A recollection of Henry Mendelson


David Wansborough shares some of his experiences with Henry Mendelson:
A gentleman, tall, elegant and thin, Henry was influential in our most difficult meetings (NSW CCJ) in the mid-1990s. When Rabbi Fox welcomed me to committee meetings in 1993 , Henry immediately put me on subcommittees, even though I could not be a member, if I wished to donate money from the Foundation I directed. And Henry wanted donations!
Henry was brilliant at raising money and organised fares to be sponsored for visiting speakers.
He was a journalist with good contacts and our events were often broadcast on the ABC. He took my idea of getting essays together on the Night of Broken Glass and carried it further and commissioned papers. NSWCCJ published the beautiful book ( launched by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence).
Henry edited and published the NSW CCJ newsletter ‘Scene’.
He was urbane and charming but didn’t avoid confrontations. A typical example:
H.M: ” Let’s publish a first run of 25,000 copies of The Night of Broken Glass so we’ll get a discount for future runs.”
Rabbi Jeffrey C: ” Why not start with 500 to test the water?”
H. M: “Self doubt has not helped Judaism. Confidence brings success. Let’s start big.”
H.M: ” Let’s hire the Entertainment Centre near Haymarket. It is only $60k . We can get Caroline Jones to mention it and we’ll sell tickets in advance. “
J. C: ” Let’s not. Wouldn’t more people hear the speaker if Caroline interviewed him? “
H.M: ” But people will want to sponsor it.”
J. C. ” Yes, Bishop Donald Robinson would love to sponsor it at St Andrew’s House.” Both laughed.
But when Henry’s AM didn’t look like it was being processed, his seeming nemesis Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen approached a contract on the Honours Committee and Henry got his gong in record time ( for services to CCJ, and Guide Dogs for the Blind). The people whom he thought opposed him were the most appreciative.
When a Jesuit priest wanted to change “CCJ’s preoccupation with the past, to discuss contemporary issues ” Henry said that the Holocaust and millions killed was a big enough recent event to be remembered by a function in Martin Place and an annual Education Day, without detracting from any proposed pro-Palestinian seminars.”
Henry said he was not religious: “It’s religious people who say no.” But he was very proud to be a Jew. He was proud of Israel’s achievements. He said he went to the Synagogue to be part of a continuation.
Who could forget the sophistication of his North Shore house? He and his wife had a real art collection. And then they moved to Rushcutters Bay.
He was a successful working journalist until recently. I personally will miss our coffee meetings in the Queen Victoria Building that were interrupted by the COVID lockdown.
But whether he was religious or not, he was most certainly on the side of Goodness and Light, and was totally a believer in CCJ.
David Wansbrough.