Annual General Meeting 2008


Jewish Co-chair’s Report

This year we continued our attempt to reach out beyond the council to a larger audience in a series of public meetings. David has spoken about the Pesach passover connection and joyful choral celebration, to which he made such a valuable and contribution. “Healing a broken world: the faiths working together”.

The major event last year was the world conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews, our roof body, which was held in Sydney in July with the theme:
“Healing a broken world: the faiths working together”.  

With some financial assistance from the Council, for which we were most grateful, David, Michael Trainor and I were delegates at this event, which brought nearly 200 people together from across the world.  

I think we were reaffirmed in the value of this task of creating interfaith understanding. When we returned we spent a meeting reporting back on our impressions of the event.

For me, two things stood out. One was the contribution of a small group of young people who were specially brought together by the Victorian Council and by the New Zealand Council to provide their own fresh and energetic viewpoint on interfaith dialogue.  

I sat on the floor in a small room with 60 people of all ages and listened to the intense discussion of these young people about the different modes in which interfaith dialogue should take place. The discussion was in part, about the difference between living in a secular community that happens to be multfaith, multicultural community and focusing on those differences in faith and culture in a way that highlights the virtues of that difference and diversity.  

These young people left the conference inspired to found their own online organisation called Youth Abrahamic Leadership Council of Australasia. I would like to stress how important it is for us to contribute to the interfaith conversation among young people.

The other very powerful thing was the contribution of a Muslim speaker called Rehanna Ali. She gave very incisive and closely argued contributions from her perspective as a Muslim woman, a lawyer and teacher, especially on the nature of the political uses of Islamophobia.  

Rehanna came into the conference in quite a dramatic way when the scheduled Muslim speaker did not turn up, and there was some talk that this particular person had boycotted the conference. It indicated to me both the degree of mutual paranoia that exists within the Abrahamic trio and how important it is for all the voices to be heard because the commonalties between us are much greater than our differences – and our differences are often surprising.

Reluctant Witness

One of the most powerful and moving of our public events started when a young man approached me after the annual commemoration of the Holocaust every year in May. A colleague of his had sent him to the event because he thought it would give help him with some healing. That meeting led to several others as I gave him some assistance in making public his experience of the disastrous inter-ethnic and religious war in Bosnia  

Phil Brown was a New Zealand soldier sent to Bosnia as a peacemaker in the United Nations Protection Force in 1995. In October he gave an audience of about 50 people, a powerful and moving insight into his experience as a reluctant witness to the way in which those tensions destroyed a community. He outlined the terrible toll that this kind of war took on the participants, both active and passive. More directly, he spoke of the personal and private short and long-term impacts that this kind of war had on the soldiers sent to be peacemakers.  His very personal talk stimulated much discussion, of the profound impact that inter-ethnic and communal violence can have. I thank Dawn Colsey for arranging the Church of Edward the Confessor as a venue and a very warm reception from Reverend Tim Sherwell.

Lutheran Studies Fellowship

After we returned from the Conference David and I were invited to speak to the Lutheran Studies Fellowship at the suggestion of Council memeber Trevor Schaeffer and we chose the topic of the conference as our starting point. We developed our two talks around three questions:
How do you talk to someone about things on which you know you are going to disagree?  In multi-faith dialogue what is the place for people who have no faith, yet have an interest in the healing of a broken world?
  Is creative inter-faith understanding and joint action relevant when the rest of the world thinks religion is irrelevant and meaningless?  

The event gave us an opportunity to address these issues and to continue to reflect on and re-consider the conference experience in the light of Rabbi Raymond Apple’s summary of interfaith ethics in his key-note address entitled, “Healing the rifts between Religions in a Multicultural Society”.  

“Our task is not to deprecate, demonise, delegitimise or diminish the other, not to damn the other or the unbeliever as a heretic or rogue but to recognise their right to be themselves,” Rabbi Apple said.

We spoke to a small group of about 15 people. David further explored Apple’s ethic of difference and gave an account of the New Zealand charter of Religious diversity. Thank you to Trevor for suggesting us to this group.

In our Time: the ties between Catholics and Other faiths in celebration of the anniversary of Nostra Aetate

I spoke to this group as I did to the symposium In our Time: the ties between Catholics and Other faiths in celebration of the anniversary of Nostra Aetate in Adelaide, Sunday, October 28, 2007 about a personal Jewish perspective on the issues of interfaith relations and the role that I feel that ethics can play in healing a broken world, which is essentially to compel people to look at the “godliness: in the other. This meeting of about 60 was chaired by Michael Trainor. Thank you Michael for your invitation and the opportunity to address an audience of people who, while open to dialogue, had not really heard from our group.

What would we do if we were granted $12 billion

Mid-year our Treasurer, Merrilyn Ades, again made her house and her culinary skills available as a way of bringing council members together in an informal gathering over a meal. This time, I challenged us all to think about the kinds of things that we could do to further our aims if multi-billionaire Warren Buffet had seen a different kind of light and offered us $12 billion. Most of our suggestions were about indigenous issues, poverty and peace. These are problems that were not about our different faiths but about the largest world problems that all of us face.  

A new Jewish Patron

This year, we are proud to have a new Jewish patron Lynette Ninio. I have worked with and known  Lynette for many years. She is wonderful voice of reason and harmony and creativity and I am very please to welcome her to this meeting as I am very pleased that our Christian patron the rev Dr Don Hopgood, who will address us briefly later.

This year we have to continued to professionalise our presentation by producing a more attractive and durable leaflet which expresses that vision and seeks to increase our membership. We are continuing to develop a list of email addresses and other contacts which have expanded our membership and associate membership.  

I did raise last year and I continue be concerned about how can find a balance between an increasing number of public meetings and those times when we, the members of the Council can come together and consider issues which may impact on our activities.  

I believe that our public events are very useful. What I feel now is that we must seek to find the time to do the business and perhaps the larger bits of planning and directions to foster a sense of ownership in our membership. This year, we will strive to even that balance. Perhaps we can discuss how we can combine a stronger sense of participation from our membership and our attempts to provide even larger profile for our activities

One of the many significant things I have learned in my time with the Council of Christians and Jews is the value of walking on eggshells. When we enter into conversations about issues of faith, religion and culture, we enter into a contract with one another, which is about the negotiation of core beliefs. About these core beliefs we may and we may not know where the boundaries of sensitivity are. But the ability to navigate or negotiate those boundaries with due regard to both the feelings and beliefs of others and the expression of our inmost, even, unexplored beliefs is one of the most interesting and “dangerous” benefits of our dialogue. It puts to the test the three strong element of our motto: Dialogue, Respect and Diversity.  

The Contribution of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue to Peace-Building in the Middle East’

This year, in the light of the apology to the Stolen generations Australia will have the opportunity to think about the role of dialogue and respect for diversity in coming to terms with the largest and most intractable issues we face as a nation. On the world scale, the faiths have attempted an even more difficult tasks as the theme of the International conference, to take place in Jerusalem is 'The Contribution of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue to Peace-Building in the Middle East’ demonstrates  The issue of Israel/Palestine continues to loom above this organisation internationally and locally. The international organisation will be looking at peace and peace will form the major theme of our activities in the first half of next year, but I will discuss that later

I would like to express of my thanks to you all and to my colleagues in the executive – David Houston, Dawn Colsey, Merrilyn Ades and our co-opted member and guest speaker, though wounded, Michael Trainor – and our members for your support in this journey. May we continue to shape an organisation that advocates for the virtue of interfaith and multifaith activities and that we continue to reach out and provoke discussion in the community of the values that our organisation holds dear.

Thank you