Sunday, June 28, 2009

Watch this Blog

I was just made aware of a new blog, AJN Watch, which has been setup to counter the perceived anti-orthodox bias of the Australian Jewish News.

As an observant Jew I must agree that the AJN certainly seems to do its best to highlight any negative issues that the community has and appears to emphasise stories when a frum individual is accused of doing something wrong. Case in point was the disgusting front page in last week's paper of a Rabbi who has been accused of wrongdoing. Despite a one's personal feelings this rabbi has not been tried and found guilty yet. Maybe the Jewish News and others know something we don't but I always thought that one needs to be found guilty by a judge before he is sentenced.

I also find it frustrating that the AJN journalists know very little about the frum community and often have incorrect reports, quotes etc in articles that pertain to us. I put this down to the fact that there do not appear to be any frum journalists (except for Yossi Aron who seems to be confined to one particular area of the paper) and also that the paper does not seem to care about our segment of the community. Until the Jewish News editors and management make a concerted effort to understand the frum section of the community I cannot see this changing.

The solution the writers of the blog propose is to purchase the Hamodia. While I do like this paper it has nothing to do with our local community. I certainly enjoy reading news about frum communities overseas but I would also like to know what is going on in our community. I know that there is a segment of frum Melbourne who care nothing for the less frum but most of us want to know what is happening in the Jewish community. Until there is someone who wants to invest in another newspaper for the Jewish community of Melbourne (or Australia) I cannot see the Hamodia taking the place of the AJN.

If I can offer a defence of the Jewish News (at my peril)...I am sure that we understand that the orthodox community is only a small section of the Melbourne Jewish community. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the journalists are not frum, the owners affiliate strongly with the Liberal/Progressive/Reform (whatever it is being called today) movement and the prevailing culture is extremely secular leads to articles in that paper which have very little Jewish content apart from the fact that they are about Jews or written by Jews. I cannot see this changing.

In any case I am looking forward to reading future posts on this new blog and honestly hope that the owner(s) can encourage a positive change to the Jewish News which will satisfy the majority of the Orthodox community.

Friday, June 26, 2009

First Yartzeit of Rabbi Groner

How many people have sat at that table?

Today, 4 Tammuz, marks the first yartzeit of our Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner. There are a couple of tributes in this week's Jewish News and a number of articles, tributes and photos on the Yeshivah Centre website here.

Rabbi Groner, with his huge personality, was almost the face of Chabad in Australia and especially in Melbourne. There are few, if any, people in our community who haven't been touched by him in some way. In fact he was known and respected throughout the general Jewish community because he was so active in so many areas over the years. We in Chabad are noticably missing his leadership. Di neshoma zol hoben an aliya.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Personal Reflections has many articles and information about the Rebbe for Gimmel Tammuz here. The area that I like the most is the one that contains personal stories about the Rebbe from people of all walks of life. It can be found here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gimmel Tammuz - 15 Years

17 Adar 5749 (1989)
Click on photo for larger view

Rabbi Shimon Posner of Chabad of Rancho Mirage (somewhere in America!) has written a thoughtful piece about the Rebbe. After 15 years there is not much to say. I suppose that we should at least reflect on how we can live our lives in the way that the Rebbe wanted to improve ourself and the world around us.

Walking down 34th Street you see the camera-clad map-wielding tourists heading towards the entranceway of the Empire State Building. They stop and look up, they lean back, lean all the way back until just before they lose balance, and they start clicking pictures -- of a wide, wide wall.

The more self-conscious and sophisticated ones blush when the passing New Yorkers suppress a sly grin. It is only once the tourist gets to Seventh Avenue that they gain any perspective of this magnificent, elegant landmark soaring above an already impressive skyline -- and how it is head and shoulders above Spokane.

Was the Rebbe a rabbi? Well yes, but no. Forget it, I'm not going to be able to explain what the Rebbe was, what the Rebbe is. It is now, as I write these lines, fifteen years already since his passing, and I don't have any perspective. I see legacy; newlyweds who never even spoke with the Rebbe that are chomping at the bit to do his work even before they've unpacked their wedding gifts.

