Published On: Tue, Jun 30th, 2015

Yosl Bergner at his 95th birthday: “The Jews need a place to put their weary heads”

 A special exhibit of his paintings will take place at Limmud FSU conference in Sydney, Australia

Yosl Bergner, the famed painter and Israel Prize laureate, celebrated his upcoming 95th birthday in Tel Aviv with Dr. Danny Lamm President of the Zionist Federation of Australia and Chaim Chesler, Founder of Limmud FSU.

The reason for this visit to the artist, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest of the world’s living Jewish artists, was to announce a special exhibit of his paintings which will take place at Limmud FSU conference in Sydney, Australia in February, 2016,  a country to which Bergner has a very special connection.

Bergner’s father, the distinguished Yiddish poet, Melech Ravitch, was one of the founders of the ill-fated Kimberley plan to settle Jews in the remote north-western corner of Australia in the late 1930’s. Although the plan had the backing of Albert Einstein, in the end it failed to materialize. Bergner and his family lived in Australia from 1937 until 1950 when he moved to Israel.

“But in Australia, also not everything was sweetness and light, ” Bergner told his visitors. “I was told I was an occupier, a foreigner, a land-stealer. Local newspapers wrote about the insolence of a Polish Jew arriving in Australia and ‘daring to paint our landscapes, our Aboriginals, and our shepherds.’”

However, there were also some Australians that supported the idea of Jewish state in their country: “One Irish born intellectual used to say to me repeatedly – The Jews need a place where to put their weary heads”, Bergner recalls.

“At the same time, I realized that my father had actually saved our lives. His wish to create a Jewish homeland in Northern Australia was based on the fact that it was so remote from civilization and the manifestations of Anti-Semitism which then, in a way, were similar to what is gaining momentum today in Europe, ” Bergner sums up.

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