IT may not have been the usual lavish ceremony in the Government House ballroom, but Bella Hirshorn was still “very happy” to be presented her award as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in an online ceremony last week – a historic occasion which marked the first ever virtual investiture in Victoria.
Bella, who is in her late 90s, was appointed an AM for her significant service to the Jewish community, and to women in the Australia Day Honours earlier this year.
But with the enduring coronavirus pandemic, the decision was made to take the official event online.
Governor Linda Dessau presided over the ceremony by video from Government House, while Bella remained in her home with her granddaughter stepping in to physically pin the medal. Four generations of family also tuned in on the virtual occasion with Bella’s daughter and grandson joining from separate locations in Sydney.
Acknowledging her “outstanding contribution to many aspects of Australian life”, Dessau said, “I’m so pleased for the opportunity to invest Bella Hirshorn, a remarkable Victorian, with her Australia Day honour.”
A modest Bella enthused, “I am greatly honoured to receive this award in recognition of my contribution to the Jewish community and to women over so many years.
“The medals are beautiful! And I felt very happy to share the afternoon with my family.”
Adding to the festivity of the occasion, Government House also sent Bella scones and jam.
“That was very nice of the Governor, and I enjoyed them very much!”
Reflecting on the occasion, granddaughter Michelle Jacobs said, “Pinning the medal on my grandmother on behalf of the Governor was a memorable occasion. It made my gran so happy – especially after all of the ceremonies in March were cancelled.”
Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, Bella is a Holocaust survivor who arrived in Australia in 1949.
“I have been very fortunate in my life in Australia and it has been very rewarding to be able to give back and to help others,” she told.
With a proud history of volunteering, Bella has been president and co-president of the Eilat Group of WIZO Victoria – positions she held over 62 years – was on the executive of WIZO Victoria and is an honorary life member of WIZO Australia.
“As WIZO Australia president and during my nearly 48 years of involvement in WIZO Victoria, Bella Hirshorn has been a dedicated WIZO member, who I have always looked up to,” said Paulette Cherny.
“She is a WIZO treasure and we are all so excited that her years of service to WIZO have been honoured in this way.”
Bella has also volunteered as a guide at the Jewish Museum of Australia since 2005 – work she “immensely enjoys”.
“I love showing visitors around and telling them about Jewish life in Melbourne, and the history of the Jewish people,” she said.
JMA director and CEO Jessica Bram told The AJN, “The Jewish Museum is thrilled to see Bella’s longstanding contribution and commitment to the community recognised by her award as a Member of the Order of Australia.
“Never a more worthy recipient, Bella has gifted our museum her time, insights and stories as a volunteer over an extraordinary 15 years.
“She is a true Eshet Chayil.”