At the Book launch of Josie Lacey’s Memoirs at the Jewish Museum yesterday – launched the Hon Walt Secord MLC – and attended by about 150 people. Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, and President of the Council of Christians and Jews gave a blessing for Peace.
Josie Lacey book launch by Walt Secord
Inevitable Path – A Memoir
Sydney Jewish Museum – November 25 at 3pm
Firstly I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
I am honoured to have been asked to launch “An Inevitable Path – a Memoir”, telling the life of my good friend Mrs Josie Lacey. Over the years, I have attended dozens of book launches, but this one is very special for me. It is part of the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Community Stories Project.
The museum runs a program for members of the community who wish to write their life stories or the life story of a family member for future generations. The program aims to:
**Provide members of the Sydney Jewish Museum and the wider Jewish community with an opportunity to express their individual family history in a written form; and
**Creates an archival collection of the social history of the NSW Jewish community.
As I often remark – attending a Jewish function is like coming home, so I am deeply pleased to be here at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
For those who do not know me, I am the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the NSW Parliament’s Legislative Council; Shadow Health Minister and Shadow Minister for the Arts.
But today, I am here in two other capacities. Firstly, as the deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel but more importantly, as the “adopted son” of Josie – I put adopted son in inverted commas.
Josie and I first met when I worked at the Australian Jewish News from 1988 to 1991.
And since my “adoption”, I have had countless Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah and Passover dinners with her and her family.
She has taken me into her family and treated me like a son. In fact, she reminds me of my mum. Perhaps it is no surprise that when my ‘two mothers’ met for the first time in 2011, they instantly loved each other.
The day Josie first appeared before me at the front desk of the Australian Jewish News was typical of Josie’s unstoppable nature. She wanted to talk about her campaign for racial vilification laws and how the Australian Jewish News should get on board.
She might have been curious after word had gotten around that a Canadian born non-Jewish journalist with “an unusual background” had taken on a role there.
Those rumours were referring to my own bi-cultural background. My late-father was a Mohawk-Ojibway First Nation and my mother is an Anglo-Canadian. I grew up on an Indian reserve, but my childhood mentor was a Shoah survivor who survived the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was Adass and was frum. He taught me so much about Judaism and yiddishkeit that it took the editor and deputy editor of the Australian Jewish News two or three weeks to realise I wasn’t Jewish.
This was after I was spotted eating a bacon and egg roll at the local takeaway. Ah, enough about me.
I have read Josie’s book from cover to cover. It is humorous, insightful, truthful, sad and optimistic. In her book, Josie recollects first hand experiences of Nazi Germany, before migrating to Australia and settlement here.
While I have known her for more than 30 years, there are things in this book that I never knew – which surprised me.
But what did not surprise me was that throughout her entire life, she has always pursued a moral and principled course.
I often found myself smiling when I read parts of the book – especially her fondness for her brother, Rolf – and their childhood escapades.
Her re-telling of Ian asking her to marry him – it wasn’t really a proposal but it was an “option” – is hilarious. Or the story of her father taking her mother to a Zionist conference for their honeymoon.
But these personal stories are not all laughs….some are heart-breaking especially when you know and love Josie.
An eight year-old Josie Grunseit – the only Jewish student in her western Sydney primary school – being taunted and accused of killing Jesus, is a frightening read.
In her book, she writes:
“They weren’t to know that my German family had been murdered, the 18 and 20 year-old girl cousins in Auschwitz and my uncle in Buchenwald.”
Most sadly though, are three sentences I will always remember from Josie’s book:
“We could never celebrate her birthday. It was on this day that her daughters had been taken away. We even felt guilty when we celebrated our own birthdays.”
This was about her Aunt Elizabeth who married her uncle Ephraim and converted to Orthodox Judaism.
She lost her family and children in the Holocaust – and ended up in Australia.
Josie and Ian looked after her and tended to her needs – even her final post-death wishes.
As the title of the book suggests, Josie Lacey was on An Inevitable Path. She is correct. She was always on a path. A path to fight intolerance and injustice.
Whether it is fighting antisemitism in rural NSW, building bridges with other faiths, assisting other migrants or fighting for women’s rights in the Jewish community, Josie was there…
Josie was there … pointing out and pushing us all on – including myself – showing us that there are always more injustices ahead on our path…
Of course, as well as being a memoir of Josie this book is also a tribute to her life-long partner, Ian. They deeply complement each other and bring out the best in each other. It is a true partnership. Enviable, were it not so uplifting. Their work on race discrimination laws and inter-faith activity are ground-breaking.
I also marvelled at their efforts to secure justice for the agunah – chained women. These are women who had been refused a gett or a religious divorce.
And so this book is both a wonderful individual story, and a testament to an extraordinary family too. She is rightly proud of her daughters – two lawyers, Ruth and Rebecca and a doctor – Judith; her three loving sons-in-law, Paul, David and Simon and their six grandchildren.
Therefore, it gives me pleasure – probably more pleasure than any other public occasion I’ve had to do so – to officially launch An Inevitable Path. So congratulations to Josie Lacey and congratulations on the publication of your book.