So if I can't give any perspective on the Rebbe why do I write of him? I see that his idea – which raised more eyebrows than interest fifty years ago – is now considered normative Jewish experience; Jewish children will be more inspired than their parents’ generation. When I came to Rancho Mirage, a kind soul suggested that we’ll be getting lots of calls for people who want to say kaddish in a traditional synagogue, like the one their parents frequented. Once in a long while we get such a call. Regularly, just ten minutes ago in fact, we get a call for help with getting kosher food: their grandchildren are visiting.

So if I can’t give any perspective on the Rebbe why do I write of him? For the exercise: the mere exercise will allow a place for the perspective to develop – and will show the void of having no perspective. Lots of people who take their given expertise very seriously predicted what would happen to Chabad once the Rebbe would pass on, especially the youth. None that I know of spoke of a legacy which becomes more dynamic, not less. I would not have thought it.

Many of those aforementioned couples are not fully aware of it, but they are not the first. It was their grandparents’ generation that was arrested and served in Siberia’s gulags. In the blank next to the word “crime:” was written the word that sentenced them: Schneersonist. Most of these Schneersonists had never seen the Rebbe then; those who did not survive, never met the Rebbe now. The Bolsheviks meant Schneersonist pejoratively.

President Dubya on a trip to Russia, a couple years back, spent forty minutes longer than planned in a synagogue where Shneersonists were arrested, where one of those newlyweds had come back to -- can I say it without sounding hackneyed? -- breathe Jewish life into the embers of the Jewish spirit.

No, no this is not perspective, this is just a wide, wide wall. Perspective you want? Keep walking.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sensible Words

I was just sent this article by Alexander Downer (Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister from 1996 to 2007) written about a month ago. He always came across to me as having more common sense than many other pollies but this article echos my thoughts exactly about the topic of taking responsibility for ourselves. I believe that we can all apply this to our own lives and in our dealings with others.

The original is from the Adelaide Advertiser.

I don't know about you, but it's always nice to get emails. Once upon a time you'd look with pleasure at a handful of letters which dropped through the letter box. Now all you get are those threatening looking envelopes with windows. Or if you're Tom Koutsantonis, those nasty missives which tell you about passing unknowingly through a speed camera.

But this is a generalisation. At the height of the Schapelle Corby affair I received 5000 emails in one day from fellow Australians pleading with me to save "our Schapelle" from the horrors of the Indonesian legal system. Or, to be a bit more honest, the few I looked at said that.

I'm sure my successor as foreign minister, Stephen Smith, had his in box bursting last week as people demanded he save the beer mat mum, Annice Smoel, from the ravages of the Thai police. I felt for him especially when the media started demanding he "do something" to save her.

After about 10 minutes as foreign minister I was a little surprised to learn I was "responsible" for miscreant Australians who got into trouble in foreign countries.

No, no, no, don't get it wrong - drug traffickers, drunks, kleptomaniacs and fraudsters weren't responsible for their own stupidity - I was.

It's about time that great nanny in Canberra, the Federal Government, turned around and told people they are responsible for their own decisions.

I was in Lebanon the other day and went down to the southern cities of Sidon and Tyre. They're fascinating places - old Crusader castles, bustling souks, colourful little food stalls with generous owners offering you a taste of their wares.

But I couldn't help remembering the awful events in those same places three years ago when Israel went to war with Hezbollah.

There were said to be 20,000 Australians in Lebanon at that time and a hefty percentage of them were demanding the Australian Government save them and

Lebanese support groups hit the airwaves screaming that the Government was too slow getting those Australians who wanted to be evacuated to safety. But hang on, Australia's about 15,000km from Lebanon and we don't dock ships in the eastern Mediterranean ready to ferry Australians to safety.

And there was something else. We'd issued a travel advisory months earlier warning Australians of the dangers of southern Lebanon and the risks of going there.

It didn't matter - apparently we had to get them out.

We were lucky. The Australian ambassador, a petite, charming professional called Lyndall Sachs, worked day and night chartering ferries and providing comfort to the evacuees, who hadn't cared about the travel advisories, and whisked them to safety.

It was one of the great achievements of an Australian diplomat. Almost single handedly, she managed to get around 5000 Australians to Cyprus and Turkey.

We then chartered planes to take them back to Australia. I hope they built shrines to her. Some did, at least metaphorically.

