Finding Happiness

Sunday, 15 February 2015

My take on the Jewish view of happiness has now been published

February 13, 2015 – 4:52 am

By Shira Sebban:
I recently surprised myself by turning down a rare opportunity to attain what I had long considered to be my dream job. Having compromised my career for motherhood for many years, I had often compared myself to those I consider high achievers, judging myself as coming up short.
Yet here I was saying no. For weeks I had toyed with the proposal, feeling flattered. At last, I felt needed by someone other than family and community. I could contribute to society at large. After all, my children were older now and surely able to cope. Doubts lingered, however. The job would be all consuming. Was this really what I wanted?
Then the realisation hit me. I rather liked my life. True, I had to juggle work and family and never got the balance quite right. But I suddenly saw how much I cherish the time I have to write and the precious hours I spend with my children, who are growing up so fast, not to mention the importance I place on my voluntary work. I was not prepared to sacrifice any of them for another job, which I now recognised was no longer even my dream vocation.
That realisation has been a major step in my finding happiness. Not necessarily the emotional state of happiness, which Hugh Mackay in his 2013 book, The Good Life, dismisses as “the most elusive and unpredictable of emotions,” but rather happiness in its original sense, meaning to flourish.
While Mackay doesn’t like using the word “happiness,” lest it be confused with its modern, more selfish meaning of how you may feel at a particular moment, I don’t see any problem in striving to discover “the happy life,” becoming fully and meaningfully engaged in whatever is on offer.
Like many of us, I have often thought that what really matters is what makes us happy. We’re all going to die some day and few will long be remembered. So why not make the most of life? Indeed, didn’t the Americans think so highly of the pursuit of happiness that they enshrined it as an inalienable right in the Declaration of Independence?
Rather than seeking external factors such as pleasure, wealth, or honour, Mackay argues that we should aim to live “the good life,” by which he means being motivated largely by compassion, treating others according to the Golden Rule of how we would like to be treated ourselves.
“We ought to pursue goodness for its own sake… No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it’s certain that nothing else will.”
In contrast, observant Jews seem able to find an opportunity for growth and meaning in every good deed they do and each bit of wisdom they acquire, apparently experiencing true happiness along the way. No wonder the 2011 Gallop survey found that religious Jews are amongst the happiest in the US!
Those ultra-Orthodox Jews who identify as Chassidim go further still, promoting spirituality and joy through Jewish mysticism. As Rabbi Shloma Majeski explains: “Their radiant life and energy stems from their profound spiritual awareness and absolute clarity of direction. These are people who live for a purpose and derive vitality from it” (The Chassidic Approach to Joy).
In other words, doing good can make you happy and when you’re happy, you do more good. So happiness is actually a moral obligation.
Indeed, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, who calls himself a “student of joy,” has an answer for the mother of young children, who is unable to pursue her career as planned. In his book, aptly titled Gateway to Happiness, he maintains that caring for family is an “act of kindness” of the highest order since it usually goes unappreciated. By making the effort to remind herself how meaningful her God-commanded work really is, the mother will overcome her frustration and find true happiness. Oh to have that level of faith!
But what about the doubters or non-believers among us? Don’t we deserve the prospect of finding peace of mind and happiness too? Bertrand Russell thought so, maintaining “the happy life is to an extraordinary extent the same as the good life.”
As a child, my family urged me to find an interest in life to sustain me. Indeed, my grandfather lived as if on an insatiable intellectual quest, telling me, “life is full of exciting curiosities, joy and deep feeling for the world’s mysteries.” My family’s view of life involved plenty of struggle towards a noble cause – a view Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has identified as a form of happiness in Judaism: “the happiness that comes from challenge … there is fulfillment … passion … and moments of exhilaration.”
Today my children are taught a broader idea of happiness. Influenced by positive psychology, their teachers get them to identify their “signature strengths,” which they are to use to lead engaged and meaningful lives. This reflects the ancient wisdom: “Raise a child according to their way” (Proverbs 22:6). In other words, you need to concentrate on what works for you. As 20th century philosopher Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler said, “Every man was created with a unique personality, strengths and challenges… and therefore everyone has a unique slice of heaven that is completely their own.”
My children are also taught gratitude. As the Talmud says, “Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).
Developing positive relationships is another area of focus. After all, we are social creatures who need connection through family, friendship and community. Surely such “social happiness”is crucial to a society’s survival. In fact, the principle to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) has been called the most important in all of Judaism and the earliest form of the Golden Rule.
I certainly intend to continue focusing on relationships, finding meaning and purpose through work and community, and hopefully savouring many emotionally happy moments along the way.

