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In Gratitude: Judy Stromer

2013 IWD Award of Excellence recipient

Sydney, Australia

1956 was a dramatic year – not only in the Middle East, which witnessed the Sinai Campaign – but also in Eastern Europe. In November of that year, the Soviet army invaded Hungary and crushed with great cruelty and bloodshed a popular revolt against the Communist regime. A nine-year old Jewish girl was caught up in the tumult and became a refugee at a UN camp not far from Vienna. That little girl developed into a prominent Zionist leader in Australia, and dozens of years later was the recipient of one of the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal’s most prestigious awards. Her chilling story stirs thoughts and emotions that remain with you long after you’ve finished hearing it.

A few days before she is scheduled to receive the 2013 KH-UIA International Women’s Division Award of Excellence, together with her Co-chair of the UIA New South Wales Women’s Division,Bev Michaelis, Judy Stromer relays how she gradually became a key activist and leader at UIA Australia. Starting out some 35 years ago “with a little thing”, as she puts it, she became increasingly involved with Jewish and Israeli causes, with Janet Simon z”l as “a role model”.
“Something drove me”, she says. “I fell in love with the concept. “I’m a perfectionist. If I start something, there’s no half job. I’m fully into it”.

She talks about the tireless activity of the NSW Women’s Division on behalf of the Nurit Absorption Center in Beersheva, where new olim from Ethiopia are resettled. Judy recalls her trip to Ethiopia in 2012, together with the KH-UIA emissary to Sydney at the time, Fentahun Assefa-Dawit. “We visited the JAFI compound in Gondar; people were so desperate, it was heart-breaking”, she says with great emotion. Discussing the plight of Ethiopian Jews serves as a trigger for a discussion of her personal experiences

“Being a refugee myself, I could fully and immediately understand the situation of those people, who have no idea of how their future will look. Suddenly, I was back at age nine, in 1956, when I came back from school one day, to find the Secret Police in my home and my parents, both Holocaust survivors, tied onto their chairs. My father, who had some resources, had helped a friend in need. This friend’s wife went to the police and denounced my father and the police came to interrogate him about his wealth. They searched the whole house, confiscated everything (silverware, carpets etc.) and took him into custody. It took 10 days until he came back. He said he was fine, but he understood that he was now on the ‘black list’. When the popular uprising against the Communist regime erupted in October, he realized that this was a one-time chance to flee the country”.
The family fled in secret to the Austrian border. Judy, her mother and two-year-old sister, remained there while her father went back and forth to rescue his whole family. Eventually, the three of them crossed the border and arrived at a UN refugee camp near Vienna. They lived there for several weeks, under very harsh conditions, with no change of clothing and suffering from intestinal disease. Her father was caught by the border police, but somehow managed to escape and reunite with his family in Austria.

After obtaining emigration permits to Australia, where her father had a sister, they went to Genoa, Italy, and from there, sailed to Australia. Since the Suez Canal was closed, following the Sinai Campaign, they had to sail around the entire African continent – a trip that took over six weeks. Judy still remembers how Jews in Cape Town, South Africa welcomed them into their homes when their boat stopped for refueling and repairs. They eventually arrived in Australia, with a few clothes and little else. Her aunt took care of their initial needs. Judy still remembers how difficult it was to adapt to a new country, to learn a new language and to buy everything from scratch.
The young girl who went through such tough times grew up to become a successful fashion designer who later switched to interior design. The pain of the traumatic childhood experiences, however, is still easily perceptible. But the successful struggle to overcome them has evidently made her stronger.

Since she became involved with UIA in 1970, and particularly since taking part in her first mission to Israel, in 1994, Judy has become a highly dedicated activist. She and Bev Michaelis are a wonderful pair who instill enthusiasm for Zionist and Jewish causes in hundreds of women all over New South Wales.
Judy knows exactly what it means to need a helping hand. She will do everything she possibly can to be there for anyone experiencing adversity. But she has a special place in her heart for the younger generation. “One of the main reasons I did all this was for the children”, she says repeatedly.
The worldwide family of Keren Hayesod-UIA sends its congratulations to Judy upon receiving the 2013 IWD Award of Excellence. Thanks again for all that you have achieved until now, dear Judy, and best wishes for many more years of good health and happiness with your loved ones, as well as continued activity on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people!

Following is Judy’s message to Keren Hayesod-UIA World Headquarters in Jerusalem:

Please accept my sincere thanks for your generosity in awarding me the 2013 Keren Hayesod International Women’s Division Award of Excellence. I feel very proud and grateful to receive this award, and particularly thrilled and deeply honoured that I am being presented with this award at the same time as my Co-Chairman, Bev Michaelis.
Bev and I share the same passions and goals and feel privileged to be able to devote our time throughout the year to spreading knowledge about the importance of the work we carry out on behalf of the UIA. Our involvement and regular visits to the Nurit Absorption Centre gives us enormous pride and pleasure and allows us to see the direct impact of our work on these refugees.

On a personal note, I am privileged to have the support of not only of my family but a dedicated team of women whose commitment is also passionate, and together we have the ability to inspire others to support our important work for Israel. I thank them all sincerely.
I am extremely proud to be in a position to spread Keren Hayesod’s message, and as a former refugee myself, I am grateful that I now have the opportunity to give back to the Jewish community in every way that I can. I wish to continue to reach out to my community, and in particular be an example to the younger generation of women as well as my family, and to inspire others to become not only involved, but also passionate in their support for UIA (Keren Hayesod) and Israel.
I look forward with great pleasure to receive this prestigious award in June.

With warm regards,
Judy Stromer

For her vision, her extraordinary leadership and her unwavering dedication, Judy Stromer is a worthy recipient of the 2013 IWD Award of Excellence

judi stromer

Bev Michaelis and Judy Stromer (right) with the Award of ExcellenceFrom left to right: Nelly de Bobrow, International Women’s Division World President; Victoria Reimers, IWD Honorary President; Greg Masel, KH-UIA Director General; Bev Michaelis; Eliezer (Moodi) Sandberg, KH-UIA World Chairman; Penny Hurst OAM, Australia WD Federal Chair; Judy Stromer; Yohanna Arbib-Perugia, Chair, World Board of Trustees


judi stromer

Judy Stromer addresses the audience.