Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community
"Celebrating The Australian Way"
by Geraldine Jones
"Almost everyone in Australia has heard of the Sheffield Shield, the trophy that Australia's best cricketers spend all summer toiling in the sun to win for their State. But what few would know is that there is a little plaque attached to the bottom of the shield inscribed 'Designed and manufactured by P Blashki and Sons - Melbourne". So begins the history of "Phillip Blashki, A Victorian Patriarch" written by his great granddaughter, Gael Hammer.
Like her illustrious forbear, Gael is an important member of the Australian Jewish community and is particularly active in Jewish adult education. A wife and mother of two married daughters, she is involved in the Womens Action Group (a subset of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies), the Womens Tefillah Group (modern orthodox activists) and the Kosher Consumer's Association. In her "spare time" she is a professional social worker.
It is Gael who was the prime force in organising a most successful Birthday Party which may possibly have long-term impact on the Australian Community's celebration of Tu B'Shvat, the New Year for Trees in Israel.
This festival which started last night and ends at sundown occurs when Winter should be giving way to the beginning of Spring after the Winter rains. Yesterday it poured torrents in Israel after a period of acute water shortage! Here in Sydney, Australia, we are having beautiful Summer weather. Nevertheless, like all the festivals, we celebrate Tu B'Shvat at the same time as in all other parts of the world.
Tu B'Shvat reflects our Rabbis' desire to imbue the spontaneous rejoicing over the advent of Spring with Jewish spirituality. Without our temple and with our people dispersed it took some time for formalities to evolve. Now the JNF (Jewish National Fund) has produced a wonderful Tu B'Shvat booklet (available in Australia) and anyone with web access can go to http://www.virtual.co.il/city_services/holidays/tubshvat96/worldcus.htm and find out about the way this festival has been celebrated around the world and in Israel today.
In Australia tree planting and support of the JNF has long been practised on this holiday but last night, here in Sydney we had our first communal Tu B'Shvat seder.
Tables in a local Kosher restaurant were decorated with fruit, nuts, olives, flowers and candles were set out for the 50 participants. Each person was given a Seder handbook devised and written by Gael. We had four cups of juice and four plates of different fruits with the kabbalistic interpretations. Between the cups and the plates, we had four learning sessions -- why nobody has heard of the festival, much less celebrated it; why is was not an arbor day, the problem for Jewish leaders of dealing with a pagan event, which had become a folk celebration....trees, women, fertility, equinox.
There was lots more packed into about 45 minutes. Two blue boxes were filled. Dinner was eaten and everyone took home a tiny tree donated by Waverly Municipal Council and the prayer to say while planting it.
So, in future when you look at the Tu B'Shvat web site you might find how the Jews of Australia, Ashkenasi and Sephardic, Liberal and Orthodox, male and female, young and old come together and share their concern for Israel, the ecology and our people.
a) Phillip Blashki, A Victorian patriarch - ISBN 0 9589451 0 1
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