Opening Night Address by Linda Wachtel
"Good evening everyone. My name is Linda Wachtel and on behalf of Hedy Ritterman and Shoshanna Jordan, I’d like to welcome you to the opening of The Contemporary Collective’s inaugural project, We Are Here.
Before we begin proceedings I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respect to their elders past and present.
On a personal note, I’d like to pay tribute to a very special person, Adolek Kohn, who instigated my interest in this project. Adolek, who died only a fortnight ago at the age of 95, was a holocaust survivor who immigrated to Melbourne with his wife and young daughter after the war. This exhibition salutes the courage of all those like him who forge new lives for themselves after surviving unimaginable horrors. At the same time we remember those who haven’t survived, and those who are still struggling today.
The title of this exhibition, We Are Here, comes from a song called The Partisan Hymn, Mir Zehnen Do in Yiddish, written by Lithuanian poet Herschel Glick in the Vilna Ghetto during the war. The song acknowledges the resilience of people in the face of extreme adversity.
It gives me enormous pleasure to introduce Joseph Waislitz, an 11-year-old student from Bialek College, who has volunteered to sing The Partisan hymn for us tonight. He was introduced to the song at school and to give you a sense of the language, Joe will sing in Yiddish, accompanied on the guitar by Aura Lipski.
[Recording is available on the right hand side of this page]
Before I introduce our guest of honour, I would like to thank our wonderful curator, Dr Helen Light, Diane Soumilas and her staff from the Glen Eira Council Gallery, and the people, too many to name individually, who have helped made our vision a reality. I would however like to acknowledge one of our sponsors, Dianna Strauss, who sadly passed away this morning. I know that if she’d had the opportunity to see the exhibition, she would have been so proud of you Hedy.
Finally, to the participating artists, our families and friends, a big thank-you for joining us here tonight. One of the artists asked me yesterday, “If you had to weigh the exhibition, how could you
possibly do it? The scales would break under the layers of meaning and the weight of the content.” I encourage all of you to come back and visit without the crowd, when you will have a better opportunity to see all this incredible work.
I would now like to introduce our guest of honour, Australian novelist, Elliot Perlman. He will already be known to most of you as the award-winning author of Three Dollars, Seven Types of Ambiguity and The Street Sweeper. The latter, a novel that spans decades and continents from The Holocaust to the civil rights movement in America, to Melbourne, Australia, was described in The Guardian as “offering a meditation on memory itself, on storytelling as an act of healing.”
The epigram at the beginning of the book reads:
Mountains bow down to this grief,
But hope keeps singing from afar.
We Are Here explores grief and celebrates hope. Elliot is therefore the perfect person to address the themes embedded in the exhibition.
Thank you Elliot."
Mir Zehnen Do - Do Not Ever Say
The Partisans’ Song by Hershel Glick
Never say you are going on your final road,
Although leadened skies block out blue days,
Our longed-for hour will yet come
Our step will beat out - we are here!
From a land of green palm trees to the white land of snow
We arrive with our pain, with our woe,
Wherever a spurt of our blood fell,
On that spot shall spurt forth our courage and our spirit.
The morning sun will brighten our day
And yesterday will disappear with our foe.
But if the sun delays to rise at dawn,
Then let this song be a password for generations to come.
This song is written with our blood, not with lead,
It is not a song of a free bird flying overhead.
Amid crumbling walls, a people sang this song,
With grenades in their hands.
So, never say the road now ends for you,
Although skies of lead block out days of blue.
Our longed-for hour will yet come -
Our step will beat out - we are here!