Rabbi Heilbrunn’s Eulogy

I will not be greeting the dignitaries who are present today, as this is at variance with Jewish traditions of mourning…the Jewish greeting is “Shalom” – Peace, and the mourners are not at peace.

On behalf of the parents, brothers and family of Gregory Sher as well as our entire community I acknowledge the presence of the

Prime minister of Australia the Honourable Kevin Rudd MP,

The Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon.Julia Guillard MP

The Leader of the Opposition, The Hon. Malcomlm Turnbull MP

Minister of Defence the Honourable Joel Fitzgibbon MP,

the Chief of the Army Lieutenant General K.J. Gillespie, AO DSC CSM,

State, Civic Leaders, and the Ambassador for Israel Mr Yuval Rotem,

Jewish communal leaders, the OC, officers, NCO’s and the members of

the 1st Commando Regiment.

We also acknowledge the presence of Jewish Communal Leaders, the Leaders and Members of the CSG, VAJEX and Greg’s dear friends.

The funeral today is both a State Funeral with full military Honours and at the same time a traditional Jewish Funeral.

I am particularly heartened to report the overwhelming sense of respect, understanding and sensitivity displayed by all Defence Force personnel in arranging today’s funeral. This represents the true values we all cherish as Australians; it exemplifies and validates in his death the ideals about which Greg Sher was so passionate in his short contributing life. It is a proud vindication of the most sacred principles of freedom and respect that Australia upholds and for which it sends it finest sons and daughters to all corners of the globe to so valiantly defend.

PRIVATE GREGORY MICHAEL SHER Gilon Michael ben Shlomo Halevy killed in a in a rocket attack in Oruzgan Province, in southern Afghanistan on Sunday 4th January 2009 – 9th Tevet 5769

There is a Jewish tradition that our regular Torah Textual Readings frequently coincide thematically with the contemporary events of our lives. During this week of the year we read of the illness and subsequent passing of our ancestor Jacob or Israel, as G-d called him. We also read of the passing of Joseph and then of each of the 12 tribes, and with that the entire Book of Bereshit – Genesis is completed.

Fascinatingly, the overall name of these final Genesis Chapters is “Vayechi Yaakov – and Jacob lived!”.

Why does the very section speaking of Jacob’s death place such an overwhelming stress on life! They go so far as to allege, that in fact, our Father Jacob never died! For as long as his children, his values and principles endure, he will endure!

I was privileged to know Greg Sher from a very young age – ever since he arrived in Australia in 1986 with his dear family. My wife and I were privileged to be involved in settling the Shers in to Adelaide and to have been loosely in touch ever since.

It was also my privilege in recent days to sit with Greg’s family and some friends, young and old, as they fondly recalled Greg and the impact he had on their lives.

What emerged from this was inspirational, reflecting positively not only on Greg and all he stood for, but also concerning his friends and colleagues. Greg and his friends and the values and ideals they espouse combined with the way they live their lives are a source of great hope for our Jewish community and in general for the wider Australian community. Greg’s impact on his colleagues and contemporaries will ensure that what he believed in and so valiantly, and so determinedly put into practise in the most appealing and meaningful way in his own life, will not die, but will endure. For like with Jacob, as long as the idealistic and spiritual momentum he created and the values and standards he propagated will continue to inspire those whose lives he touched, in a sense he will yet be with us.

On his last day on earth, Our Ancestor Jacob gathers his sons, Israel’s tribes, to bless them. His words are a poetic but candid evaluation of their character, strengths and weaknesses. He defines the potential of each of them as a guide if they are to be they best they could become. Greg in many ways made such an honest assessment of himself and rigorously applied his findings to his life.

There were so many facets to Greg’s life, but all in one way or another pointed in the same direction – striving for growth as a man of ideals and principles and as a man of action, working on every skill and talent, whether mental, physical, emotional or spiritual to fulfil his potential become and be the best he ever could be in order to serve others. That he succeeded in a vast measure is unmistakable – just look around you and you will see!

Little boy or baby Greg was aptly named by his parents GILLON ¬the one who creates joy.

For Greg, just about everything worthwhile had to also be fun and bring joy and happiness to all.

This coming week we will read that when Moses was born, our Sages say, the dwelling was filled with light.

In the tribute at Friday’s “Ramp Ceremony” upon the return of to Greg’s body to Melbourne, it was said, “I know for me, whenever I saw Greg I felt like a whole room just lit up and I wanted to talk to him about everything”.

