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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mnnews.today/aurora-magazine/
Kevin and Bat-sheva are the parents of five
children born between 1981 and 1990 –
Keryn, Tamar, Naomi, Jonathan and Rachel.
They are grandparents as well.
Jewish heritage passes down through the
mother. Kevin and Bat-sheva’s children have
been raised in their mother’s faith. (Kevin
has a cousin who married a Jewish man.
Their children are Catholic.) The Stewart
children celebrated the Jewish rituals and
practices as they grew up. Bat-sheva holds
strongly and devotedly to her ancestral
practices, and hopes that the children will
also do so. When they come home they
cer tainly do.
But , irony of ironies, all five of the children’s
partners were raised in the Catholic
religion ! Bat-sheva and I laugh as we
agree that God has a wonderful sense
of humour. Not as much of a laugh from
Kevin, the lanky, laconic Aussie. He quietly
appreciates it, though.
They are great kids, they both agree. They
have done well academically and in the
work force. “They have good morals and
strong values”, they say almost in chorus.
They are a happy family. For 15 years
they all were active in a Family Group
of parishioners from St Pat’s , Wallsend,
who get together socially every month.
“A wonderful family”, says Bernadette
Alexander, who has been with them in the
group during that time. “ T hey are really
wonder ful people and all happy together.”
Kevin attends Mass alone, as strongly
devoted to his faith as Bat-sheva is to
hers. He enjoyed it when the children
would accompany him. The baptism of
a grandchild at Our Lady of Victories,
Shortland, was a recent happy occasion.
Bat-sheva has joined Kevin at Mass many
times . Kevin has likewise accompanied
Bat-sheva to the Synagogue. Each has
prayed to the same God in his or her
Their different religious affiliations e ntail
some degree of sacrifice which “tears you
a bit”, says Kevin. Bat-sheva agrees. But
they have also been “enriched”. Their
respect for their differences, their mutual
caring and “being there for each other”,
and their simple “getting together in the
important things”, is what bonds them and
brings them happiness. Their happiness
is felt. It overflowed in hospitality when I
visited them at home. I was so wrapped
in lively conversation I forgot to finish my
coffee. First time ever.
Bat-sheva (named for the woman best
remembered as the mother of King
Solomon, she likes to point out) is active in
the small, 40-member, Jewish community
in Newcastle. She is also involved in the
local multi-faith organisation and is keen
to speak in cross-cultural and multi-faith
situations. She is certainly well qualified.
What she par ticularly likes to convey to
Christians is the impor tance of their Jewish
foundations. She uses the image of a two-
storey house. The second storey could
not exist without the first, and the solid
grounding it provides. Jesus and Mary are
inconceivable without their Jewish heritage.
Bat-sheva is close in sentime nt with St John
Paul II who called the Jewish people our
“dearly beloved elder b rother”.
The home that Kevin and Bat-sheva have
built is strong and beautiful. Respect and
love are its building materials. They have
produced a family of well-g rounded,
well-rou nded, devoted childre n. They
have produced good fruits. Commitment,
respect and love unite them.
It also helps that Bat-sheva and Kevin thrill
inside to recall their first encounter far
away in time and space in the dining-hall of
an Israeli kibbutz.
Imagine a young woman arriving alone in
Australia from the Middle East on the first
day of 1980.
Her reason? To see if she had a future with
a young man she had met and fallen in
love with on a kibbutz in Israel only a few
Bat-sheva had arrived in a foreign country
before, at age ten. With her family, she
had hastily left her ancestral country of
Afghanistan to settle in the state of Israel.
The Jewish community at Herat in
northern Afghanistan was dissipating after
a presence of two thousand years.
Bat-sheva’s father, whose surna me was
Cohen (Hebrew for ‘Priest’), was taking
his family and following ma ny relatives and
friends as refugees to the Jewish homeland
under the Israeli policy of ‘aliyah’ (or
homecoming) for diaspora Jews across
In Israel, Bat-sheva received an education,
adding Hebrew to her first language of
Farsi. She had completed teacher training
and was to commence educating others
when Kevin caused her second exodus.
Kevin Stewart, born and bred Australian,
had studied and worked and saved for a
young man’s dream. He was on a Cook’s
Tour of the world in the late 70s. He had
been in Afghanistan in 1978, but that was
no place to tour due to the coup that
destabilised the country that year.
The kibbutzim of Israel had a romantic
appeal for Kevin, as they did for many at
the time because of their image as utopian
rural communities. A kibbutz experience
was a strong attraction.
Not as attractive, though, as the young
lady kibbut znik he encountered there.
Bat-sheva was waiting on tables in
the communal dining-hall. Love had
Bat-sheva told me of her reaction on
sighting this “tall, good-looking, blonde,
nice-mannered man”. I could see the
undiminished delight in her face as she
recalled (and re-lived) this first encounter.
Not much reaction from Kevin. You can
sense the quiet happiness and contentment,
though. (He’s still tall and thin. I didn’t
know that he was once blonde!)
That is why Bat-sheva stood alone on
Australian soil on 1 January, 1980.
The future could go various ways, she
thought. Maybe it was a romance in a
kibbutz only. Maybe it was more, and they
would marry and return to Israel as
Bat-sheva dreamed. As it turned out, it
was very real. They married on 24
February and made a life in Australia,
first in Wollongong and Sydney and
then finally here in Newcastle.
Kevin and Bat-sheva Stewart, recalling with delight their first meeting in Israel.
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