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A Passionate Life: Portrait of My Grandfather

Monday, 1 December 2014
My latest article on my grandfather, who led an amazing life and was the patriarch of our family

Portrait of Saba

Painting of my grandfather, Berl Dov Gross, by Polish-French artist Jacob Markiel (1911-2008)
DECEMBER 1, 2014 · 7:00 AM

by Shira Sebban (Sydney, Australia)
“Retain integrity without succumbing to authority.”
So my beloved Saba advised me on my 18th birthday. “Don’t let anyone interfere with your endeavors to develop an independent way of thinking,” he told me. “Think first; afterwards argue or act. Don’t lose your countenance under duress.”
Saba (Hebrew for grandfather) was my mentor and anchor, who encouraged me to strive for excellence and showed me that I could do anything to which I set my mind. He taught me to be humble, ethical and empathic and encouraged me to stand up for what I believe in and not be afraid to admit I had made a mistake, learn from it and move on.
After all, that was the way he always behaved. Saba underwent many transformations in his long life, from Jewish scholar to Zionist rebel, laundryman, world traveler, benefactor, thinker, writer and friend to many. He lived throughout as if he was on an insatiable intellectual quest. As he wrote to me, “life is full of exciting curiosities, joy and deep feeling for the world’s mysteries”.
Saba was the second son born to an Ultra-Orthodox family of textile manufacturers and fur merchants in the central Polish town of Zdunska Wola near Lodz. He was named Berl Dov Gross – one of about 50 Berls in the Gross family! His birth date was given as 16 December 1906, although a question mark always remained over that date, the family joking that he had changed it to make himself slightly younger than his future wife Chana.
His mother died while giving birth to him, and his father then married her younger sister, who sadly would not prove to be a good stepmother to Saba and his older brother. This second union would produce three more sons and a daughter, all of whom were to perish in the Holocaust. Indeed, Saba’s father would be the last Jew to have a full religious burial in Zdunska Wola.
Years later, a study of local Jewish cemetery records would reveal that Saba’s mother had actually died in 1905, proving the family’s suspicions to be correct all along.
He had had good reason to make himself younger than he really was, helping him to escape Polish military service and immigrate to the then British Mandate of Palestine in 1925 – one of only a few members of his extended family to escape the subsequent reign of Nazi terror.
For many years, Saba would beg his family to flee, but no one would listen. Tragically, when they later turned to him to help them escape, he was no longer in a financial position to do so. It was a heavy legacy, which he bore stoically but did not allow to hamper his zest for life and all it had to offer.
The family belonged to the Gerrer Hasidic movement, then probably the largest and most important Hasidic group in Poland. While Hasidism generally promotes spirituality and joy through Jewish mysticism, the Gerrer Hasidim emphasize religious study and the objective service of God. Forbidden to learn anything but sacred texts as a child, Saba nevertheless managed to sneak secular books under his bedclothes, learn violin, and even find a tutor to teach him mathematics and other worldly subjects.
Although he rebelled against his religious upbringing, it would stand him in good stead in later life, enabling him to cite Jewish textual sources with ease. He would often recall being taken as a young boy to another town to meet the Rebbe or leader of the Gerrer Hasidim, describing a crowded room where he and other boys literally hung from the rafters to see what was happening.
As an adolescent, Saba became a member of a local Zionist movement and announced his desire to join the pioneers in Palestine. His father would only agree on condition he enter into an arranged marriage. His bride Chana was from the nearby city of Lodz, and the young couple was married in 1924 and left the following year for Tel Aviv. Chana’s parents and sister also decided to follow their lead and move to Palestine, only to make the fateful decision to return to Poland when their money ran out soon afterwards.
Arriving in Tel Aviv without a trade, Saba learned about textiles and proceeded to combine study, both secular and religious, with work. He and Chana would come to have two children, Naomi (my mother) and Moshe. A generous man, Saba was happy to share the little he had with those less fortunate. His strong individualist moral convictions and sense of justice, however, also placed him on a collision course with the powerful Histradrut or Labor Union, finally resulting in him returning his membership card.
He set up his own laundry business in Jaffa, but it was destroyed by fire during the Arab riots of the late 1930s, which were protesting against Jewish immigration and land transfers. Thus, the family was left without a source of income, but as Saba would later reflect in a letter to a friend, he would come “through the hardest years of 1929-39 unscathed, not having bowed at any time to any person”.
