IT was tempting to ask Alpha Cheng the obvious question – what it felt like when he received the news just over two years ago that his father Curtis Cheng had been shot and killed in a terrorist attack in Parramatta.
But how can a son really answer that question in a media interview? It was far more valuable to talk to this earnest young Canberra history teacher about a courageous decision he made out of the depths of his grief.
At Queen’s Hall in Victoria’s Parliament House, Cheng talked about his decision to proceed with a Holocaust education program in Israel, in which he had enrolled shortly before the tragedy.
His reflections are the highlight of a five-day exhibition by Courage to Care (Victoria), to better acquaint state MPs with the Holocaust and with the ongoing need to fight bigotry, said Courage to Care chair Dr Tony Weldon.
Eager to learn the most effective ways to teach his high-school students about the Holocaust, Alpha Cheng had applied successfully to take part in the Gandel Holocaust Scholarship Program for Australian Educators – and then the callous murder of his father blindsided his family.
On October 2, 2015, Curtis Cheng, a NSW Police accountant, was shot and killed by 15-year-old Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar at the Parramatta police complex. Shortly afterwards, police killed the radicalised teenager, for whom Cheng appeared to have been little more than a random target.
But Alpha decided that despite the horror of losing his beloved father to terrorism – or perhaps even because of it – he would go ahead with the course at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, which took place in January 2016.
“Friends asked me whether I really wanted to go to Israel after having gone through something so traumatic,” Cheng reflected to The AJN. “And learning about the Holocaust is going to be traumatic. And also going into a region that’s known to have conflict and terrorist activities.
“I chose to push through because I don’t want extremism to stop what I believe in and my goals,” said Cheng. “It was a program that was life-changing … We cannot give in to prejudice, stereotypes and scapegoating for no apparent reasons but to further an extreme ideology. We need to value all people.”
Hosting the exhibition, Caulfield MP David Southwick paid tribute to Cheng and Courage to Care, as well as to Gandel Philanthropy for funding the upgraded multimedia version of the Courage to Care exhibition at State Parliament.