RUGBY league personality Matthew Johns says visiting the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) is “a day that I’ll always treasure”.
The former Newcastle Knights and Cronulla Sharks player was invited to tour the SJM after a segment on his Foxtel television show that featured a photoshopped image of Adolf Hitler caused outrage in May.
He visited the museum last Thursday morning with his wife Trish before meeting with and hearing the life story of Holocaust survivor Jack Meister, who rebuilt his life in Australia after losing his immediate family in the Shoah.
“On one hand it’s horrifying to go through and see the extent of the destruction of a people and a culture,” Johns exclusively told The AJN.
“But on the other hand, it’s inspiring – the toughness and determination of the Jewish people to survive and to get through and to preserve their culture.”
Of Meister, Johns said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more inspiring fellow.
“I’ve definitely never met anyone who’s gone through the horrors that Jack’s gone through. Yet he’s just got a charisma and a glow about him, always smiling. He’s inspiring and it’s just a lesson for everyone – it’s amazing,” he said.
“At the moment I’m just trying to digest everything that went on today,” he continued, “There’s so much, but the greatest thing that I take out of it is meeting Jack.
“When I found out I was going to meet Jack, I think I was expecting a man who was going to be in a lot of ways broken. But he’s absolutely totally the opposite.
“I have never met a more positive man, particularly with everything that he’s gone through.”
He added that he wants to bring his sons with him on his next visit.
SJM CEO Norman Seligman said he was very pleased Johns accepted his invitation to visit along with Trish and Foxtel executive Jamie Campbell.
“I have no doubt Matty gained a much better understanding of the Holocaust, the inappropriateness of his actions and the very important lessons that are as relevant today as ever,” he said.
“It was clear that Matty and his group were absolutely inspired by Jack [Meister]’s positive outlook on life and many words of wisdom.”
Meanwhile, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff met Johns for a coffee on Monday. Alhadeff said the meeting, which was “very cordial”, covered a broad range of issues, including the spike in racist incidents worldwide, the resilience of Holocaust survivors and the need to speak out against all forms of bigotry.