The Thing About Charity

Charity is a personal thing.

Having been involved in raising money for many worthwhile causes over the years, I know both the joy and struggle involved and the passion we have for our favourite organisations.

Many years ago, when I was a young parent, passionate about a cause, I approached JCA, along with a group of people for a loan to start a Jewish Day School in Sydney’s South East. Some thought this was a crazy venture – but we had the demographics and projected enrolments to back up our case.  JCA were able to recognise that there was a need in this area and we were granted a $10,000 loan.  Now, Mount Sinai College stands proudly in Maroubra, educating students who are becoming valuable members of our community.

iStock_000014218389XSmallAs the President of JCA today, I wish I had the flexibility to offer funding to the many people who approach us with dynamic and exciting ideas.  Unfortunately, today’s reality is different to what it was all those years ago.

Fundraising has changed since the GFC.  Pre GFC, the annual donations to JCA increased steadily. After meeting the gap between what our 22 constituents had and their needs, there was money left for special projects.

Recent additional asks range from helping kids with disabilities to telling and saving the history of our community.  I sit with passionate people who tell me the story of what they want to start or have already started. My communal brain asks “Is there a need for this service?” “Is there already a communal organisation that covers this need?” “Do these people have the commercial experience to put the infrastructure in place?” “Have they got the right level of governance in place?” And most of all, “What will happen to those in need if they can’t get funding?”

My heart and head say, we need to make this happen, how can we do it? But, we don’t have the money. We can’t fund these start-ups from somewhere else in the community because we are already asking other organisations to stretch their resources to the maximum.

If we had bottomless financial resources, my answer would be a resounding “yes” to all the forward-thinking ideas and programs which would strengthen and build our community. Today, our solution is to introduce these innovators to people we know have the capacity to assist or to recommend an approach to one of the JCA managed endowment funds.

What saddens me is that sometimes when we have had to say no, the people that have approached us for funding walk away upset and turn their back on JCA.   Our inability to fund everything is not a personal decision by our Executive or Allocations Committee, nor should it be taken personally.

We won’t say to CSG, don’t protect their families. We won’t say to JewishCare or Montefiore, don’t support their elderly and vulnerable. We won’t say to the Jewish day schools or BJE don’t educate their kids.

That’s not the way a community – our community works.

And I ask the people who have been unsuccessful in their request for JCA support , please don’t turn your back on us.  The absence of your support weakens all of the 22 constituents who are the mainstays of our community – our community suffers.

Peter_Philippsohn_OAMIf JCA has been unable to support your passion, please find it in your philanthropic heart to give to both – your passion and your JCA.

Peter Philippsohn OAM is the President of JCA.  He is contactable via email.

To donate to the 2013 Community Campaign and get your pre-30 June tax deductible donation click here.

Posted in Community, Fundraising Campaign | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Am Yisrael Chai

Outside the modern structure of the Museum of History of Polish Jews. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Outside the modern structure of the Museum of History of Polish Jews. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

On our final day in Poland we were based in Warsaw.  We visited the site of The New Museum of The History of Polish Jews that is nearing completion. This striking glass building stands on the site of the former ghetto and will feature a multi-media exhibit focussed on the vibrant Jewish community that in flourished in Poland for a thousand years preceding the Holocaust. Quite different from the community it is today. Using the latest historical research and most innovative exhibition design, the museum will immerse visitors in the world of Polish Jews and encourage exploration through a wide range of media, documents, and artifacts. As a cultural and educational center, the Museum will provide a unique learning environment, lively public programs, and singular meeting place for a diverse public.

Visiting the memorial to the partisans, Mila 18 and the deportation station at Umschlagplatz, a graveyard within the Warsaw ghetto and finally paying tribute at the last remaining piece of ghetto wall brought our trip in Poland to a close.  At the wall, a number of testimonials were read and tour rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Wolf led the group in a ceremony of remembrance, really bringing it home to us all the connections we have with each other.  Neither time nor geography can diminish the feeling of a people lost in this tragedy and how we all, as Jews globally, continue to feel this loss.

Inside the Illegal Immigrants Detention Camp at Atlit.

