Recalling our diggers

Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton at the NAJEX commemoration. Photo: Alan Shaw

MORE than 150 people attended the NSW Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women’s (NAJEX’s) Remembrance Day service at the Sydney Jewish Museum on Sunday, November 8.

In addition to the traditional laying of wreaths, the commemoration featured a keynote speech by The Great Synagogue’s Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton and the presentation of a set of war medals, acquired by NAJEX at auction, to the museum.

Speaking on the topic “Anglo Jewry and the Two World Wars”, English-born Rabbi Elton told of his own family connections to the armed services.

Victoria Cross recipient Jack White (born Jacob Weiss) married into the Elton family, while Rabbi Elton’s great-grandfather, grandfather and great uncles all fought for Britain.

“I have inherited my grandfather’s medals, recording his service in the Parachute Regiment in Europe and Burma,” he told The AJN.

Discussing the Jewish contribution to service, he told of the Jewish regiment established in the British army, and in Australia, the passionate sermons by his Great Synagogue predecessor Rabbi Francis Lyon Cohen encouraging young Jewish men to enlist to fight in World War I.

“Jewish service personnel volunteered in disproportionate ­numbers and produced some outstanding figures, above all Sir John Monash,” he said, adding, “The Australian armed forces made a tremendous contribution in both world wars and in many conflicts since. They fought in some of the harshest theatres of war, for example the Far East, with enormous distinction.”

Rabbi Elton said the commemoration was a “really warm and heartfelt” affair.

“In Britain commemorations are often more formal. I found the Sydney ceremony very moving,” he said.

Also poignant was the presentation of the significant collection of medals, documents and correspondence of Gunner Mervyn Abraham Feder by NAJEX to the museum.

Museum CEO Norman Seligman told The AJN: “We are dedicated to portraying and honouring the stories of Jewish servicemen and women who have contributed to the Australian Defence Forces.

“The permanent exhibition Serving Australia honours these individuals and we are grateful to NAJEX both for these medals in our care and helping us to enhance this exhibition further.”

The commemoration concluded with the screening of the short film Things Would Have Been So Different Had Lionel Returned, about the unseen effects of war on the families of those who don’t come home.