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Major Addresses by The President, David Lewis


 

 

Law Service for Commencement of Law Term
The Great Synagogue
Wednesday, 7th February 2024

 

•    Welcome to Country
Thank you David (Ossip). I too pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and acknowledge their elders, past, present and emerging.

Welcome To Individuals By Name or Title
On behalf of The Board, ministers and members of our wonderful Great Synagogue, I am delighted to welcome our honoured guests ……

Your support of the Legal Profession and the Jewish community is much appreciated.

In light of this very significant attendance, I will not subject you to a reading of the very considerable list of attendees and I trust that you will
agree with that decision. However, I do wish to thank a few special guests for joining us today:

The Chief Justice, the Hon Andrew Bell

The President of the Court of Appeal, The Hon. Justice Julie Ward and other judges of the Court of Appeal

The Attorney General, the Hon Michael Daley MP

Our immediate past President, the Hon Justice Stephen Rothman AM to whom I am greatly indebted for his ongoing support and advice.

The Hon Ron Hoenig MP, Minister for Local Government, Leader of the House, and Vice-President of the Executive Council

The Hon Penny Sharpe MLC, Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Minister for Environment and Heritage

The Hon. Justice Derek Price AO, the Chief Judge of the New South Wales District Court, and other judges of the District Court

Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission

Dr Ruth Higgins SC President of the NSW Bar Association

Mr Brett McGrath, President of the Law Society of NSW

Mr David Ossip President of the NSW JBOD

I would like to make particular mention of Councillor Steven Lewis from Waverley Council for his outstanding work on behalf of the Jewish
community.

In addition, we have judges from the Federal Court, the Supreme Court of NSW, the Land & Environment Court of NSW, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, the Personal Injury Commission of NSW, Deputy Chief Magistrates, the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island.

We are also honoured to have many other members of parliament, federal and state; local government councillors; ministers and representatives of many religious and ethnic groups; my friends and colleagues of the legal profession together with many Rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community.

DPL History
On the 7th of February 1855, 169 years ago today, the first members of my family arrived in Australia. My Great, Great Uncle and Aunts, Emma Selig, her brother Abraham Selig and wife Elizabeth, arrived in Sydney on board the “Louise” after a voyage of exactly four (4) months from Hamburg Germany. They were ethnically Danish having travelled from the tiny town of Friedrichstadt, then part of Denmark, to Hamburg.

I would suggest that it is therefore clear and obvious that I have “Viking” ancestry!

Abraham, Elizabeth and Emma were escaping oppression of the Jews in Schleswig Holstein due to the conflict between Denmark and Germany between 1848 and 1864.

At the opening of the Law Term last year in this place, I lauded Australian society, and in particular both our political system and the Legal Profession, for their tolerance and acceptance of all peoples. I asserted that Australia was and continues to be a place where all are welcome and that respect was endemic to Australian values.

The Australian Department of Home Affairs notes that:

“Australian values based on freedom, respect, fairness and equality of opportunity are central to our community remaining a secure, prosperous and peaceful place to live. Our values define and shape our country and they are a reason why so many people want to become Australian citizens. Our democratic institutions and shared Australian values have created our peaceful and stable society.”

The Department asserts that “Australian values include:

- respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual;

- freedom of religion (including the freedom not to follow a particular religion), freedom of speech, and freedom of association;

- commitment to the rule of law, which means that all people are subject to the law and should obey it;

- parliamentary democracy whereby our laws are determined by parliaments elected by the people, those laws being paramount and overriding any other inconsistent religious or secular “laws".”

The Resurgence of Antisemitism
Over the past 4 months Australian Jews have sadly experienced a significant increase of antisemitism – Jewish agencies have reported an increase of over 700% in antisemitic incidents.

Unfortunately, our Great Synagogue has been the target of this pernicious form of hate with almost daily hate calls and emails prior to the end of 2023. Whilst this has reduced over the past month it is still at a level that causes us great concern.

For many years our Synagogue has required a permanent police presence at all our services and we are forced to engage independent security services throughout the community at an unsustainable cost simply to enable us to attend services and live our lives.

Many are unaware that Jewish day schools have recently been forced to advise students not to wear school uniforms on public transport, and businesses have been vandalised simply because they are “Jewish”.

ANY expression of hate in our society that is directed towards ANY ethnic or religious group is simply un-Australian and unacceptable and clearly inconsistent with Australian Values.

As a society we cannot allow this to continue.

Review into Section 93Z of the Crimes Act
Just under three weeks ago, NSW Premier Chris Minns and then acting Attorney-General Ron Hoenig announced that former Chief Justice, the Honourable Tom Bathurst AC KC, will conduct a review of state laws regulating incitement to violence.

