How has the Hamas war impacted the Jewish Community in Perth?
This question has been asked of many of us since the start of this horrendous week.
The Jewish world is small. There are more than 10,000 Australian citizens in Israel, many more migrants, with a disproportionally high number from Perth. We are connected and we all have family and friends that are currently enduring the most horrific of circumstances.
Looking around my Synagogue this morning I counted that more than half of those present have children now residing in Israel. Some of them are serving in the IDF as lone soldiers and reservists. There is a heightened sense of anxiety as missiles continue to be directed at Israeli towns and cities.
There are many stories, some of them yet to be shared due to requests from families to have their privacy respected.
Tonight the community hosted a solidarity rally for Israel. More than 1,000 people attended and many more were unable to obtain tickets due to the capacity limit. Emotions are running high and many tears were shed. Our youth led the way by maintaining optimism, singing and dancing in support of Israel.
Then there are the tragedies.
Galit Carbone, aged 66 from Kibbutz Be’eri has been named as the first Australian killed in the horrific Hamas terrorist attack on Saturday. She has cousins and many extended family in Perth. My daughter’s BFF is a relative, and we were able to sit with her and hear amazing stories about Galit and her family journey from the Holocaust to Australia and to Israel. As the Talmud says, the loss of a single life is the loss of an entire world.
One of my Rabbinic leaders is currently fearing the worst. He has a son who was shot in the leg whilst defending a kibbutz from terrorists. Luckily he has survived, and has been sent home to recover as the hospitals are already full with over 3,000 wounded. But he has another son, who has been missing in action since Saturday. His empty tank was found, but as yet there is no news. We hope and pray.
Another Perth family with cousins in a Negev kibbutz found out that their family had been massacred. An 8 year old boy and his 6 year old sister hid in a cupboard for 13 hours while their parents and sister lay dead on the floor, until they were rescued.
A neighbour has a daughter whose friend, a medic, was killed while defending a town.
David is a Perth born hero of Israel who runs the Israellycool blog. He sadly reports that his step-daughter’s boyfriend was killed in service defending Israel.
And so the stories go on.
Locally, there is an upgraded security protocol for the Perth Jewish community. In particular there is concern for University students. Anti-Israel material has been distributed at Curtin University, and some Jewish students are fearful to be on campus. The trauma of the past few days has led many students to apply for extensions on assessment activity. There are traumatic scenes from tertiary institutions in Sydney and Melbourne, particularly the University of Sydney that are being shared amongst the Australian Union of Jewish Students. Some are clearly beyond the bounds of decency, but permitted as “free speech”. So much for a zero tolerance policy for hate and protection from victimisation! A lecturer from the University of Sydney was interviewed on 6PR attempting to justify terrorism. It is hard to believe that in Australia in 2023 that such a toxic culture can exist in our universities, but it has been a supressed undertone for a while, and now starting to bubble to the surface.
So locally we are impacted in many ways by what is happening in Israel. We are geographically distant and sometimes feel helpless. We can contribute prayers, money, and moral support, but our predicament of being emotionally distressed pales into insignificance when compared to the trauma of our brothers and sisters who are cowering in bomb shelters and fighting on the front line for the very existence of the Jewish State.
It must be noted that the emotional distress extends far further than the Jewish community, and the vast majority of people in Perth are also disturbed by what they have seen and have been very empathetic in reaching out to their Jewish friends. Most people are decent and morally astute. There are some who note that this conflict does not belong in Australia (and they are right), but at the same time the level of inhumanity is too grave to ignore. There are also some misrepresentations in the media and those who “strive for balance” in a way that is very historically ignorant.
The Perth Jewish community is strong, resilient, and very dedicated towards the values of Zionism and tenants that are commonly described as Judeo-Christian ethics. We aspire for peace, but we also inherently understand what it means to have a world with no Jewish homeland, and we will support Israel as it does everything necessary to defend itself.
May the action of the Israel Defence Forces be swift and successful in eliminating the terrorist regime of Hamas, and may all humanity be spared as much grief and sorrow as possible while this awful but necessary action proceeds.