International Day for People with Disability – in honour of Ruth Peretz

Erick and Ruth Peretz (Courtesy)

This is written in the memory of Ruth Peretz who was murdered at the Nova Festival on October 7.

I’m the Jewish mother of a daughter with special needs, and here’s something I’ve never told anyone before October 7: since I am surrounded by a community of Holocaust survivors in Australia, I sometimes wonder what would have happened to my daughter if we lived in that terrible time. Would she have been able to keep quiet while hiding in an attic, or would she have screamed out, thereby giving our family’s hiding place away? If deported to a concentration camp, would she have been able to follow orders? Or been shot for failing to do so? And, worst of all: would she have been sent to the wrong line in a selection, the one that routinely sent the old, the young and the infirm straight to their deaths?

It’s macabre, I know. But watching the Israel massacre that took place on October 7th, those same fears are closing in on me again. The scene plays out for me in horrific fashion, mainly because I’ve seen it on social media: in the story of Ruth Peretz, a 16 year old who lived with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy and was murdered by Hamas terrorists while at the Nova Music Festival in the South of Israel. Ruth loved music, and so her father Erick had taken her there in her wheelchair. It was something they had done together; a tradition they shared. They had been missing for ten days, but since then their bodies were found.

So now that I’ve seen Ruth’s beautiful face in a photo, I ask myself: what would my daughter have done at that music festival? Would she have been able to run fast, like that stream of young people fleeing for their lives, all while dressed in the emblems of youth. Would she have been able to spot a place to hide? Would she have run away quickly as Hamas terrorists indiscriminately shot at everyone in sight? Or, if we had been living in one of the kibbutzim, would she have been able to stay silent for twelve hours in a safe room while terrorists ransacked our house? My daughter loves to chatter; it’s unusual for her to stay quiet for even ten minutes. How would she possibly have survived?

As the weeks roll by I look to my home country, Australia. Until October 7th, I felt safe in Australia, and being Jewish. I felt united with other Australians as we stood for the same causes: I champion women’s rights, I am a disabilities advocate, I stand up for wrongdoings. But when I see throngs of people protesting around Australia, all chanting against Israel, I wonder: where are my human rights’ allies now? Why are they not demanding the release of hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas? Why are they not rallying against the brutal terrorist organisation who butchered and maimed Israeli citizens? It feels as though the antisemitism brewing in Australia is being brought to the surface in the guise of anti-Zionism. 

As the mother of a child with disabilities, I have learned many lessons. I have learned empathy. I have learned that differences are not reasons to reject somebody; in fact, differences can be the reason you embrace a person. I have no wish to see harm done to any innocent civilians, Israeli or Palestinian. 

My daughter is a part of the disability community and I see so much good around us, so many advocates for a fair and equal society. Yet currently I see Australian streets filled with hate and anger as people protest against my other homeland, Israel. Yet again I am reminded of the Holocaust when I see people chanting “gas the Jews” on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. I see a wall outside someone’s home spray painted with the words “kill Jews. Jews live here.” 

When you read stories of the Holocaust, do you ask yourself: who would I have been? Would I have saved a Jew? Hidden a family away? Or would I have turned them in? Would I have called out the antisemitism brewing in my community before it was too late?  Would I have reached into my humanity?

Ask yourself these questions. Because “never again” – the words we often say about the Holocaust – could happen again. The difference in what eventuates could be you.

About the Author
Keren Zelwer is a speech pathologist living in Melbourne, Australia. Keren is a member of the Advocacy Subcommittee of National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (Vic). She has had articles published in The Australian, The Age and Mamamia.
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