It’s a statement from the heart, but it’s also a cry from the heart, a cry in search of a voice, a plea born out of despair, an appeal nurtured by hope. It’s The Uluru Statement from the Heart. It speaks directly to my Jewish heart in the spirit of the rabbinic statement that ‘words that come from the heart enter directly into the heart.’ Words composed in the stillness of an aching heart connect instantly to the heart of another, especially another who has travelled the path of an aching heart.
It is a pronouncement or articulation of the heart but it is informed by the moral mind. There is a moral imperative to respond to the torment of those dispossessed of their land and rightful place in Australia.
As Jewish people all too familiar with being excluded, ostracised and vilified our spirit resonates like the string of a violin to the strumming despair of other spirits. We know the torment of the powerless, we live the angst of genocide.
Our identification with those who have suffered discrimination and devastation is not merely emotional, it’s the axis of Jewish ethics. The pivotal experience that shapes Jewish morality is the enslavement in and emancipation from the ancient Egyptian empire. On numerous occasions the foundational texts of those first five Biblical books call on the nascent nation of Israel to never forget they had been slaves. To remember is to react with care and empathy to the vulnerable (the widow and orphan) and the stranger. You know the heart of the stranger and to know that heart is to reach out to all hurting hearts.
These ideas were first presented to the Jewish people at Mt Sinai some three and a half thousand years ago when they were given the Ten Commandments and the basis of the Torah. It was treaty time, the constitutional contract, the covenantal connection between Israel and God. It was Shavuot, the festival marking the culmination of the seven week sojourn from Giza to Sinai.
Many Jewish Australians have worked and continue to work alongside First Nation Australians on a broad range of issues, including the eminent Ron Castan QC, who represented Aboriginal leader Eddie Mabo in the celebrated High Court case; Mark Leibler for his prominent role in the Reconciliation movement and constitutional recognition process and James Spigelman, former Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court who in the 1960’s joined First Nation leaders like Charles Perkins on the so-called freedom ride to highlight the conditions of First Nation communities.
Friday 3 June 2022 marks 30 years since the landmark Mabo decision by the High Court of Australia to overturn the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’- or “land belonging to no one” – which was declared at the time of European colonisation.
And Jews have not forgotten William Cooper who courageously arranged a petition with the Australian Aboriginal League to condemn the persecution of the Jewish population after Kristallnacht.
Speaking to a Jewish audience several years ago, Noel Pearson said “it’s a vision for my mob to be as strong as your mob”.
The Uluru Statement draws our attention to the inextricable bond between people and the land of their ancestors; it reminds us of the future that children nestle in their pristine hearts; it affirms the power of the past. As a people whose connection to land goes back some 3000 years, who maintained that link in their prayers and actions despite being exiled from their homes or being placed in exile in their own homeland by foreign and often brutal oppressors, we know that connection to country goes way beyond the emotional.
The Uluru Statement is a cry for recognition, a statement for justice, a plea for compassion and a call to action. It is also a spiritual cri de coeur or invocation that we perhaps more than others, as a people intimate with powerlessness, endurance and the lure of ancestral land can respond to with energy and empathy.
It’s a space where we, the people of a long dream, meet the people of the enduring dreamtime. What could be a better time to celebrate this than his festival of Shavuot!