Australian Jewish Community leaders strongly supported the victims of the Maccabiah Bridge Disaster at the dedication and naming of the Warren Zines Reserve on Sunday, July 25, 1999.
In the presence of the Mayor and Councillors of the Waverley Municipality, the State director of Magen David Adom, Israel Consular officials, leading Sydney Jewish communal identities and numerous members of the community, Maccabi World Union (MWU) was again criticised for its unsatisfactory conduct following the Maccabiah Bridge Disaster on July 14, 1997.
Warren Zines, together with three others, Greg Small, Yetty Bennett and Elizabeth Sawicki were killed and 66 others were injured in the Disaster. The Reserve, donated by Sydney property developer, Hymie Meyerson, was dedicated to honour Warren Zines and the other victims of the Disaster and will stand as a permanent memorial in their honour.
Peter Wertheim, President of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies told the gathering: “The memory of those who died and the many more who still struggle with the consequences of the tragedy can only truly be consecrated by the attainment of justice. Justice demands that those who are accused of wrongdoing stand down from all positions of authority until their culpability or innocence is established. Justice also demands that the entire structure of the Maccabi World Union and the way in which the Maccabiot have been organised be reviewed to ensure that the overriding responsibility for the safety and well being of the participants can never again be devalued in so cavalier a fashion as occurred two years ago. Only when all the demands of justice have been met can our consciences be satisfied and the spirit of those who died rest in peace.”
Dr Ron Weiser, President of the Australian Zionist Federation added: “Whilst the Israeli justice system is dealing with five people who have been criminally indicted and for whom we expect the judgments to be brought down towards the end of the year – there still remain two people in high position in Maccabi World Union who should not be there and it is to the undying shame of Maccabi organisations in the U.S.A., in Great Britain, in Canada and elsewhere that they do not support us in the matter – indeed they oppose us.
I would just like to say that I have been privileged to come to know the bravery and dignity of those that survived. I have seen strength of character, of purpose and of decency – people who should never have known such sorrow – good people with whom we are all proud to walk.
The Australian Jewish community stands behind you and beside you – we will not rest, until we find the justice we seek for you and for all of us.
It is not your issue alone – Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze La Ze“.
The JNF planted trees in honour of the victims of the Disaster.
Speech by Dr Ron Weiser, President, Zionist Federation of Australia at the Naming of the Warren Zines Reserve on Sunday, 25th July, 1999
Distinguished Guests – Friends
Today, as we gather to dedicate this reserve, just over 2 years since the terrible tragedy of the bridge collapse at the 15th Maccabiah, we all have the opportunity to pause and reflect on and remember that 4 members of our community perished and scores were injured in an accident that should never have happened.
This reserve will give us a permanent place to remember real people and what occurred.
The bridge collapse initially brought about the nadir in the relationship between Israel and the Australian Jewish Community – even though the games were organised by an international Jewish sporting body and not by the Israeli Government itself.
Nevertheless – Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze La Ze – we are all responsible for each other.
And so the Zionist Federation took the lead, with the support of communal organisations, to attempt to deal, with the aftermath.
All along the way we have sought only some basic and moral justice:
- The acceptance of responsibility by those people who should do so
- The payment of just and speedy compensation
- Action to ensure the future safety of such events
- Land the fulfilment of commitments and promises made by Maccabi World Union
Whilst the Israeli Justice system is dealing with 5 people who have been criminally indicated and for whom we expect the judgements to be brought down towards the end of this year – there still remain 2 people in high position in Maccabi World Union who should not be there and it is to the undying shame of Maccabi Organisations in the USA, in Great Britain, in Canada and elsewhere that they do not support us in this matter – indeed they oppose us.
We have been working extremely hard for the Israeli Government – even though they are not legally liable – to pay out the compensation and avoid years of painful and arduous legal struggle with the various insurance companies involved.
Having recently returned from Israel and after discussions with many members of the New Israeli Keneset – across the spectrum of the various parties – including with the new speaker of the Keneset – our friend Avraham Burg – I have a degree of optimism that there is a genuine feeling there to resolve this aspect.
For this and in order to ensure that future Maccabiot will not be organised in a similar manner to the 15th, we need the continuation of the Keneset committee of inquiry – again – I have good reason to be optimistic that the Keneset will reform the committee.
And finally, despite the fact that the Israeli government paid all of the loan monies requested of it – on time, in full and without strings attached – MWU has not – and we must continue to press MWU to honour their own unambiguous promise.
