Former Australian head of state, Sir Zelman Cowen, mourned

More than 1,000 people, including Australia’s prime minister and three former prime ministers, bid farewell to former Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen.

Cowen, who died Dec. 8 at the age of 92, was given a state funeral Tuesday at Temple Beth Israel.

In the congregation for the Jewish service was Prime Minister Julia Gillard and federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott, as well as former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and John Howard, and current Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

Cowen, Australia’s head of state from 1977-1982, suffered from Parkinson’s disease for at least the last 15 years.

He was only the second Jew, after Sir Isaac Isaacs, to be appointed the Queen’s Australian representative.

Among the speakers at the service was one of his sons, Rabbi Dr. Shimon Cowen, who said his father was proud of his Jewish heritage.

“He identified with the plight of the physical and spiritual entity of the Jewish people, unequivocally and in perfect tandem with his service of Australia and all humanity,” Shimon Cowen said.

Born in Melbourne in 1919 to refugees who fled Czarist Russia, he became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and went on to a prolific career as a jurist, constitutional lawyer, and university vice-chancellor, as well as an ardent supporter of an Australian republic.

He was also a staunch Zionist, involved with numerous Israeli organizations including the Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.

Cowen is survived by four children, 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.