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Bringing the Yes campaign to shabbat tables

Deborah Stone
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Published: 6 June 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

A new program is bringing Australian Jews together around shabbat tables to understand Indigenous issues and promote a Yes vote in this year’s referendum.

Shabbat is traditionally a time for Jews to gather with their loved ones, share a meal, and converse after a busy week.

A new initiative is encouraging Australian Jews to use that time to join the national conversation around Indigenous rights and understand the value of voting Yes to constitutional recognition and a Voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians.  

Shabbat Table Talks provides guided materials to encourage at-home conversations in the lead-up to this year’s referendum.

Anyone can become a Shabbat Table Talks host, simply by inviting a group of people to Shabbat dinner for two powerful conversations, ideally three to four weeks apart. Hosts will receive practical advice and materials to help them guide the discussions.

“It’s not enough to vote Yes yourself. We need all Australians who support an Indigenous Voice to talk with their family members and neighbours,” said the program’s initiator, The Jewish Independent general manager Ilona Lee.

“These conversations give us the opportunity to dispel misinformation and counter negativity and racism in our community and beyond.  The more people who step into the role of host, the more informed the Jewish community can be about this historic opportunity.”

 Shabbat Table Talks is a project of The Jewish Independent and the National Council of Jewish Women. It adapts Kitchen Table Conversations, a model created by the Victorian Women’s Trust to encourage civic engagement through the kind of honest dialogue that women have traditionally had around kitchen tables.

Executive Director of the Trust Mary Crooks said the model has been used for 20 years. “We know it works.”

So, when the referendum was announced, the Trust reached out to Indigenous leaders to offer the model to create civic conversations around the need for the Voice. The result is Together, Yes, a conversation program endorsed by Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition.

Lee heard Crooks present on the program at the launch of the national Yes campaign in Adelaide in February and realised immediately that she wanted to adapt it for the Jewish cultural context.

“As soon as Mary made her presentation, I was sure that this was the way to go,” Lee said. “So, when we were asked what we were going to do to support the Voice, I said, ‘I want to introduce Kitchen Table Conversations to the Jewish community’. But, for us, it should be via Shabbat Table Talks because that’s when we sit around the table with family and friends. It is very much part of our culture to discuss, question, learn and debate.”

Lee said the campaign was in part an acknowledgement of William Cooper and his colleagues, who were among the first people to stand up for Jews at the beginning of World War II by petitioning the German Consulate against what was happening in Germany.

“It is only just that we try to pay that back in some positive way,” Lee said.

National Council of Jewish Women of Australia National President Melinda Jones said the program recognised how important it was for every Australian to understand and support the referendum. “The Yes vote will really make Indigenous Australians count. They won’t just be seen, they will be heard.”

The Yes vote has been endorsed by leading members of the community, including Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, former co-chair of Reconciliation Australia Mark Leibler, OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn and law professor Melanie Schwartz.

Sign up to host Shabbat Table Talks or learn more at www.shabbattabletalks.com.au
Learn more about Together, Yes at

About the author

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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