Gongs for the Unsung

With the recent public holiday for the birthday of the new monarch of the Commonwealth came the King’s Birthday Honours List, and many worthy Australians received medals for their services to the community or their field. Twice a year, in January after the Australia Day Honours List and in June, the Australian Jewish News publishes a spread on all the Jewish recipients, and as a community we eagerly read about these familiar and unfamiliar people and their achievements. Indeed, my sister and father z”l have both received OAMs, my father posthumously, for their contributions to the Jewish community. Only those close to them would know of the tireless dedication and the hours they put into their causes, but that is enough of my BIRGing (Basking in Reflected Glory). Less publicized are the unassuming unsung heroes, those who go about their days doing important─but perhaps not newsworthy─stuff as part of their work or private lives. They may receive awards within their profession or support group, or perhaps the occasional box of chocolates, but most of these acknowledgements are off the radar of the general public. This is a special shout-out for them.

Every minute of every day and night someone is caring for someone. Parents care for their children, an implicit part of their role, but what about a spouse, a parent, other relative or friend when they become more dependent due to illness or ageing? Hundreds of thousands of Victorians, 11% of the state’s population according to Carers Victoria, assist someone with their day-to-day needs such as dressing, meals, appointments…the list is unending, everything. There are government-funded packages of outsourced care, but they often need to be supplemented with private carers or the help of family members. Alternatively, the caree─if such a word exists─goes into a care facility if the needs are high and resources are insufficient; this is not an option that suits everyone. I write this from personal experience. It’s a balancing act on the highwire of the heartstrings. Nevertheless, caring for elderly parents may have its challenges, but it is a great privilege.

Before the introduction of care packages, before the word ‘carer’ was in common use, my grandfather z”l looked after my grandmother z”l who had Parkinson’s disease for over a decade. My mother went over every day after work with my father to give her support, and my sister or I often went along. I don’t remember any mention of outsourced care or nursing homes. On Shabbat my mother also went over in the morning, so he could go to shul. Apart from that, my grandparents were at home all day, every day. Only as an adult did I realise how difficult that period of his life must have been; but not as difficult as escaping with his family from Poland in 1939 and ending up in a detention camp near Siberia. My grandfather saved his family from the Nazis, and later in life became a fulltime carer─a hero indeed.

Over in Sydney, my sister had to hang up her educator and charity worker hats and replace them with a carer’s cap for about a year after her husband was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. MND is a horror of a disease that is progressive and incurable. As her husband deteriorated, my sister’s role became all-encompassing: transfers, meals, arranging friends and family visits, and organising the ever-changing equipment required, to mention just some of her daily tasks. There were carers every morning and evening, but she was the chief cook and bottle washer. Until suddenly her carer’s cap was no longer needed, and she had to adjust to a life without him. She was a carer for a year and in my book the Carer of the Year. Hats off to her and all carers everywhere.

About once a week I pick up my twin grandchildren from preschool, and as I approach the gate, I am greeted by the rostered professional security guard. Regardless of the weather, pouring rain or blistering heat, he is out there with a smile and a nod of recognition. He recognises this savta as he recognises the parade of parents and grandparents at pick-up time. Behind the smiles and the nods, there is an intense scrutiny for the stranger, for the troublemaker or G-d forbid worse. I applaud all the security guards at schools, shuls, community centres or wherever else they are needed. These excellent men and women keep our children safe; they keep us secure so we can attend meetings and functions and pray together as a community. And I pray that all they ever need to do is smile and scrutinize, and their finely honed skills are never put to the ultimate test.

There are so many who should get recognition: teachers, nurses, school-crossing supervisors, to mention a few, and let’s not forget those wonderful parents who had to juggle work, homeschooling and family during Covid. Then there are those modest individuals, maybe not affiliated with a profession or charity, who are always doing chesed, acts of kindness, and make a point of greeting and smiling at people, because they wouldn’t live their lives any other way. The list of unsung heroes is endless. My gongs of praise and gratitude go out to them all.


About the Author
Pauline Schwarcz is a freelance writer with a background in genealogy. Formerly a health professional, she enjoys writing about family history and her reflections on life. Pauline was born and lives in Melbourne and is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.