When things finally began returning to normal in Australia after nearly three years under one of the world’s strictest Covid protocols, Australian Jews didn’t hesitate to celebrate.
In November, Jews with the roots in the former Soviet Union who live in Australia heralded their heritage with a pair of long-awaited festivals in the country’s two biggest cities, Nov. 6 in Sydney and Nov. 13 in Melbourne. Each event attracted about 200 people. Limmud FSU Australia hosted both festivals in close partnership with the Zionist Federation of Australia or ZFA, marking the FSU Jewish community’s first in-person, large-scale events since 2018.
“For a while, we couldn’t travel more than 5 kilometers from our homes,” said Ukrainian-born Inna Polura, who worked logistics for Limmud FSU’s first Sydney festival back in 2015 and now volunteers at the Sydney Jewish Museum. “This last event was very successful, and at least 50 kids attended. We see a huge potential here.”
Moscow-born real estate agent Elena Sladkova, 25, added, “Finally we were able to do it, and this was one of the best festivals our community has seen in a very long time.”
About a quarter of Australia’s 120,000 Jews were born in the former Soviet Union or are children of immigrants from the former USSR. Limmud FSU organizes gatherings all over the world to strengthen Jewish identity and a sense of Jewish community among Jews with roots in the USSR.
At the Limmud festivals in Australia, which were held in both English and Russian, representatives of three nonprofit groups — the Blue Peony Foundation, the Svoboda Alliance and the Russian-Speaking Jewish Community Association — shared tips on how to assist Ukrainians suffering from the war that has devastated their country.
The Sydney event, held at New South Wales University, featured such presenters as Amir Maimon, Israel’s new ambassador to Australia; Leon Goltsman, Waverley Councillor for Bondi Ward, Sydney; Ron Weiser, former president of the ZFA; Diana Ulitsky of the social service agency JewishCare NSW; and Rabbi Yehoram Ulman of the Sydney Beth Din. The Melbourne event took place at the Crowne Promenade Conference Centre, with such prominent speakers as MP David Southwick, deputy Victorian Liberal Party leader; and Sebastian Inwentarz, ZFA Birthright’s Australia director.
Some of the festivals’ sessions focused on uniquely Australian themes, such as Professor Ludmila Stern’s history lecture on the World War II-era prosecution of two elderly Ukrainians and a German in the Australian city of Adelaide for atrocities against Jews. Jeremy Jones, director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, spoke of local efforts to secure the emigration of Soviet Jews to Australia in the 1970s and ’80s. In Melbourne, Simon Holloway, head of education at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum, spoke on the dramatic emergence of Holocaust research in the former Soviet Union.
There were plenty of lighter sessions among the three dozen or so at each festival. At the Melbourne event, Orthodox psychotherapist Miriam Dolnikov talked about myths and facts about Orthodox sex. Rabbi and chef David Trakhtman spoke about “spiritual gastronomy.”
In between sessions, entertainment was provided by the Russian School Lider Dance Ensemble as well as students from the AMS Music Centre and VulgarGrad, a seven-piece, Melbourne-based band that plays unique funk and punk renditions of traditional folk songs from the former Soviet Union. A special performance was held in Sydney by Ukraine-born Israeli singer Vladi Balyberg, and both events featured a unique concert by a prominent Israeli actor and singer, Vladimir Friedman. There were also workshops on challah baking and martial arts for kids.
“The last three years have shown that everything in the world can change overnight. But the fact that Limmud FSU continues to work and be active is priceless,” said Marina Rozenberg Koritny, head of the World Zionist Organization’s Aliyah Promotion Department. “This organization does wonderful, significant work in Jewish education in the Diaspora, and continues to remind us all the time that we are all one people.”
This year alone, Limmud FSU has held festivals in New Jersey; Niagara Falls, Canada; Baku, Azerbaijan, and Boston. A Dec. 1-3 gathering in Tiberias, Israel, was the year’s biggest event, with some 1,100 participants.
“It has been a long time since we last gathered in Australia,” said Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler. “But the post-Covid Australian Jewish community, whose roots lie in the countries of the FSU, is just as vibrant and hungry for community and learning opportunities as before. We are delighted to return.”
Among Limmud FSU Australia’s key supporters are the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, the ZFA, the World Zionist Organization, Genesis Philanthropy Group, the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet LeIsrael and Wilf Family Foundations. Since Limmud FSU’s first conference in 2006, the group has hosted more than 80 events worldwide, drawing over 80,000 participants. The group’s co-founder is Sandra Cahn; Matthew Bronfman is its chairman; and Aaron Frenkel is president.
“I think the best way to expand your network is by volunteering and participating in the community, and that’s why I’m involved with Limmud,” said Russia-born Maria Gelvan, 38, who coordinated the activities of the 28 volunteers at the Melbourne festival. “It’s an absolutely amazing opportunity for unifying the Jewish community.”
Luiza Levenfus, 44, who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan at age 12 before moving to Melbourne when she was about 20, says Jewish identity is at risk in Australia’s multicultural society.
“There is a big risk of losing our connection to Judaism,” Levenfus said. “I feel like my kids don’t understand the Jewish side of things, even though their mom is Jewish and their dad is half-Jewish and half-Russian — especially in the suburb where we live.”
That’s why taking the time to go to the Limmud FSU festival was so important, she said.
“People there get me. I don’t have to explain to them why I have tears when I hear Hebrew songs,” Levenfus said. “We’re all on the same page.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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