Yvonne, Greg’s mum, tells that he was born without any birth pangs ¬- he was just there; and from that moment his engaging smile was ever present – vibrant, mischievous, daredevil on the one hand, kind, caring and sharing on the other. He and his brothers relished action games, played with imagination and excitement, and as they grew up the closeness of their bond became more and more solid.

A junk-food groupie, he was Dad Felix’s “Chocky, bikky, chippy” ¬yet at the same time he was to become passionate about fitness and health. He would grow up to be a trained killer, yet he was drawn to write and read poetry, was kind to old ladies and would help them cross the street.

These opposites in his personality were not contradictions, but blended harmoniously to make him the loveable caring humanitarian person he was. Kids were irresistibly drawn to him, and as a field medic in East Timor he was always surrounded by them. Even though he couldn’t communicate in the same language – his charm transcended language.

Greg’s overwhelming passion for security and military issues may have been innate, but he had a fair tradition to draw on. His grandfather loyally served with the Allied Forces from South Africa as a sergeant in Signals for the entire duration of WWII, and his Dad continued in the reserves after his compulsory service rising to the rank of captain. From time to time he would excite his kids, especially Greg, by turning up at home in an armoured car.

It was no coincidence that 11 years ago Greg was one of the founding group with the CSG – the Jewish Community Security Group – using all his skills and talents to benefit the group’s growth and progress to become the pride of Victoria’s Jewish Community it has become today. He remained an active member till the present. Over 1000 people benefited from his training, as well as building and cementing friendships. With Greg you were a mate, no matter the context in which you met him – School, CSG or the Defence Force – and like a golden thread, everyone felt the same about Greg.

Greg set many benchmarks, and was a true role model. His formulation of the “Attributes of The Protector” define and perfectly summarise his ideals and exemplify his life. Now these attributes will be a lasting legacy.

Mission Integrity – The protector feels accountable to complete EVERY task/requirement to the highest standard, regardless of distractions, obstacles or setbacks.’

Character Integrity – The protector is honest, respectful and abiding.’

Personal Drive – The protector pushes to achieve, strives to continuously improve and takes initiative to adapt and overcome challenges.’

Leadership – The protector helps people to achieve their fullest protector potential through example, motivation and guidance.’ ‘Communication – The protector clearly and professionally communicates and actively listens.’

Greg’s way was to be a listener, showing deep understanding, care and respect for the views of others

He had also joined the Victorian Association of Jewish ex¬-Servicemen and Women (VAJEX) two years ago where his special qualities and contribution were greatly appreciated. The deep impression created by his reading of Psalm 23 at Carlton’s Obelisk on 11/11/07 abides with them still.

Greg was interested in many subjects – science, astronomy, psychology, a very deep individual constantly striving for self-improvement. Greg had a wonderfully developed sense of goodness and integrity always carefully weighing up right and wrong. As we quote on the Order of Service in Psalm 34, “Who is the man who loves life who cherishes his days to see goodness … turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it!”

Greg’s sense of responsibility motivated him to put up his hand for all kinds of training and tough assignments. His sterling qualities were certainly recognised by the Military who made sure that he was selected for the most elite of units not only to fight, but also to serve as the glue that moulds, unifies and brings out the best in others.

To Quote the Eulogy at Friday’s Ramp Ceremony expressing the feelings of his mates about Greg.

“Greg Sher’s entire military career is characterised as one of being a “volunteer” .

  • when he decided to first join the Australian Army Reserve in 1998.
  • when he completed his recruit and infantry courses and commenced his career as a Rifleman with 5/6 Royal Victorian Regiment here in Melbourne.
  • after completing 5 months of build-up training in Darwin, deployed with 5/7 Royal Australian Regiment to East Timor for over six months in 2002 & 2003.
  • after earning the Australian Active Service Medal, the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor Medal and the Infantry Combat Badge, set his determined sights on a path that would ultimately lead him to obtaining his green beret as a qualified Commando within Australian Special Operations Command.
  • for close to six months, Greg volunteered to put himself through enormous physical and mental hardship just to make sure that on the day he showed up for his commando selection test he was physically and mentally ready. And ready he was. Greg passed the gruelling commando selection and training course in 2004, going on to obtain a whole suite of Commando and Special Forces qualifications.

For each of these Greg was a volunteer.

For each of these Greg stood out amongst his peers.

But, for us in his unit, Greg meant so much more to us than his many operational and special forces accomplishments.

