Alex Auswaks' Recollections

The Canberra Betar Saga

Listed in chronological order:

May 2004: The Origins of Canberra Betar.
March 9, 2005: Setting the Record Straight.
March 13, 2005: Comments on Alex's Article.
March 16, 2005: Alex Responds

"Would it be possible" writes Margaret Beadman (alias Lady George) on 29.04.04, "for you to jot down some background of the Canberra Betar group - as you remember - NO frills ...."

Margaret's wish is my command (sort of) but I have the world's lousiest memory, and ... you'll have to see for yourself about the frills. So the first thing I did was to phone Shimshon Feder, who has an incredible memory.

No account of the Canberra Betar would be complete without a few words about its father, Chaim Golovesky (Gilad). Chaim had been captured in an Irgun operation and sentenced to death by the British, but his mother found a counterfeit birth certificate, which made him a year younger (to save him from the Germans), and when this was presented to the authorities, the death sentence was not carried out, because he was under age. Years later, Chaim told me that he had sworn to give a year of his life to the Betar in return, and that is how he came to Australia as a shaliach. And so, one day (Shimshon says it must have been 1959) I received a phone call from Chaim Golovesky and I said, "I remember you well. When I was a boy we said prayers for you in the Tientsin synagogue. What can I do for you? Whatever it is, I could never refuse, you understand why." I heard a gulp, and then he said, "I appoint you Mefaked of the Canberra Betar."

The organization commences.

My friend Tom Frommer to whom I went for solace said not to worry. He'd introduce me to Margaret Beadman, an Akela with the local scouts. If you don't know what an Akela is, go to the bottom of the class and read Kipling's "Jungle Book" or look it up in a dictionary. The introductions were made at a dinner given in the home of Lila Landau, whose husband, Sam, was Secretary of the Navy and Margaret pledged her support, hers and that of her friend Josh Riches (a veteran of World War II and Vietnam), who introduced scouting to Vietnamese orphans). Margaret and Josh would look after the scouting, Sam Landau and Tom Frommer volunteered to be transport officers, I was to do the paperwork and teach Jewish history, Betar topics.

I appeared before the committee of the Jewish community and was asked one question: "Is it true that Margaret is joining?" After that the Canberra Betar received the formal support of the ACT Jewish Community. The one dissenting voice was brushed aside. All party and religious differences vanished. All the children were enrolled. The Good Neighbour Council gave us a hut in the Civic Centre for our meetings. A Frenchman phoned invited me to supper and asked whether his daughters could join. They were Catholics but happy to support the Betar programme. Of course, with pleasure. I was placed on the invitation list of the Israeli embassy as Betar was the only registered Zionist organisation in the ACT. The ambassador, Moshe Yuval, is someone who deserves to be remembered. He had been a private secretary to Moshe Sharett, who had sent him to China after the state was proclaimed, to negotiate the emigration of the Jewish community to Israel, which he successfully did (working with my step-brother Aaron Shprahman, a senior Betar officer). Mind you, being on that invitation list meant attending official functions, but the ambassador and his wife and I worked out a compromise. I went in through the front door, whipped off my tie and disappeared in their residence, where I was baby-sitter for their two children and read stories till they fell asleep. I had my moment of glory when the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem visited Canberra and addressed the congregation of the Church of England. I was by the door (always to be first for tea and cakes) when the Archbishop walked in. I was sporting the biggest Betar badge in Australia on my lapel. He came up to me, placed his hand over it, saying he recognised it, murmured a few pleasant words and then asked me to accompany him and help him up on the platform. The next morning my seniors in the Civil Service (I was a bottom grade civil servant) asked me "Who are you really?" I tried to look modest.

Interstate support arrives.

The Zionist Federation in Melbourne gave its support. Arnold Bloch came to check us out. Since he was observant, he stayed with the Shavitsky family, who kept kosher. It was then that Abner (whose father had been in the Zion Mule Corps and the Jewish Legion) made the famous statement: "I don't like the Betar, I don't approve of the Betar, but the Canberra Betar is our Betar." Came a huge cheque from Melbourne. The twin heroes of the Canberra Betar, other than Margaret and Josh, were Shimshon Feder and his wife Perla. They spent three weeks over Pesach 1962 with us. Perla taught folk dancing and singing and Shimshon (known as the Pied Piper) gave seminars on Betar topics and Jewish history. By the force of their personality, their commitment and their ability, the smallest Betar in the world became a united group. Paul Gottlieb offered to swap me for the Feders. The local Methodist church invited me to become a scoutmaster and there was great disappointment in the ranks when I refused. Mind you, the Betar was invited to the International Scout Jamboree (they really wanted Margaret and Josh, but I tagged along and I think Tom Frommer drove us in his famous open red car).