But some just whinged. They felt seasick on the ferry and that was our fault. Could they get frequent flyer points for the free flight back to Australia? And all this cost around $30 million dollars - your dollars.

I'll tell you this - I didn't get 5000 emails of thanks but I got plenty of abuse because we weren't fast enough, the ferries didn't go from their port of choice and we were slow because we were racist, and so on. I mean, we'd warned them and told them not to go to the south of Lebanon. They went all the same. And when the proverbial hit the fan it was, you guessed it, "our fault".

Then there was Hurricane Katrina, which flooded much of New Orleans. A mother of an Australian who arrived in New Orleans the day the hurricane hit came to see me in Stirling and demanded I get her son out. Americans couldn't get out but I had to get her son out. I asked if he'd heard the warnings from the U.S. Government that week to avoid New Orleans.

She started shouting. He doesn't follow the news, he doesn't watch TV or read the newspapers. I see, I said. It was my fault he was in New Orleans, was it? What were we to do? Fly helicopters from Australia to America and pick up Australians and leave the Americans behind?

I didn't have the guts to say this as foreign minister but don't you think you should take responsibility for yourself when you go overseas?

If you're too dumb or idle to read the travel advisories and too mean to take out travel insurance when you go overseas then you ought to take responsibility for your own behaviour.

Sure, if there's a catastrophe like the Bali bombings or you're trapped in a corruption scam the government should try to help. But not if you're too lazy and silly to help yourself.

Remember two things when you travel. First, there are no special laws for Australians overseas. Foreigners make the laws over there, not us. And secondly,
foreigners do things differently and they're entitled to.

If you go to a Muslim country and get wildly drunk and women start dressing down (if you know what I mean) it can be bloody offensive to the locals. You'll soon be in trouble.

And learn to take responsibility for your own behaviour. Stealing is wrong, even stealing beer mats. I know, I know, the beer mat mum had a few drinks but, no, she wasn't drunk and she was charmingly polite to the local police.

But she was in a foreign country with a different culture and all of us ought to respect that.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Chabad Youth & A'Beckett Street

I just received an email from Angela Carabott on behalf of the neighbours surrounding the Yeshivah Centre and particularly those in and near A'Beckett Street. The email was aimed at the Yeshivah Centre and Yeshivah Beth Rivkah administration and was also sent to AussieEcho and Emmanuel Althaus probably in the hope that we would publicise their issues and complaints. I am happy to reproduce the email here with a few comments of my own (I am sure you are not surprised).

The email is mainly aimed at the proposed Chabad Youth Centre on A'Beckett Street which first came to light a year ago (see here). The author also complains about the noise and other annoying behaviour emanating from the Yeshivah.

From what I hear Anash, members of Yeshivah Shul and parents of the school have two main issues with the proposed Youth Centre. These are (1) that precious and scarce land is being taken away from the Yeshivah grounds and (2) given to Chabad Youth. It seems to me that every square metre of land is needed and will not be easily reclaimed once the Chabad Youth centre is built. It also appears obvious that land should not be given away - just as other Chabad Houses and organisations must raise money for their particular projects so should Chabad Youth. This is especially so considering that it is claimed that Chabad Youth is a separate entity and will be self funding.

Serious accusations are made in the email below that part of Federal Government grants have been "syphoned off" and given to Chabad Youth. It is difficult for me to believe this particular accusation and I feel that, if the accusation is true, there will be a good explanation and probably a misunderstanding of the intention and purpose of the grant.

The last half of the email gets a little hysterical in tone but some of the accusations of noise and bad behaviour are probably true. I do know that, especially during Sukkos, there was a lot of noise and singing in the street well after midnight but also know that this did not come from the Yeshivah but from another group of exuberant young men in the area.

In any case the neighbours appear to have legitimate concerns and it will be of interest to see if these are taken seriously by both the Yeshivah and Chabad Youth leadership.

Subject: Youth centre in A'Beckett Street - Action taken by neighbours

As you are aware, your neighbours do not believe it is appropriate to build a 4 storey youth centre in A'Beckett Street because of the inevitable excessive noise, traffic and breach of privacy that such a building will bring to A'Beckett Street.

The neighbours are fed up to the back teeth with the noise late at night that regularly emanates from the Yeshivah College campus during the week and the illegal and dangerous behaviour that is being increasingly conducted by the parents, students and visitors to the Yeshivah College campus.