According to family legend, Saba had no option but to go down to the harbor, where he found one ship departing for South America and another for Australia. It was July 1938, and fortunately, he chose the vessel heading for Melbourne, promising his young family that he would send for them as soon as he could.
War, however, was to intervene, and it would be several years before he could afford to purchase even one ticket for a family member to join him. Meanwhile, back in Tel Aviv, Chana was forced to resort to housecleaning to feed her children. Having arrived in Melbourne without a word of English, Saba worked hard whenever he was able. When unemployed, he spent his time reading in the public library and listening to records in a local music store. He would then, at times, feel obliged to spend his meager income on classical music records instead of food.
Eventually, he managed once again to establish his own laundry business, sweating over hot machines and lugging heavy sacks of laundry up and down stairs. A recent letter from the daughter of one of my grandfather’s former employees vividly describes the tough work and conditions: “It was extremely hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. No such thing as heating or cooling and the dust from the washing was thick on all the beams… They were happy times but you had to work for what you got.”
After the War, Saba was finally able to bring his family out to Australia, starting with his teenage daughter Naomi. By then, he had begun to travel overseas, and over the years, he would visit exotic places before it became fashionable to do so, such as Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the Pacific Islands and even Dutch Guiana (Suriname) by freighter, maintaining a travel schedule that would exhaust someone half his age. He reveled in the adventure of being an independent traveler of modest means, although as he grew older, the advent of mass tourism with its package tours and controls disillusioned him considerably.
In 1946, he spent the entire year in China, shortly before Mao Zedong came to power, only returning to Australia when his family and friends lied to him that his factory had burned down. While in Shanghai, he assisted European Jewish refugees with their emigration to Australia. In Melbourne too, he would help newcomers from Poland and Israel to become established.
He and Naomi enjoyed a warm relationship and were well matched intellectually, spending long hours in discussion. Saba was a handsome man, and many, upon seeing her on his arm, found it hard to believe they were father and daughter.
Eventually, his son Moshe joined Saba in the laundry, and by the late 1950s, had taken over management of the business. Chana by then was living in Melbourne too. Although separated from Saba since 1938, they never officially divorced. He had a home built for her in Tel Aviv and continued to support her in Australia. For the rest of her life, Chana would live with Moshe and his wife Yona, helping to raise their growing family.
Now free to focus on his intellectual pursuits, Saba moved to London for a while, where he eventually set up house with a Hungarian-Australian artist. The relationship would last for some years during which they traveled widely, but by the late 1960s, it was over, although they remained friends.
Fascinated by the ancient world, Saba spent about thirty years studying Israelite society and in particular, Abraham and Moses. The result was his book, Before Democracy, in which he attributed the Israelites’ survival to their tribal way of life based on family and individual responsibility. He controversially argued that their transition to a centralized monarchy was an ill-conceived and retrograde step “but a stone’s throw away from despotism”.
Reluctant at first to have his life’s work published, Saba preferred, as he wrote to a friend, to “preserve my integrity and end my life as an individual who refrained from partaking in the rat race of publish or perish”. He ended up, however, battling unsuccessfully to have the book published for several years. Finally offered a contract, he withdrew his work before it had seen the light of day, refusing to make the major changes the publisher required.
In the end, he never found the “daring publisher” he hoped for, and the family ended up self-publishing the book, although sadly, by the time it appeared, he was too ill to appreciate it fully.
Saba endured several bouts of ill health, which on occasion left him scarred, but not beaten. He was like a cat with nine lives, rebounding from each episode with renewed vigor. Eventually, however, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – the same illness, which tragically, would later come to afflict Naomi too. “I am losing my ‘I’,” he told his daughter, by which he meant he was losing what made him whom he was as a person.
My last memory of my brilliant Saba is of him sitting in the middle of his room, endlessly twisting a rubix cube around in his hands. He passed away on 8 July 1994. To this day, I still regret that I did not learn more from him about my Jewish heritage while I had the chance.

