|The newly elected New South Wales premier Barry O' Farrell MP hosted a morning tea in the State Parliament to meet the heads of major religions in NSW.
About 30 members of the clergy, representing leaders from a wide range of religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddism and Hinduism were present at the event in Parliament's Waratah Room.
The premier addressed the gathering and noted that it is the first time that the NSW Government is actively reaching out to Faith-based leaders to engage with them and open up lines of communications for the benefit of society at large. The Premier announced that this is a first of what he envisages to be an ongoing and dynamic conversation between the NSW Government and spiritual leaders of the major faiths.
The premier displayed his excellent relationships with a number of the religious leaders, particularly singling out Yeshiva's Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, Anglican Bishop Robert Forsyth and Uniting Church Moderator Rev Niall Reid.
The premier revealed that he is in a unique and special situation as a Catholic married to an Anglican, although he confessed that he does not attend Church as often as his cardinal would like.
As part of his public remarks the premier affirmed his steadfast commitment to the protection and freedom of all faiths in the State. He shared a personal anecdote that on his way to work every day he drives past Masada College in St Ives and it saddens him to see that there is an armed guard at the entrance because the Jewish community is constantly under threat. He promised that under his watch NSW government will make use of all of the resources at its disposal to secure and protect community facilities of all faiths.
The premier then spoke about the various religious celebrations that are marked in Parliament annually, including the Menorah-Lighting ceremony on Chanukah. He praised Rabbi Pinchus Feldman for being thedriving force behind that event, and noted that he is particularly impressed how that event is an expression of unity, being that it is co-hosted by Chabad and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, representing the vast and diverse array of Jewish groups in NSW, both secular and religious. He also called Rabbi Feldman, "The best Schmoozer in Sydney" explaining to the somewhat puzzled crowd that Schmoozing is a Yiddish term for being a proficient and talented conversationalist.
The premier then went on to say, lightheartedly, how he once attended a function addressed by former South African Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris (Of Blessed Memory) and he was taken aback by the rabbi's strong Scottish accent. He was curious if Rabbi Harris also spoke Yiddish with a Scottish accent!
Rabbi Feldman responded by blessing the premier, on behalf of all of the clergy, with success in his term as premier. He particularly commended the premier for this outreach initiative to the State's spiritual Leadership. Rabbi Feldman then suggested an idea that instead of sitting members opening parliament daily with a prayer, it should be done by clergy representatives of various faiths, creating and fostering a greater sense of awareness between the religious community and the political leadership. The clergy present were all very supportive of the idea, as was the premier who committed to put it on the agenda to discuss with the incoming speaker of the Legislative Assembly and president of the Legislative Council.
The event concluded with a meet-and-greet amongst the clergy themselves, which was conducted in a positive spirit of mutual respect and friendship.