The Premier noted “The NSW Government is deeply committed to ensuring that all communities are able to live peacefully without fear of violence, or threats of violence.”

I especially chose that quote and wish to emphasise that this review must be to the benefit of ALL COMMUNITIES as that is obviously consistent with social harmony and Australian values.

I welcome that review and I thank the Premier, the Hon Ron Hoenig, Minister for Local Government and the Attorney General The Hon Michael Daley. We are honoured to have your ongoing support – this is of great comfort to our community.

Pope Francis, Saturday 2 Feb 2024
Most significantly, last Saturday Pope Francis issued a statement in which he condemned all forms of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, labelling them as a "sin against God", after noticing an increase in attacks against Jews around the world.

I am unsure if The Pope has ever been quoted from this pulpit however, I am confident that my Rabbi will have no objection to the following. "(The Church) rejects every form of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred towards Jews and Judaism as a sin against God," the pontiff wrote in a letter to the Jewish population of Israel dated Feb. 2.

"Together with you, we, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world. We had hoped that 'never again' would be a refrain heard by the new generations," he added.

I thank Pope Francis for his leadership.

Last Monday Rabbi Elton and I hosted a meeting of senior Christian Faith Leaders here at The Great that included representatives from Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Baptist, and Pentecostal Churches together with many more Christian organisations.

We gathered to condemn hate. Hate against any and all group of peoples. All agreed that the rise in antisemitism was unacceptable and that this was a toxic stain on Australian society.

We value the support of our Christian friends and hope that we can all build on these relationships for a better world.

Conclusion
My family came to Australia 169 years ago seeking a better life, speaking no English and without support. They found work in Western NSW with bullock drivers and lived a hard life during their first decade in Australia. All immigrants take such risks.

It is our obligation to ensure that all people who join us in this great land have equal opportunity and are not subjected to prejudice.

“Never Again” is such an emotive expression for the Jewish community. We live this every day, it is part of our psyche, it is part of our fear.

We all must ensure that the evil of hate is truly consigned to the history books.

Thank you.

 

David P. Lewis
President
The Great Synagogue, Sydney

 

 

 

Law Service for Commencement of 2023 Law Term
The Great Synagogue
Wednesday, 8th February

 

•    Welcome to Country
Thank you Darren. I too pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and acknowledge their elders, past, present and emerging.

Welcome To Individuals By Name or Title

On behalf of The Board, ministers and members of our wonderful Great Synagogue, I am delighted to welcome our honoured guests ……
The Chief Justice, the Hon Andrew Bell

The President of the Court of Appeal, The Hon. Justice Julie Ward and other judges of the Court of Appeal

The Hon Justice John Robson of the Land & Environment Court of NSW and other judges and members of that court

The Hon Justice Gerard Phillips inaugural President of the Personal Injury Commission of NSW

The Hon Sophie Given, Judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and former judges of that court

The Hon. Justice Derek Price AO, the Chief Judge of the New South Wales District Court, and other judges of the District Court

Deputy Chief Magistrates Judges Theo Tsavdaridis and Sharon Freund as well as other magistrates

The Attorney General, the Hon Mark Speakman SC MP

Our immediate past President, the Hon Mr Justice Stephen Rothman AM to whom I am greatly indebted for his ongoing support and advice.

The Hon Mr Ronald Sackville, former judge of the Federal Court and the Supreme Court of NSW

The Hon. Justice François Kunc, Judge in the Equity Division of the Supreme Court of NSW.

The Hon Mr Steven Rares, judge of the Federal Court and the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island!

Darren Bark CEO of the NSW JBOD and leaders of the Jewish community.

Archmandrite Christophorus Krikelis and Archdeacon Athenagoras Karakonstantakis of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

The Hon. Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, Chairman of the Market Misconduct Tribunal and the Securities and Futures Appeals Tribunal in Hong Kong.

Members of the NSW Parliament the Hon Michael Daley, Ron Hoenig, Natalie Ward, & former Attorney General Gabrielle Upton; all of whom have been good friends of ours for many years.

The Hon. Ben Franklin MP, Minister for Tourism, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Regional Youth.

GABRIELLE BASHIR SC, President of the NSW Bar Association.

Ms Cassandra Banks, President of the Law Society of NSW.

Councillors Ms Shauna Jarret & Mr William Chan, Council City of Sydney.

Rev Peter Kurti, Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program.

And finally another of our good friends who we are honoured to host every year, Rev Geoffrey Usher, minister of Spirit of Life Unitarian Church

We are also honoured to have many other members of parliament, federal and state; local government councillors; ministers and representatives of many religious and ethnic groups; my friends and colleagues of the legal profession together with many Rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community.

To be a Jewish Lawyer
Under British Law, the opportunity to be a lawyer for Jews has not always been straightforward.