Inside the Illegal Immigrants Detention Camp at Atlit. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Arriving in Israel on an overnight flight, our group went directly to Kibbutz Nachscholim for breakfast before heading to Atlit Camp – the illegal immigrants refugee camp used by the British between 1945 and 1948 that housed illegal Jews arriving from post-Holocaust Europe.  The similarity between the living conditions in these camps and the labour camps we had just seen in Poland was striking to us.  My heart ached to think that people who had lived through the horror in Europe were then subject to this kind of welcome in our Jewish homeland.

On the way to Jerusalem the next morning, we stopped at Neve Michael Children’s Village , the only multidisciplinary children’s home in Israel. It provides a refuge and loving home for over 300 children and youth at risk highlighting to us that Jews have the same social problems as any other society.  It’s important to remind ourselves, after an experience like MOTL, that there are still people struggling with everyday problems and that as a society we are responsible to and for each other.

Spending Shabbos in Israel is always special – we needed this to lift our spirits and remind ourselves that life carries on and that as Jews we are solidly entrenched as a nation of people.

Our visit to Yad Vashem the next day reinforced the horrors visited throughout Europe on our people and again also reinforced the importance of never forgetting.  For me, walking along the path of the Righteous Among The Nations outside the museum is always a very emotional journey.  In any tragedy, there are people that rush forward to help, that stand up against injustice and evil.  Many were ordinary people who never intended to be rescuers or heroes, who acted out of a sense of humanity.  People like Oskar Schindler and Irena Sendler.

Irena Sendler, an amazing human being.

Irena Sendler, an amazing human being.

Irena Sendler is an unfamiliar name to most people, but this remarkable woman defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto to safe hiding places and found non-Jewish families to adopt them or placed them in Catholic orphanages.
 Irena and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. She assured the children that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives.  Unfortunately after the war, many of their parents had perished.  In 1965 she was recognised by the State of Israel as a Righteous Among the Nations. You can read more about her here.

The following day we attended the Yom Hazikaron ceremony at Kibbutz Ein Gedi.  The ceremony payed tribute to Israel’s 23,000 soldiers lost in the wars over the years.  Historically, the day opens with a siren the preceding evening at 8pm.  The siren is heard throughout the country and lasts for one minute during which time Israeli’s stop everything (including driving – traffic comes to a standstill, even on highways) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect. A second siren lasting for two minutes is sounded at 11am the following morning that marks the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gatherings at each cemetery where soldiers are buried.  We were told that the scheduling of Yom Hazikaron right before Yom Haatzmaut is intended to remind people of the price paid for independence and what has been achieved with the soldier’s sacrifice.

We returned to Jerusalem for the transition service heralding the start of Yom Haatzmaut.  Israel was alive, celebrating 65 years as a nation.  It’s a nation of people and a homeland that we as Jews both living in Israel and in the diaspora celebrate as a triumph of our spirit.

Am Yisrael Chai!

In concluding this epic journey of both body and soul I cannot begin to document the importance of this program – how we need to encourage our children to participate, how we, as adults have an incredible amount to gain from being part of this journey and how we need to continue to fund and grow this initiative. I would like to make special mention of Irit Ben-Nissan and her team of educators, madrichim and support people for making our trip so incredible. Thank you from us all. A final mention to the students on MOTL 2013 – your courage, tenacity and maturity are testament to the human beings you are and will be in the future – our community can be proud.

Israeli flags

Am Yisrael Chai

Again, I thank you for travelling with me through this blog.  If you would like to contact me on my return to discuss further, please email me at


Posted in March of the Living 2013 | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Marching to Remember, Marching for Life

Behind the wire at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Behind the wire at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

For Jews all over the world, Auschwitz- Birkenau, established by the Germans in 1940 has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust.   The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing “local” prisons. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp, similar to the type the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this capacity until 1942 when Auschwitz- Birkenau was built and became the largest of the death camps.

En route to Auschwitz-Birkenau we stopped at the memorial site of Plaszow – a forced labour camp built on the site of two Jewish cemeteries.  By 1944 it had become a concentration camp, housing about 25,000 (mainly Jewish) residents of Krakow. The camp was run by the notorious Amon Goeth whose reign of indiscriminate shootings and beatings was depicted in the movie Schindler’s List.

