Shira is a writer and editor based in Sydney, Australia. A former journalist, Shira previously taught French and worked in publishing. She has served on the Board of her children’s school for the past 12 years, including three terms as vice-president. She can be contacted at email@example.com
''All men are created equal; it's what they're equal to that counts.''
This plaque on Dr Naomi Moldofsky's office door summed up her attitude to life.
A strong, courageous and positive woman, Naomi worked as a lecturer and then senior lecturer in economics at the University of Melbourne from 1969 to 1990. She was a passionate teacher and researcher who championed freedom of thought and action within the rule of law. As she would often quote: ''One person's freedom ends where another's nose begins.''
Naomi was privileged to discuss ideas with Nobel laureate Friedrich August Hayek and philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper, and was instrumental in bringing Hayek to Melbourne in 1976. Professor Milton Friedman supported her membership of the classical liberal Mont Pelerin Society, of which she became a life member.
Long-time colleague Dr Maurice Newman, the former ABC and Australian Stock Exchange chair, recalled their common belief in an open society and individual liberty. Naomi was only ''too aware of the dangers posed by centralised authority and conceited politicians'', he said. ''She opposed it always and everywhere … Her intellect and the rigour of her arguments meant she was a formidable opponent in a debate. That said, she was, no matter the provocation, unwaveringly courteous and polite …
''My abiding impression of Naomi Moldofsky is of a warm, gentle and understated person who was committed to scholarship. Her contribution to economic thought is of the highest order and her writings will endure the test of time.''
Centre for Independent Studies founder and president Greg Lindsay, of whom Naomi was one of the earliest supporters, agreed: ''Naomi was one of this country's champions of liberty and we are all the better for her endeavours.''
Born in Tel Aviv, Naomi Gross was the oldest child of Berl Dov Gross and Chana Cytrynowski, who had left Poland for Palestine in the mid-1920s, and had a younger brother, Moshe.
Her father's laundry in Jaffah was burned down during the Arab riots of the 1930s, leaving the family without an income. According to family lore, he had no option but to go to the harbour, where one ship was departing for South America and another for Australia. It was the eve of World War II and, fortunately, he chose the vessel heading for Melbourne, promising to send for his family as soon as he could.
It was several years before he re-established his own laundry and could afford to purchase even one ticket for Naomi to join him.
After matriculating from Taylors College, Naomi undertook a commerce degree at the University of Melbourne, before winning a research scholarship to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She then travelled through Europe to Montreal, Canada, where she met her future husband and businessman, Sydney Jona Moldofsky.
They were married in late 1958 and Naomi began an economic history master's degree at McGill University, completing it just after daughter Shira was born. She then embarked on a part-time PhD focused on problems of economic development. Their second daughter, Leora, was born before Naomi completed her studies in 1968.
The family moved to London, before undertaking a voyage in 1969 on the (later infamous) Achille Lauro Italian cruise liner to visit family in Melbourne. While on board, Naomi received a job offer from Latrobe University, but subsequently accepted a position at her alma mater.
As an academic, Naomi found her calling. Her areas of interest and specialisation included micro economics, comparative economic systems and Marxian economics. Keen to imbue her students with a desire to think for themselves, she worked hard at preparing her lectures and would revise them year after year to incorporate her latest research findings.
Never one to rest on her laurels, she was constantly striving to improve. There was always a huge pile of academic books by her side, and if a thought came to her in the middle of the night, she would get up to write it down in one of her many notebooks.
A devoted mother and grandmother, Naomi always put her family first. She was a ray of sunshine who filled the house with passion, although in her later years she was tragically afflicted by Alzheimer's disease. Impeccably groomed, she maintained her independence for as long as possible, and with support continued living with dignity at home.
She taught her children to be humble and ethical, to stand up for their principles and to find an interest in life that would sustain them.
Naomi is survived by her two daughters, Shira Sebban and Leora Moldofsky, and grandchildren Raphael, Gabriel, Jonathan, Ariel and Emma.
Shira Sebban is a writer and editor, and daughter of Naomi Moldofsky.
Like most of us, I usually try to avoid thinking about death. Its seeming finality – the enormity of the thought that we are never coming back – is not something I have ever managed to face and comprehend fully, no matter how hard I try. Instead, heart thumping, courage faltering, I usually come to a screeching halt just before plunging over what seems like the looming precipice beyond.
