We all have a life, we all have a story.
I feel privileged to be here tonight to tell you about mine.
I grew up in what one could call a . . . mixed marriage.
A Brisbane born Jewish mother and a Polish born holocaust survivor father.
Due to their own polarised experiences, both my parents shared a natural misunderstanding of what a young person’s life should look like, and so, my brother and myself, grew up in this state of confused emotional trauma.
My early years went rather smoothly. Culturally, I was Australian and Jewish.
A carefree child growing up with a Hill’s hoist in the backyard, eating homemade lamingtons and pavlova.
I went to a Jewish kinder and school, learnt the aleph bet, celebrated the festivals and customs and was both protected and adored.
All that changed when I turned 14.
A similar age to my father when he and his family were transported to the Lodz ghetto.
Restrictions on MY FREEDOM . . . had begun.
Ok Ok, I know that to some of you this analogy may seem a bit far fetched. . . but I FELT . . .
as though my own set of Nuremberg Laws had been passed.
- NO pop music . . . it was rubbish
- NO jeans or lipstick . . . that was for sluts
- No movie star posters permitted to adorn my walls
- Limited Saturday night outings and
- Dreaded curfews.
To a teenage girl, on the threshold of being a grown up, this felt soooo unfair!
None of my friends had these rules.
I was angry and humiliated. Why me?
The injustice felt so overwhelming.
And so . . . I cried a lot.
Then some time later an answer, of sorts, came to me.
My father didn’t KNOW what it was like to be a teenager . . . Why?
Because he had NEVER been given the chance to be one.
So, eventually, I forgave him.
And I was so glad that I did . . . as a few years later he became very sick, and after a long struggle, passed away.
He was 48 and I was 21.
I had experienced multiple losses during this period, my grandmother, my favourite uncle, and my 18 year old sweetheart’s tragic accident. And now my father.
And again I asked . . . Why?
I could not accept that there were no answers for this. There must be a reason.
So I came to a conclusion, with the somewhat comforting realisation, that the one above, who we call God, had the answer but I, a mere mortal, was not in a position to know.
In retrospect, this was the beginning of my spiritual journey.
The extent of my father’s loss was not apparent at the time.
In fact, as time goes on, the loss becomes more severe.
He missed out on so much. Weddings, births, bar-and bat-mitzvot. Six grandchildren , eight great grandchildren. The list keeps growing.
We never had the chance for us to talk about his story of survival and liberation.
It didn’t seem important at the time. But today . . . What I would give for that conversation.
Now, I cant deny that this change in circumstances led me to a new found FREEDOM.
I began to travel, often on my own. I travelled when as a single girl, it wasn’t yet fashionable.
I left my family, friends and ALL my restrictions behind.
My peers were going to university or getting married. Not me.
I chose the university of life.
Israel, USA, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe. I wanted information, answers, knowledge. And I searched and searched.
I became strong, resilient, independent .
FREEDOM at last. And it felt so good. Until it didn’t.
Four years later without a permanent base, well, even long-sought FREEDOM can be taken for granted and become tiresome.
My travels had allowed me to peek into lives that were completely out of my comfort zone.
I met some wonderful people, but also, many damaged and suffering ones.
I discovered injustices that I could never imagine and, again, my questions rose to the surface and I needed to find answers.
This was the next step in my spiritual journey.
While living in New York City, I attended lectures in a shule in downtown Manhattan which led me to spend some weekends in Brooklyn, with the Chabad community.
The people were very warm and welcoming, and I thought that among these 1000’s of books that lined their bookshelves, surely, they would contain all the answers to my questions.
So within a couple of months, I decided that being an observant Jew was the way to go.
It felt that until now, my whole life had taken me to this point.
I moved to Crown Heights in Brooklyn, joined Chabad , and called my mother to tell her the good news.
“Hi Mum, guess what? I’m becoming religious”
And in all seriousness she asked “Oh, what religion?”
