THE deepening coronavirus crisis has landed a blow on the Australian Jewish community, with this year’s international March of the Living (MOTL) event postponed for the first time since it began in 1988, devastating some 70 Australians due to march.
MOTL’s Israel-based leadership announced on Sunday that the spread of coronavirus, particularly in Europe and the United States, has torpedoed plans for the mission to Poland for Yom Hashoah, and Israel in time for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut to proceed as scheduled.
Six weeks out from the annual pilgrimage of Holocaust survivors, their descendants and supporters, Cedric Geffen, president of MOTL Australia, said MOTL 2020 was deferred “with a very heavy and sad heart, and out of concern for the health of the approximate 15,000-plus international participants and over 100 survivors who were expected to be participating”.
“In the current climate of a rampant and resurgent antisemitism, both in Australia and worldwide, this program has more relevance than potentially ever before.
“However, in consideration of the risks, the uncertainty, the restrictions enforced by the various governments involved and in consideration and recognition of the health and wellbeing of our Australian participants … we stand firmly behind the decision taken by International March of the Living,” stated Geffen.
MOTL world chair Dr Shmuel Rosenman said, “Our primary concern is the health of the many participants and the Holocaust survivors who would be joining them. Given that this is an international event involving 110 delegations from around the world, we have a responsibility to take precautionary measures in accordance with the guidelines given by authorities in various countries.”
The Israel-based International March of the Living Inc stated it is developing alternative and possibly multiple new dates for the 2020 event, factoring in school and community calendars and availability of venues.
To reduce the impact of the postponement, MOTL will launch a campaign encouraging youth across the world to combat antisemitism and racism under the slogan, “Never Means Never”.
The postponement has also jeopardised plans for the first-ever Australian parliamentary delegation to join MOTL. Five Victorian state Liberal and Labor MPs led by Caulfield MP David Southwick were planning to be part of this year’s event.
Southwick said the tour “was intended to provide parliamentary participants a first-hand experience of the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, as well as an opportunity to experience the hope and optimism of the modern Jewish community by visiting Israel”. But he added, “This cancellation only makes me more determined to organise a greater parliamentary delegation in the future.”