I was invited to spend Shabbat with some new friends of mine and was really looking forward to finally sitting down after a frantic week. There is something so beautiful about switching off from my day to day life and having my phone tucked away as the conversation flows. It’s a rare ritual for me and something I don’t take for granted.
Of course I didn’t even have a chance to find my seat before I was presented with platters of food and a glass of wine. I can’t even remember the last time I had cholent and living north of Dandenong Road means it’s a special treat to have challah. I think we can all agree that nothing says shabbat more than having children chasing each other around the table hoping to get to have the last rugelach.
Once we had already moved on to cups of tea another guest arrived. He apologised for being late and explained that he had been visiting his nanna and wasn’t able to leave to get to us in time for the meal. Up until now the room had been bustling with conversation and laughter but as soon as he began to share details you could hear a pin drop. We sat in stunned silence as we were told how his nanna with dementia is living in a tortured reality of being a little girl again trapped in a concentration camp. She flits from her present day reality here in Melbourne to being back in pre-war Poland to a disoriented little girl locked away far from home. Her grandson tries to help by reassuring that she is safe and surrounded by those who love her. Sometimes she seems to understand, but today it felt impossible to get her to calm down. I could feel myself tearing up as he explained how she was trying to find her house to return to. The one she lived in before being locked away. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like having my beloved grandmother believing she is trapped in a nightmare that won’t end. Despite the concentration camps closing over 70 years ago this little girl is still locked away, unable to escape her captivity.
“Do you know what hit me when I was sitting with my Nanna?” He asked. “I was so overcome with the reality that we have people locked away in our very own camps right now who in years to come are going to be reliving the trauma that we as a nation inflicted on them. Innocent people are being tortured on our watch.”
I was instantly reminded of why I had been invited over for this meal. I was sitting around a table with other Jews who had decided to come together to see if there is anything we can do to show our current politicians that we cannot remain silent while innocent people are locked away indefinitely. I took a closer look at those sharing the meal with me. An eclectic mix of Jews representing various lifestyles and values. I realised that the one thing everyone had in common was having grandparents who survived the holocaust, that is, everyone except for me. I was also the only who who hadn’t grown up in Melbourne. It just highlighted Melbourne’s Jewish community strong links with the refugees that arrived here only two generations ago. How it’s not long ago that it was Jews in boats pleading to be accepted as asylum seekers. I’m ashamed to admit that I only recently found out that Jews who arrived to American shores in 1939 were turned away because they were deemed a threat and returned to Europe, only for a lot of them to be murdered by the Nazis. My rational mind can’t understand how it seems as if so many Jews are remaining silent while history is repeating itself. Surely they can see the correlation between the people fleeing war torn countries in the 1930’s and 40’s to the ones fleeing now?
Judging from some of the comments I hear I know there is a lot of confusion about those locked away on Manus and Nauru. I still hear out dated words like “cue jumpers” and opportunists. It seems as if the general public have decided that they can turn a blind eye to these people who are locked away because they were not following protocol and just wanting a better life. Sadly this couldn’t be further from the truth. The people currently locked away have already been vetted by the government and been processed as genuine refugees. They are not threats to our society or making up false stories to start a new life. Every single one of them has escaped fearing for their life, and many of them have now been locked away for years. Years! It sounds too horrific to believe but instead of being given the opportunity to start a new life where they can contribute to Australian society, they are being used as deterrents. Millions of dollars are being wasted in keeping them locked up in torturous conditions as a twisted “marketing ploy’ for the Australian government to keep other people from seeking shelter here. Our “boundless plains to share’ seems to no longer to apply to those needing it the most.
Our discussion continued long into the evening. All of us attempting to come up with suggestions on how we can unite as Jews who truly stand by the words that have been echoed through the years of “Never Again.” It’s not enough to feel the injustice of what is taking place, there needs to be more done. We all know that the One Nation Party is growing at an alarming rate and if we don’t put actions to our words we will be silent bystanders to a new brand of racism that seems to festering in our current political climate.
I wish I could say that we came up with some answers. Most of the ideas we had involve time or resources that we don’t have the luxury of accessing right now. What we did agree on is that we all want to support the few political leaders right now who are taking a stand for justice. Those brave and clever enough to see through the ongoing fear mongering, and strong enough to not be a bystander to another people group being traumatised by the government. Hopefully we are not alone in saying “Never Again”.