‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life

We missed a couple of Billionaires this week: We probably weren’t the only Jewish charity in town that got all excited for about 30 minutes yesterday – when the headlines read that James Packer had taken up Israeli citizenship (and had converted?), but alas his office denied it before we could send out an invitation to our Major Donor dinner (damned Communal Calendar!).

James Packer - almost.......

James Packer – almost…….

And the night before we were privileged to be at the Observership Program’s training event held at the every so funky Facebook offices (when will the JCA office get a shuffleboard I wondered?).

And as wonderful and inspiring as Brian Schwartz AM was (thank you Brian), Mark Zuckerberg – like Elvis – had left the building, as was nowhere to be seen. So it turns out we had to look a little closer to home for some philanthropic inspiration this week.

Brian Schwartz AM

Brian Schwartz AM

I really need to write a letter to the Chevra. One of the bittersweet duties of being the JCA CEO is to go from time to time to the funerals of people who have been stalwart supporters of this community for longer than I’ve been alive. And as I sit there on the sparse wooden pews, listening to eulogies of one remarkable life after another, I think to myself, we are missing an incredible opportunity here. These should be recorded. Actually I think they should be live-streamed and podcast, because every life story I’ve heard over the past year, has been “extra-ordinary”.  As they must be, because as we know, the tragic fact is there is nobody to tell the “ordinary” stories of European Jewry in the 1940s, ending as they do in oblivion.

The story this week was that of Victor Newman, who was born in Split (today in Croatia) 95 years ago, and died peacefully in his home in Sydney last week – on Yom Hashoah, the day to commemorate the cataclysm which consumed almost his entire world. Because of the tempest that struck Sydney in the early part of the week, Victor’s funeral was delayed to Thursday, which as Rabbi Kamins pointed out was Yom Ha’atzmaut. The journey from Yom Hashoah to Yom Ha’atzmaut, and the palpable sense of rising from the ashes and rebuilding strong and independent lives is told week in and week out in that little brick building on Oxford Street, and we need to capture those stories while we still can.

I cannot do justice to Victor’s incredible life in this short column, (maybe we can get permission to reprint it), but there was one thing which Rabbi Kamins neglected to mention in his eulogy: That Victor’s (and his late wife Irene’s) great communal generosity and philanthropic leadership will live on, in perpetuity, because in 2007 they established a JCA Endowment Fund. Every year the fund provides two scholarships to university students studying medicine: one for an indigenous student at UNSW (through the Shalom Gamarada program) and another for a Jewish student in need.

And I know that the Newmans’ philanthropy was not limited to our local community, because sitting beside me at the Chevra were our friends from the JNF. People in our community who give to one worthy cause, tend to support many, and not just Jewish ones of course.

So like Victor, we are all on a journey this week from Yom Hashoah to Yom Ha’atzmaut, and we hope to see you and your family at the communal celebrations at Moriah College this Sunday afternoon. Who knows, we might even get James Packer to pop bye to celebrate Israel’s independence with us. If you know him, and he’s in town, let him know he’d never be more welcome at a party, I’m sure the CSG boys won’t give him too hard a time, and the felafel’s on us.

100 years of anzac resized

It would be remiss of me not to mention ANZAC Day tomorrow.  Chair of JCA’s Marketing Committee, Garry Browne AM has been instrumental in organising this year’s Anzac Centenary Commemorative Service of the NSW Jewish Community at The Great Synagogue.


His father Wesley is an honoured returned Jewish serviceman, and a longstanding leader of NAJEX. We published his story a year ago but it’s so relevant with it being the 100 year anniversary and the Browne family’s involvement that we’re re-publishing in honour of Anzac Day tomorrow.  Click here to read Wesley’s story.

Shabbat Shalom,

Daniel Grynberg