The Diaspora Divide
By Keren Tuch
The Sydney Jewish community has just farewelled the great Jewish educator, Steve Israel. Steve, who is well known to any youth movement madrich (leader) who participated on Machon (a 4 month program designed to teach and train future youth movement leaders in Jerusalem), graced us with his presence for the month of November. He was brought over from Israel by Encounters@Shalom, the education department of The Shalom Institute, to run courses and participate in Limmud-Oz Fest. A fellow machonik told me that she had an “intellectual crush” on this man for his vast knowledge and soothing story telling voice.
At his last appearance in Sydney, he addressed an audience full of ex-machoniks across the ages. He talked about why he made aliyah (moved to Israel) 35 years ago (and it was not so his last name would match his country of residence.) Steve had grown up in the UK, and decided that there was a cultural dearth in the Jewish community. It was dull, boring and the only way to express one’s Judaism was to attend a shule service. Steve made aliyah because he believed that Israel was where Jewish history was taking place, and he wanted to be a part of the action.
Although Steve still lives in Israel, he has since retracted the idea that Jewish life can only happen in Israel, and does not believe everyone should pack up and make aliyah. He sung praises for the Sydney Jewish community and the different avenues for engagement here.
There’s Shir Madness, which premiered in Sydney this year showcasing our great Jewish music talent. There’s Jewish Aid projects, where Jews and Sudanese are forging great relationships. And then there’s Limmud-Oz and the first ever Limmud-Oz Fest which occurred last weekend. Limmud-Oz Fest was a weekend retreat in the Central Coast of NSW which attracted 150 people across all ages and offered an array of learning opportunities from ‘Angels in Kabbalah’, to the ‘Ashkenazi/Sephardi divide’ to Israeli dancing. It is one of the few events that unites the community instead of dividing. Judging by the euphoric atmosphere when Monsieur Camembert was belting out Klezmer tunes and by the Facebook status updates of attendees, it was a resounding success. Perhaps I am mincing his words, but if Steve had grown up in Sydney today, I wonder if he would have felt so compelled to leave.
Although the Sydney Jewish community is flourishing (and I imagine he would say the same thing about Melbourne too), there are important questions about other Diaspora communities. At what stage does one ‘give up’ on a community or decide to strengthen it? For example, the Macedonian community consists of about 100 ageing Jews. Investing time and resources in rejuvenating this community is a lost cause. But then there’s the Indian community of approximately 5000 Jews? Do you encourage them to make aliyah to lead a Jewish life, or do you strengthen their community? And what about the Turkish Community of 17,000? It’s still quite a sizeable community that has the potential to continue for generations
Though Sydney lacks the vibrancy (and population) of NY, there is little reason to lament a lack of opportunities either. It is tenable to lead an enriching Jewish life here, and we don’t need to discuss an evacuation procedure to resuscitate our Jewish community.