Q & A with a Commissioner

Walter Rapoport brings a wealth of experience to his role of VMC Commissioner

A year in, how do you feel about your appointment as Commissioner for the Victorian Multicultural Commission?

There is probably no greater truism than “learning at the coalface” and it has been my good fortune that, as Chairman of the Southern Metropolitan Regional Advisory Council, I’ve been able to meet, face to face, with those for whom we are charged to advocate.

As Commissioners, our evidence and testimony is gathered, amassed, collated and submitted by the Victorian Multicultural Commission to Government. Government may be much less informed, I suggest, without our advocacy.

With this first year behind me as a Commissioner, I can confidently declare that this statutory body, of which I’m so proud to be a member of, does indeed make a substantial contribution to creating this wonderfully harmonious and culturally diverse state of Victoria.

Walter Rapoport

As the VMC’s Jewish Commissioner, can you tell us a little about this special time of year that is Chanukah, the Festival of Lights?

The Temple in Jerusalem had been spiritually defiled by the Syrian-Greek invaders in 168 BCE. After successfully recapturing the Temple, the Jewish Maccabees were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days but discovered only one day's worth of oil remaining. The miracle of Chanukah? The small amount of oil lasted the full eight days. Every year it is customary to commemorate this miracle by lighting a hanukkiya – the ancient Hebrew lampstand for Chanukah, which is lit every night for eight nights. One candle is lit on the first night of Chanukah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.

A distinct traditional food always seems to feature in Jewish celebrations and festivals and Chanukah is no exception. Because we celebrate the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes - pancakes made out of potatoes and onions and fried in oil. The Rapoport family devours them!

I’m particularly moved by the vision of Jews, throughout the world, gathering to light menorahs to perpetuate this tradition and would hope that this significant symbol of rebuilding will help enrich our multiculturalism, harmony and stability, the hallmarks of a successful society.

As a family, typically all of us, my kids and grandchildren, we’ll gather on one of the eight nights at least, to light the candles and eat delicious latkes.

What do you enjoy most about your role as a Commissioner?

To name just a small selection of events and functions, in my role as Commissioner I’ve been lucky enough to attend: an event marking the 103 Anniversary of ANZAC Day at a Turkish Sub-Branch of the Victorian RSL network, State Parliament Ramadan Dinner, an Italian Chamber of Commerce Fiesta, a Chinese New Year celebration, a Jewish Cultural Festival, an Interpreter Scholarship Graduation and an Interfaith Network Annual Gathering.

This snapshot more than reveals the VMC’s footprint. A myriad of invitations flow to Commissioners and we’re duty bound to make a difference and I honestly know that we do. This brings me joy!

What is your cultural/religious/linguistic background and how has this influenced your personal journey?

I was born in Poland. My parents, Holocaust survivors, chose to emigrate to leave their past behind them and start anew. Didn’t matter where, they often said. In the late ‘40s Australia opened its doors to a new wave of immigrants, many of them Jews from Eastern Europe. We were among the lucky ones.

My mum and dad instilled a strong sense of our Jewish identity in their sons, and an equally strong Australian identity. This paradigm, of becoming a sincere and respected Australian citizen without compromising one’s religious, cultural and linguistic background has been what has shaped my commitment to inter-religious dialogue and multicultural engagement.

What achievements in your career are you most proud of?

I’m still savouring the experience of the Commonwealth Government funded Building Bridges program that I chaired, in which 10 Jewish families and 10 Muslim families participated together in a host of activities over one year designed to better appreciate one another’s faith traditions. The families encompassed a broad spectrum of religious observance and affiliation, as well as different national origins.

My terms as Chairman of the Victorian Council of Christians and Jews and subsequent election as a Life Member of the Council, as well as my four year tenure as Editor of Gesher are all certainly proud undertakings and achievements.

What current projects are you most passionate about and why?

I’d really like to justly fulfil my integral role as Commissioner by increasing the awareness of the support that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers really require. Advocating on their behalf to government and witnessing positive outcomes is most satisfying.

Do you have any hobbies?

I’m an avid reader and a lover of classical music. I took up violin lessons a couple of years ago and have yet to find an audience with my meagre talent!

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What motivates you on a personal level and in your work?

Going for a morning run sets up the tone for the day, although these days, as I get older, the term should be morning jog.

This year the YMCA invited me to be a Father’s Day Run Ambassador. I ran a 10 kilometre marathon to raise awareness and funds to support mental health services for young men. Our media abounds with news about suicide rates, drug abuse, anxiety and depression – perhaps the antidote is a healthier lifestyle, and many would say outdoor activities are the answer. The YMCA’s initiative was an expression of this and I proudly embraced the opportunity to participate.