Greg was selected to serve within special forces because he had the attributes we were looking for and few have; attributes such as toughness, resolve and intelligence. But for Greg, one attribute stood out amongst all others, and it was his “compassion”. It is in this regard that Greg best personified the special forces soldier – the unique combination of the best team player who is still in so many ways an individual. Greg’s compassion as an individual came out in many ways. He saw his role as a soldier being to help those that he loved and to do his part to make the world a better place . . . he always sought to better himself, and his motivation for improvement was not one of competition but instead reflected his desire to better serve his team-mates.

Greg did not want to let anyone down. And he never did.”

All his actions in recent times were in preparation for this last trip. In October he was unwell and distraught that he may not be able to go. This was what he wanted, for himself, for the cause, for his unit, his mates … He had a sense of duty and responsibility to “complete” himself. Idealistically he thought that he could enable little Afghan girls, who would be prevented by the Taliban, to go school or just walk in the street.

He didn’t see himself as a hero, but he had a burning desire to help – to fulfil his love for Australia, his country, his home and what it stands for.

In all this Greg felt only one reservation, a tinge of guilt: the great concern and anxiety the fulfilment of his ideals would place on his family, and their natural worrying about him and his safety … and their dread of what we are doing here today.

Greg’s love of Yiddishkeit, his Jewish pride, earned him the enduring love and respect of all – Jews and non-Jews. Kosher consciousness accompanied him always, and there are several stories of the lengths to which he would go to uphold his Jewish faith – some quite amusing. His army mates affectionately and respectfully called him “Super Jew”.

In their tribute at the Friday “Ramp Service” his regimental mates have said ” … how important his Jewish faith was to him and how determined and driven he was”. They compared him to the “”Greatest Living Australian” to a Jewish soldier from Melbourne called John Monash who [like Greg] began his military career as a reservist in the Victorian Militia and, [like Greg], volunteered for everything he could and, [like Greg], never stopped trying to improve himself and, in doing so, stood out amongst all others.” In this, Greg has fulfilled the highest of all precepts of Judaism, through his actions to Sanctify G-d’s Name by enhancing the dignity and prestige of G-d’s Torah and Teachings.

I’m sure I speak on behalf of all of Australia’s Jewish Community when I express our pride in Gregory Sher, his achievements and what he stood for as a devoted committed Jew and loyal citizen of Australia. I also express the condolences of our entire community to his parents, family and Karen.

Greg had a well-developed sense of thinking outside the square, was innovative, resourceful, adaptable, and had a way of passing on his knowledge in a soft-sell imperceptible way.

He was influential and inspired others to want join in.

He would let nothing stand in his way in pursuit of what he deemed a worthy goal – his body and physical attributes, his health and the pain it might entail. He would never quit. He worked on himself to conquer every innate fear, conditioning his mind and body. He initially tried to satisfy the natural hope of his parents to undertake a more conventional career, but soon realised, “it’s not me … ” and, to his parents’ everlasting credit, they chose not to stand in his way of fulfilling his dreams and ideals but afforded him even more love and support.

All these qualities as well as his integrity, character, affability and grit made him a certainty, a sure winner as far his selection for Special Forces was concerned.

Greg firmly believed in his adage, “The mind is the strongest weapon.”

Greg grew up with his brothers in a very close, loving and mutually supportive way. In many ways they shared his passions and he had a unique relationship and bond with each of them

For his parents he was always a perfect son. Caring, kind thoughtful, non-confrontational and nothing was ever to much for him.

He developed a special bond with each of his parents. He took his mum Yvonne wherever she needed to go when she was no longer able to do so for herself. He was most loving to Felix his dad, and not too much of a soldier not to always be ready for a hug and kiss of his dad.

His grandmothers doted on him. He was most loving, caring and considerate to them, helping with shopping and also in the kitchen, especially as a kid with biscuit baking so he could his hands on the cookie dough to eat it raw.

Greg had a unique way of making people feel they had a special relationship with him, was always patient with others, interested in their opinions, and it is remarkable how many people he touched and how many had their lives enriched by him.

He treated everyone with respect, young or old.

Karen, “Kaz” represented a supremely important part of his life in recent years. In her he found his diamond, and ever since he met her, his face simply glowed and life’s joy and hope was raised many notches. Karen too has never been happier, Greg was a major turning point in her life. Their bond was very special, very strong and growing ever stronger and closer all the time.

The family always treasured the times they could all share and be together.

