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Jewish and Indigenous Australians working together

July 27, 2010 – 8:48 pmNo Comment

William Cooper

By Anne Sarzin and Lisa Miranda Sarzin

It is not an uncommon part of the human experience for casual conversations and chance encounters to launch us in a new direction or to begin an extraordinary journey. This is particularly pertinent in the realm of Jewish and Indigenous relationships, in which many exciting initiatives have their genesis in simple but meaningful conversations.

Genuine dialogue between people can produce transformative outcomes and although the journey may be completely unexpected—that is almost the point. We cannot anticipate what can flow from just sitting down together and talking, sharing ideas and knowledge. Simple conversations can break down barriers, as we discover points of commonality and difference, and jettison our reliance on stereotypes. Through exchange comes understanding and, in some cases, this translates into inspiring action and deep connection.

We, Dr Anne Sarzin and Lisa Miranda Sarzin, a mother and daughter team based in Sydney, have written a book called Hand in Hand: Jewish and Indigenous people working together, in which we tell stories that we believe are journeys worth sharing. We record some of the collaborative initiatives between Jewish and Indigenous Australians, stories that emerged from in-depth interviews with 80 people.

As the book was commissioned by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, its focus is on New South Wales in particular; however, there are many stories that may have begun in that State but have had an expansive reach into other parts of the country. Some exceptional stories of national significance are also featured. For example, after the horrors of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, the remarkable 1938 Melbourne protest against the persecution of the Jews in Germany—spearheaded by the late William Cooper, founder of the Australian Aborigines’ League—is an event that has significant reverberations, undiminished by time. William Cooper’s refusal to be silent in the face of injustice is a pertinent message that speaks even more loudly today.

The book includes excerpts from an unpublished memoir written by the late Emil Witton, who with his wife, Hannah, fled Hitler’s Germany in 1939 for Australia and settled in Sydney, where they were active in the battle for Indigenous rights.  We relate the story of the participation of the current Chief Justice of New South Wales, James Spigelman, in the 1965 Freedom Ride. He was a key organiser of the University of Sydney’s student bus tour, which sought to investigate and expose racism and discrimination against Indigenous people in NSW country towns. Also featured in the book is the work of the late Ron Castan, who led the successful Mabo case in the High Court, which overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius and gave legal recognition to native title.

The title of the book, Hand in Hand, addresses a question posed in 1997 by Professor Mick Dodson, then the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. He said:

“We have extended our hand to other Australians. Those Australians who take our hand are those who dare to dream of an Australia that could be. In true reconciliation, through the remembering, the grieving and the healing, we become as one in the dreaming of this Land. This is about us and our Country, not about petty deliberations of politics. We must join hands and forge our future. Will you take our hand? Will you dare to share our dream?”

Dr Anne Sarzin is a journalist and editor, with a PhD in English Literature. Her daughter, Lisa Miranda, is a lawyer, who is also a doctoral student at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Hand in Hand: Jewish and Indigenous people working together, by Anne Sarzin and Lisa Miranda Sarzin, is published by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Copies can be ordered from here.

Anne and Lisa will be speaking on the book at the Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival on Sunday 29 August

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