The Chanukah season has begun in Sydney, Australia with the first major pre-Chanukah event of the year held yesterday at NSW Parliament.
Hundreds of people including Members of Parliament, leaders of the Jewish community and other faith communities gathered together to celebrate the Festival of Lights for a lunchtime cocktail party in Parliament’s Dining Room, enjoying the traditional Chanukah foods of Latkes and donuts as well as a special Menorah lighting ceremony.
The event has become an annual fixture at NSW State Parliament, occurring during the last sitting week of the year. Initially, a joint venture of Chabad NSW and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, it has now transitioned into a Government run function, hosted by Multicultural NSW.
MC for the event was The Hon. Gabrielle Upton MP, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Local Government and Minister for Heritage.
Minister Upton welcomed guests and invited Rabbi Paul Lewin, President of the Rabbinical Council of NSW to deliver an Invocation Prayer.
Rabbi Lewin recited a prayer for the Queen and the Leaders of the country, noting that this very same prayer is read every Shabbat in Synagogues throughout Australia.
Minister Upton then introduced the Premier of NSW, the Hon Gladys Berejiklian MP, mistakenly calling her “The Honest” instead of “The Honorable”, before correcting herself.
The Premier was quite chuffed by this compliment saying that it’s not often that politicians are called honest and that Minister Upton deserves a promotion!
The Premier delivered a warm speech highlighting the special contribution that the Jewish community have made and continues to make in NSW, starting from the first fleet of settlers until this very day.
The Premier also spoke about the message of Chanukah which celebrates the victory of light over darkness and freedom over oppression, concluding that freedom of expression and worship is one of the great features which make NSW, ”In my opinion, the best place in the word to live and work!”
The Premier’s address was followed by greetings from the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Luke Foley MP.
Mr. Foley spoke about the fact that the Jewish citizens of NSW have always played a prominent role in the affairs and governance of our society, quoting verbatim from the first speech of a Jewish member of NSW Parliament, Sir Julian Salomons in 1895, when he faced ferocious assault from his political opponents.
Some recent criticism directed at him targeted his Jewishness. Sir Julian Salomons said: “I am a Jew. I was born a Jew, I shall die a Jew, and I should be a poltroon and a coward, as well as a fool, if I were not proud of belonging to a race which has given an Isaiah to the world, the psalms of David, and all the mighty mysteries of the Bible, upon which the civilization, the consolation and the happiness of the word depend.”
Mr. Foley then referenced other Jewish members of NSW Parliament from its inception until today, including Mr. Ron Hoenig MP, the Member for Heffron, who was in attendance at the function.
Following Mr. Foley’s address, Minister Upton introduced the Menorah lighting ceremony by saying that:
“The Chabad movement in NSW kindly donated this Silver Menorah to State Parliament in 2009 and initiated this annual pre-Chanukah ceremony.”
“In recognition of that, the Head of Chabad NSW, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman OAM, is honoured with reciting the blessings for the lighting of the Chanukah candles.”
“Rabbi Feldman is currently overseas for a family celebration and in his stead Rabbi Eli Feldman, Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of NSW and Rabbi Elimelech Levy, Director of Chabad Youth NSW are called upon to light the Shamash candle, the main candle on the Menorah from which the other candles are kindled and to make the Chanukah blessings.”
Minister Upton then called upon distinguished members of the Jewish community to light the eight candles on the Menorah, namely Yosi Tal, Bernice Bachmayer, Joshua Kirsh, Samantha Khavin, Judith Levitan, Steven Glass, Caelan Macbeth and Suzi Parker.
Maoz Tzur was sung by North Shore Synagogue Chazan Zvi Teichtahl and closing remarks were delivered by Mr Jeremy Spinak, President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.