We then passed by Schindler’s factory and the remaining portion of the ghetto wall, now a series of arched concrete slabs redolent of gravestones. This was followed by a visit to the old Jewish quarter where we saw the old Synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery which curiously, was not destroyed by the Nazis. We also had the privilege of visiting the Galicia museum which holds an interesting and very beautiful photographic exhibition depicting the history of the Jewish community of Galicia (Poland and Ukraine), home to 75% of Europe’s Jews in the late 1920’s. It is a moving portrayal of both life and death of the Jews of this area and era.

Viewing the wall of death. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos.

Viewing the wall of death. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos.

All that we had learned, heard and read over our lifetimes as Jews, did not prepare us for Auschwitz-Birkenau – the gas chambers, the wall of death and the dormitories, where medical experiments on women were conducted.

Many old dormitories have been converted into museum display units for human hair, suitcases, brushes, spectacles and prostheses. We found the sight of mounds and mounds of hair to be most confronting with images of the people whose hair it was coming to mind. The many labelled suitcases gave each Holocaust victim an identity and transported you to those brief moments of panicked packing of a few precious possessions to prepare for a journey they could not, in their worst nightmares, imagine they were about to undertake.

After days and days of grey skies, the day of the March was sunny. There were so many groups of people of different ages from all over the world. Some groups were very festive, celebrating life, while others were very pensive as we completed the 2.8km walk between Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The March is designed to contrast with the death marches which occurred towards the end of World War II. When Nazi Germany withdrew its soldiers from forced-labour camps, inmates – usually already starving and stricken by oppressive work – were forced to march hundreds of miles further west, while those who lagged behind or fell were shot. The March of the Living, in contrast to the death marches, serves to illustrate the continued existence of world Jewry despite Nazi Germany’s attempts at their obliteration.

At one stage during the walk, we heard the sound of a large dog barking. Although there was nothing sinister in this, we found it chilling as it brought to mind images the of Nazi’s vicious guard dogs. As we walked into Auschwitz-Birkenau along the iconic railway tracks, with our survivors John and Henry next to us, all the horrific images of the victims traveling to their deaths were front of mind.

Frank and Shirley Lowy

Frank and Shirley Lowy. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

During the ceremony, there were messages of strength and hope. Frank Lowy spoke about the murder of his father in Auschwitz-Birkenau because he would not let the SS take his tallit and Tefillin. He died protecting his faith- “they could break his body but they could not break his spirit.” Click here to see the live address.

The Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, Lt. General Benjamin Gantz, whose mother was a survivor of Bergen Belsen spoke of the next step in the “march of life.”  “From the destruction of the Holocaust we grew stronger as a nation, we grew stronger as a people.” He also resolved that “we will not forget, nor will we allow it to be forgotten.”

Ronald Lauder, son of Estee Lauder and an American philanthropist who has created a foundation to rebuild Jewish identity around the world had a message for the thousands of young people who participated in the March – “I lit the fire for the one and a half million young people who perished. You are our future.” Six memorial flames were lit during the ceremony – one for each one million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

After this, our Australian MOTL group held their own ceremony, where several students gave moving accounts of their own grandparents’ experiences during the Holocaust. Against the backdrop of the hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the students who had not had a Bar mitzvah when he turned thirteen, was Bar mitzvah’d – a very uplifting event to be witness to.

Talia Vidor, March of the Living 2013 participant. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Talia Vidor, March of the Living 2013 participant. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Tali Vidor – a student in our group reflected on the circle of life amongst all this death and destruction. “Birds still fly and snow still falls and trees still grow”.  It is truly indicative of the triumph of the human spirit.

We overnighted in the town of Tarnow which, before the war, was home to 25,000 Jews. This number increased to over 40,000 when the ghetto was formed in 1940 and by 1943 all the residents had either been murdered or sent to Belzec or Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We learned that Belzec was the first extermination camp using gas/carbon dioxide to murder 500,000 Jews in its 13 months of operation. Only 3 people survived. There are no remains of the camp, only a memorial completed in 2004. Only first names of those who died are listed, depicting a people stripped of their identity. The memorial is made up of fields of rock bordered by twisted metal displaying the bleak years that the site was used as a death factory. At the memorial site, survivor John Gruschka reflected on the closure he had finally felt when he had said Kaddish for his mother the previous day at Birkenau – where she had perished 74 years ago.

