Yehuda the son of Tayma said “eighty is the age of “Gevurah”
(Ethics of the Fathers 5:21)
Our Rabbis allocated a specific quality to the age of 80; gevurah. Gevurah can be translated in many ways; strength, might, heroism, but the consistent underlying theme is defined elsewhere in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the fathers), Ben Zoma said, “Who is a Gibur? One who overcomes their inclinations”. (4:1)
The hero, the gibur, is one who is capable of overcoming the challenges that life throws at them; whether they be internal (our desires) or external. The hero in Jewish literature is not fearless, but rather one who has the courage to face their fear. The hero in Judaism is not the one who has no doubt, but rather the one that marches forward with hope despite that doubt.
Today, Moriah College celebrates its 80th birthday. The College has reached an age of gevurah. But perhaps its greatest expression of gevurah, that heroism, was in its founding in 1943.
Imagine the mood of the Jewish community back in 1943. It was a time of Nazi domination. The allies were yet to invade Normandy and the dark cloud of the Shoah was rapidly spreading over the continent. The Jewish future looked perilous, even bleak.
But at this grim time, on the other side of the planet, a group of conscientious Jews defied the calls for Jewish surrender. Proud of their heritage, and determined to perpetuate it, they created a place destined to secure the future of Jewish Sydney. A place that would inspire future generations to stand up for their people, remain steadfast in their values, and make an impact on Australian society.
Could there be a greater example of gevurah?
Several years ago, I attended a Jewish youth camp just outside Sydney. The Christian campsite was plastered with signs showing “Shalom Aleichem” both in English and Hebrew.
Quite perplexed, I inquired as to the story behind them. The reason left me both intrigued and inspired.
Aware of the tragedies unfolding in Europe, this sect of Christians sought to create a sanctuary for those Jews who evaded the clutches of Hitler. This camp would function as a refugee centre for the withered Jews who would be washed up on our shores.
The camp never opened; the survivors were embraced by the Jews of Sydney.
Our Jewish familial connection isn’t genetic, it is nurtured. Perhaps it was Moriah College, and the spirit that founded it during those darkest of years, that nurtured and inspired our community then, and continues to do so today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rabbi Gad Krebs is the College Rabbi at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.