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LETTER FROM JEWISH AUSTRALIA No.60

15th May 1998

SOCIAL JUSTICE, JEWS AND AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES

There were two stories in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald about the nomination, the day before, of Mr Jim Spigelman, QC, for the position of Chief Justice of NSW. The first under the headline "The boy from Poland to take State's top judicial job" explained his support from both sides of politics "despite [his] strong past associations with the Labour Party". The second, which had a more personal flavour, described Spigelman's "concern for social order" from his student days when he rode on the "freedom bus" that campaigned against racism in NSW country towns" and mentioned, among other things, that he is a "secular Jew."

That there was another Jew, Mr David Bennett, QC, among the shortlist of four for the new Chief Justice of our state is not surprising when one considers our precious Jewish heritage.

The following extract from a recent address by Amanda Gordon, Vice- President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, to a meeting in support of Aboriginal Reconciliation explains this heritage and its value to our nation.

"Indifference to the problems that confront society is, in Jewish teaching, an unforgivable sin. "Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirke Avot 2:5). The Talmud teaches us: "Whoever has the ability to prevent his household [from committing a sin] and does not is accountable for the sins of his household; if he could do so with his fellow citizens [and does not] he is accountable for his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is accountable for the whole world." (Shabbat 54b).

Nowadays, the majority of Jewish people are not learned in the way of previous generations. So many of our great teachers were murdered in the Shoah - the Holocaust - and those who were left had to focus on survival. Yet this sort of teaching has come through to all of us, as basic fact, and that is why you will find so many of the Jewish community at the forefront of the fight for Social Justice."

Mick Dodson's defined Social Justice as follows;

"What faces you in the morning? It is awakening in a house with an adequate water supply, cooking facilities and sanitation. It is the ability to nourish your children and send them to school where their education not only equips them for employment but reinforces their knowledge and appreciation of their cultural heritage. It is the prospect of genuine and good health; a life of choices and opportunity, free from discrimination."

The current problematic mental health status of Aboriginal people can be traced directly to denial of social justice. ..... As a psychologist, I know that mental health and wellbeing has to do with control over the processes of change that effect one's life, and the meaningfulness of those changes within one's own world view. The essence of good Aboriginal mental health is empowerment and self-determination - or regaining this control in a real and meaningful way.

I also know that the mental health and wellbeing of our whole Australian community will be enhanced when we are no longer split off - when there is not a part of us that we have to split off and pretend is not happening, because it is something of which we are ashamed.

As Josie Crawshaw, ATSIC Commissioner said earlier this year, education, health, housing and water are a citizen's entitlements and that is what indigenous affairs funding is mainly about - getting for the aboriginal communities that which everyone else in Australia takes for granted. It's not special treatment, it's not privilege and it's not land justice: it's a very basic catch- up.

The Jewish people are with you in your fight for equality, for recognition, for an acknowledgment of the wrongs done to you, so that true reconciliation can follow, because we are Jews - and we have a responsibility to look after others as well as ourselves. Because it is right, and that is what counts.

I want to make a difference now so that my children can be proud Australians, in a truly free and wonderful country that cares for each member of its society. I do not want them to have to do a job that we should and could be doing now - making up for the wrongs done to others, and from which we are benefiting! I wish us all well in our striving towards Reconciliation - for it is in the national interest."

JOIN congratulates Jim Spigelman on his nomination and supports the efforts of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies towards Social Justice.

To discuss this and other matters of Australian/Jewish interest please subscribe to and participate in JOIN-TALK@shamash.org the Australian/Jewish Electronic Discussion Forum.

Geraldine Jones
President JOIN Inc.


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