Driving to Warsaw we had time to reflect on the three camps we visited as well as many other memorial sites. At each of the three camps we held memorial services and heard testimonies from students whose family members had lived through or died in the Holocaust.  What struck me was how deep and personal these stories were and how the horrors of the Holocaust had impacted on their lives. It also gave me hope. Out of all this darkness will come a generation of young people who will not only remember the past but will continue to fan the flames of the future of the Jewish people, in Israel and the Diaspora.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from one of our MOTL students Seth Wolff:

“Let us not forget those who perished within the walls of Auschwitz, those who were stripped of their belongings or personal identities, those who were unable to protest or fight back and those who had loving and caring families. Even though the years continue to pass, we will never forget those who lost their lives in the events of the Shoah.”

Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Our group now heads to Israel where we will participate in the Yom Hazikaron Service and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations.

Ian Sandler is the Chief Executive Officer of JCA

Posted in March of the Living 2013 | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Experiencing Poland – March of the Living 2013

Arriving on Thursday to a very chilly and snow covered Warsaw we met up with the MOTL group who had flown in from Frankfurt.

Lublin at Night. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Lublin at Night. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

Our journey started in Lublin, which was home to a thriving Jewish community in the early 1900’s. At that time, Lublin’s population  comprised of about 130,000 people – approximately 40,000 were Jewish. We visited a now defunct Yeshiva which in its heyday was regarded as the “Ivy League” of Yeshivas. With only about 35 Jews now living in Lublin, this building is in the process of being renovated and converted into a museum.

An important part of our day was a visit to the Grodzka gate that was the entrance into the former Jewish Quarter – destroyed in its entirety during the war. Within the reconstructed gate, a museum dedicated to the lost Jews of Lublin has been established. This is an amazing place  – engaged in fostering awareness of Lublin’s rich Jewish history and tolerance for other cultures. What we found remarkable is the fact that the custodians of this museum are not Jewish, yet are fully committed to preserving the memory of former Jewish life in Lublin. Other than the reconstructed gate the space has been left empty – yet another empty space representing the lost Jews of Europe.

On Friday we visited Majdanek the death camp where hundreds of thousands of people, including 150,000 Jews, were murdered. Covered in a layer of thick snow, Majdanek presented a bleak picture. The horror of this grim place is still palpable nearly seventy years later.

MOTL participants at Majdanek Memorial. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos
MOTL participants at Majdanek Memorial. Photo credit: Emmanuel Santos

At the camp, one of Holocaust survivors, Henry Buch spoke about the loss of his father who died in Majdanek. Henry’s life was saved by Righteous Gentiles. Henry read to us, a very moving letter written by his father to his mother who was in a labour camp in Germany.  After his testimony, Henry said Kadish for his late father, and at the same time, a group of visiting Israeli soldiers were singing Hatikvah in the background. For us this was an extremely moving moment, bringing together the horrors of the past with hope for the future.

Another poignant moment was seeing thousands of shoes of the murdered people, and a Yiddish poem “I Saw a Mountain” by Moses Schulstein was read- here is an excerpt –

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses. 
We are the shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam.
And because we are only made of stuff and leather and not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire”

On the bus after the visit, some of the students wrote of their feelings about the experience:

Anthony Joffe:  In the gas chamber in Majdanek, I looked around at the walls, stained in shades of blue and green from the Zyklon B gas, used to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, just because they were Jewish. As usual, mist formed around us as people breathed in the cold, except this time, it was indoors, and I saw this as a symbol, a symbol of the coldness of the Nazi and SS soldiers, the coldness of death. My whole body went numb, not from the cold either, but from the sheer fact that I knew that no matter where I stood, whether in the centre of the room, or pressed into a corner, a person was killed there. I will never forget my incredible experience.

Olivia Spitalnic:  When I entered the gas chamber in Majdanek I didn’t know how to feel. I had mixed emotion of fear and sadness. While I was looking around at the walls, I kept thinking of all the people that were there and all I could feel was their fear that they had. As I kept looking around the room I started to imagine what the thought of the people were while they walked through the chamber. Once I reached the crematorium I couldn’t believe how close I was to our history. Walking around Majdanek made me think of my grandfather and everything that he had to go through to survive.