Greg’s military mates had only the greatest love and accolades for him and I quote their words movingly delivered at Friday’s “Ramp Ceremony” when Greg was brought home to Australia.

“Greg, we know that our generation’s place in the story that is Australia is still being written. We know that it is being written in the jungles of East Timor and, as we speak here today, by our closest mates in the snow-covered caves of Afghanistan. We don’t know what the final story of this generation will be, but we do know that on a rock in Williamstown, on the war memorial in Canberra, in our history books, and in our hearts, there will be several chapters devoted to a young Jewish man who, at this time in Australia’s history, stood up and said

“I am Greg Sher and I am ready to serve”

We have a Jewish precept that echoes these sentiments and ideals. When G-d called on Abraham, or Moses or as He calls on any Jew, he answers, “Hineni – I am here ready to do Your will – to serve!” .

For his service in East Timor, Private Sher received several awards, including:

  • the Australian Active Service Medal,
  • the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor Medal
  • and the Infantry Combat badge.

He was also awarded the

  • Afghanistan Campaign Medal,
  • the NATO medal
  • and the Australian Defence Medal upon his body’s return home to Australia at Friday’s Ramp Ceremony.

On behalf of Greg’s family and myself, and I am sure that I echo the feelings of our Jewish community, I wish to express deep appreciation to all those in the military for their kindness and care. You have demonstrated great sincerity and deep sensitivity for Greg’s family and for our Jewish way of life.

This Jewish funeral service combined as a state funeral with full military honours and the way everyone has worked to create an appropriate tribute for a brave, loyal and most worthy soldier is a fitting continuation of Greg’s demonstrated personal efforts through his way of life to build bridges of respect and understanding between our faith and the wider Australian community.

If perchance you are thinking that the accolades and appreciation of Greg Sher seem to be too good to be true – if you are thinking, “how could anyone be that good?” I believe the true answer lies in the freely flowing tears of the hardened soldiers, his mates, who bore Greg’s coffin at Friday’s “Ramp Service” and who are here bearing it today. That says it all!

To sum it up in the words of the Prophet Zechariah 4: 6

“Lo b’chayil, V’lo b’cho’ach Ki Im B’Ruchi”

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts – such is the legacy bequeathed us by Private Gregory Michael Sher.

******************************

I now will read a Message from Rabbi Ralph Genende, Jewish member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS), Principle Rabbi to the ADF.

“Just weeks before his death in WW2 19 year old American pilot, John Gillespie Magee in his famous poem High Flight, wrote…

‘Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth. Sunwards I have climbed and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of.’

Like Magee, Greg Sher was brave and bold, and fearlessly went to places beyond the imagination of his contemporaries. He was a young man with a dream in his heart and steel in his soul. He believed in something greater than himself. Greg was an idealist and a mentsch, a committed Jew and a proud Australian. He drank deep of the well of his past, imbibing the down to earth decency of his Litvak forebears; the tenacity and courage of his Jewish ancestors; the mateship and resourcefulness of his Australian upbringing.

I know Greg’s family and the values he lived by and died for reflect the principled kind of people they are.

On behalf of the ADF, of Jewish Chaplaincy and as it’s senior Rabbi, I express our profound sadness at the loss of Greg. His death is a blow to our country and shared by all Australians. It is deeply felt in our close-knit Jewish community, but it is surely most keenly felt by his family. Our thoughts and payers are with you Yvonne and Felix, Steven and Barry, Granny Sylvia and Karen. May you draw a small measure of comfort from the knowledge that Greg died doing what he loved and in Magee’s words, “with silent uplifting wind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space. Put out my hand and touched the face God.”

With Yvonne, Felix, Steven, Barry, Mrs Dushansky and Mrs Friedlander and Karen we say, as we exclaimed on Shabbat on completing Chumash Bereshit – The Book of Genesis, “Chazak! Chaza! V’Nitchazek!” Be strong! Be Strong! And let us be strengthened!

May the beautiful memories you all share of a beloved gorgeous son, a beloved partner, brother grandson and beloved friend to so many, a heroic supremely courageous soldier, fighter for goodness and freedom and soldier-son of Australia be source courage and strength in the weeks months and years ahead as we enter a world so much the poorer for lack of the smiling caring presence of Greg Sher – Y’he Zichro Baruch! May his memory be a blessing.

I now call upon the military and the designated groups from Greg’s Unit, the CSG and friends and finally his family to escort him on his final journey

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