A/Prof Mark Baker, z”l

ACJC Obituary

The ACJC mourns the loss of Associate Professor Mark Baker (1959-2023).

Mark was Director of the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University for ten years (2008-2018) and Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Holocaust & Genocide Studies. He played a pivotal role in turning the ACJC into Australia’s leading centre for Jewish intellectual life. He also pioneered overseas study tours to Israel, Europe and Africa that had a transformative impact on hundreds of students.

Mark was one of Australia’s leading Jewish public intellectuals, often serving as a commentator for major Australian news outlets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, antisemitism and the Holocaust.

He was the author of two powerful memoirs, The Fiftieth Gate: A Journey Through Memory (Harper Collins, 1997; twentieth anniversary edition reissued by Text Publishing 2017; winner of a NSW Premier's Award 1998) and Thirty Days: A Journey to the End of Love (2017).

His vision and charisma left a deep impact on Monash University, and on Melbourne’s Jewish community. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, community, and by the current and past members of the ACJC.


Hannah Fitzgerald, participant on 3 study Abroad Tours

I was having a pretty tough time before I started taking Mark’s classes at Monash. He took me to see three exquisite regions of the world and opened my eyes to how beautiful it all could be amidst the tragedy.

Stephanie Lux, participant on Seeking Justice, 2011

I only spent two weeks with Mark in 2011 during the Seeking Justice course in South Africa and Rwanda. But as a young German woman at the time, his insights, lived experience, personal history and work impacted on me and still does. I wish I had reached out to him more often after our initial meeting... He has touched so many lives, shaped so many minds - he was an absolutely amazing human being…..

Meg (participant on Final Journey)

The most phenomenal man. Completely changed the trajectory of my professional life through his teaching. I am a teacher today in no small part due to his inspiration. I went on the Europe and Africa study tours, which were the most special learning experiences of my life. I feel so lucky that my orbit crossed with Mark’s for a few years.

Tony Williams (Teaching Associate, ACJC & SOPHIS)

This year marks a decade since I travelled overseas with Mark. Many have spoken of his passion for education, and I feel lucky to have been his student. Even more so I feel privileged to have travelled with him and to have experienced him teaching in situ. First in 2010 to Europe, then in 2012 to Israel/Palestine, and finally in 2013 to South Africa and Rwanda. On each of these occasions, his passion for the subjects was obvious and his dedication to education was deeply embedded within the very soul of the trips. Some of the people I consider my dearest friends I met on those trips. I established bonds and connections with people that will last me a lifetime and that I truly cherish. On May 4th one of those people died. I am worse off for it. His community is worse off for it. The world is worse off for it. And yet - cliched though it may be - part of him will live on inside all of those many thousands of us lucky enough to have known him. Goodbye Marky, til we meet again.

Sue Hampel OAM (Teaching Associate, ACJC & SOPHIS)

I was already tutoring at Monash when Mark became the Director at ACJC. He wanted to introduce a Masters in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and encouraged me to enrol in the course. That decision changed my teaching trajectory. Within two years, I was tutoring in a range of units from Holocaust to Genocide and Post Conflict studies. But the best part about working with Mark was his boundless energy and enthusiasm. He had so many exciting ideas designed to enhance student learning, in line with the University’s motto, Ancora Imparo.

The highlight was the two overseas units - Internships and Study Abroad trips. The internships began in 2003, with the aim of placing students at international human rights institutions, NGOs and Holocaust and Genocide museums, as diverse as Ann Frank house; documentation centres in Rwanda and Cambodia; the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and Polin museum. Over 50 students participated in these programs.

I travelled with Mark many times to Europe, South Africa and Rwanda on our Study Abroad trips. Mark was erudite, intelligent, knowledgeable and had a great sense of humour. All the students loved him and when they returned, enrolled in every unit that Mark was teaching. He transformed the lives of so many students through education and learning and I am glad that I had so many opportunities to learn from his wisdom.

Fania Oz-Salzberger (Leon Liberman professor and chair of Israel Studies)

For five blissful years (2007-2013) dear Mark was my boss in the Australian Centre for Jewish Studies, when I was the Leon Liberman professor and chair of Israel Studies. What a fine human being he was! Kind, wise, passionate about Jewish life, a natural leader. He was also a seeker of peace, always bridging disagreements and solving crises, always happy in pluralism, harmony and good spirits.
I recall with love and admiration the wonderful Shabbat dinners with him and the late Kerryn, and what a Shabbat table it was! Beaming with generosity and good cheer, Torah and open-heartedness.
Mark was an inspiration in my life, and in those of countless students, colleagues and community members. He was, in the briefest and most precise word, a Mensch.