Prior to the mid 1850s, Jews were not allowed to have degrees from Oxford or Cambridge, almost totally ensuring that a law qualification from these universities, and the standard route to the Bar, was unavailable. Judges of course were appointed almost exclusively from members of the Bar.

The so called “Oxbridge barrier” was removed by the Oxford University Act 1854 followed by the Cambridge University Act in 1856. Prior to those Acts, both Universities adopted a religious "test" that was specifically designed to preclude non-Christians from having certain degrees conferred on them.
The University College London was an alternate route to a legal degree prior to these Oxbridge University Acts.

However, then there was the further complication of The Oath.

In order to be a Barrister, a Judge or a Member of the House of Commons, there was a requirement on taking up any of these positions that the person swear an Oath which included the words:

"upon the true belief of a Christian”.

Unsurprisingly, many Jews found that in all conscience they could not take such an Oath and they were thereby effectively barred from such appointments.

The Jewish Relief Act 1858 removed the words "upon the true belief of a Christian” from the Oath to be taken by persons elected to the House of Commons. That Act did NOT however extend to judicial appointments until subsequent legislation in 1868.

The Jewish Relief Act 1858 was the result of over 20 years of significant debate in the Commons commencing in 1833. Hansard has recorded the highly antisemitic nature of argument – I will not repeat those debates in this paper.

There were very early exceptions – some Jews received special treatment that permitted them to take office. David Salomons was one of these.

Salomons was made Sheriff of London and the Sheriff’s Declaration Act of 1835 was enacted to allow him to take office without taking the Oath. Further, he was made an Alderman in 1847 and again special legislation in the form of the Jewish Municipal Relief Act of 1847 allowed him to take office omitting the words "upon the true belief of a Christian” from his Oath.

Baron Lionel de Rothschild was the first Jew to take his seat in the House of Commons on 26 July 1858 as he was then permitted to take his Oath without the constraining words. He was first elected in 1849 and again in 1857 but was denied his seat prior to the 1858 legislation.

Judicial appointments of Jews in Britain remained another matter. There was a specific exemption in the Jewish Relief Act 1858 relating to oaths to be taken upon appointment to the judiciary. It was not until the passing of the Promissory Oaths Act in 1868, which repealed that exemption, and permitted Jews to be appointed to the Judiciary and other senior positions.

“It is interesting to note that although Jews were, by this change, placed on a level footing with Christians, there was still one restriction which remained. That was that they could not exercise ecclesiastical patronage attached to any public office they might hold.”

What Happened in Australia
During my research on this matter, I was delighted to find that there appears to be a complete absence of any similar requirement in Australia and there certainly was no similar Oath.

I suggest that our convict/emancipist background, resulted in a more pragmatic approach that was more fluid and open in relation to the acceptance of Jews in colonial Australia. This was reflected in several high profile and early appointments. Access to the best local resources was most likely the criteria applied.

On the 3rd of July 1849 - Lionel Samson was Elected to Western Australia’s Legislative Chamber, becoming the First Jew to be elected to an Australian Parliament.
In Australian Genesis by the late Dr George Bergman and Rabbi Dr John Levi, they suggest that Samson’s appointment to the Legislative Council in WA did not set a legal precedent since a Jew was appointed as a Sheriff of London in 1835 and there were Jewish alderman in the same period.

Prior to that, in 1846 – Saul Samuel, later Sir Saul (the second President of The Great Synagogue 1878-1880), became the first Jew in the Colony to be appointed a Magistrate thereby effectively the first Jewish Judicial appointment in Australia. Further, on the 1st of Oct 1854 Saul became the first Jew to be elected to NSW’s Legislative Council. He was the first Jew to be a Minister of the Crown, 6 October 1859, and served as Colonial Treasurer. He subsequently had a distinguished career in politics and business.

Sir Saul laid the foundation stone for The Great Synagogue in 1875 and given his very significant role in the Sydney Jewish community, we can be certain that he did not swear an oath in the pre 1858 UK form.

Jewish lawyers were largely unrestricted in Australia.

However, there are examples of early antisemitism. On 13 Nov 1886 Julian Salamons (later Salomons) was appointed Chief Justice Of New South Wales.
Sadly, he declined to be sworn in “because of the hostility of the then current members of the bench”. There were other explanations given at the time.

DPL

I have some personal reflections on this matter of Oaths.

In December 1981, just over 40 years ago, when I attended the Supreme Court with my Chumach, that is the Torah printed in book form, in my hand ready to take my Oath as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW, the following exchange of words took place between me and the Clerk:
Clerk: “Will you swear or affirm?”
David: “I’ll swear thanks”
Clerk: “Here you are then he said” (handing me the New Testament)
David: No thanks I have my Chumach – my own
Clerk: “Oh, so you are going to Affirm then?”
David: “No, I am going to swear on the Jewish Torah in my hand!”