We concluded the two days with Shabbos dinner held at the Krakow Jewish Communal Centre built five years ago with the support of Prince Charles.

Jonathan Ornstein from The Krakow Jewish Community Centre

Jonathan Ornstein from The Krakow Jewish Community Centre

One of the main aims of the centre is to reach out to the adult members of the community, many of whom only recently discovered their Jewish roots. The Executive Director of the Centre Jonathan Ornstein spoke to us about the re-engaging the Jewish Community that had gone underground since the Holocaust. As of today the centre has re-engaged approximately 400 people and Jonathan estimates that the population could be about 4,000-5,000 in total. On a positive note, he also discussed the state of relations between Jewish and non-Jewish Poles, which he describes as the most harmonious of all the European countries, with the Polish Government being a positive supporter of the State of Israel. Interestingly enough, in the ten years he has lived in Krakow, he has not experienced one anti Semitic incident and neither the Synagogue or Community Centre had any security.

My final piece in Poland will document our journey to Auschwitz and our participation in the March.  Whilst this is a really hard journey to make and report on, I am experiencing the importance of never forgetting the atrocities of the Holocaust and the role this program (March of the Living) plays in the global continuity.

I wish you well over the week.


Ian Sandler is the Chief Executive Officer of JCA

Posted in March of the Living 2013 | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Prague and Berlin: the beginning of a journey of education and remembrance.

In order to gain some contextual background to our March of the Living journey, my wife Glenda and I spent a few days experiencing Prague and Berlin from a Jewish perspective.

An insightful tour of the Jewish Quarter in Prague documented the very long history of the Jews of Europe.  Being able to stand in the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest synagogue still in use in Europe was so moving, that feeling of connecting with other Jews that were here 700 years prior was overwhelming.

Pinkas Memorial walls

Pinkas Synagogue walls

We attended the Shabbat service, which consisted of about 25 people, of which less than 10 were local Jews. Once a large and thriving Jewish community, Prague is now home to less than a thousand Jews, reflecting the terrible devastation that took place throughout Europe.

Another poignant reminder of the atrocities that befell Europe’s Jewry was the memorial at the Pinkas Synagogue. All the internal walls of this Synagogue are covered with the names of the 77000 Czech Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The following day we visited Terezin which was very disturbing as it brought into focus the horrors of the Nazis’ plan for the destruction of the Jews. Terezin, a small town about an hour outside of Prague, was set up as a place where Jews were led to believe they could live in safety until the end of the war. However it was from here that they were

Terezin Memorial Cemetary

Terezin Memorial Cemetary

transported to various death camps – mainly Auschwitz. Today the town has about 3000 inhabitants, yet it has the eerie air of a ghost town with no industry or activity whatsoever, and still has the feel of its sinister past. We visited on a bitterly cold day and despite having all the warm gear were chilled to the bone. It was impossible to even begin to conceive of the suffering of the people who lived here through cold winters with inadequate clothing and bedding, and barely enough food to sustain them. Against the party atmosphere of touristy Prague, Terezin was a sobering experience.

A few days later we joined a tour to see Berlin through Jewish eyes.

Our first stop was the site of the former Jewish community centre which became a transportation camp during the Nazi reign of terror. Nearby we viewed the site of the old synagogue which lay empty below a covering of snow. Continuing on to the grounds of the old Jewish cemetery, we were again confronted by an empty space marked only by two graves at the entrance. In front of the cemetery was the empty site of a former Jewish aged care facility which was also used as a transportation camp. We visited the Jewish day school, the first Jewish school in Germany. This was recently reopened having been unused since the early 1940’s.

Otto Weidt

Otto Weidt

We heard the moving and uplifting story of a man named Otto Weidt who employed mostly visually and hearing impaired Jewish people in his brush factory in East Berlin. He hid and protected these people during the years of terror, although he was unable to save all of them. We ended the day with a visit to the New Synagogue. Although very beautiful and ornate, it is just a fraction of the size of the original Synagogue which held 3000 people in its heyday. Rather than rebuild it to its former size, the community opted for a more appropriately sized synagogue with seating for about 200 people. The remainder of the site of the original synagogue has been left as an empty space.

