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Just Voices #3, The Anniversary Issue - Perspectives on History

Dear AJDS members and supporters,
These are grave days, certainly for those living under fire from another war in Israel/Palestine. But this should strengthen our resolve, so while we do what we can to halt the violence, let us spare a moment to mark the AJDS' 30th. In this issue of our newsletter, Just Voices, we mark this milestone by reflecting on our achievements and drawing upon the multifaceted history represented by our members and friends. While these accounts reflect what can be achieved with some momentum and joint effort, what is also common to these stories is an uneasy experience of transition, often on the fringes of communities, persuasions, and ideological belonging. Some of these stories reflect a related struggle to gain voice, legitimacy, and collective responsibility. But the Jewish Left's continued efforts, collaborative spirit, its outspokenness and ongoing advocacy are all testimony of a certain kind of tenacity and resilience in often divisive times. 

Such qualities are found not only in the stories of our contributing members, but also in the creation story of the Jewish Holocaust Centre, captured here by its curator and Head of Collections, Jayne Josem. Those Australian Jews who have survived the devastation of European Jewry struggled to regain both their personal and collective voice, and as the Centre marks its 30th year alongside the AJDS, we applaud its achievements in creating a platform for remembrance and education. We are also grateful for Clare Fester's account of the New Australians Council of the 1950s and its links with the Bund. It tells of Bono Wiener, who co-founded the Jewish Holocaust Centre. Fester illustrates further the difficulties of marginal activism and the nuances of the migrant experience so common in Australia. Such are the small victories, trials and tribulations of progressive activism. 

Along with the Oral History Project, about which you can read below, this year we have commenced the AJDS Archives, and send a special thank you to all who have donated materials, including Halina Strnad, Helena Grunfeld, June Factor, Tom Wolkenberg. We are especially grateful to Sol Salbe for his contributions.

It is exciting to share these stories across generations of new members and witness the progress of our effort to further social justice and free expression. As the AJDS gains recognition locally and abroad for its ability and willingness to sound an alternative voice, it becomes increasingly crucial to work together.

This organization is founded on the principle of open discussion, and the same goes for the newsletter. If you would like to contribute to future issues, we welcome you to contact us at

We wish you a warm, safe winter and look forward to your comments.

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS)

AJDS Community Organiser Max Kaiser celebrating the pursuit of freedom at the seder, April 2014

AJDS joint Canberra Lobbying Trip with the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, June 2014. From left: Jess Morrison, Peter Slezak, Jordy Silverstein, George Browning, Wendy Turner, Gregor Henderson, Nicole Ehrlich, Sivan Barak and Bassam Dally.


The AJDS Oral History Project and the Pleasures of Collective Organisation

By Max Kaiser


“It would get bogged down by others saying ‘but you haven’t mentioned this’ or ‘that’s not a good idea to mention that’ or ‘why did you put a comma there?’” – Tom Wolkenberg discussing the difficulties of collectively drafting letters to the editor, AJDS oral history project interview, 27 May 2014.


To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the AJDS, we have decided to record and publish online audio interviews with approximately a dozen people who have played an important role in the history of the AJDS.

As the AJDS Community Organiser I'll be carrying out these interviews. So far I’ve only completed three but already my perception of the history of the AJDS and the people involved has deepened.

The project focuses not just on the ins and outs of the history and politics of the AJDS but on the personal stories of the interview subjects. We're interested in how people became part of the AJDS and what impact their involvement with the AJDS has had on their lives. We want to explore the historical context of people’s lives and what forces, events, political and social groupings led people to the AJDS.

Continue reading here

Norman Rothfield: A Lifetime of Political Activism and its Fruition

By David Rothfield
Norman and Evelyn Rothfield at an AJDS function, 2003
Searching for meaning
Towards his adolescence, Pop – my father Norman, began to feel the need for something more meaningful than what he’d called ‘token Judaism’. He had grown up in an observant Jewish family in England. When it was time for him to prepare for his bar-mitzvah, his father was not content for his son to merely recite one parasha from the weekly torah portion, as is the usual custom. His son was to conduct the whole service from beginning to end. To achieve that, Pop was sent to private Hebrew lessons under the guidance of a devout Orthodox Jewish teacher. Pop saw how this man loved his work, and was deeply impressed by his scholarship and sincerity. By age 13 Pop had embraced Jewish religious practice in its entirety and had become a firm believer.

