Originating in Eastern Europe in 1897, the Bund – the General Jewish Workers Union in Russia and Poland – was the undisputed cultural and political force among the Jewish workers of Eastern Europe, as the leaders organised Jewish workers into unions and led strikes for fairer wages and working hours.
The Bund ideology rested on three platforms: Socialism, doikeyt (hereness), and Yiddish. Doikeyt translates to the belief that Jews have a responsibility to strengthen Jewish cultural life wherever they live. Yiddish, as the language of almost all Eastern European Jews, united them culturally, religiously and politically and the Bund worked for the economic, political and social advancement of impoverished European Jews.
Immigrants from Eastern Europe established the Bund in Melbourne and its members demonstrated unusual versatility, while still adhering to the three Bundist platforms. First convened in 1928, the Melbourne group was led by Sender Burstin. Jacob Waks, arriving in 1940, was a central ‘revered’ figure who linked the Bund to the Australian Labor Party during World War Two and influenced Arthur Calwell, Minister for Immigration, to provide Australian visas for Jewish displaced persons following the war.
From a very early date, the Melbourne Bund was involved in the political scene, both Jewish and non-Jewish. This was manifest in a wide variety of activities, including support for the establishment of a rural community in Birobidjan. Through links with the Bund in Europe, who had contacts with the Polish underground, the Polish government in exile as well as political leaders in Western countries, the Bund acted as an alternative source of European news for the Melbourne Jewish community during World War Two. They immediately recognised the significance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and commemorated it each year, beginning in 1945.
Following the war, members of the Bund threw themselves into the task of bringing Jewish refugees to Australia. They continued the tradition of the European Bund organisation and provided services for needy people, to the extent of opening their own homes to newcomers and assisting them in finding work. Their commitment to welfare work was shown in their involvement then and now, with the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society, now Jewish Care.
During the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, one-third of the members of the board of the Welfare Society were Bund members. Jacob Waks, Binem Warszawski, Sender Burstin, Jacob Kronhill, Herszl Bachrach, Bono Wiener and Avram Zeleznikow all received Life Membership in the Welfare Society. An involvement in politics was reflected in their support for the Australian Labor Party.
Bund members also played significant roles in other aspects of Yiddish Melbourne, in particular the Yiddish schools and the Kadimah. Sender Burstin (1958-1961, 1967-1973), Bono Wiener (1978), Jacob Orbach (1979) and Moshe Ajzenbud (1988) served as presidents of the Kadimah committee. The involvement of Bundistn was evident in every aspect of Kadimah activities including theatrical production, youth activities and literary events. After helping establish the Yiddish schools, they actively participated in school life as administrators, teachers, board members, parents and students. Sender Burstin, Jacob Ginter and Myer Silman were all present at the inaugural meeting of the establishment of a Yiddish school in Melbourne in October 1935.
Two of the most influential principals of the Peretz School, Joseph Giligich and Pinye Ringelblum, were both Bundistn. The Sholem Aleichem School was headed by Bundist principals for most of its existence, including Jacob Waislitz, Genia Wasserman , Jacob Diner, and Moshe Ajzenbud. Bund members were significant in every aspect of the schools, as Michael Zylberman points out, “not as ideological doctrine, but as a matter of moral and ethical virtue.”
Source: Michael Zylberman, Talking History Series, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University, 2004