On a crisp winter’s morning, the sunlight streamed down and the deep blue colour of the sky appeared as if painted by an artist’s palette. A perfect setting for the Annual VAJEX Australia Service at the Shrine of Remembrance held on Sunday 3rd August 2014. As the crowd assembled near the foot of the steps, visitors paused and inquired about the striking rows of VAJEX Memorial Stakes, representing the fallen and since departed Servicemen & Women. A fitting prelude to the ceremony held in the Sanctuary at 12 noon.
Blue skies gave way to a cool, solemn atmosphere evoked by the Shrine itself. Both Colonel John Coulson OAM RFD ED and Wing Commander Peter Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM were present, welcoming us to remember our fallen and since departed Servicemen & Women.
VAJEX Ceremonial Manager Ms Julie Leder, who facilitated the Service, called upon President Dr Judy Landau to give the opening address. Recalling the outbreak of the Great War 100 years ago, she eloquently reminded us of the names beautifully hand inscribed in the Shrine’s precious Books of Remembrance – members of the AIF, RAN and the Royal Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force who were born in or enlisted from Victoria and served overseas. Amongst the names of those who served, is our own Sir John Monash GCMG KCB VD, who was a founding member of VAJEX (1929). Australian Jews have served in all conflicts since WW1.
Dr Landau’s Official Welcome was followed by Ms Leder’s invitation to Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn OAM to sound the great Shofar for our freedom. The continuous true notes represented so much - the notion of freedom for us for which the ultimate price was paid by many who served. The strong sound of the Shofar still resonated in my ears even after the blowing of it ceased, serving as an additional reminder that the memories of those souls will live on.
Followed smoothly by Cantor David Brykman’s heartfelt rendition of Psalm 91, the beautiful angelic melody was at one with the essence of the words. A comforting reminder of the ever presence of the L-rd, “For He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways”.
Chaplain Rabbi (CAPT) Dovid Gutnick recited the prayer for peace in Hebrew and English. VAJEX Australia’s Patron-In-Chief MAJGEN Jeffrey V Rosenfeld AM OBE CStJ gave his address, reflecting on the saying that “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” He paid homage to those who served to protect us all and give us what we have in Australia today. We remember and honour all who made the ultimate sacrifice, dying on the battlefield.
Then in response to Ms Leder’s command, the two Shrine Guards efficiently took their post. Dr Landau read out the Roll of Honour, followed by Wreath Laying by MAJGEN Rosenfeld and Patron Mr Jack Smorgon AO. A beautiful wreath in the shape of a Magen David was made by Mrs Yvonne Sher. It was also pleasing to see representatives of The King David School participating in the Wreath Laying. All present were invited to place poppies in the Urn in respectful memory of fallen loved ones.
The familiar and everlasting ODE to the Fallen was recited by the VAJEX President, followed by Bugler CPL David Robinson (4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment Band) sounding the Last Post.
Rabbi Heilbrunn sang the immemorial “Kel Maleh Rachamim” (Oh L-rd Full of Compassion), a deeply emotional prayer for the souls of the departed, leaving an imprint upon our minds. In conclusion “Kaddish,” the central prayer for mourners, the Sanctification of G-d, was read by Mr Jack Smorgon AO, followed by all joining in to proudly sing the Australian National Anthem.
Our hearts and minds were truly opened as we affirmed our human values and connection with each other.