Dan Rabinovici (Teaching Associate, ACJC & SOPHIS)

Mark undertook the challenge of teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict course initially at Melbourne Uni then at Monash. I had the privilege and satisfaction to tutor and coordinate Mark’s course between 2006-2017. I also joined Mark and Monash students on a couple of study tours in Israel-Palestine.

I was always in awe of Mark’s brilliant lecturing and vast scholarship. Mark understood that teaching a contentious subject like the Arab-Israeli Conflict required extraordinary sensitivity and an unbiased approach. With acumen and compassion, he navigated the complexities of this enduring conflict, always striving to create an inclusive and respectful learning environment.

Students were encouraged to explore diverse perspectives, challenging their own preconceived notions. Mark masterfully crafted an approach that highlighted the historical, political, and cultural intricacies of the conflict. Whilst embracing a Zionist perspective, Mark emphasised the significance of understanding both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives, recognizing that empathy and knowledge are essential in bridging divides. In recent years Mark publicly acknowledged the injustices suffered by Palestinians, a position that often left him exposed to criticism and abuse.

Mark promoted dialogue that extended beyond the classroom. He organised outstanding guest lectures with Israeli and Palestinian experts from various backgrounds. Thus, Mark fostered an atmosphere where respectful conversations thrived, and students engaged in constructive discussions exploring possible solutions.

Mark was a critical thinker. He inspired countless students to embrace the principles of fairness, inclusivity, and dialogue. May we carry forward his legacy by embracing dialogue and ensuring that all voices are heard and respected.

Emma Gavin (Associate Professor; Associate Dean (Indigenous Advancement); Faculty of Education, Monash University)

My name is Emma Gavin. I first met Mark when I was a student at Monash and undertook his fieldwork unit in Europe. Mark quickly became the best lecturer I ever had. To say Mark had a way with words, is an understatement. Mark was a wonderful storyteller, and through story enlightened everyone he spoke to, changing hearts and minds, including mine, along the way. Mark is a large part of the reason I became an academic, as he showed me that academia and integrity and kindness can coexist. Mark was incredibly compassionate, and it is this compassion that I think of most. I remember during our fieldwork unit; we were at a museum and I was having a hard time. I am neurodivergent, and struggle with large crowds and sound overstimulation. Aside from the noise and crowds, the museum was also particularly confronting; I remember the walls and the ceilings, the exhibits, even the floors, were designed to overwhelm the viewer with the horrific experiences and histories of the Nazi regime. We were about halfway through the museum, and I started having a panic attack, I was struggling to get air into my airways and was feeling very panicked and overwhelmed. Mark came up to me and stood very closely, blocking out the people and sound around us, and said: "We're going to make a run for it, okay?" And he ran with me through the museum to the exit, not caring what anyone thought. To this day, I remember this compassion and understanding that he embodied so well, and I know this is something every single person who came to know Mark experienced. At the end of our fieldwork trip, all of us students stood in a line and created an archway with our hands (picture attached), and had Mark run through it, as a farewell, because we had all come to admire him so much. So, thank you dearly, Mark, for the memories, and for teaching me how to be an academic that teaches through kindness. You will be very missed.

David Slucki (Director, ACJC; Loti Smorgon Associate Professor in Contemporary Jewish Life and Culture)

I first met Mark as a PhD student at Melbourne Uni 2007, when I taught for him in the Arab-Israeli conflict. He was clearly a shit stirrer, and we disagreed on a lot politically, which I think is what he liked about having me teach in his unit. He then brought me over as a PhD student to Monash in 2008, offering me a scholarship and a lot more support, and I was struck by the exciting environment that he’d fostered on the 6th floor of the H Building. It was a place of robust debate/dialogue, of principled teaching and research, and a genuine commitment to public engagement and to bridging the university and the community. It didn’t matter that I was writing about something that might have seemed a bit esoteric, or that my politics were outside the mainstream – he loved to have young scholars around the centre to bring energy and enthusiasm. I learned a lot as a PhD student within his sphere about scholarship, about academia, and about working within the Jewish community.

When I completed my PhD, he was on stage to support me and brought me back in 2011 for a couple of year stint as a postdoc. I owe a lot to Mark for helping to kickstart my career, but also for teaching me how to take a brave and principled (and sometimes unpopular) stand, and how Jewish Studies can serve to make the world a better place beyond the university. I feel incredibly lucky and honoured to be sitting in his chair today, and an enormous sense of responsibility to continue the work that he did to put ACJC on the map.