Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tribute to a 'doer, not just a talker'-a respected national leader of NCJWA, Dr. Geulah Solomon OAM.

TRIBUTE TO Dr.GEULAH SOLOMON OAM z/l, at a function in front of some 100 members and friends who gathered at NCJWA's Victorian premises together with her family and communal leaders on 14/11/10.

The speakers spoke about Geulah Solomon's many involvements in her professional and communal life,-whether as an academic lecturer at Rusden College, where she lectured in social sciences, or later in the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, as well as a published historian, teacher and mentor to many.
The following is my personal perspective of her involvement in NCJWA at all levels.
It is some 25 years ago that the late Mina Fink first mentioned to me the name of Dr. Geulah Solomon as a prospective recruit for our organization while I was preparing to take on the National Presidency. I kept getting names nearly every day so I did not take much notice until I heard Geulah speaking at the old Beth Weizmann. I was impressed, told Mina to arrange a meeting, but even before that we bumped into each other at the theatre one night and I asked Geulah what she is doing at the moment and her answer looking at me, smiling, was ‘not much, yet!’ OK,- let’s meet I said,-and so we started a partnership and friendship in NCJWA which lasted until her passing this year.

I offered her the position as National Status of Women Chair, as well as Jewish Education Chair on the National Board. Suffice it to say that ours was a very enjoyable and productive partnership, preparing submissions to the Federal Government on numerous topics dealing with family law, domestic violence, women and work, voluntary versus paid work, a position paper on child-care policies and funding,- always receiving praise and organizationally and recognition in the various reports submitted to Government. In fact our submission on domestic violence was later included in the subsequent legislation by the Victorian Government in 1987.It referred to the removal of the perpetrators of the violence from the domestic scene, rather than the victims, usually women and the children having to flee.

Her main interest though was the Status of Women in Jewish Law. She initiated the 'Gett' (Jewish divorce) Petition here which was then adopted by the ICJW, with thousands of signatures collected to present to the leading Rabbis in Israel,- she then led the ICJW delegation to Rabbi Bakshi-Doron, the chief respected authority on interpretations of Jewish Law (Chalacha).

In the meantime back home in Australia, the ECAJ (Executive Council of Australian Jewry) without consultation with NCJWA put in a submission to the Law Reform Commission of Inquiry into Multiculturalism and the Law under Justice Elizabeth Evatt, seeking civil law solutions to the problems arising from Jewish divorce laws. Geula was furious and with my agreement, we put in a counter submission because she believed that we should pursue a policy of finding (Halachic)Jewish Law solutions without resorting to civil law, otherwise women could be doubly disadvantaged by having both civil and religious divorce withheld by a recalcitrant spouse. We both agreed that we need to keep a separation of religion and state, so as not to set precedents of the civil law interfering also in other areas, let alone adopting other religions’ laws and customs!

Her deep interests in everything to do with Israel led her to lead an NCJWA study tour together with Daliah Ayalon Sinclair,- now the NSW Council president, as she had done many times previously for Jewish and non-Jewish academics while a lecturer at the University. (She knew most Israeli academics in the major Universities as well as having a deep knowledge of Jewish history and as one Christian participant described her experiences on a tour led by Geulah, she was most considerate to ensure that everyone's religious interests were catered for during her tours.)

She instituted the Scholar in Residence program for our Council and invited Judith Karp, the Israeli Deputy Attorney General at the time (also her cousin) as our first scholar,- then followed with Leah Rabin, (widow of Israeli PM Itzhak Rabin) raising funds for Haifa University and the first Scholarships for Ethiopian Students, later she invited Professor Alice Shalvi and each time the scholars were very well marketed to the community and to all our Sections interstate, helping us to raise money in the process for our various national and international projects.

While State president in Victoria, the Council House was refurbished. She always spoke of her wish-list for Council,- increasing memberships, starting new groups such as the former Israelis’ TARBUT group of Hebrew speakers with Nili Palti, the young Kulanu group, getting funding from the federal government at the time for our bus for senior citizens to transport them to our various Seniors' Clubs, and starting various educational and social programs at our premises, like the Open Door for seniors,- a drop-in centre, still operating today, with music or films and refreshmentsas well as company,- plus an adult education series of lectures on various current affairs topics.