Almost ten years earlier, he had given me a pair of silver candlesticks from Israel as a wedding gift, fondly expressing the hope that I would remember him each time I lit the Sabbath candles.
Every Friday evening and on numerous other occasions, I remember him as my beloved Saba, my teacher and my friend, from whom I learned to question, to reason and to explore. In my mind’s eye, he remains the invincible hero of my youth, strong and independent, hoisting his bag onto his shoulder and striding away, as he did when we bid each other farewell at the airport for the last time.
May his memory be a blessing.
Shira Sebban is a writer and editor based in Sydney, Australia. A former journalist with the Australian Jewish News, she previously worked in publishing and now serves as vice-president of Emanuel School, a pluralistic and egalitarian Jewish Day School. Her work has appeared in online publications including the Jewish Literary Journal, Jewish Daily Forward, Times of Israel, Eureka Street, Alzheimer’s Reading Room and Online Opinion, as well as The Jewish Writing Project. You can read more of her work at shirasebban.blogspot.com.au

Doing Good and Being Happy

Monday, 17 November 2014
My article on Finding Happiness has been published by Eureka Street
Shira Sebban | 18 November 2014
I recently surprised myself by turning down a rare opportunity to attain what I had long considered my dream job. Having compromised my career for motherhood for many years, I had often compared myself to those I consider high achievers, judging myself as coming up short.
Yet here I was saying no. For weeks I had toyed with the proposal, feeling flattered. At last I felt needed by someone other than family and community. I could contribute to society at large. After all, my children were now older and surely able to cope. Doubts lingered, however. The job would be all consuming. Was this really what I wanted?
Then the realisation hit me. I rather liked my life. True, I had to juggle work and family and never got the balance quite right. But I suddenly saw how much I cherish the time I have to write, and the precious hours I spend with my children, who are growing up so fast, not to mention the importance I place on my voluntary work. I was not prepared to sacrifice any of them for another job, which I now recognised was no longer even my dream vocation.
That realisation has been a major step in my finding happiness. But not necessarily the emotional state of happiness, which Hugh Mackay in his 2013 book The Good Life, dismisses as ‘the most elusive and unpredictable of emotions’, but rather happiness in its original sense, meaning to flourish.
While Mackay doesn’t like using the word ‘happiness’, lest it be confused with its modern, more selfish meaning of how you may feel at a particular moment, I don’t see any problem in striving to discover ‘the happy life’, becoming fully and meaningfully engaged in whatever is on offer.
Like many of us, I have often thought that what really matters is what makes us happy. We’re all going to die some day and few will long be remembered. So why not make the most of life? Indeed, didn’t the Americans think so highly of the pursuit of happiness that they enshrined it as an inalienable right in the Declaration of Independence?
Rather than seeking external factors such as pleasure, wealth, or honour, Mackay, however, argues that we should aim to live ‘the good life’, by which he means being motivated largely by compassion, treating others according to the Golden Rule of how we would like to be treated ourselves.
‘We ought to pursue goodness for its own sake… No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it’s certain that nothing else will.’
In contrast, people of faith seem able to find an opportunity for growth, spirituality and meaning in every good deed they do and each bit of wisdom they acquire, apparently experiencing true happiness along the way. No wonder the 2011 Gallup survey found that the very religious are amongst the happiest in the US!
In other words, doing good can make you happy and when you’re happy, you do more good. So happiness is actually a moral obligation.
As a child, my family urged me to find an interest in life to sustain me. Indeed, my grandfather lived as if on an insatiable intellectual quest, telling me, ‘life is full of exciting curiosities, joy and deep feeling for the world’s mysteries’. My family’s view of life involved plenty of struggle towards a noble cause – a view former Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has identified as a form of happiness: ‘the happiness that comes from challenge, … a life that has its setbacks … there is fulfilment, passion … and moments of exhilaration’.
Today my children are taught a broader idea of happiness. Influenced by positive psychology, their teachers get them to identify their ‘signature strengths’, which they are to use to lead engaged and meaningful lives. This reflects the ancient wisdom: ‘Raise a child according to their way’ (Proverbs 22:6). In other words, you need to concentrate on what works for you.
My children are also taught gratitude. As the ancients explained, ‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has’ (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).
Developing positive relationships is another area of focus. After all, we are social creatures who need connection through family, friendship and community. Surely such ‘social happiness’ is crucial to a society’s survival. I certainly intend to continue focusing on relationships, finding meaning and purpose through work and community, and hopefully savouring many emotionally happy moments along the way.
Shira Sebban is a Sydney writer and editor who is vice-president of the Board of her children’s school.

