotypical expectation before your personal capabilities and competencies are assessed.  As a visible Jew in the workplace I often feel this to be the case.  Some people are smarter than others at hiding their prejudice, but the sentiment often seeps through.

I don’t mind being seen and judged as a Jew.  It gives me pride.  However it must be such a dilemma for those who know that their are compromising their identity for the sake of a good line item listing in their CV, or a nice principled way of contributing to Australian identity.  That Jewish guilt is likely to be there somewhere, and when I see that somebody has to go out of their way to build a defensive shield to explain away their priorities (or even attempt to force-reconcile them), I often thank myself that I don’t have to bestow upon myself such moral dilemmas.

These thoughts struck me as I walked to Shule on Yomtov and saw Maccabi Soccer in full action.  That is worse than the summit as it is a Jewish organisation running activities for Jewish people on Yom Tov.  It is disrespectful, but the parents obviously don’t care.  Or do they?  Some parents tried to hide away, and avoid driving out of the carpark in front of Jews walking to Shule.  Something must have been eating away at them.    

I agree with the initial stance of the AJN.  Irrespective of standards of observance, it is incompatible with Jewish tradition to engage in public activity during a time of kedusha (midkadesh yisrael vehazmanim).  You cannot be at a national Summit and a seder table at the same time.  You cannot be at the Grand Final and in shule on Yom Kippur at the same time.  You cannot be Jewish and secular at the same time, without the need to compromise your values, rituals and heritage.  Yes, you are free to do so, but such a choice of action has repercussions.  It impacts a persons integrity as a Jew, but more than that, it undermines and impacts the integrity of what the Jewish community represents as a whole.