A TOUCHING address about the human cost of war, by guest speaker NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, was among the highlights of the 2016 Communal Remembrance Day Service held at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
More than 300 people attended Sunday’s commemoration presented by the NSW Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (NAJEX), including federal Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton and CEO of RSL NSW Glenn Kilomeitz, who all laid wreaths.
Skinner introduced herself as the daughter of a soldier who served in Borneo and New Guinea and the wife of a naval officer of 30 years who served on HMAS Hobart in Vietnam.
She also revealed her own fleeting experience of the Vietnam War in her capacity as a young journalist, and a particular reflection brought a hush around the room.
“I spent a day travelling to Nui Dat to interview Australian troops when I was in my early 20s,” Skinner said. “But the reality of war didn’t really strike me until a number of my journalist friends died in an ambush in Saigon, just two weeks after I’d left.
“Then, during a visit to the Somme battlefields in 2005 with my husband Chris, I was moved much more than I expected by the row upon row of graves with simple white headstones, all too often marking the burial place of young men.
“We truly must continue our traditions of dawn services and memorial ceremonies, to remember the sacrifices that our men and women have made.”
Australian Defence Force Jewish chaplain Rabbi Yossi Friedman spoke of how, during WWI, 10 per cent of Australia’s Jewish population enlisted, “which was no less than the proportion of the rest of the nation”.
“This ability to give up not only one’s time and resources, but potentially one’s life, for an ideal – for a cause larger than oneself – this is truly inspiring,” Rabbi Friedman said.
“Let us remember their courage, their resilience and their sacrifice.”
The ceremony concluded with NAJEX’s patron, Governor David Hurley, presenting Eddie Vaysbakh with the NAJEX Centenary of Anzac Award, in recognition of his participation in a collective act of bravery as a member of a Fire and Rescue NSW team that attended, and prevented, a potentially catastrophic fuel leak at the Caltex facility near Port Botany on July 12, 2013.
“Many people come up to us [firefighters] and they call us heroes, but the true heroes are the generations that came before us – the mothers and fathers who hid their children under floors, in attics, knowing they’d never see them again, as the Nazis broke down their door,” Vaysbakh said.