I completely submerged myself in the chassidic community. Studying and working, making like-minded friends. I became engaged to an Australian guy who had also become observant with Chabad.
We returned to Melbourne, got married and had 4 children very quickly.
I covered my hair, my elbows, my knees, my collar bone and very often my emotions.
I observed Shabbat and Yom-tov, and had tons of visitors in our home.
My family even moved to the country and managed a drug rehabilitation farm for 9 months to help young Jewish addicts.
4 Corners did a story about us. We were the prime example of a successful Baale Teshuva couple. And it did feel that way . . . for a while.
But as time went on, the minutiae details of the mitzvot began to frustrate and annoy me,
and even more importantly . . . the big questions about life, still plagued me.
Of course the Torah held some answers, but the majority of them felt flimsy, apologetic, unsatisfying.
Because in truth, there were none. Only possible explanations.
Everything was based on Emunah, faith.
I had learnt the big lesson. The answers were to be found . . . within ourselves.
My husband did not appear to have the same doubts.
In fact, what had begun as a spiritual attraction, was fading fast.
He wasn’t able to accept my doubts, and I wasn’t able to accept his blind faith.
The gap between us was widening and my marriage became a lonely place.
I felt the restrictions once again, like a noose, that I had freely put my neck in.
I remember at one point, speaking to a Rabbi who was visiting from overseas. He asked me what was troubling me and I confided to him that I was unhappy in my marriage.
He looked me straight in the eye, and explained that everyone deserved happiness and then gave me a blessing that I should have a joyful and successful future. That encounter gave me the strength to keep going for many years to come.
After many attempts over the years at couples counselling I wanted a divorce.
And a Ghett (Jewish divorce) was my only way out. The decision did not come easily.
I felt if I stayed in the marriage, then all would continue to appear well on the surface, but deep down I was in pain.
On the other hand if I left, then publicly, my life was a failure but deep down, I would feel somewhat healed.
A dilemma hung over me.
I chose to leave, but this time my passage to FREEDOM left a bittersweet taste.
It came with a great deal of loss.
The loss of the family unit, stability, security, credibility.
I remember members of the community, some who I had rarely spoken to before, approaching me.
“Are you sure you want to do this? What about the children, their future, Just learn more Torah..it will help your marriage.”
They all had good, if not severely misguided intentions.
So real FREEDOM continued to allude me.
True enough, I had no spouse or community to answer to, but being a single mother at 39 with 4 children under 11, and no real qualifications . . . Ah yes, the University of life did NOT hand me that useful piece of paper. What was I to do? I had to re-invent myself.
And so I began, what was to be a long and arduous journey.
I returned to study, qualified in HR, juggled my life, work, children, relationships and the years flew by.
Fast forward to my sixties, when I developed an interest in Holocaust history.
I became involved with the Melbourne Holocaust Museum, volunteered in admin, and then after completing the education course became a museum guide. I felt that doing this work was honouring my lost European relatives and giving my late survivor father a voice, especially when speaking to the younger generation about his internment in the Łódź ghetto.
I am continually learning more about this unfathomable period in history, when the concept of FREEDOM took on another whole level.
Just over a year ago I joined Pathways, as I thought my life experiences could
help others face their struggles that come with breaking away from a religious life style.
Thank you Leah Boulton for accepting me, and encouraging my role as a mentor in this amazing organisation.
Volunteering, has led me to meet inspiring, brave people who are on a journey in search of their own FREEDOM to choose THEIR path and bring meaning to their lives, without the constraints of their past.
During our Victorian Covid lockdown, we heard many complaints about our lack of FREEDOM.
So, why wasn’t I feeling that same frustration?
I think that as I approach 70, my idea of FREEDOM has taken on a whole new meaning.
Being able to live in a society where I am GRATEFUL to have access to nutritious food, the best medicine, scientific know-how, an uncensored press, and the ability to make choices is where REAL FREEDOM lies.
Finally . . . it is within my grasp.