‘A sad indictment’

The number 900 bus heading from Chadstone to Oakleigh. Photo: Peter Haskin.

One of the reasons that 14-year-old Josh’s family immigrated from the UK to Australia a few years ago was because of the increasing threat of antisemitism.

“He couldn’t walk around any- more in Manchester with a kippah on,” his mother Adina told The AJN.

But last week, Josh and two of his friends faced the same scourge here in Melbourne when they were confronted by a large group of unruly teens who accused them of having “Jew money” and taunted them with the slur “Gas the Jews”.

Josh had enjoyed an outing at Chadstone Shopping Centre last Wednesday, when he and his two friends boarded the 900 bus which they mistakenly thought would be going to Caulfield Station.

They were joined by a group of around 10 youths who sat behind them, a few of whom were smoking.

As Elimelech, 15, was browsing on his phone, one of the youths began probing him with questions.

“The boy asked what the thing I was wearing on my head was called and I replied saying, ‘It’s called a kippah,’ recalled Elimelech, who went on to inform the boy that it is an item worn by Jews for religious reasons.

The trio were then asked if they were Jewish.

“Then he asked how much money we had on us, and said we must have loads of money – that we have ‘Jew money’,” said Josh.

“A boy then came and sat next to my friend and kept mocking him, saying how stupid his kippah was.” Elimelech remembered a girl staring at him disparagingly, before asking what he would do if she “ripped off your kippah from you head”.

He briefly lifted his kippah for a second to show that nothing would happen.

It was then that the boys were faced with the comment that would shock them most: “Gas the Jews”.

“The statement caught me completely by surprise, and upset me,” said Elimelech.

“I responded immediately, saying, ‘You don’t say a thing like that, mate.’”

He also informed the boys that his great-grandparents died in the Holocaust. Ironically, Elimelech was then accused of being “racist”.

The group continued to mock the boys, and knocked Josh’s cap off his head.

The AJN understands that adult bystanders witnessed the incident but did not intervene, choosing instead to move seats.

“I’m proud of how Elimelech handled the situation, but I’m also grateful nothing happened,” reflected his mother, Shoshanna.

She said her son was “not intimidated” by the incident, and just thought the bullying group “were pretty ridiculous”.

The other two boys, however, were more deeply affected, fright- ened of what could have happened to them.

Josh’s mother, Adina, told The AJN, “I think it makes it very per- sonal and even more upsetting that kids can be so ignorant with such trivialisation of the Holocaust. This is our personal history, but it is a history that should affect everybody.”

Adina’s father was born in Austria. He was left an orphan after her grandfather was deported to Poland in 1939 and her grand- mother and great-grandparents were deported to Riga in the winter of 1942, where it is suspected they were murdered on a death march.

“Some people seem to think that the Holocaust has been relegated to history and it’s not part of the living present for Jews, and families that went through the Holocaust,” she said.

“I think it is a really sad indictment on Australia and the education system – even if they are doing it as taunting, they are trivialising the Holocaust.

“So, they either don’t understand the Holocaust, or they are doing it on purpose. And that’s what scares me,” Adina explained.

Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-defamation Commission said he was “outraged and horrified” by the incident.

“This reprehensible and inexcusable behaviour is profoundly disturbing on many levels and reminds us of the upsurge in anti-Jewish culture that is plaguing our society and that is out of control,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Mike Zervos, chief executive officer of Courage to Care who was concerned by the racial hatred to which the boys were exposed “while simply travelling on a suburban bus”.

Courage to Care aims to inform Australians of the dangers of prejudice, racism and discrimination with an education program that uses the Holocaust as an example of understanding the roles of victim, perpetrator and bystander.

“In 2019 we are planning to share our program with over 6000 students; let’s hope this large group of teenagers are among them,” Zervos said.

REBECCA DAVIS