Interview | ‘Shabbat Table Talks’ Project Director Ilona Lee on how the Jewish community can support the Voice

Shabbat Table Talks started when Mary Crooks AO (Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust and Project Director of Together, Yes) met Ilona Lee at the Adelaide launch of the national Yes campaign in March 2023.

Ilona Lee, who is the General Manager of Jewish Media company Plus61J, was keen to integrate the message of Together, Yes into the Jewish community via their own “Kitchen Table Conversations”, thus creating Shabbat Table Talks.

Different communities coming together to support a positive outcome for Indigenous Australians in the 2023 referendum is paramount to achieving a positive result in the 2023 referendum. With the support of Shabbat Table Talks, we can come together as a united nation and make this crucial change to our constitution.

We wanted to know more about what inspired Shabbat Table Talks and chatted to Ilona Lee to find out more:


How did Shabbat Table Talks come about? 

I attended the launch of the Yes Campaign in Adelaide, both to demonstrate support but mostly to get ideas as to how the Jewish community could lend its weight to the campaign. As soon as Mary made her presentation, I was sure that this was the way to go. So when we were asked what we were going to do moving forward, I said I wanted to introduce ‘Kitchen Table Conversations’ to the Jewish community but, for us, it should be Shabbat Table Talks because that’s when we sit around the table with family and friends.

How does “Kitchen Table Conversations” as a form of civic engagement fit within a Jewish context?  

It is very much part of our culture to discuss, question, learn and debate so this feels “just right”.

Our country’s history is abound with examples of Jewish-Indigenous solidarity. From your perspective, how can the Jewish community contribute to a positive outcome for Indigenous Australians in the 2023 referendum? 

Our aim is to get our community to vote yes, and the best way to do this is to educate and inform.

Community champion Bettina Cass AO talks about justice being one of the founding principles of Judaism. What unique perspectives on justice can the Jewish community bring when hosting Shabbat Table Talks? 

Having treated Indigenous people so badly for so long, it is only just and right to try to make amends. Additionally, an Indigenous man, William Cooper and his colleagues were the first to stand up for Jews at the beginning of WW2 by petitioning the German consulate against what was happening in Germany. It is only just that we try to pay that back in some positive way.

Dr Hilton Immerman OAM, says if we want a fairer Australia, that respects its heritage and protects its minority rights, we need to vote Yes. In your opinion, why is it important for the Jewish community to be champions of the referendum? 

The Jewish people know what it means to be discriminated against and to be treated as lesser citizens. We don’t want that for any other people so feel we have an obligation to stand up for other minority groups.

In 2005, I founded a scholarship program for indigenous students at UNSW and, to date, that program has been responsible for 60 graduates including almost 30 medical doctors. Many of these students have come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and I have seen personally how much they can achieve with just a little assistance. I am hoping that many more indigenous people get such opportunities if the voice is heard.

We are proud to be standing alongside the Jewish Community in Australia to procure a fair and just future for our country. To find out how you can host a Shabbat Table Talk, visit: