Kangarusski – Jewish learning opportunities

November 6, 2018

Kira Kless, Australia

Of the approximately 120,000 Jews living in Australia, nearly 30,000 are themselves or are children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Of this number, some 20,000 moved to Australia from the countries of the former Soviet Union after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Emmanuel Gruzman, PhD candidate at Melbourne’s Monash University, who is researching the Jewish identity of Russian-speaking Jews in Australia, suggests that the proportion of Jews from the FSU who have a partner or spouse who is non-Jewish is lower (18% among secular and traditional) than among Israelis living in Melbourne (23%). This number is substantially lower than the rate of intermarriages in the USA – 58%between 2000-2013, according to the PEW study of 2013.

Particularly the young Russian-JewishAussies are anxious to learn about their Jewish heritage, connect to theirJewish identity, and engage with Jewish life; they are seeking knowledge and experiences based on Jewish values, traditions, and identity. Russian-speakingJews have special needs across the countries of the Diaspora where they have settled: few are involved with or attracted to mainstream community organizations, and mainstream literacy programs are not adapted to their unique needs and special history. The Zionist Federation of Australia and Limmud FSU are playing major roles in providing opportunities for Russian-speaking Jews to engage inJewish learning. 

Most recently, on 14 October 2018 more than 250 people of Russian Jewish background attended the biggest community event, Limmud FSU Australia, a Jewish festival of learning.  Limmud (“learning” inHebrew) was a one-day conference, a communal event which took place at the University of New South Wales  and included more than 70 seminars, lectures, presentations and workshops, given by an array of international and local speakers, as well as a full-day dynamic program for children.

This was a wonderful example that SydneyJewish education comes in many shapes and many shades. It has become accessible not only through formal, conservative settings of a Jewish school or synagogue, but also in the context of a less structured, fun environment.  Today, kids and adults have incredible opportunities to learn online, at festivals, at communal gatherings. We learn from each other, and the key Jewish event this year, Limmud FSU Australia, demonstrated just that – everyone is a student and anyone can be a teacher.

Love of learning is probably the greatest asset we can gift to our children. Learning together with our children is the biggest investment we can make in our relationship with them.  Limmud FSU presented exactly that – a unique opportunity to learn from each other, to spend meaningful time with family, to model good behaviour to our children.

The unwritten theme of the day was that education is the single, most powerful tool with which you can change yourself, with which you can change the world. This was the message of every speaker, from a courageous Lithuanian Holocaust writer Ruta Vanagaite to an Israeli innovator Eli Itin.

Limmud FSU kids were inspired by Mark Chagall, with artist Irina Iris, who immersed her students in a wonderful world of watercolour daydreaming. Kids learned about Israel from Habonim Youth Leaders. Together, they kneaded challah dough to the wonderful, soothing songs of Laya Slavin of Our Big Kitchen. Of course, no kids program can ever be complete without some serious bubble and slime action – and there was plenty of that at Limmud!

Importantly, Limmud FSU kids had an opportunity to be part of a Russian speaking Jewish community. Learning about others teaches our children empathy, belonging helps us understand ourselves. A group of young Limmudniks even produced a movie, which was screened at the opening of the festival. A fun, endearing musical about Jewish kids in search of bravery and kindness, who conquer their fears and learn that Limmud will help them uncover qualities they already have.  

Some six months ago these same young actors performed a Jewish Purimspiel for an audience of 200+ guests. On and off stage our young actors embrace their heritage, the quirky Jewish humour and the beautiful Russian language.  Through these experiences they understand what is valuable to us, their parents, and we, parents, feel better connected to our kids.  

Kangarusski (Russian speaking Jewish community department of the Zionist Federation of Australia) events present a wonderful, fun way to further Jewish education. The highlights of the Kangarusski year are holiday camps for kids, where kids are immersed in fun, stimulating environment. Kids meet new friends and strengthen existing friendships. Kangarusski camps are always filled with interesting stories about our Jewish past, as well as inspirational talks about our Jewish future. Kids celebrate Shabbat and play games of their parents’ childhood.  Kangarusski events build that ever important bridge between different generations of Russian speaking Jews.

So, no matter whether you are a strict observer or whether you are only getting in touch with your Jewish self, allow your kids to be part of that learning, embark on your Jewish journey with them.  As the song goes, “I will still tell you one thing – we’re better together”.

Kira Kless is Young Limmud FSU Australia Program Director and a Kangarusski volunteer

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