Continue reading here

The Persistent Conscience: Archiving the AJDS Papers

By Joan Nestle
The Archives Takes Over the apartment, 13A, 215 West 92nd Street, NYC, 1974-1991
One afternoon in March of this year, Sivan Barak, Larry Stillman, Max Kaiser and Mark Jarvinen struggled through my front gate at 4 Fitzgibbon in West Brunswick, their arms straining with overflowing boxes of AJDS ‘stuff.’ Some of you may remember I volunteered to be the starting point of a formal AJDS archival collection at the last general meeting. Let me tell you a little about my connection to archives. In 1973, I joined with five other women to create the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the first archives dedicated to preserving the markings of lesbian lives so we were no longer the pathological objects in other national stories. 

Continue reading here.

1997 Reconciliation Meeting

In 1997 the Australian government continued to debate the Wik decision to allow native land titles to coexist with statutory leases. John Howard’s ‘Wik 10 Point Plan’ constituted a step back in the ongoing struggle for Aboriginal rights. This followed the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s final report on the stolen generations, titled Bringing Them Home and documenting the systemic separation of children from their families across Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. This prompted the AJDS to organise a Reconciliation meeting, chaired by Lorna Lippman.

Continue reading here

Thirty Years of Public Remembrance and Education at the Jewish Holocaust Centre

By Jayne Josem, Curator and Head of Collections
The Jewish Holocaust Centre, Elsternwick, Melbourne. Image found at JHC.
"Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation. We are doomed to be forever hailing someone who has just gone around the corner and out of earshot.” --Simon Schama, Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations
The Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) was created 30 years ago by survivors of the Holocaust, eye-witnesses to the history they planned to display in a museum and about which they wished to educate the public. These survivors were not chasing shadows; they were escaping the never-ending nightmare that had gripped them for some 40 years at that point. For themselves they created a place to memorialise the family and friends who had been murdered during that dark period, but for the community they created an educational resource designed with the hopeful notion that making people aware of the horrors might prevent such atrocities ever happening again. And this attitude is confirmed in the remarks of two survivors who guide at the Centre. Sonja Wajsenberg recalls that she came to the Centre to work because she felt it was a place that she could be with members of her family who had been murdered. And Abram Goldberg remembers the last words his mother said to him before they were separated at Auschwitz: if you survive, tell the world what happened here.

Continue reading here

A shtikl Bundism in Melbourne: Migrant Politics and the New Australians Council, 1955-1959

(shtikl - a little bit of something)
By Clare Fester
Bono Wiener working as a knitter in the 1950s. Image found at Yiddish Melbourne.
When we think about 1950s Australia we often associate it with Robert Menzies’ long Liberal rule, social conservatism, and the White Australia policy. It was a period when migrant political participation was almost unheard of. Labour movement disinterest combined with the disinterest of migrants themselves meant demands for economic equality and social recognition were not won until the 1970s. The New Australians Council (NAC), a small migrant auxiliary section of the Victorian ALP that existed in 1955-1959, punctuates this vision.
Led by a small group of migrants active in Melbourne’s Jewish Labour Bund, the NAC leadership grew to include ten migrants from eight different nationalities, represented approximately 200 workers from migrant backgrounds, and may have indirectly influenced many more. In 1957 the NAC held a successful meeting in Wonthaggi, a rural coal mining town in Gippsland. NAC secretary for the full four years it functioned and leading Bundist Bono Wiener, alongside L. Zandendea, a migrant activist from Italy, joined Assistant State Secretary R. Balcombe to address a mixed Australian-born and migrant audience of 67 people, including 25 Italian miners. Zandendea, who a year later would join the NAC’s executive, spoke in both English and Italian. At the end of the meeting several Italians joined the party.

Continue reading here.
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