Making Miracles

Thursday, 6 February 2014
I am now blogging for The Times of Israel
OPS & BLOGS > SHIRA SEBBAN

Shira is a Sydney-based writer and editor, who is passionate about exploring the challenges life throws at us through her writing. A former journalist with the Australian Jewish News, Shira previously taught French at the University of Queensland and worked in publishing. The mother of three sons, she also serves as vice-president on the board of Emanuel School, a pluralistic and egalitarian Jewish Day School.
IMG_0770
Two ceremonies, each on a different continent; a family reunion in Jerusalem for 50, spanning four generations from Israel, France and Australia; a Moroccan lunch in Israel and a Friday night dinner in Sydney for family from Melbourne and Brisbane.
My aunt maintains that I make a fuss of my sons’ bar mitzvahs because it’s the only major function organized solely by their parents, which happens once in their lifetime. After all, they may get married more than once (God forbid) and their future wives will also want their say in the proceedings.
More important to me, however, are the spiritual, familial and social action dimensions involved in this coming of age ritual. As each of our three sons begins to take responsibility for his actions, my husband and I strive to impress upon him the value of exploring traditions, contributing to community, and appreciating the family ties embracing him from across the globe… Which is how we ended up spending a morning picking 400 kg of beets on a kibbutz outside Tel Aviv…
Our children describe themselves as “Ashkefardi”, a term they have invented to sum up their complicated cultural heritage. My side of the family is Ashkenazi, with roots stretching back to Poland and Russia via Canada and Israel to Melbourne. In contrast, my husband’s side is Sephardic, tracing their origins from Algeria (and probably Spain prior to the Jewish expulsion of 1492) on to France and Israel, only his immediate family having gone on to make the brave trek to Brisbane.
We regard our local Jewish community like our extended family, and so there was never any question of not celebrating our children’s bar mitzvahs here in Sydney, particularly since some family members are too elderly or unwell to travel far, while others cannot afford to do so.
At the same time, my husband’s French and Israeli family could not make the trip to Australia, and so we decided to take the bar mitzvah to them. “Next year in Jerusalem” – we would make this spiritual hope a reality this year. True, it would mean that our son would have to learn how to chant two different portions of the Torah, but by holding the Israeli ceremony on a weekday, the second portion would be shorter. And a little more learning never hurt anyone.
So 15 months ahead of the big day, we set out to find our son a teacher, prepared not only to impart new skills but to delve into the meaning behind them. I decided to join the class, my own bat mitzvah having consisted of a school pageant, in which I recited a couple of lines and sang and danced along to tunes from Fiddler on the Roof. While I had no intention of using my newly acquired skills in public, at least I would be able to revise the weekly lessons with my son.
Another major issue was how to accommodate the spiritual needs of our extended family, ranging in practice from Ultra Orthodox to Progressive Judaism. We settled on a weekend program: prayers at home for those who wished to attend, followed by a Friday night family dinner; Shabbat services at our Conservative (Masorti) synagogue, which integrates tradition with modernity, allowing us to sit together as a family; and Sunday lunch where everyone could feel included.
Our children’s Jewish Day School encourages students to participate in a Mitzvah Project. Initiated and coordinated by parents, it involves donating a sum of money, half of which is given to the bar or bat mitzvah, while the other half goes to a tzeddakah project of their choice. Our son chose to support Leket Israel, the National Food Bank and leading food rescue network, for which we also volunteered during our visit, gleaning beets for distribution to the needy.
While in Israel, we also celebrated at Robinson’s Arch (or the Masorti Kotel) within the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. Situated at the southern end of the Western Wall, this area has come to be used for alternative or egalitarian services, and is currently in the spotlight, the Israeli Government having designated it as a place of prayer for Women of the Wall (WOW).
Standing on a first century street, surrounded by ancient stones ostensibly pulled down by the Romans in the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, our son marked his coming of age supported by family and friends.
My Brisbane-based mother-in-law cried tears of joy as she was reunited with her siblings, their spouses, children and grandchildren. A cousin from Ashdod thanked us for giving him the first opportunity in 20 years to see his cousins from Lyons.
As we posed for a family photo on the ancient, uneven Southern Steps, which used to lead to the main entrances of the Temple Mount, it was not hard to picture our robed ancestors, ascending those very steps and pausing to reflect on the solemnity of the occasion – just like us.
Albert Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
As we went our separate ways after our celebratory Moroccan lunch, we promised ourselves another miracle – next year in Jerusalem. After all, it’s only another 23 months until our youngest son’s bar mitzvah…

