SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — The stirring sounds of a shofar began a moment of silence at the national memorial service for victims of Australia’s worst-ever bush fire disaster.
The ram’s horn was blown by Aron Goodheart, a young member of the Mizrachi Synagogue in Melbourne, before thousands of people at Rod Laver Arena and millions more watching Sunday’s 90-minute ceremony live on national television.
More than 200 people died in the bush fires, which began Feb. 7. Among the victims was John Barnett, a London-born Jewish academic who was incinerated with his wife, Jenny, in their car in rural Victoria as they tried to flee the inferno.
The Jewish community was represented on the dais by Rabbi Ralph Genende of the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, one of the largest synagogues in Melbourne, alongside officials and representatives of other faiths.
Among the speakers were Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Victorian Premier John Brumby, Governor-General Quentin Bryce and Princess Anne, who traveled to Australia to represent Queen Elizabeth II.
Rudd said flags would be flown at half mast and a moment of silence would be observed every Feb 7 "for Black Saturday. What we saw at work was the worst of nature, but the best of humanity," he said.
One of the few songs performed at the memorial service was Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah," sung by a choir. Cohen recently toured Victoria and donated $130,000 to the disaster appeal.