He was terribly confused and thankfully just gave up on me.

I know many of my friends from other faiths had similar issues albeit many years ago.

Conclusion
The Jewish community has made significant contributions to the Law in Australia. In turn, Australia and the legal profession, has been very good to us.

The Constitution in Section 116 states:

“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth”.

It is a basic tenet of Jewish Law that we must observe the laws of the land in which we live and there can be no doubt that Australia, and our profession, has made that a very easy thing for us to do.

I Thank you all.

 

 

 

Law Service for Commencement of 2021 Law Term
The Great Synagogue
Wednesday, 10th February 2021

 

•    Welcome to Country
Thank you Daniel. I too pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and acknowledge their elders, past, present and emerging.

Welcome To Individuals By Name or Title

This is the first year of my term as President of The Great Synagogue and I am greatly honoured to address my colleagues at this event.

On behalf of The Board, ministers and members of our wonderful Great Synagogue, I am delighted to welcome our honoured guests ……

The Chief Justice, the Hon Tom Bathurst AC

The President of the Court of Appeal, The Hon. Justice Andrew Bell and other judges of the Court of Appeal

The Hon. Justice Julie Ward, Chief Judge in Equity of the Supreme Court of NSW and other judges of the Supreme Court

Judges of the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and former judges

The Hon Justice Brian Preston FRSN SC, Chief Judge of the Land & Environment Court of NSW and other judges and members of that court

Judges of the Family Court of NSW and former judges

The Hon. Justice Derek Price AO, the Chief Judge of the New South Wales District Court, and other judges of the District Court

Judge Graeme Henson AM, Chief Magistrate of NSW and other magistrates

The Attorney General, the Hon Mark Speakman SC MP

Our immediate past President, the Hon Mr Justice Stephen Rothman AM to whom I am greatly indebted for his ongoing support and advice.

Michael McHugh SC, President of the NSW Bar Association

Ms Juliana Warner, President of the Law Society of NSW

I am particularly honoured to welcome The Hon Ronald Sackville, AO QC, former acting judge of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of NSW and judge of the Federal Court and an esteemed member of The Great. He was my Dean at UNSW and has been a major influence in my professional career.

We are also honoured to have many other members of parliament, federal and state; City of Sydney and local government councillors; ministers and representatives of various religious and ethnic groups; my friends and colleagues of the legal profession together with leaders and members of the Jewish community.

(end of welcome list).......

We have always had a large and diverse attendance at our Law Service and this is a testament to the relationship we as a community have enjoyed in NSW and Australia. Whilst we are proud of our contribution to Australian life, we are even more proud of the fact that our country espouses, and practices, strict principles of equity for all peoples. Your attendance this afternoon reinforces those principles.  

Tough year

It has been a tough year as we all know, however I suggest that we have witnessed a renaissance of Australian values during this time as we have experienced unparalleled co-operation in the community.

My mantra has always been to attempt to get peoples to, as I like to express it, hold hands. This past year our society has done so. In the late 1700s, the French lawyer and diplomat, Joseph de Maistre (Mestre) said, although I paraphrase, that a society gets the leaders they deserve. In 2020 we have seen our elected leaders come together in a manner not seen for generations. We all owe a debt of gratitude to not only all governments in Australia but to the opposition members State, Federal and Local Government. Your capacity to work together, constructively, has meant that Australia is far safer than almost anywhere else in the world and it has also ensured that the Australian people were prepared to follow that outstanding example and make sacrifices for the common good.

So I take this opportunity to thank all our elected officials here today. Please take that message back to your colleagues – you are appreciated.

Profession

As a profession we have always been charged with the responsibility to act in accordance with the principles of Equity. Whilst we continue to see that concept challenged in other jurisdictions, Australia remains a free and tolerant society. The fact that we also understand we can still do better, is a strong reflection of our core values. As lawyers, we are constantly reminded of these obligations and it is to our judiciary and the wider profession to whom the community looks for leadership.

Making peace between people is a fundamental principle of Judaism and we are all familiar with the Talmudic quote: “He (or she) who saves a life saves the world”.

Our community is dedicated to peace and safety for all and is deeply grateful to the Legal Profession, our elected officials and to Australia for your dedication to Equity and your ongoing support. May we continue to “hold-hands”, in a Covid safe manner of course, forever!

 

Thank you.

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AGM REPORTS


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President's AGM Report 2022

Click here to Download

President's AGM Report 2021

Click here to Download

President's AGM Report 2020

Click here to Download

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Tue, 27 February 2024 18 Adar I 5784