Since the beginning of 2009 the neighbours have all agreed to consistently report to the police, the State and Federal Government and/or the Glen Eira City Council (whichever is appropriate) ANY breaches of any planning permit conditions of any Yeshivah College building, or ANY breaches of State and Federal laws including parking regulations and use of fireworks (which are illegal in Australia).

This resolve should be evident to you as it has been through the actions taken by the neighbours that the planning permit to use Werdiger Hall for non-school events was only given once many conditions limiting the hours of use, acoustic fencing, limiting number of events and people and car parking requirements were added. In addition, it was the action of the neighbours which stopped the illegal use of the ramp to the A'Beckett Street staff car park and now requires the ramp to be removed costing Yeshivah College thousands of dollars in wasted construction costs and fines from the Glen Eira City Council.

Having stated that, you should be aware that following statements made by Craig Brown (of McIldowie Partners Architects) to several people, that $860,000 of the Government School Funding Stimulus given to Yeshivah and Beth Rivkah College by the Federal Government has been syphoned off to be used by Chabad Youth, a complaint has been lodged with the Minister for Education (Hon. Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister), the Department of Education and several state-wide newspapers.

The neighbours do not believe that the Chabad Youth building is in keeping with the Federal Government's expectation that the funding is to be used by Yeshivah and Beth Rivkah College for school buildings especially as Moshe Kahn made it very clear at meetings with the neighbours in December 2008 and February 2009 that Yeshivah College will have nothing to do with the activities/uses of the youth centre and that Yeshivah College will have to obtain his permission to use the building at all.

It is apparent that the proposed Chabad Youth building will be used the majority of the time for the DaMinyan of over 200 congregants as stated on "Since its inception, it has experienced tremendous growth, and now has over 200 congregants, making it one of the fastest growing Shules in Australia." and "To further this goal, DaMinyan is relocating to a new, state-of-the-art premise, which will ensure adequate space for our ever-increasing members, and offer modern facilities for our functions." This is not what was stated in the application for the youth centre's planning permit to the Glen Eira City Council and the civil compliance unit has been advised of the possible deception.

In the past 6 months there have been a number of disturbances at Yeshivah College late at night (after 12 midnight) which the police, the fire brigade and Councillor Jamie Hyams have attended. After each disturbance the Glen Eira City Council civic compliance unit has contacted Yeshivah College and been told that either it was another Jewish organisation who created the disturbance or that youths had entered the ground without permission - there are a number of eye witnesses to the disturbances which have categorically stated that these statements made by Yeshivah College are untrue and show just how Yeshivah College wants to treat their neighbours. Not only are the neighbours unable to sleep at night as a result of the singing and bonfires but on one occasion fireworks being set off from within the Yeshivah College campus set alight the grass of 82 Hotham Street and another firework hit the Groners' roof at 80 Hotham Street.

The fact that no one from Yeshivah College is responsible or willing to do anything about this dangerous behaviour makes the neighbours question whether staff, parents and students of Yeshivah College believe in the principle of treating their neighbours the way they would want to be treated (unless loud singing until 2am outside their home and fireworks nearly burning down their house is how they want to be treated). It is hard to believe that it is a Jewish religious organisation which is acting in this manner.

As a result of the unwillingness of Yeshivah College to accept responsibility for the actions of people who are invited to the campus for events or take control of people's actions at events (for example, the Lag B'Omer party held in the Chabad Youth classrooms on 11 May 2009 which almost ended up in the Werdiger Hall being burnt down had the neighbours not rang the fire brigade at 1am to put out an unsafe bonfire which had been lit by drunken youths from the party), the neighbours will shortly install 24 hour digital video surveillance of A'Beckett Street and Yeshivah College to be used as evidence for the Glen Eira City Council civic compliance unit, VCAT and the police.

Once the Chabad Youth building is operational with over 200 congregants (and growing) of Yeshivah Alumni and other non-Yeshivah people then the video surveillance will be used to ensure that all the 22 conditions within the planning permit are adhered to or else evidence will be provided to the Glen Eira City Council to fine Chabad Youth with the aim of having the planning permit changed by VCAT to close down the use of the building after school hours.

Yours sincerely,
Your neighbours