Uniting the Generations

My take on what its like to be an adult orphan now published on On Line Opinion
By Shira Sebban – posted Friday, 15 November 2013
This year, I became an adult orphan. Not only is there now one less person on this earth who loves and cares about me, but yet another link to my childhood and my past has been severed. As the eldest sibling, there is now no one who directly remembers what I was like as a baby or toddler.

Admittedly, in my particular circumstances, such memories vanished quite some time ago. My widowed mother having been afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease for the past ten years, I had long abandoned any hope of uncovering more details of our immediate family history.

After losing their second parent, many people report feeling anxious at the realization that they have joined the ranks of the eldest generation, thereby becoming more aware of their own mortality – there is now no one between them and death. In my own family, however, the transfer of the responsibility baton took place while my mother was still alive, as indeed it tends to do in families battling debilitating long-term illness, where adult children take charge of caring for ailing parents. I had also become accustomed to mourning my mother’s gradual loss mostly silently within, and so it was quite a relief for my grief to be acknowledged publically when she died.

Grieving for my mother has been quite different to my experience upon losing my father more than a decade ago after a short albeit brutal illness. Not having been given time even to try to accustom myself to the fact that he was ailing, my grief at the loss of my father was visceral and raw, whereas my mother’s Alzheimer’s tended to offer some protection, often cocooning me, as it did her, from the full brunt of emotion. After all, there had been plenty of time to say goodbye. Nevertheless, on occasion, the pain still manages to pierce my defenses.

Judaism recognizes the particular relationship between parent and child by allowing a longer mourning period. While the generally accepted time is 30 days, an adult child is notably expected to honor their parent’s memory by publicly reciting a prayer, known as the Mourners’ Kaddish, for 11 months. While the prayer itself actually has nothing to do with death, I have found this ritual to be cathartic, as it enables me to draw on the support of my community.

It was also a relief when shortly after my mother’s passing, we decided to donate all the paraphernalia associated with her illness – wheelchairs and other medical aids – to the adult day care centre, which she had attended over the past years. As her world had narrowed, the centre had become her only source of companionship apart from that of immediate family and caregivers. It felt wonderful to be able to help others, while simultaneously removing the physical evidence of an illness that had nothing to do with her essence as a person.