Dr. Gershon Weiler, who had been in the Irgun and later an artillery captain in the Israeli army, was now in the Philosophy Department at the Australian National University and he gave seminars to us, later participating in the Betar Seminars (Sydney, 1963, Brisbane, 1964, Melbourne, 1965).

Betar becomes a training centre.

In the meantime the Canberra Betar, thanks to Margaret and Josh, became a training centre. Betarim from Sydney and even Melbourne stayed with families locally and saw how we did things. Jewish families trekked in from the surrounding bush to ensure their children had a Jewish education. Once, on a bush walk, we were stopped by a local who asked if we were Jewish? Like so many Australians he had been in the Australian army and still remembered the hospitality of kibbutzim. Did we know, he asked, that there was a Jewish family in the area? The Jewish family owned a small general goods store. The Betar got another member and the Jewish community another member for the minyan.

Everyone helped. The Shwarzbaums fed us their gigantic meals. We were driven to camp, to meetings, collected afterwards, taken home for meals ...after my own Tientsin community, where my grandfather enrolled me in the Betar (after all he went to the same synagogue as the Jabotinsky family in Odessa and my grandmother declared mourning when Trumpeldor died at Tel Hai, because the Trumpeldors had been neighbours), yes, after my own Tientsin community, the Canberra Jewish community lies closest to my heart.

At the National Kenes, Margaret was elected a judge of the Betar acclamation.

Meetings were held at least every Sunday morning. First Misdar. Then a "sicha" (under Aussie linguistic rules referred to as a "sickie"), which I had to give if nobody else was available. Next scouting and a sing song. Weekend camps in the bush. Immanuel Holding, one of the founders of the Sydney Betar and had helped run Betar camps (he was a great bushman), used to come from time to time.

Participation at Betar camps interstate.

Betar camps interstate were a problem for me. I couldn't sing. I couldn't dance. My "sickies" put everyone to sleep. But I was Mefaked of the Canberra Betar. So I was made camp hazan and held services ...but the only melodies I knew were operatic. One day I was approached by a Rabbi. His daughter enjoyed my services. Where had I learnt such tunes? Could I conduct the youth services at his synagogue in Sydney? Meetings were held in the Civic Centre and private homes, usually the Shwarzbaums. They were Polish Jews, so we all put on weight after their meals (well, I did). In 1963 I left Australia.

In 1967 I was in Israel, doing the rounds of volunteers who had come during and the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War. Late one evening I arrived at some distant kibbutz. Were there any volunteers? Were there ever! The most wonderful volunteers! From Australia. Hardworking! Terrific bunch. And so independent. Wouldn't take anything from the kibbutz. Give, but not take was their motto. Could I meet them? But, of course! They were all there, round a campfire, singing the songs the Feders had once taught them. Paul Gottlieb looked up, "Hmm...and we thought we'd got away from ol' Alex."

Virtually the entire Canberra Betar sat round that campfire.

Chaim, Shimshon, Perla, Margaret, Josh, Tom, Immanuel, parents, friends, you did not labour in vain! Written on Shavuot, 2004, frills and all. Rewritten with the assistance of Shimshon Feder. .

PS Chaim, Josh and Immanuel are no longer with us - their memory for a blessing. This week sees the birthdays of Margaret and Perla. Many happy returns.

Shimshon Feder was generous enough to read the first draft and found so many infelicities, that a revised version became necessary. I am grateful to him for his helpful comments and reminders before I began, and his corrections after.

The Origins of Canberra Betar

By Alex Auswaks


Shavuot, 2004

The following email was received from a volunteer care giver Helen Yarad who testifies that Immanuel Holding, referenced in Alex's second-last paragraph, is 'sparking on all cylinders'...

Dear Aaron,

I am a Volunteer at the Montefiore Home in Hunters Hill and I am typing this email on behalf of Mr. Immanuel Holding.

