From the ASPJ Co-Presidents

Dear Members and Friends,

How does one gauge success in the area of interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue?

The answer is quite simple.  It is when both parties no longer feel that they are considered exotic by members of the other community or when members of both communities feel comfortable with one another, no matter in whose home environment they find themselves. In other words, it is not when differences disappear, but rather when differences are respected and commonalities, no matter what they may be, are fully embraced.

This is exactly the stage that the Polish community and the Australian Society of Polish Jews & Their Descendants have reached. This does not mean that all members of either community are prepared to accept the other or even like the other, but it does mean that the goodwill that has developed between those who seek reconciliation becomes the foundation upon which an honest and respectful relationship is cemented.

People often ask, “Why pursue something that has so little significance in our daily life in Australia?”. There are a number reasons, both moral and pragmatic, as to why this path must be followed. The most important one, which I consider to be a moral one, is in fact the search for truth. In both communities, the historical narrative is based upon stereotypes and myths. It is a defensive narrative, often based on centuries-old hatreds and misconceptions, passed down from generation to generation, creating contempt, exclusion and hatred.

After many years of hard work by our organisation, we have now achieved acceptance by the Victorian Polish community. Our presence, as Polish Jews at different events in the Polish calendar, is no longer viewed as extraordinary, but is expected as part of the diversity of the Polish community landscape.

To achieve this sort of success, a certain kind of leadership and modus operandi are necessary. Leadership is necessary when it comes to setting the agenda, defining goals, and reflecting on progress. However, a common mistake is to concentrate only on leadership and academic forums and forgetting “the common folk”. Communiqués do not alter deeply held societal beliefs or values, nor do they alter public behaviour. People breaking bread together, drinking together, inviting “the other” to one’s home and to one’s cultural and social gathering places – these are the real change-making strategies that set the pattern for the normalisation of relationships. These practices are what highlight our commonality as individuals who share, with other individuals, the joys and hardships of being parents, children and workers, who empathise and understand the similar struggles, hopes and aspirations for those we love. Through this process, we become humanised.

Let me then define the ingredients for true dialogue:

Understanding is the result of speaking and listening, and these two – speaking and listening – constitute the most important of all physical, mental and spiritual functions of man.

It is for this reason that “dialogue” pertains neither to skeptics, nor does it belong to those who believe the truth to lie solely within their own claws and under their own domination.  Rather, understanding reveals its beautiful, albeit veiled countenance, only to the wayfarers of the path whose followers travel hand-in-hand and in step with one another.

A dialogue is desirable only if it is based on freedom and choice.  In a true dialogue, one party cannot impose its ideas on the other.  In a true dialogue, one must respect the independent existence, the ideological, intellectual and cultural attributes of the other party.  Only under such stances can dialogue become a prologue to acceptance and respect.

Bernard Korbman OAM & Ezra May,
Co-Presidents, ASPJ