When embarking courageously on the process of sorting through their parents’ home and possessions, others might start with the wardrobe or kitchen cupboards. We, on the other hand, have been going through reams of newspaper articles, spanning five decades, which our parents and grandfather marked and preserved to discuss with each other, often providing a springboard for their own ideas. As I turn the yellowed pages, my past comes alive … until I hear my mother’s voice whispering, “Find an interest to sustain you…”

At my mother’s funeral, my youngest son recited the ancient, well-known verse: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

On occasion such times overlap. Indeed, just three months after my mother’s death, I find myself in the throes of preparing for the Bar Mitzvah of my middle son. While joy is somewhat tempered by loss, I recognize how blessed I am as a mother myself to see my child mature and begin to take responsibility for his actions.

For it is not all about me. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, colleague, friend, I exist in relationship to others too and must still consider needs apart from my own. At times, admittedly, compromise is difficult, and yet, it is grounding to remember, especially when feeling particularly vulnerable, that I am not alone and can look outwards rather than solely within, turning my focus to strive to contribute to the world.

My parents always put their children first, teaching us to be modest and ethical, to stand up for our principles and to make the most of our opportunities.

It is now my turn to transmit their rich legacy to my own children, providing a strong foundation for their future and uniting the generations. My children may not have had the privilege of growing up in the company of all their grandparents, but at the very least I can try to ensure that they will come to understand and even cherish the values by which their elders lived.

About the Author
Shira Sebban is a Sydney writer and editor. A former journalist with the Australian Jewish News, Shira previously taught French at the University of Queensland and worked in publishing. She is also a director on the board of her children’s school.

Naomi Moldofsky: Passionate Economist Who Championed Freedom of Thought

Monday, 4 November 2013
My Tribute to my mother now published in the Sydney Morning Herald

NAOMI MOLDOFSKY UNKNOWN-2013

A plaque on the door of Dr Naomi Moldofsky’s office summed up her attitude to life: ”All men are created equal; it’s what they’re equal to that counts.”
Moldofsky worked as a lecturer and then senior lecturer in economics at the University of Melbourne from 1969 to 1990. She was a passionate teacher and researcher who championed freedom of thought and action within the rule of law. As she would often quote: ”One person’s freedom ends where another’s nose begins.”
She was privileged to discuss ideas with Nobel laureate Friedrich August Hayek and philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper, and was instrumental in getting Hayek to Melbourne in 1976. Professor Milton Friedman supported her membership of the classical liberal Mont Pelerin Society. Long-time colleague Maurice Newman, the former ABC and Australian Stock Exchange chairman, recalled their common belief in an open society and individual liberty. Moldofsky was only ”too aware of the dangers posed by centralised authority and conceited politicians”, he said.
”She opposed it always and everywhere. Her intellect and the rigour of her arguments meant she was a formidable opponent in a debate. That said, she was, no matter the provocation, unwaveringly courteous and polite. Her contribution to economic thought is of the highest order and her writings will endure the test of time.”

Naomi Gross, born in Tel Aviv, was the first of two children of Berl Dov Gross and his wife, Chana (nee Cytrynowski), who had left Poland for Palestine in the mid-1920s.
Her father’s laundry in Jaffah was burnt down during the Arab riots of the 1930s, leaving the family without an income. According to family lore, he went to the harbour, where one ship was leaving for South America and another for Australia. It was the eve of World War II and, fortunately, he chose the vessel heading for Melbourne. It was several years before he re-established his own laundry and could afford to purchase even one ticket, for Moldofsky to join him.
After matriculating from Taylors College, Moldofsky did a commerce degree at the University of Melbourne then won a research scholarship to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She then travelled through Europe to Canada, where she met Sydney Moldofsky. They were married in 1958 and she began an economic history master’s degree at McGill University, completing it just after her first child was born.
She then embarked on a part-time PhD focused on problems of economic development. Her second child was born before she completed her studies in 1968. She joined the University of Melbourne and, as an academic, found her calling. Her areas of interest included micro economics, comparative economic systems and Marxian economics.
Naomi Moldofsky is survived by daughters Shira and Leora and grandchildren Raphael, Gabriel, Jonathan, Ariel and Emma.
Shira Sebban
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/naomi-moldofsky-passionate-economist-who-championed-freedom-of-thought-20131104-2wwuo.html#ixzz2jkLolvJD