My friend and colleague, Peter Wertheim, will speak on both of our behalf about those that died, but I would just like to say that I have been privileged to come to know the bravery and dignity of those that survived.
I have seen strength of character, of purpose and of decency – people who should never have known such sorrow – good people with whom we are all proud to walk.
The Australian Jewish community stands behind you and beside you – and we will not rest, until we find the justice we seek for you and for all of us.
It is not your issue alone.
As I said before – Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze La Ze
Speech by Peter Wertheim, President, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, to the Dedication and Naming of the Warren Zines Reserve on Sunday, 25th July, 1999
Mr Mayor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is now a little more than two years since the Australian Jewish Community was rocked to its foundations by the terrible tragedy of the bridge collapse at the 15th Maccabiah Games. We all felt the pain and the shock of losing four popular and well-regarded members of our community and witnessing the injuries of 70 others. In an accident that was clearly preventable and should never have happened.
As we dedicate this reserve, let us spare a moment to remember the four precious lives that were taken from us before their time.
Yetty Bennett was part of the bowling team. Her three children, Mark, Jeff and Ilana, were orphaned as a result of her loss, as their father had died suddenly from a heart attack three years earlier. Yetty’s partner at the time, Frank Gaensler, was clinically dead when he was plucked from the river after the bridge collapse. But he was resuscitated and in January this year, he had the joy of seeing his son, Brian, named ‘Young Australian of the Year’.
Friends have praised Yetty as someone who faced a lot of adversity in life but always overcame it. She loved her sport and going to Israel meant a lot to her. She was a loving mother and an extremely good person who touched the hearts of all who knew her.
Elizabeth Sawicki died in hospital from organ failure twelve days after the bridge collapse as a result of the deadly fungus contained in the Yarkon River. Elizabeth represented the Australian team in the bridge competition. She left behind her husband, Henry, and four children.
Greg Small has been described by friends as a dedicated family man and a good friend who loved his sport. Greg was accompanied by his wife Susan when they crossed the bridge. The couple had been high school sweethearts. They went to the Maccabiah Games as part of the ten Pin Bowling Team. Ironically, it had been a four-year ambition of Greg’s to participate in the games. As a result of the bridge collapse, Greg lost his life and Susan sustained multiple breaks to her ankle, as well as injuries to her lower back and neck. Now Susan has to contend not only with her physical disabilities, but also with the need to support herself financially and her two children, Joshua and Rebecca, without the family breadwinner.
Warren Zines died from a stroke four weeks after the bridge collapse, leaving behind his wife, Lynette and three children – Adam, Shelley and Lisa. Warren had represented Australia in the Lawn Bowls competition. Lynette and two of his children were with him in Tel Aviv in the days immediately before he passed away. Warren’s first grandchild was born to daughter Shelley two days after the bridge collapse.
One of Warren’s team mates described him by saying that “Warren was a gentleman and mild mannered…. The salt of the earth. Every time we saw each other, we hugged. He was so considerate and warm.”
Let us spare a thought also for the 70 injured athletes and, in particular, for Sasha Elterman, who has had over 30 operations in her battle against the effects of the deadly fungus which was contained in the Yarkon River when she and her team mates were plunged into it. Their unfailing courage and dignity in the face of everything that has happened has been an inspiration to all of us.
We are here today to dedicate this reserve, and the trees, which have been planted in it, to the memory of the victims. It is a beautiful location and one, which, in a physical sense, is appropriate to recall the affection and esteem in which the victims were held by their families and friends in the community.
But in a deeper sense, the memory of those who died and the many more who still struggle with the consequences of the tragedy, can only truly be consecrated by the attainment of justice – justice for the families of the dead and justice for the injured and those who support them. Justice demands that all the facts of the tragedy – before, during and after the bridge collapse – be brought out into the open and that those who were responsible for the tragedy be tried and, if found guilty, convicted and punished.
Justice also demands that those who are accused of wrongdoing stand down from all positions of authority until their culpability or innocence is established. It demands that the Maccabi World Union provide immediate financial assistance, without pre-conditions, To the financial dependants of those who were killed and also to those who were injured and those who care for the injured.
And finally, justice demands that the entire structure of the Maccabi World Union and the way in which the Maccabiot have been organised be reviewed to ensure that the over-riding responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of participants can never again be devalued in so cavalier a fashion as occurred two years ago.
Only when all of the demands of justice have been met can our consciences be satisfied and the spirits of those who died rest in peace.