April 3, 1945 - December 21, 2020
My friend Jan/Evgenia -- some background .. ..
She was an old friend.
I had known her since my primary school years, c. 1950.
She had a difficult life in many ways, was not always an easy character.
But she was absolutely genuine.
Had no patience with/for what she considered nonsense.
Very tough-minded. Esp. with/about herself. "Hard" on herself.
Relentlessly anti-illusions, false comfort.
She was under a cancer verdict but was pushing on in good spirits lately -- incl. Towards the submission of her USYD PhD thesis in February.
I was shocked to hear the news from her brother who phoned me late yesterday morning.
I had had a long lunch with her and a good talk about things only a week or so ago.
She emailed me last weekend to say that she had had a fall [imitating my bad habits, she joked] while having a covid test -- which had proved negative.
Some years ago she began a PhD at USYD.
She became caught up in that awful "scene"/event at USYD over the USYD lecture [on military ethics and the Gaza situation] by that U.K. colonel what's-his-name [kemp?] at which those attending were set upon and "rumbled" by the new-righteous newly-"left" postmodernist and post colonialist hoodlums.
University disciplinary proceedings were initiated against Jan/Evgenia and others by the v-c cum suis -- for having had the temerity to resist and oppose the thugs, symbolically.
She did so in dance, she danced her defiance in a "hanuman" [Ramayana] dance.
She was a dancer from youth and a great follower and student of Asian dance traditions. [Hanuman is the protective monkey god, the benign presence in the old saga/tale.
Her action in doing so was sagely/authoritatively interpreted by USYD's "expert" consultant as a statement by her that those attacking her were Asian monkeys -- and that she was a publicly confrontational/willfully provocative racist .. ..
Well, they had to find her guilty of something, didn't they?
Incidentally, her thesis is/was on the dancer Gertrud Bodebnwieser.]
A "specialist consultant", an expert in industrial conflict and espionage and trade union malpractice/mayhem, was appointed to the task.
I was involved in the proceedings as a secrecy-sworn "prisoner's friend".
The reliably "prudent" investigator did not understand anything about what had happened, how and what and why, and the forms and ways and proprieties of so-called "academic life" -- probably on a convenient "need not to know basis" -- but/and came to the "right" conclusion so far as the v-c & co were concerned.
.. .. And now that unprepossessing little wannabe and Uriah Heep understudy m. Spence has left USYD with his underwear still unsoiled to become v-c and indulge in reverential ritual necrophilia with Jeremy Bentham's remains at university college London.
I refer you to Kohelet [Ecclesiastes], Chap. 10 is it? -- I have seen rubbish and rogues riding in chariots with/as princes and the righteous and decent in the mud and ditches with the outcasts.
Jan and her fellow student Peter Keeda wrote a chapter for a USA-published book about that USYD experience to which I was asked to pen a brief postscript.
If I can find it, I shall scan and copy it to you if you wish -- when UNSW re-opens after 4 Jan.
Her family were from Lodz/Wudj. They began fleeing eastward
As German troops crossed the border into Poland and war broke out in Sept. 1939 -- and they kept moving east, away from "it all".
Evgenia/Jan was born at Osh high in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan C. 1945.
A good way to start a difficult life .. ..
Jan was a singular character: someone I admired very much. She sang briefly in my very short-lived Yiddish choir, but left when we sang a song that was too emotionally close for her (Makh tsu di eygelekh – a famous song from the Lodz Ghetto). You describe Jan’s personality to a tee - no nonsense, completely genuine and tough. She assisted me with musical research into material composed for the Bodenwieser Ballet in the 1940s here in Sydney, and attended all of my festival in 2017. I only heard from her nine days ago with a query about the sponsorship of Marcel Lorber and Gertrud Bodenwieser in 1939. I thought she was turning the corner, and I had really hoped join the academic procession at her graduation next year, and doff my kepele at her achievements.
Jan and I spoke often about musical matters with regard to dance and Bodenwieser, and she was SO appreciative of attending my festival back in 2017 .. ..
I shall miss her very much. Khayim Arukim to her brother and family. Kovid ir ondenk.
JOSEPH TOLTZ PhD | Research Services Manager
Sydney Conservatorium of Music
I knew Jan since she was 15 in Betar, but it was not until 1965 that I took her out. She was the first girl I took out on a regular basis. I learnt a lot from her and shared the music from a youth concert series with her.
Jan had a fierce intellect which kept me on my toes, but her overriding passion was dance. As a young girl she studied ballet with the Bodenwieser Ballet School in Sydney, but was forced to abandon it because of some injury she sustained to her ankles. Nevertheless, she maintained her interest in dance throughout her life. I well remember her participation in the Zionist Youth Council dance competitions for Betar. Later in life, she joined a dance troupe with which she travelled throughout Asia. It is no coincidence that the topic for her PhD thesis was concerned with the history of the Bodenwieser Ballet School.
Jan was a strong defender of Israel and the Jewish people. One need only google her name to come across numerous posts where she used her acerbic wit and sarcasm in defence against the diatribe of antisemitic bloggers. The Kemp/Lynch incident is only one, albeit a somewhat public, example of this.
Jan could be difficult, sometimes exhibiting rage, but mostly she was an absolute delight to be with. Her fierce intellect, her keen observational skills and her natural curiosity attracted like-minded people. Her Betar cohort, who consisted of highly intelligent people, were fittingly counted among her friends.
There was a soft side to Jan. She loved animals. She was particularly fond of the elephants she saw in Thailand, so I made sure that the couple of gifts I gave her had an elephant theme. Lately, I saw her pet and make a fuss of any dogs she came across. As she wrote: “I don’t have pets but greet any four legged furry critter I meet and feel ‘more human’ when I do.”
The last time I saw Jan was in early December 2020 at breakfast at Lynne Park, Rose Bay on the Sydney Harbour foreshores. After breakfast, as I exited the café, I saw her petting a dog and talking to its owner. Later that day she wrote: “After that luxurious dog we met this a.m. Bernie (Kresner) and I wandered round the water’s edge to parked cars and found a duck with half a dozen ducklings. It was a good morning, as they say.
I’m so glad she had a good morning.
Jan suffered from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. Despite what must have been terrible suffering which she stoically bore in private, she persisted in working on her PhD thesis. In early December she proudly announced that she had finally completed it and was awaiting the start of the 2021 academic year to submit it. Sadly, she passed away before this could be done. We, her Betar breakfast friends have pledged to submit it in her stead and hopefully, she will be awarded her degree posthumously.
Jan was much loved by us and is sorely missed. May her memory be for a blessing.
Vale Yevzhenia Poddebskaya.