Berlin Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

Berlin Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

On our last day in Berlin we visited the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial consists of an area of 19,000 sq metres containing 2,711 concrete blocks redolent of a graveyard – a stark reminder of the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust.  We then attended the Topography of Terror which was a chilling exposé of the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. The atrocities perpetuated by the Gestapo and SS have been brought to life in a harsh and factual exhibition.  Concluding with a visit to the Libeskind designed Jewish Museum, I noticed how different it is to The Sydney Jewish Museum. Central to the design of the museum are three axes – two of them, the Axis of the Holocaust, and the Axis of Exile confront visitors with the Nazi era. The third axis, the Axis of Continuity leads to the permanent exhibition. The Axis of the Holocaust culminates in Libeskind’s Holocaust Tower – an empty tower with a 24 metre high ceiling with a single narrow source of light – perhaps a parallel to the many empty sites which mark present day Berlin.

We left with a strong sense that in contrast to today’s vibrant and cosmopolitan Berlin, scattered throughout the city are constant reminders of the darkest period in Germany’s history.

Tomorrow we continue our journey in Poland.

I wish you Shabbat Shalom.


Ian Sandler is the Chief Executive Officer of JCA

Posted in March of the Living 2013, World Jewry | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Embarking on a journey to honour the memory those who didn’t survive

After Pesach, my wife Glenda and I will be embarking on a long-haul flight to Poland to join this year’s team for March of the Living.

The 2013 March of the Living is expected to bring over 10,000 young people, survivors and adults from around the world to Auschwitz-Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day. There they will march in memory of the six million Jews murdered in the Shoah, and in memory of all victims of Nazi genocide.

image credit:jspace

image credit:jspace

The event will mark the 70th anniversary of the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. During the uprising, a small band of Jewish fighters held off their German attackers for more than a month, after they had planned to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto in three days.

March of the Living Australia’s contingent will comprise approximately 50 Year 11 student group, accompanied by Survivors, Educators, Madrichim, Communal leaders and auxiliary staff as well as a 25-strong Adult group who will join Adults from South Africa, USA, Canada and other countries to form an International Adult group.

Whilst I have travelled extensively and had many experiences, I’ve never been to Poland or Eastern Europe.  When I was 18, I visited Dachau located outside Munich.  Having lived in South Africa with both sets of grandparents emigrating in the early 1900’s, unlike many who lost relatives to the Holocaust, I had no direct ties to the wars in Europe.  Our curriculum as a student in school also didn’t place direct emphasis on the Holocaust and its teachings. My knowledge therefore had been very limited.

I would have to say that my first real connection has been since moving to Sydney and living in a community with so many links to the Holocaust.  Being located so close to the Sydney Jewish Museum, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to the people who work in the Museum and meet some of the Holocaust survivors.  This has empowered me with a far better understanding of the impact that this catastrophe has had on our people as individuals, as families and as a community.

March of the Living brings students and adults from all over the world to Poland and Israel to mark the three most significant dates in the modern Jewish calendar.  In Poland, their program includes visits to once thriving sites of Jewish life and culture, culminating on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, participants march from Auschwitz to Birkenau in memory of all victims of Nazi genocide and against prejudice, intolerance and hatred. From Poland, the groups travel to Israel, the birthplace and homeland of the Jewish People, where they commemorate Israel’s fallen soldiers on Yom Hazikaron and celebrate Israel’s independence on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Since the first March of the Living was held in 1988, over 150,000 youth from around the world have marched down the same path leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Australia takes a special role in this year’s MOTL with a keynote address on spiritual resistance being delivered by Frank Lowy.

As a boy, Lowy was able to escape the Nazis, but his father, Hugo, perished in the Holocaust. Almost half a century later, Hugo’s story of faith and resistance was revealed. It was told by a man who was with him in the train to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Beside the train, Hugo endured blow after blow rather than obey an order to give up his prayer bag that held his Talit (prayer shawl) and Tefillin (phylacteries). These were so sacred to him that he continued to defy orders as the guards beat him to death in front of many others who understood what he was defending.

Railroad car memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Image credit Pawel Sawicki

Railroad car memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Image credit Pawel Sawicki

Hugo was one of almost half a million Hungarian Jews to perish in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. After a long search, the Lowy family found a wagon that had been used to transport the Hungarian Jews and in 2009 brought it back to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The wagon is dedicated to the memory of the Hungarian Jews. Inside, it holds a blue prayer bag as a symbol of one man’s willingness to pay the ultimate price for his faith. 

