Whats your background, family, childhood?
I was born in South Africa and brought up in a conservative Jewish household.
Most South African white households had servants, so I grew up with two African servants catering to all our family needs. I could never understand why black people were treated so differently to us white people, sent to different schools, had to live in different areas, and were dealt with as second class citizens.
When I was around nine years old I used to sneak away on Sundays to the bush to watch the Africans singing their beautiful church music – they have amazing voices! I think that was my major learning point in music.
Like all Jewish boys I had a Barmitzvah (coming of age ceremony) when I was 13 years old. By the time I was 17 my parents realised that I was not following the conservative line of Judaism, so they sent me to Israel “on a holiday”.
As a young teenager that was my “passport to freedom!” After 3 weeks on a Kibbutz in Israel, the 1967 Middle East war broke out. Having no knowledge of the history of the conflict, I was quite happy to remain on the kibbutz doing general farm work whilst the war continued. I stayed in Israel for one year.
When and why did you migrate to Australia from South Africa?
Growing up in South Africa amongst the Apartheid regime was not something I could handle. I joined a left-wing political party and participated in many demonstrations against the government.
It was only a matter of time before I realised that I ought to leave the country. I knew the police were following me, so it was time to go.
I arrived in Australia in December 1972 with the thought that I had finally escaped the Apartheid system. How wrong I was! It was only a matter of time before I learned of the oppression towards the Aboriginal people. And so my fight for equal rights continued, as they do to this day.
Why you are you so motivated to support African people and their human rights?
I am a proud Jewish person despite not being religious. I see the Jewish philosophy of being good to other people amongst my strong beliefs. So being an African and a humanist, I will always stand up for human rights.
As African people have always been given a raw deal with other nations taking advantage of them, I will always stand by them. I visited east Africa two years ago to start my ongoing Burundian rescue program.
At the recent Jewish-African communal peace rally in Sydney on 23 May, I rekindled many African friendships. It was also interesting to see that every Jewish leader at that rally expressed empathy for the suffering of Palestinians.
How did you get interested in music?
Music has been part of my life from a very early age. Although I enjoy playing music from various countries (playing Cuban music is amazing!) I have always been drawn to composing my own music.
Just a pity that I was not gifted with a good voice . . . .To me music is a great stress reliever. Even when just walking in the street there is always a tune happening in my head.
What motivates you to advocate for refugee rights?
When I came to Australia I was made very welcome. Maybe it was because I was white, English speaking, and came from a rugby/cricket country. And so I was treated with empathy, kindness and respect.
Today I find hard to understand why people who come from a traumatic and dangerous background are treated so badly. Australia is supposed to be “the lucky country”, but lucky for who?
The Greeks, Italians, Jews and Vietnamese who migrated here many years ago have proven to be worthwhile citizens and have helped our country grow. But the refugees of today are not given that chance.
I will always advocate for the rights of refugees, no matter where they come from and what their background is. Humans should be helping humans!
How do you help refugees through music?
Knowing that music is a big stress reliever, and knowing that refugees and asylum seekers in detention centres have enormous amounts of stress, I contacted the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney to start a music program.
It was very successful so I then extended it to all detentions centres throughout Australia. The program consists of learning to play instruments and also to participate in jams and sing-a-long sessions.
I also provide music instruments to refugees for free, whether or not they are in detention.
Describe you recent activities in helping refugees, minority communities through music and donation and teaching of musical instruments?
I produced and staged a musical 3 weeks ago depicting the trauma and difficulties that refugees go through. I know that many people in the audience were in tears.
There was a collection at the end which produced over $2,000. Half of that money went to refugees in Sydney and the other half to Burundian refugees currently in camps in Uganda.
I recently drove to Auburn in Sydney with a very large number of music instruments. My fellow advocate and I stood in the main road handing out free instruments to refugees just walking by. The joy of the recipients was all over their faces.
Last week I conducted an auction for the Blue Mountains Refugee Organisation and collected another $2,000 for refugees.
Members of the public donate money and music instruments to me via www.musicforrefugees.org I organise and pay for repairs when necessary.
How did you come to know about AMUST and what made you to become a regular columnist for AMUST?
I found it very interesting when I discovered that there was an open-minded Muslim newspaper operating in Sydney. After submitting my first story to AMUST, I was ecstatic with their invitation to keep writing stories for them.
Your readers would know that I focus on peace between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Both Muslims and Jews came to this country to get away from war and conflict, so hating each other is pointless.
In fact, the bible tells us that we are brothers via Abraham.
Unlike the approach of other media, I believe that AMUST is a very unique newspaper that tells news and stories exactly as it is. I also know that their readership is quite diverse and is even read by many Jewish people. AMUST plays an important role in media.
What are your views re building bridges between Jewish and Muslim communities in Sydney?
Firstly I should point out that Jewish people in Australia, including myself, have no control over the action of any Israeli government, despite the fact that many have family and friends living in Israel.
The vast majority of Australian Jews believe in the two state solution and the rights of Palestinian people to have self-determination.
While many Australian Jews work towards Palestinian rights, it is very sad to see around 400% increase in anti-Semitic attacks and abuse against Jewish individuals and our community – hate speech against Israel is translated directly into hate speech against Australian Jews.
I give talks to a variety of audiences and always advocate peace between Jews and Muslims. Sadly I do not get through to many hardliners, whether they be Jew or Muslim.
I would love to give a talk to both Palestinian and Israeli leaders, both of who have failed in their own leadership. But I shall keep trying . . . .