Geulah Solomon continued to serve women, the community in general and the Jewish community in particular with great enthusiasm and distinction for six years as National President of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, 1997-2003.
During this period, in spite of suffering great personal loss with the tragic passing of her only son, Geulah did not waver in her commitment towards her voluntary responsibilities to NCJW and the community. As President of NCJWA, she was particularly successful in putting submissions to and undertaking for the Government major research projects in the areas of "Living in Harmony" in multicultural Australia, through a national pilot project of "building bridges" across many ethnic groups; and an intergenerational project entitled "the Sandwich Generation". In her first three-year term as National President, Dr. Solomon received a federal OSW (Office of the Status of Women) grant for a Capacity Building Project to produce a " Domestic Violence Manual" for the Jewish community and other manuals for the improvement of the NCJWA . A "Handbook for Jewish Women in Australia" was also produced, listing the various communal services available as well as explaining aspects of the Jewish religion.

Geulah Solomon was selected to represent the Australian Jewish community at the NGO Forum in Durban for the UN-Human Rights "Anti-racism" Conference in 2001, as well as the representative of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) and the NCJWA.She was not just an observer of the racism perpetrated by pro-Arab rabble rousers at this supposedly anti-racism conference, but actively tried to counteract the anti-Semitism displayed. She became a staunch activist against the anti-Zionism developing after that experience which she described as the most horrific she had ever seen. (Born in Australia in 1928, she was spared the experiences of those of us born pre-WW2 in Europe! She had experienced some personal anti-Semitism though, at the time when she lived in country Victoria with her parents.)

As Affiliate President, she successfully organised and hosted the ICJW 19th Triennial Convention in Sydney in 2002, which was attended by delegates from 23 countries around the globe. She held many Executive positions on ICJW, the last one being as Australian ICJW Vice President.

For NCJWA, Geulah commissioned and published the history of the organization, "Making a Difference" by Marlo Newton and launched in Melbourne by Rosemary Crowley of the OSW in 2000. The first NCJW website, was introduced during this time. She continued to make a number of submissions to Government Inquiries dealing with the Status of Women. Her experience and wise counsel was sought on all matters, particularly in areas of Status of Women and Status of Women in Judaism.
She was awarded the OAM after long and dedicated service to her community, both Jewish and general even before undertaking the onerous responsibilities of National President of our multifaceted organization, but after completing the 4 volume Caulfield history for the Glen Eira City Council.

Time did not permit me to detail all her work done through and for NCJWA and ICJW. Her capacity to fit in so many activities at an intellectual level not matched by many women or men in any community, made me think that after seeing the heading of 'Modern Matriarchs' where our past leaders came under in the Australian Jewish News ( of a couple of weeks ago, Geulah would have been furious. She like all of our leaders mentioned, may be the matriarch to her family,(a family consisting of Keith her husband of nearly 6 decades, her daughter and family including her 6 grandchildren and one great-grandchild in Melbourne and 2 grandchildren in Canada) but to the Jewish community she and they were activists,- as NCJWA's younger leaders still are to this day!

To the end, while physically rather frail, she still participated in 'Durban2', as the UN second conference on racism was dubbed,- held in Geneva just a couple of years ago. With her grandson to support her, off she went and by all accounts was a very influential participant there. Similarly as only one of two NGO representatives selected to accompany the Australian Government delegation to the New York UN Commission on the Status of Women, reporting to CEDAW, Geulah had the fortitude to still travel and be involved with the bureaucrats, ensuring that Australia was putting its best face forward at the official presentations of our Government’s efforts on behalf of women in Australia.

Geulah Solomon's leadership in NCJWA and the community left a lasting and important impression on our organization and the community. Personally I will miss her wise counsel, our deep mutual understanding of the issues of the day of concern to us as women, Jews and Jewish women in Australia and not having her around to discuss these.

Vale Geulah! You are sorely missed not only by your very devoted and loving family,- but by all those who knew you, respected you and loved you,- even if some admitted to feeling very intimidated by you.

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