Jewish community cancels its own festival

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Melbourne’s Jewish community has cancelled its largest annual festival over concerns that a day of singing, dancing and cultural celebrations while the war rages in Gaza would strike the wrong note.

The “uncomfortable decision” – driven by the board of Kadimah, a Yiddish cultural centre and library in Melbourne’s bagel belt – reflects the conflict felt by many Jews over the need for Israel to protect its citizens after the Hamas atrocities of October 7 and the horrific death toll mounting in Gaza.

Kadimah chairman Joe Tigel, whose organisation took the “uncomfortable decision” to cancel next year’s In One Voice festival.Credit: Simon Schluter

Joe Tigel, the Kadimah chairman and co-chair of the In One Voice festival, said the principal concern of organisers was whether enough people – including the 80-odd Jewish community groups that normally support the event – would want to come.

“Would the mood be right? You have got this day of enormous undertaking and costs,” Tigel said. “If the mood of some of the community groups wasn’t all-in, then you have got a big commitment that might not be realised in crowds.”

In One Voice, which began 35 years ago as a concert in a park and has morphed into a vibrant street festival in Selwyn Street, Elsternwick, was scheduled to run on March 17.

It costs about $100,000 to stage, and this year attracted about 8500 people. Its major sponsor is the Gandel Foundation, the philanthropic arm of one of Melbourne’s most prominent Jewish families.

Tigel said the festival had been “paused” rather than cancelled and that security concerns had played no part in the decision.

“It wasn’t about fear – it was just about whether this was the best time to have it,” he said.

The decision has disappointed some in the Jewish community.

The other group that runs the festival, progressive Jewish youth movement SKIF, was more reluctant to shelve it.

In One Voice co-chair Ross Lomazov, a 27-year-old doctor associated with SKIF, said he hoped the festival could be rescheduled later next year.

“My personal view is: it is now more important than ever to come together as a Jewish community and celebrate that we are Jews, we are living and alive here, and we are celebrating our Jewish community irrespective of the Zionist, Israel-centred narrative,” he said.

“But from a festival governance perspective, we came to an uncomfortable decision.

“The big concern is about conducting a festival where we celebrate, whilst the war in Israel and global fallout remains fluid. We don’t really know what is going to happen. Is it appropriate to celebrate and, dare I say it, make merry while so many in our community are affected and suffer?”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler, while not criticising the decision, said now was a crucial time to celebrate Jewish culture.

“When the Australian-Jewish community feels incredibly isolated as a result of the rise in antisemitism and Hamas attacks on the 7th of October, there has never been a more important time to celebrate Jewish culture and the diversity of the Australian-Jewish community,” he said.

In One Voice brings together disparate Jewish communities to celebrate the cultural and linguistic diversity of Australian Judaism.

Songs are performed in Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic and Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish language spoken by Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. The food mixes Middle Eastern and East European cuisines. Progressive causes such as Jewish LGBTQ rights movements share the street with the conservative orthodoxy of Chabad.

“It is really a potpourri of the community,” said Tigel, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, and who grew up in the SKIF movement. He describes his politics as left-leaning but said operational concerns, rather than political judgments, were central to Kadimah’s decision about the festival.

“We straddled the argument around needing to be loud and proud and not cower against hatred. We also want to make sure that everybody is in with us,” he said.

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