Chairman’s Report to the Annual General Meeting on 18 August 2019

Dear friends

First of all, let me acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we are meeting on today, the Original Custodians, and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
A special welcome to Anette Adelmann, the General Secretary of the International Council of Christians and Jews, who will give the Sr Sedawie Oration a little later on.

This is my first report since taking over the chairmanship from my predecessor Philip Bliss in August 2018 and what a busy year it’s been!

We are living in interesting but also very troubling times.  Violent extremism is rife around the world and there is no doubt in my mind that our inter-faith work is more important and relevant than ever.  I will come back to this, and the issue of hate speech, a little later in my report.

Our functions and Luncheon Club meetings have been well attended throughout the last twelve months.  Thank you so much to Alex Kats for proving a slide review of the 2018/2019 period to give a vivid illustration of our many and various activities. Let’s look at Alex’s presentation now!

As you could see, the topics covered have been truly interesting and varied.  Let me just highlight the following:
In October 2018 we heard a most informative report by Asher Ostrin on Post-Soviet Jewish Life and in November 2018 Greg Sheridan spoke to us about his new book “God is Good for You”.

In February 2019, women were the focus of a function dealing with “A Woman? Re-integrating the Feminine Presence in our Ancient Texts and Modern Practice”.  The two speakers, Rabbi Alison Conyer and Rev Dr Julie Hall, provided us with fascinating insights into their topic showing us a more progressive re-imagining and interpretation of the role of women in the Bible.

In March 2019, Gary Bouma gave us a report on the findings of a team of researchers who studied the “Worldviews of Australian Teenagers”.  The future played out in front of our eyes and I can say that there is some hope that a new generation will be interested to continue our important inter-faith work!  And talking about a new generation, I must emphasise how critical it is for our work to find new members for the CCJ Vic, and also new younger members.  This will not be an easy task but we will do our very best to accomplish it.  It is vital for us to be present in the inter-faith space of Victoria by offering interesting topics through our functions/events and also through our journal Gesher.

On 31 October 2018 we launched the 2018 edition of Gesher with the title “Politics and Religion”.  The excellent keynote launch speech was given by Nick Dyrenfurth, the Executive Director of the John Curtin Research Centre.  My thanks goes to Marcia Pinskier who did an outstanding job as editor and who has agreed to again be the editor of the 2019 edition of Gesher with the title “Women and Religion”, the launch of which is planned for late November/early December 2019.

I should say that, like in the previous year, the 2018 edition of Gesher was very well received, nationally and internationally, and thank you letters were received by, among others, the Queen and the Pope.

Earlier in my report, I mentioned violent extremism and I am sure we are all aware that synagogues in the US, mosques in NZ and churches in Sri Lanka were the target of such extremism.  It’s fed by the growing divisions in society caused by hate speech, much of it online.  The CCJ Vic, in partnership with the Online Hate Prevention Institute, has created a new program to tackle hate speech.  It will be launched later this afternoon by Dr Andre Oboler, the director of the institute.

Financially, the CCJ Vic is now in a more secure and viable position due to some bequests received over the last eighteen months.  This has been a lifeline for our work and we are extremely grateful for these gifts to us as they affirm and acknowledge the value of our work.

My sincere thank you goes to all the members of the Executive for their good work on the various committees that they volunteered for.  Thank you, Philip, for serving as Vice Chairman last year.  Your wise council has been very much appreciated and we have always worked together extremely well! Alex Kats, most deservedly, will step up into the role as Vice Chairman now and I am sure that we, too, will be a good team!  Thank you, Rysia, for your tireless and professional work as Secretary and Ed Carter for keeping our finances in good order.  I value very highly the work of all individual members of the Executive (Martin, Marianne, Newton, Faye, Freda, Graham, Mark, Colleen and Susan) and look forward to working with you again in the next twelve months.
Thank you, Liz, for all your good services in the office – we have worked well together last year and I am confident that that will continue.  Also, thank you, Roz, for “keeping the books”, a most important task carried out very well.

Let us all continue to work together to create harmony in our society, in a civil society, and take a strong and clear stand against hate and racial discrimination wherever we may find it!

Thilo Troschke