TRIBUTES have flowed in from members of the Jewish community for Celebration Shalom founder Audrey Hodges-Bunting, who passed away last week in the Gold Coast at the age of 91.
Hodges-Bunting was a committed Christian who, after a visit to Israel in 1980, returned home determined to educate the Christian community about the Holocaust and persecution of Jews around the world, while also setting the goal of supporting the Jewish community and Israel at every opportunity.
Together with her husband Beau, she established Celebration Shalom, which held an annual festival on the Gold Coast that featured prominent Jewish and Christian speakers, including Holocaust survivors.
Although the organisation closed in 2002, it led to the development of other Israel support groups in Australia including Bridge for Peace and Good News for Israel.
Israeli-born Dalia Ayalon Sinclair, who first met Hodges-Bunting 30 years ago when she attended a Celebration Shalom festival as a reporter for SBS Radio’s Jewish program, developed a special bond and regarded her as “my Australian mum”.
Sinclair told The AJN that Hodges-Bunting was “a woman of valour, a courageous woman of conviction, and a true heroine who had followed her calling”.
“Audrey never ceased to amaze me – she and her committee [at Celebration Shalom] were working untiringly to build bridges of unconditional love between Christian and Jewish communities in Australia for the benefit of the Jewish people and Israel.”
At the funeral service last week, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said he came to know Hodges-Bunting when she invited him to address the Celebration Shalom conference.
“One could not but be overwhelmed at the extraordinary support for Israel which Celebration Shalom evinced and which Audrey inspired, with approximately 1200 supporters present on each occasion,” Alhadeff said.
“That support extended beyond the spiritual and the emotional to the practical and the meaningful, generating significant funds which enabled numerous flights to rescue beleaguered Jews from the evil Soviet empire and take them to Israel.
“Audrey Hodges was a remarkable individual who made a remarkable impact.”