Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

The Encounter of Shlichim with the Australian Jewish Community

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

The Encounter of Shlichim with the Australian Jewish Community

Article excerpt


Shlichim from Israel who go to a Diaspora Jewish community share, in most cases, very little, from a cultural perspective, with the local Jewish community. While Shlichim come from a distinctly Israeli background, the local Jewish community's cultural context was crystallized within that of the particular country's general society.

In a recent study, Dashevsky and Ta'ir (2009) point out the gaps between Shlichim and the locals. They provide an insight into the relationships between Teacher Shlichim and local teachers in Jewish schools in Russia, and show how the different cultures from which both sides come affect their encounter. While the locals might present a friendly approach towards the Shlichim on a personal level and accept their superior knowledge with regard to Israel and Judaism, nevertheless, they do not accept their professional approach, which "strengthens the shelihim's [sic] feeling of foreignness" (Dashevsky and Ta'ir 2009:168). They found that: "The shelihim also suffer from an unnatural situation in that they represent an external body that lacks sufficient familiarity with the context within which the schools exist and the local culture." They conclude that:

The opinions and positions of the shelihim and their local counterparts may change over time, as may the quality of the relations between them. An in-depth study conducted over a longer period could track any such changes in the attitudes and identities of the teachers and compose a fuller and more complex picture (Dashevsky and Ta'ir 2009:169).

The encounter with the local community is a new reality for the Shlichim, as they come with their own assumptions as Shlichim and as Jews who live in Israel. As a result, they have to adapt themselves to a new reality and learn how to overcome the gap between their position as Shlichim from Israel and the new and unfamiliar context in which they need to operate.

Very little research has been done in the area of Shlichim, and, for the most part, it has been carried out among Shlichim to North America (Gar 2005; Neriya 2003; Kalman 1992; Stern 1993; Pomson and Gillis, 2010). Little attention was given to their experiences in encountering the Jewish Diaspora community. With regard to Australia, despite the highly Zionist approach of the community, no research has been carried out on Shlichim to Australia. In particular, there has not been any simultaneous research on the different types of educational Shlichim in Australia, where there is actually a concentration of several groups of Shlichim. These include Teacher Shlichim, Senior Youth Movement Shlichim, Youth Movement Shlichim, and Young Shlichim [informal instructors] who come for one year or longer. (1)

This paper, based on research conducted between 2006 and 2009, will focus on the encounter of the Shaliach from Israel with the Australian Jewish community, the different Jewish reality they meet in that encounter, the subsequent inherent tensions, and some conclusions about the general framework of Shlichut.

For this purpose, I will first outline the unique characteristics of the Jewish community in Australia, including its education system, then describe the formation of the Shlichut institute from Israel, and finally concentrate on what Shlichim came to realise in their encounter with the current reality of the Australian Jewish community, through the prism of the different types of educational Shlichim.

Characteristics of the Australian Jewish Diaspora

Mendes notes that "Jews increasingly came to see support for Zionism and Israel as a fundamental component of their Jewish identity," especially in English-speaking countries, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA (Mendes 2007:105). Although when speaking about the Jewish Diaspora, there seems to be a uniformity among the different diasporas, there are particular features that characterise each of these communities. …

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