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Address by John Searle. President, JCCV at Helen Shardey Farewell Tribute

Address by John Searle. President, JCCV at Helen Shardey Farewell Tribute

20 February 2011

Presidents and members of many communal organisations, David Southwick, member for Caulfield, distinguished guests and of course Helen Shardey and her family members – welcome.

It’s an incredibly humbling experience to stand before you all today as president of our community's peak body, the JCCV and represent and speak on behalf of  29 organizations at this function. When I first mooted the idea of a communal event to thank Helen I was overwhelmed by the response.

Helen you know as well as anyone in this room just how diverse our community is. You know that sometimes it is not easy to get everyone on the same page even if we are all reading the same book. But on this occasion we were flooded by organizations who wanted to be involved in the 1 community event for you. In fact at the outset, I found many organisations were planning their own event for you but there was an immediate willingness to participate in this event. Such is your ability to bring everyone together.

I think this very fact speaks volumes about the impact you have had on our community and the esteem in which you are held.

Why is it that you have had such an effect on us all?

I want to begin answering this question by quoting from your valedictory speech given in Parliament on 7 October 2010.

“I often describe what I do not as a job but as a way of life, because that is what it has been for me among a community which so welcomed and embraced me in the most unexpected way.
The diversity of Caulfield is well known, and I have often been called the member for the shtetl. However, all that I have done and experienced has traversed the needs of both the broader community and the very large Jewish community of my electorate. In many respects the Jewish community is as diverse as the broader community, with a variety of beliefs, customs and traditions.”

Yes Helen over your 14 year Parliamentary career you have indeed benefited all Victorians, not just the Jewish community.

You were first elected to the seat of Caulfield in 1996 and held the seat continuously for 14 years. During that time your areas of interest and portfolios included Multicultural Affairs, Housing, Aged Care, Community services which included child protection and disability and finally the Health portfolio. All of these areas of Government responsibility affect the health and wellbeing of every Victorian and you undoubtedly were able to make a difference for all Victorians.

Your contribution in areas of Health, disability, funding for schools, transport accident victims and many other areas were enormous.  Notwithstanding your busy schedule, particularly as the Shadow Minister for Health, a senior position, you still always keep a very close watch on your electorate and our community. You were so actively involved in fighting anti Semitism, issues of funding, education, issues of recognition, facilitating meetings and appointments, liaising with police and government departments, relevant legislative reform and so many other areas,

People here may not realise all the occasions on which you specifically raised issues of concern to our community in Parliament.

I want to refer to just a few to illustrate the broad spectrum that was covered.

2/9/07 re reforms to equal opportunity legislation

28/2/07 re issue of anti semitic assaults and need for increased police assistance

2/5/07 offering the Jewish community congratulations on the 59th YH

7/5/09 re issue of anti semitic graffiti in Caulfield park.

These few are just the tip of the iceberg. But you were not prepared to have a parliament that was not informed about these matters. You insisted on bringing our community’s issues to the attention of the Victorian Parliament.

There was even one occasion when you raised the issue of speed zones in the Caulfield electorate.  Actually I think this one may have been motivated by a trip to Carlisle St on a Friday afternoon, but that’s another story.

Helen, if I had to describe you in one expression, I think I would say  “tough as nails when she has to be yet a real softie by nature”. I have asked some people who worked with you closely and know you well; they agreed. I say it only by way of compliment; I have seen you advocate for our community and I would not want to lock horns with you. I suspect you cannot rise to the heights in Parliament that you did unless you can forcefully stand up for your beliefs. But those beliefs have to be based on a compassionate understanding of the people you represent. And that is why people, when I asked them about you invariably said:

Helen is amazing, she was always available, always caring, would always find a way to help, always responds to our concerns.

I know you lived up to every one of these sentiments in my dealings with you. In fact I take it further because I know you were not just responsive but you were pro active. If there was an issue that you thought was or even could be of concern to our community you were on the phone to me, briefing me making sure I was across it and offering assistance. You were always there to make sure my guard didn’t drop and for that I am thankful.

You were present at so many of our communal events for so many organisations – large and small and literally, rain, hail or shine. Perhaps the most touching was your presence at solidarity events at times of need. Not only were you there, but you were often the first to arrive. Again you demonstrated in a different way that you were not, and are not just a fair weather friend.

It is for these reasons that you have inspired us, you have motivated us and you have earned our admiration, our respect and even our love.

You have a very special place in our community. You have been awarded the Jerusalem Prize for your contribution to the Jewish community. I know this was a very deep and unexpected honour for you.

You have been accepted as a member and supporter of so many Jewish organisations and you have always used your position to advocate for these organisations and the community.

Again to quote you from your valedictory  speech in Parliament:

“I have developed a great fondness and admiration for what is believed and what is observed: the focus on the importance of family, doing good deeds to help others -- called a mitzvah -- and endeavouring to be regarded as a mensch, which is a very complimentary term describing someone who gives back to the community and is thought of as a good person.”

Helen you are in every sense of the word, a Mensch.

You also said in your speech

“ I am happy that hopefully my life will perhaps change a little more and be a bit more relaxed, with time to meet some new challenges, to catch up with some very neglected friends and to spend time with family, and especially the small people in my life, who are also very young.”

Helen I am not sure that you will have too much time to relax.  You are a doer and we are all thankful that you have taken on further roles within our community such as the role of JNF Ambassador at large.

Helen, we will all continue to reap the benefit of your contribution.

The joy about this is that whilst we are saying goodbye and thank you to Helen Shardey, member for Caulfield we are not saying goodbye to Helen Shardey, the passionate, committed and hard working member of our community. We are glad that you are not really leaving us at all.

Helen, your love for Israel, your love for your community is so strong, is so apparent that it is infectious. That is why we are all here today - just to say thank you.

 

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