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In The Press: Chief Rabbi inspires in Sydney

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The Australian Jewish News documents the Chief Rabbi’s visit to Moriah College and other community institutions during his time in Sydney, where he implored Jews to embrace Jewish unity rather than uniformity.

‘Chief rabbi inspires in Sydney’

By Evan Zlatkis and Gareth Narunsky

We should always be proud of our Judaism. That was the message from the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis, who spoke to students at Moriah College last week about the importance of respecting their faith and doing mitzvot.

Rabbi Mirvis took the students back to when he was 11 years old in South Africa and was selected to play for his non-Jewish school’s football team, but was scared that in the changing rooms “everybody will notice my tzitzit, and they’re going to poke fun at me”.

He asked his parents to allow him to go to school for one day without wearing his tzitzit, but they refused. “I hated that morning,” he remembered. “I took off my shirt and then suddenly, one of the boys shouted, ‘Hey, look what he’s got!’ and then the boys from the team made a circle around me. One of them said, ‘I know what this is. He’s wearing some lucky strings!’ and he came up to me and he started to hold the tzitzit.”

Subsequently, his team won 2-0, and he scored both goals. He said after that, before every single match, the boys would check that he was wearing his lucky strings.

“Those lucky strings worked so well for me, I wear them to this very day,” he said, noting that it taught him an important life lesson: “We should always be proud of our Judaism.”

He said another strong lesson he learnt, after living in several countries, is that “the rest of the world respects us, when we respect our faith. And when we are disloyal to our faith, they stop respecting us.”

During a whirlwind visit to Sydney, Rabbi Mirvis also spoke at Masada, Mount Sinai and Kesser Torah Colleges, delivered the keynote speech at Bnei Akiva’s 65th birthday and appeared at Central Synagogue, South Head Synagogue and the Jewish Learning Centre.

At a communal function on Monday night at NCJWA Fanny Reading Council House, he spoke of what he believes are the two main keys for Jewish continuity.

“Jewish unity is of crucial ­significance to us,” he said, noting that it didn’t matter what stream of Judaism one belongs to.

“What we need to promote is unity, not uniformity.

“We embrace diversity, and within that, we respect differences. And under the baton of human cooperation and mutual respect, people who are different need to blend together to produce beautiful harmony within society. And that certainly is the way forward for the Jewish people.”

The other key, he said, is education. “We need to educate, we need to ensure that not only our children and our youth are educated in a Jewish way, but adults as well,” he said. “We need to take houses of prayer and transform them into powerhouses of Jewish religious, social, cultural and educational excellence.”

Noting that the term for an outstanding Torah authority is a “talmid chochom” – a wise student, he said we must continue learning.

“That thirst for knowledge needs to accompany us throughout our entire lives, and of course of critical importance is when people are young,” he said.

“That’s why I’ve been so impressed here in Sydney with the outstanding educational facilities which are being provided within the various schools and within communities.”

A large crowd of more than 350 people also gathered to hear the Chief Rabbi speak on Sunday evening at the North Shore Synagogue.

Rabbi Mirvis spoke about the three “A” Challenges for the Jewish world – assimilation, anti-Semitism and apathy.