Dear Moriah Family,
I would like to take this opportunity as we approach Rosh Hashanah and term break, to reflect on my first term since returning home to Moriah. What a term it has been!
It ended on a crescendo with Year K 2020 orientation activities for Rosh Hashanah, a Hamusika’im concert, a moving tribute to our Year 12 graduates at their Siddur and Graduation ceremonies, HSC OnShow events, mock trials, the inaugural JDS (Jewish Day School) Rugby Cup, a huge win for our netball team, the Year 11 Great Barrier Reef Geography excursion, Counterpoint, Open Days, our Project Heritage of living historians the Mikolot national Grand Final plus much more. Moriah is a truly an exciting place, bursting with life and activity.
It was extraordinary to be present last week as the Mikolot public speaking grand finalists from across the Australian Jewish Day Schools dazzled the audience by tackling some of the greatest challenges facing Australian Jewry today. Each of them interviewed an Australian Jewish leader and identified a critical problem, and proposed a solution to the greatest challenges facing our communities.
The topics and issues they grappled with ranged from the challenge of a strong Jewish identity in a post-modern world, to the virus of anti-semitism, to that of the vanishing generation of Jews and the need to be ‘positively Jewish’ to engage the young people of today.
Whilst I was reflecting on the brilliant and erudite rendition of the greatest solutions for our community, presented by the budding next generation of Jewish leadership, I could not help but reflect on the background of the children that filled the auditorium, those from Victoria, WA and NSW. Our children today face a unique generational challenge, a challenge to which I would like to propose a simple solution.
The majority of our children and families fall into the following four background categories, and in fact I would propose that the vast majority come from the first two.
The first group is made up of the descendants of the post-Holocaust survivor immigrants who originally made a new life on the shores of Australia. Now their grandchildren and great grandchildren fill our corridors with song, pride, learning and joy. No longer do we hear the cute Yiddish-tinged Aussie accents of the Jews of the Old World making a new life in Australia.
The second category is made up of children of those who arrived from the shores of South Africa throughout the different waves of migration to Australia. Many of our children today are second, third and some even fourth generation South African immigrants. Those that came from South Africa, came to seek a better and safer life, and they brought with them a powerful sense of commitment to Jewish tradition. A tradition that gives birth to a strength in Shabbat dinner together on a Friday night and a powerful sense of community and Jewish identity. Perhaps it’s because the South African Jewish community had no choice but to strengthen itself as it was surrounded by a sea of chaos. The next generations born not in South Africa but in Australia, are more Australian and less South African, although the influence of tradition is strong.
The third category is made up of the authentic Aussies from way back when. Some third, fourth or even fifth generation (my own children are fifth generation Australians). Although I believe they are the minority, nevertheless they are also facing the modern young Jewish person’s challenge as our generation shifts.
The fourth category is the small stream of families who come from elsewhere, who have immigrated to Australia from Israel, England and other places.
Our students, young Jewish Australians, are embedded in the Australian ‘careerist culture’, which is in fact perhaps even necessary to be able to afford a Jewish Day School in the future. Our young Jewish Australians, who are very much part of the Modern World and culture, yet we ask them to emphasise their Judaism and Jewish identity, in a world where being Jewish is often ‘unhip’ and seen as ‘traditional’ or even ‘counterculture’. In other words, our children sometimes face a real life struggle distinguishing the fine line between healthy acculturation, and assimilation. Sometimes the difference is confusing for this generation of students. How can they be part of a New World whilst remaining proud, literate and confidently connected to the Old World.
May I humbly suggest a solution to this conundrum? I would like to call the solution the ‘Israel Paradigm’. Not necessarily just making Aliyah – although that is a massive advantage in addressing the challenge, unfortunately it doesn’t solve the challenge for all of us who remain here in the Diaspora. But rather the ‘Israel Paradigm’ is about using the modern State of Israel as a model and inspiration for the solution to the young people’s challenge.
Anecdotally, I was speaking to a teacher in our school who was privileged to go on the JNF educator’s tour a couple of summers ago. She told me, after having taught in a Jewish school for a few years, she learned so much about Israel, heard about Israel throughout the assemblies and special events and was ecstatic about the privilege to visit Israel. However, there was nothing that could actually prepare her for her Israel encounter. She found Israel to be ‘mind blowing’. “What a different world it is,” she said. Every step of the land is full of history, culture and meaning. Every stone tells a story from Abraham to the Maccabis from the Baitusim to the Chassidim, to the political greats of Ben Gurion, Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu/Gantz.
As an aside, even if we cannot decide on a Prime Minister so many days after the Israeli election, it could be seen as a tremendous flaw in Israeli society today, or it could be interpreted as a symptom of one of the greatest democracies on our planet.
Israel is definitely full of history, heritage, culture and Old World wisdom. Yet Israel is also a high-tech start-up nation, not only being a part of the modern world but leading it. Israel is an ancient authentic world, with an extraordinary explosion of innovation, technology and thought.
This is the ‘Israel Paradigm’.
The ‘Israel Paradigm’ is a perfect synthesis of old and new, and using the ‘Israel Paradigm’, we can help our youth solve their generational dilemma of today. The modern State of Israel proves that not only can we be part of the modern world whilst retaining our heritage, but we can lead it. To do so, we must celebrate and be proud of what sets us apart. Celebrate the golden chain of our age old heritage. Celebrate our story, our history, our beliefs and our practices. Celebrate our connection to our Modern/Ancient Land.
I urge all the young people of today, in our schools, and throughout the Diaspora, to simply call yourselves young ‘Modern Zionists’. Contemplate the ‘Israel Paradigm’ deeply and you will clearly see what it really means to synthesise age old tradition in a high-tech modern world.
Wishing each of you hatzlacha, as you traverse the challenges of today with your parents, educators and peers at your side.
Wishing each and every one of your families Ketiva V’Chatima Tova, Shana Tova U’metukah – may you be inscribed and sealed for a year of sweetness and abundant blessings.
About the Author
Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler is the College Principal at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.