WILLIAM Szekely, a communal leader in the interfaith sector, has passed away suddenly at the age of 61.
Szekely, from Sydney, was the chair of the Australian Council of Christians and Jews (ACCJ) for the last three years, having been president of the NSW Council of Christians and Jews (NSWCCJ) prior to that.
Good friend Kati Haworth, who knew Szekely through their work in a number of communal organisations, recalled him as “a very generous person with a strong sense of social justice”.
“His shoes will be hard to fill. In the interfaith area we’ll need to look hard and long to find someone as capable as William,” Haworth told The AJN.
He worked extensively in recent years developing a dialogue with the Uniting Church, and saw interfaith work as an important venture in countering rising anti-Semitism, Haworth explained.
“He really built up the Council of Christians and Jews to be something much more than it had been,” she said.
Beyond the ACCJ Szekely was also involved in the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Emanuel Synagogue, and the Inner West chavurah – an unaffiliated Jewish community in Sydney’s inner-west.
“He was respected by people of communal standing,” noted Haworth.
Moreover, he practiced as a lawyer, also with a focus on social justice in his professional career – and often taking on work pro-bono for various Jewish organisations.
“I think it was just the nature of the man,” Haworth said.
Szekely was born in 1954 to Andrew, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, and Victoria, a refugee from the Ukraine. He attended the University of Sydney and had a passion for music.
Tragically, he had only recently been given the all-clear after a four-year battle with cancer when he suffered a sudden heart attack on December 25.
Delivering a eulogy at the funeral, Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins of the Emanuel Synagogue paid tribute to Szekely as someone who “wears the crown of a good name”.
“He has earned this name through his intellectual and emotional intelligence, his goodness and compassion, love and care, his talent as a musician and as a tireless giver to the community, particularly through his social justice and interfaith activities and leadership,” Rabbi Kamins said.
Szekely is survived by his wife Gudula, and children Alexander, Bianca and Talia.