Academic Who Was Committed to Liberty

Wednesday, 23 October 2013
The Age has published my tribute to my beloved mother and my best friend
Dr Naomi Moldofsky
Economist
Died 25-7-2013

”All men are created equal; it’s what they’re equal to that counts.”
This plaque on Dr Naomi Moldofsky’s office door summed up her attitude to life.
A strong, courageous and positive woman, Naomi worked as a lecturer and then senior lecturer in economics at the University of Melbourne from 1969 to 1990. She was a passionate teacher and researcher who championed freedom of thought and action within the rule of law. As she would often quote: ”One person’s freedom ends where another’s nose begins.”
Naomi was privileged to discuss ideas with Nobel laureate Friedrich August Hayek and philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper, and was instrumental in bringing Hayek to Melbourne in 1976. Professor Milton Friedman supported her membership of the classical liberal Mont Pelerin Society, of which she became a life member.
Long-time colleague Dr Maurice Newman, the former ABC and Australian Stock Exchange chair, recalled their common belief in an open society and individual liberty. Naomi was only ”too aware of the dangers posed by centralised authority and conceited politicians”, he said. ”She opposed it always and everywhere … Her intellect and the rigour of her arguments meant she was a formidable opponent in a debate. That said, she was, no matter the provocation, unwaveringly courteous and polite …
”My abiding impression of Naomi Moldofsky is of a warm, gentle and understated person who was committed to scholarship. Her contribution to economic thought is of the highest order and her writings will endure the test of time.”
Centre for Independent Studies founder and president Greg Lindsay, of whom Naomi was one of the earliest supporters, agreed: ”Naomi was one of this country’s champions of liberty and we are all the better for her endeavours.”
Born in Tel Aviv, Naomi Gross was the oldest child of Berl Dov Gross and Chana Cytrynowski, who had left Poland for Palestine in the mid-1920s, and had a younger brother, Moshe.
Her father’s laundry in Jaffah was burned down during the Arab riots of the 1930s, leaving the family without an income. According to family lore, he had no option but to go to the harbour, where one ship was departing for South America and another for Australia. It was the eve of World War II and, fortunately, he chose the vessel heading for Melbourne, promising to send for his family as soon as he could.
It was several years before he re-established his own laundry and could afford to purchase even one ticket for Naomi to join him.
After matriculating from Taylors College, Naomi undertook a commerce degree at the University of Melbourne, before winning a research scholarship to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She then travelled through Europe to Montreal, Canada, where she met her future husband and businessman, Sydney Jona Moldofsky.
They were married in late 1958 and Naomi began an economic history master’s degree at McGill University, completing it just after daughter Shira was born. She then embarked on a part-time PhD focused on problems of economic development. Their second daughter, Leora, was born before Naomi completed her studies in 1968.
The family moved to London, before undertaking a voyage in 1969 on the (later infamous) Achille Lauro Italian cruise liner to visit family in Melbourne. While on board, Naomi received a job offer from Latrobe University, but subsequently accepted a position at her alma mater.
As an academic, Naomi found her calling. Her areas of interest and specialisation included micro economics, comparative economic systems and Marxian economics. Keen to imbue her students with a desire to think for themselves, she worked hard at preparing her lectures and would revise them year after year to incorporate her latest research findings.
Never one to rest on her laurels, she was constantly striving to improve. There was always a huge pile of academic books by her side, and if a thought came to her in the middle of the night, she would get up to write it down in one of her many notebooks.
A devoted mother and grandmother, Naomi always put her family first. She was a ray of sunshine who filled the house with passion, although in her later years she was tragically afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease. Impeccably groomed, she maintained her independence for as long as possible, and with support continued living with dignity at home.
She taught her children to be humble and ethical, to stand up for their principles and to find an interest in life that would sustain them.
Naomi is survived by her two daughters, Shira Sebban and Leora Moldofsky, and grandchildren Raphael, Gabriel, Jonathan, Ariel and Emma.
Shira Sebban is a writer and editor, and daughter of Naomi Moldofsky.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/obituaries/academic-who-was-committed-to-liberty-20131022-2vz9r.html#ixzz2iXinZKRm