Yet, on the tenth anniversary of my beloved father’s passing and after attending the funeral of my dear friend Shimon, I find myself drawn to musing about death and to be able to do so more calmly and rationally than ever before.
Selfless and discreet, Shimon was a caring man, a listener, who preferred not to speak about his own trials and tribulations, and devoted much of his life to helping others through his nursing work and later as a hospital chaplain. Listening to the eulogy for Shimon, I felt uplifted and a sense of inner peace soothed my soul – just as my friend would have wanted.
At Shimon’s funeral, we listened to the recitation of a beautiful poem, Life is a Journey, by the late Alvin Fine, which provides a realistic summary of the fallible human condition. Failure certainly does not preclude meaning:
“From defeat to defeat to defeat, until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage, a sacred pilgrimage.”
Perhaps I have become more aware of death at a time when I have been writing the life stories of my late grandfather and mother. In the course of this journey, I have been fortunate to have been able to trawl through a treasure trove of family letters, some dating back as far as the 1930s – snippets of social history, which regrettably, with the advent of email and the Internet, come to an end around the year 2000. It is sobering to realise that I will not be leaving the same legacy for my children.
Written in a multitude of languages, these letters have criss-crossed the globe. Desperate letters from a sister in Lodz, Poland, in 1935 to her sister, my late grandmother, in Tel Aviv; hundreds of letters, which followed my mother’s journey from Tel Aviv to Melbourne in the late 1940s and then on to London and Montreal a decade later and back to Melbourne once more in the late 60s; and letters spanning four decades from my Canadian father’s family in Toronto to their brother in Melbourne and from my adopted Melbourne ‘aunt’ and close family friend to my mother, providing vignettes of what life was like for Australians in the 1950s and 60s.
In perusing these letters, each preserved in its original envelope, what quickly becomes clear is that no matter what advances technology may bring, fundamentally little has changed: human beings still experience joy and suffering, success and failure, complain about the economy, celebrate births and marriages and bemoan divorces and deaths among family and friends. Life continues – whether you are there to witness and experience it or not.
As the ancients taught: “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1.9) “One generation passes away, and another generation comes; And the earth abides for ever.” (1.4)
So much toil and trouble, fuss and bluster, anguish and elation. Yet, after we are gone and our contemporaries have also vanished with the passing years, what remains? For the creative few, a contribution to knowledge they may have made; book they may have written; artwork they may have produced. For those with means, a legacy in bricks and mortar or a charitable foundation to which they may have contributed. For the vast majority of us, the living legacy of our children, grandchildren, and possibly even great-grandchildren, as well as photos and other memorabilia and perhaps sayings or traditions handed down from generation to generation.
My late father was a quiet man. In his own discreet way, he did whatever he could to care for and support his family. He would do anything for the ones he loved and he was everything to us. To him, home and family came first, and I will never forget how on the day he died, he urged me to leave his hospital bedside and return to my husband and young children because “they need you”.
My father stood like a pillar at the centre of our lives. We were all accustomed to depending on him, and when he died, we felt his absence keenly. In the days and months that followed, I could not help but ask myself how it would have bothered anyone if he had been allowed to continue driving through the streets, helping to lighten the load of his family and friends?
Until my father’s passing, I had been fairly sure that there was nothing after death. After spending years studying philosophy, I could not seem to accept the idea of “eternal life” and “everlasting peace” in the “world to come”.
Yet, when I lost my father just a few hours after spending the night tending to his needs in hospital, I began to question my former apparent certainties. How was it possible that my father could be there one minute and gone the next? What had happened to his persona, to the essence of who he had been, to his soul?
Ecclesiastes teaches: “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, but the spirit returns unto God, who gave it.” (12.7) Today, while I am still not sure whether or not I believe in God, I draw comfort at least from striving to honour my father’s memory through my actions.
As Sylvan Kamens and Jack Riemer wrote in their poem, We Remember Them, also recited at Shimon’s funeral:
“As long as we live, they too shall live,
for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.”
Shira Sebban – Life Issues Shira is a Sydney-based writer and editor, who is passionate about exploring the challenges life throws at us through her writing. A former journalist with the Australian Jewish News, Shira previously taught French at the University of Queensland and worked in publishing. The mother of three sons, she also serves as vice-president on the board of her children’s school. You can read more of her work at http://shirasebban.blogspot.com.au/ Life Balance = Abandoned. The. Search.