June 2019, Parshat Beha’alotcha

Dear Friends,

This past week I attended the Jewish and Vietnamese communities’ friendship dinner hosted by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria. Growing up I knew a little bit about the Vietnamese community and was aware that many of them had fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon to avoid the terrible situation in their home country.

Like the Jewish Survivor Holocaust community, the Vietnamese community in Australia has been a multicultural success story with many members of the Vietnamese community successfully integrating and contributing to all areas of Australian life and culture.

Closer to home, my grandfather, the late Yossi Kaltmann ob’m was a Holocaust survivor who ran a successful textile business. One of his most beloved employees was a Vietnamese refugee who had arrived in Australia and whom he lovingly nicknamed ‘Chaimul’ who worked for him for over 20 years.

My grandfather always spoke fondly of Chaimul and often remarked that he felt a sense of kinship with him as both had to leave their home countries and endure hardships on the way to rebuilding their lives in Australia.

At the Friendship dinner, the head of the Vietnamese community, Viv Nguyen, noted that following the fall of Saigon in 1975, it is estimated that over 2 million Vietnamese people became refugees and were forced to flee their country, while a further 1 million drowned at sea while seeking safety.

The Vietnamese community in Australia is currently looking at establishing the first museums in the world dedicated to remembering the stories of these people and has looked at the Australian Jewish and Holocaust museums for guidance on the most efficient way to effectively set up these proposed memorial museums.

It is always moving to hear another community’s story and empathise with their plight. Like Jewish refugees to Australia, Vietnamese refugees have been able to feel at home and welcomed into multicultural Australia. In fact, while Vietnam is largely a safe country today, the Australian-Vietnamese community has one of the lowest levels of returning immigrants to Vietnam as the community has largely prospered and integrated while living here.

This week’s Parsha, Beha’alotcha, discusses the Menorah and the instruction from G-d to the High Priest Aharon to kindle the lamps. The Menorah in the Tabernacle had 7 branches and the Torah notes that it was made of a single piece of hammered gold.

The famous commentator Rashi notes that Moshe had great difficulty understanding how G-d wanted the Menorah shaped and built. In order to help him understand, G-d showed Moshe a vision of fire depicting the Menorah so he could understand how it was supposed to look. The Menorah, through its purpose of shedding light and its construction from a single piece of hammered gold, symbolised unity.

While other vessels in the Tabernacle were dedicated to specific purposes such as incense or washing, the Menorah symbolised light, community and cohesiveness through its dual purpose of lighting and unifying the people.

Attending the friendship dinner reminded me of these purposes.

The communities that came from far and wide and made Australia their home have come together to create one of the most successful multicultural communities in the world. Like each single branch of the Menorah, they have all come together to shed their light and work cohesively to build this wonderful country that has benefitted so much from the visions and hard work of many communities.

As the Menorah teaches us, individually we are much less effective as the light we can spread is much smaller than a unified multi-branched and multicultural community.

I wish you and your families a restful Shabbat!

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Gabi