On Thursday, 19 October, 2017, the first Torah ever to be completed in Australia’s Parliament House had its last letters inscribed before a full house of 150 distinguished guests in the main committee room in what was a landmark occurrence for the Jewish community in Australia.
The monumental luncheon event was organised by Chabad ACT led by Rabbi Shmueli and Rebbetzin Chasia Feldman.
Attendees watched the final verse of the Torah be hand written by the scribe, Rabbi Eli Gutnick, using a traditional feather quill from a Kosher bird. The guest list included:
- Ambassadors from Israel, Argentina, Romania & Diplomatic representatives from several other
- Rabbis, Rebbetzins and Jewish Community Leaders from around Australia, including Rabbi Pinchus Feldman OAM, Head of Chabad NSW, with Rebbetzin Pnina Feldman and Rabbi Nochum Shapiro, VP of the Rabbinical Council of AUS/NZ with Rebbetzin Fruma Shapiro.
- All five Jewish Members of Parliament: The Hon Michael Danby MP, The Hon Josh Frydernberg MP, Dr Mike Freelander MP, The Hon Mark Dreyfus MP and Julian Leeser MP – all co-hosts of the
- Around sixty Ministers, Shadow Ministers, Senators and Members of the House of Representatives from all sides of
- Leader of the ACT Government Opposition, Alistair Coe MLA and other ACT MLAs
- Canberra’s faith leaders from the Bahai, Christian, Hindu, Moslem and Sikh communities.
- Representatives of the Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney Jewish communities including from the ECAJ and AJA.
The purchase of this Torah by Chabad ACT’s Canberra Synagogue was made possible thanks to principal sponsors Dr Alena Rada and Jacob Reich and the many partners from around Australia who purchased letters in “Australia’s Torah” in a successful crowdfunding campaign. This is the first Torah to be owned by the Synagogue following several years of having loan Torahs.
Rabbi Eli Feldman, VP of the Rabbinical Council of NSW/ACT, called upon Rabbis, Torah sponsors and the Israeli Ambassador to witness letters of the last verse being inscribed.
Rabbi Alon Meltzer from the ACTJC Inc was called up to lead a prayer for Australia and its leaders. In a most meaningful initiative and showcase of Jewish pride, the final word of the Torah,
“Yisroel” – “the Jewish people” – containing five letters, had its inscription individually witnessed by each of the five Jewish serving Members of Parliament.
After completing the final letters of the Torah, Rabbi Shmueli Feldman sung the Shehecheyanu blessing on behalf of the Jewish community thanking Hashem for the new Torah together with Menachem Feldman’s band, who delighted the audience with Rabbi Motti Feldman of Dover Heights Shul and Levi Berger.
Rabbi Shmueli Feldman, MC at the event, spoke to the attendees, many have whom were seeing a real Torah for the first time, about the love the Jews have to the Torah and encouraged everyone to rededicate to its universal values. He emphasized the teaching of the Jewish Sage Hilel, when he was asked to teach a beginner the whole Torah on one foot, to which he replied: – “do not do unto others what you would not like done unto you”.
The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, Minister for the Environment and Energy eloquently elucidated teachings of the Torah captivating all those assembled including stressing the importance to adhere to its timeless values: “ever since handed down to Moses on Mt Sinai it (The Torah) has been the basis of our religious and moral obligations as well as our civil laws”. He thanked all the politicians present for their support of the Jewish people and Israel and articulated that the record number of Jewish Parliamentarians from a cross-section of political parties proved how being a good Jew and a good Australian is not a contradiction but rather a testament to how welcoming Australia continues to be to the Jewish community.
The Hon Michael Danby MP, Australia’s longest serving Jewish MP, spoke heartfelt words of wisdom including that “all those present were witness to a proud declaration of what a great country Australia is with a first Torah scroll completion in Parliament House”. He added how fitting it was that the event was being held on the anniversary of passing of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick OBM and how emotional he would have been to see his family together celebrating the great country of Australia by organising such an event in its Federal Parliament. He said that Rabbi Gutnick was a great Australian who served in the armed forces and was so grateful to Australia for providing a safe haven to the Jewish people. Mr Danby also stressed that despite the attacks on him of late he will “not bend for a second when it comes to those issues (calling out anti-Israel bias and antisemitism).”
The Hon Mr Danby and the other Jewish MPs expressed their sincere gratitude to the Feldmans and Chabad for organising a celebration of such great significance.
Reb Michael Kiel from Jerusalem lifted the newly completed Torah and the eitz chaim song was performed. The Jewish MPs together, crowned the Torah for the first time. Siman tov was sung and a spontaneous dance broke out which enveloped the crowd and the Rabbis and Jewish MPs each had the privilege to dance with the Torah.
The inscription on the unveiled Torah cover reads: “The First Torah to be completed in Parliament House. In recognition of Australia’s enduring friendship to the Jewish People.”
Thanks was extended to Michael Danby MP and Julian Leeser MP who together with their staff helped Chabad ACT with the event organisation.
After the Parliamentary celebrations, the Torah was marched with singing and dancing from the Canberra streets under a Chuppah and warmly welcomed into its new home in Chabad ACT’s Synagogue where the community gathered for dinner, speeches and dancing that continued with live music until the early hours in the morning.
Both events were catered by Canberra Kosher under the auspices of Chabad ACT.