Immanuel read the article written by Alex Auswaks on the beginnings of the Canberra Betar group written in 2004. In the article Alex refers to Immanuel and the early camps. He also seems to think that Immanuel is no longer with us. But he is, very much so!

I have been visiting Immanuel for the past year. He is a resident at Montefiore, and has been for the past eight years since he had a stroke in 1996. Although the stroke has left him partly paralysed and he is pretty much confined to bed, he is mentally very alert and sparking on all cylinders. He spends most of his day reading or listening to classical music.

It would be great if you could put the record straight and let it be known that he is very much still in the Land of the Living!

I'm sure he would be thrilled to hear any news of Betar. You can correspond with him at this *email address, or by snail mail at Montefiore Home, 120 High Street, Hunters Hill NSW 2110, Australia.




for Immanuel Holding

Setting the Record Straight

by Helen Yarad

The fact that Immanuel is alive and at Monteforie isn't the only "error" in the report about the beginnings of Canberra Betar and I have all the documentation to back it up.

I spoke to my brother Paul and both of us think we must have been in another city and not Canberra. Perhaps all of this took place before we were involved but our father Kurt Gottlieb was president of the community at the time and the story he told us regarding the internal decisions in the community regarding the decisions to have Betar in Canberra were rather different.

We have the protocols of the meetings somewhere in the family archives. FYI, in spite of his political opinions which weren't exactly pro Betar, he was instrumental in getting the community to agree. I often heard him say that if the decision had to be no zionist youth movement (as others hadn't agree to come to Canberra and many of the community members didn't really see why we needed a zionist youth group) then it was better that we have Betar because he couldn't imagine us (Paul and I) not having a zionist education and value system.

For those of you who dont know Alex made a great madrich to begin Betar and it was Paul and I inspired by him who were those who convinced many skeptics to join and who took over the leadership for the next generation. The education worked, we were both graduates of the madrichim program in Ballarat and both continued to be active in Sydney after we left.

Both of us went as volunteers to Israel in the 6 day war and I have been living in Israel since 1971. Strange how history has many perspectives.

Miriam Barasch (nee Gottlieb)

Comments on Alex's Article

By Miriam Barasch (Gottlieb)

Thank you, Harry.

Thank you, Aaron.

Immanuel Holding.

Immanuel hasn't had a visitor in yonks (so he writes) and I suspect that is how the news arose that he was no longer with us.

I got in touch with Immanuel instantly at and I also telephoned and e-mailed and snail-mailed old associates, asking them to drop him a card or write or visit if possible. He is in the Montefiore Home at 120 High Street, Hunters Hill, NSW. If either or both of you are in touch with Sydney Betar, perhaps they might pay him a visit. He is, after all, one of its founders. Needless to say, anyone who got the news is delighted. We all liked Immanuel and respected his enormous erudition. He once wrote a formal memorandum in Church Slavonic.

Helen Yarad, the volunteer who looks after him and writes letters under his dictation (he had a severe stroke) is a very caring person and I have written to thank her.

I am sure I can rely on Harry's editorial abilities to make the necessary adjustment in the chronicle, unless you've decided to pull the story off completely. Fair enough.

Canberra Betar.

Anyone recording events, and especially the first one to do so, knows that subsequent chroniclers will challenge the record (some more graciously than others) and submit a version selecting new and alternative data and presenting a fresher perspective. (Not to speak of a theoretical formulation.) The more chroniclers, the deeper and broader our knowledge.

I have always thought that the story of the minute Canberra Betar was worth telling, because it was a rare instance of a community "adopting" a Zionist youth movement to solve the difficulties of having a Jewish education for its children. The idea originated with the Sydney Betar, and we did negotiate ... but never quite pulled it off at the time. Canberra was a later chance. I hope others will remember that little experiment.

Edith Dreyer.

Danny Rosing tells me that he had an e-mail from Clive Kessler to say that a death notice had appeared in the Sydney Jewish News to the effect that Edith Dreyer had passed away.

Edith Dreyer had been on the mifkada of the HongKew (alias Shanghai Ghetto) Betar. Her husband, Hans, had been the founder and first mefaked of that Betar, made up of refugees from Germany. It was around the tiny kitchen table of the tiny Dreyer apartment that we dreamed dreams and planned plans of a Sydney Betar.

Tel Hai greetings,

a.l.e.x. a.u.s.w.a.k.s.

Alex Responds

by Alex Auswaks