On 22 January 2008 (Tu B'shvat, 5768), a young Australian community leader, Dave Burnett, died in a tragic accident at the ancient archaeological site of Petra, Jordan. He had been visiting Jordan after leading a six-week Taglit-Birthright Israel AUJS Academy program during the university summer holiday. Although he was just 22 years old, he had already achieved more in his short life than most will in a full lifetime.

Born in Sydney, Dave went to Killara High School where he excelled at History. He was a gregarious and popular figure, a peer support leader, the senior prefect, and received the school honour badge and outstanding achievement award. A regular blood donor, Dave organised the school's Red Cross blood drive. He became involved with Jewish youth groups and visited Israel on a Taglit-Birthright Israel Academy program after his final exams. This proved to be a life-changing experience, which inspired him towards community service.

He studied at the University of Sydney, where he had just graduated in Arts (majoring in History, Politics and International Studies) and was completing his Law degree. Passionate about the need to understand the political system and participate in the democratic process, he became a convener for the Young Labor movement and played leading roles in the 2006 Queensland state election and the 2007 federal election.

Dave had been elected to the University of Sydney Students Representative Council (on which he later served as an Executive member). He was recently elected to the University of Sydney Union board as an Independent member on a campaign slogan of "Dynamite Dave – hitting the Union with a bang". He worked to revitalise the Clubs and Societies program and to expand access to campus services.

A committed Jew and Zionist, Dave worked for the State Zionist Council of NSW and continually sought to present Israel's case and to promote a greater understanding of Israel's position. Dave was elected NSW President and then National Vice President of AUJS. Dave was selected to participate in the AUJS Leadership Development Program, which took him to the USA, Greece and Israel.

In 2005, Dave became the first Australian—and the youngest person so far—to receive a Charlie Award from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, an American group supporting programs that spread the joy of Jewish living. These annual awards are for young Taglit-Birthright Israel Alumni around the world that demonstrate outstanding initiative and leadership qualities, and it acknowledges their involvement in, and contributions to, their local Jewish communities.

Dave was an exceptional leader with enormous potential. A visionary with limitless personal energy, he had already developed the framework for an integrated leadership development program, designed to identify, train, succour and support our future community leaders. Based on documents found posthumously on his computer, it has been possible to reconstruct these detailed plans.

The JCA Dave Burnett Leadership Fund is intended to see these plans come to fruition so that our community will not lose the extraordinary contributions that Dave had already made, and the even greater contribution he was about to make.

 The JCA Dave Burnett Leadership Fund is a not-for-profit fund, generously supported by the Jewish Communal Appeal of NSW. Its goals are:

  • To develop and provide training programs for student and youth leaders, equipping them with knowledge and skills for community service, advocacy, understanding of, engagement with and participation in the broader political system
  • To establish a national and international network of community mentors, already successful in their chosen areas of business, politics and professions, to advise and support promising youth leaders through a range of lectures, work experience programs and internships

The Fund is administered by an independent board and guided by a charter embodying the above goals. Funds are professionally invested and managed, with all donations forming the capital base of the Fund and with only the interest earned is allocated to projects and activities. In this way, your donations will continue in perpetuity to support the ongoing work of the Fund.

For more information, email [email protected].