The wagon and Hugo’s story will play a central role both in the 2013 March of the Living’s educational efforts and during the commemorative ceremony held on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In addition, Chazan Shimon Farkas of Sydney, Australia, who lost three grandparents in Auschwitz, will chant the memorial prayers at the ceremony.

I am privileged to be amongst this group attending the 25th anniversary of the first March of the Living.  Our strength as a people has been tested time and time again.  It continues with antisemitism rearing its ugly head daily worldwide.  The only thing we can do to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself is to continue to educate on genocide, bigotry and racism and to ensure that the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust is never forgotten.

I will be blogging throughout my journey in Poland – I hope you travel the journey with me.

Wishing you a kosher le Pesach


Ian Sandler is the Chief Executive Officer of JCA.

Posted in World Jewry | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

How was 2012 for you?

By Ian Sandler

In the final stages of 2012 and reflecting on the year that was, I’d like to share with you some of my positive experiences that I believe strengthen us as a community and make me proud to be a part of JCA and all it stands for.

JCA Womens Division Dr Charles Teo OAM 220512 Moriah College

Prof Teo sold out almost before the invitations dropped in mailboxes!

Our annual campaign commenced at the end of May and the community came out in support of our events – we had three sold out communal functions.  Your support meant everything to us – it motivates us to continue doing our work with the passion and enthusiasm needed to ensure our success. Thank you from the team at JCA.

Some new initiatives reached fruition – JCA’s new website was born. Having been in operation for almost seven years, it was time for a change – we hope you like the new look.  Click here to view.

The inaugural JCA Observership program came into being under the guidance of Jonathan Gavshon.  We were overwhelmed with highly qualified candidates and had to extend our reach into boards outside the community to try and accommodate as many young people as we could.  We were fortunate to induct 28 people as our first Observers.  It is our hope that we are creating leaders who will play major roles our community in the future.

A joint venture between JCA and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Jewish Sydney launched only last night and will be the “go to” place to find about Jewish events in Sydney as well as all that our community has to offer. This online portal will provide the community with connections to Jewish organisations and events. Click here to view.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the success that was JCA Family Day in October.  Partnering with the teams at Shalom Baby and PJ Library, over 300 families joined us –

Perfect family day out - JCA Family Day 2012

Perfect family day out – JCA Family Day 2012

taking us way over our anticipated numbers again and ensuring that the event becomes an annual occasion.  Recognising how hard it is for people with young families to go out at night, it was imperative that we still accommodate them with a JCA event that was appropriate and relevant.

Finally, one of our community’s flagship endeavours is the annual Camp Sababa.

Fun in the sun - campers with their buddies - Camp Sababa 2012

Fun in the sun – campers with their buddies – Camp Sababa 2012

The Camp, first organised in 2007 was conceptualised and driven by a parent who felt there was a need in the community to cater for children who have a disability.  The camp with the support of The Sony Foundation has gone from strength to strength.  This year in early December, 26 campers along with their buddies sourced from Year 12 students at Emanuel School, Masada College and Moriah College again, had an experience that was more than memorable.  With training from another JCA member organisation, JewishCare, the camp is a testament to how many organisations collaborate within our community to make something as wonderful as Camp Sababa happen.  The end of Camp BBQ and prizegiving highlighted each child’s unique talents and qualities.  Everyone left feeling ten foot tall. Kol Hakavod to all.

The Camp BBQ, while concluding Camp Sababa saw the commencement of the first Sababa Lagumba Camp.    Spearheaded by a former “buddy” Steve Gluckman, this new camp caters for young adults with special needs aged between 17 and 22 years of age.  Sponsored by Raymond Weil, the camp represents the communities continued effort to provide support to young adults with special needs and their families.  We are truly a community that can be proud of this initiative and all the people involved in making it happen.

Ian Sandler is the Chief Executive Officer of JCA

Ian Sandler is the Chief Executive Officer of JCA

On that very positive note, I wish you all well for 2013 and thank you again for all your support


Posted in Community, Fundraising Campaign | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment