What is it about the Australian Jewish community, Australian Jewish “faith” schools and Israel? Jewish schools in Australia display a deeply embedded attachment to Israel, uncritically placing devotion to the nation in their curricula. 

Israel is another country, with its own raison d’être, decidedly blood-soaked. The young Israel had been created out of settler colonialism and terrorism in a country with a majority Indigenous non-Jewish population. Australian Jewish families are Australian with a long history. A significant number of Australian Jewish families are descendants of refugees and survivors of a Hitler-overrun Europe, the Holocaust and a devastated European terrain post-War.

Some Australian Jewish individuals or families have subsequently migrated to Israel. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (undated) has estimated that 10-12,000 Australians live in Israel (this figure would pre-date October 2023). The Australian Jewish population, depending on classification, is estimated at at least 100,000.

The numbers have been enhanced by the migration of Jewish families from South Africa and the Soviet Union/Russia. These families have consciously decided that residency in Australia is preferable to residency in the supposed Jewish “homeland”. There are an estimated 11,000 Israeli-born people (mostly Jewish) residing in Australia.

In short, for over 100,000 Australian Jews, Australia is the promised land.

However, Australian Jewish schools in general put Israel, uncritically and devotionally, on the curriculum and into school culture.

This excerpt from theCore Values (unchanged for some time) of Sydney’s Moriah College:

‘Moriah… maintains and promotes among its students an awareness of and a feeling for Jewish traditions and ethics, an understanding of and a positive commitment to Orthodox Judaism and identification with and love for Israel.’

Under Experiential Jewish Life and Learning, we read:

By instilling knowledge of our Jewish traditions, Torah, mitzvot, history, ethics, family values, Hebrew and a love for Israel, our students are encouraged to strengthen their intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social links with their Jewish heritage, emerging with a stronger sense of identity as Jewish Australians.

Moriah College students enjoy residential camps, Shabbatonim and Israel Study Tours in an informal, fun atmosphere.

The Moriah College Foundation facilitates financing of Israel study tours.

Moriah’s love for Israel went into overdrive on 23 February 2017 when it welcomed the sitting Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, where his reception was that of a combination of rock star and pied piper (according to the coverage by JWire, SBS and IsraeliPM). How this show business affair enhanced the highly emotional primary school students’ sense of identity as Jewish Australians is not obvious.

Let’s hear it from Mount Scopus Memorial College:

‘…a dream of establishing a school where all Jewish children, regardless of means, could attend to learn of their heritage, be proud Jews and be dedicated supporters of Israel whilst understanding their role in Australian society.’

Under Life and Learning we read:

Mount Scopus introduced the Year 10 Israel program to Melbourne in 1982, with 20 students joining the first group. Fast forward 40 years and virtually all Year 10 students now travel to Israel on either the five-week or the nine-week program, the latter of which includes a study program over four weeks in a local Israeli high school prior to being joined in Israel by the rest of the group. 

The five-week program combines touring throughout Israel with opportunities to hear from key speakers from all walks of Israeli society; political, religious, cultural as well as volunteer for a range of unique and memorable experiences.

To ensure that no student misses this valuable program due to financial need, we are fortunate to have subsidies provided by generous benefactors who understand the value of this program in consolidating Jewish identity. Our graduating students cite this as the single most influential experience in their time at Scopus and in the development of their Jewish identity and connection with Israel.

The Scopus Foundation finances pro-Israel events.

At Melbourne’s Bialik College:

‘We recognise the centrality of Israel and Hebrew to the Jewish people.’

Under Jewish Life we read:

Israel immersion experience — Chavayah

Each year, Bialik ensures that its entire Year 10 cohort, regardless of financial background, can travel to Israel for a six-week immersion experience in Israeli society.

Students get to experience the daily lives of normal Israelis whilst appreciating their historical and biblical connections to Israel.

This is a life-changing experience that ties together so much of our educational programming. Students see Judaism, Zionism and modern life in action, engagement and vitality as can be found nowhere else. They delve into all of Israel’s complexities, vitality and beauty with hands and hearts open, coming back to Melbourne changed forever for the better.

Bialik offers myriad Ways to support Israel through donations during the current unexplained upheaval.

At Melbourne’s Leibler Yavneh College:

‘The Yavneh Difference Built on strong Jewish values, Leibler Yavneh College seeks to educate with the purpose of creating Torah and Israel-committed youth.’

Under Jewish Life we read:

Our dedicated Tzevet (a team of young Shlichim from Israel) brings a strong Israeli flavour to our school and are involved in our Jewish Studies program, Chagim celebrations, Jewish Life initiatives and Hebrew programs.

Each year, our Tzevet works tirelessly to create an authentic Yom Ha’Zikaron experience through the eyes of Israeli soldiers who have lost friends, family and community members in the various tragedies that Israel has faced. [See below.]

At Melbourne’s King David School:

Yisrael Sheli — Yesh: My Israel

Yesh is King David’s peak Israel program that allows our students to transform Israel from being a place they learn about to a place that they directly experience. Students spend four weeks travelling through Israel, understanding Israel through the lenses of People, Land and State. Students explore Israel’s history, society, political system and natural environment, including meaningful mifgash (meetings) with Israeli teens. Students deepen their sense of Jewish and Israel identification, while developing the personal, social and emotional skills that come with living in a group setting away from home.

From camping in the Negev to visiting the Kotel, from snorkelling in Eilat to touring the Golan, students touch, hear, taste, smell and see Israel from north to south.

The King David School created the Yesh Trip to Israel for Year 10 students in 2005. Since that time almost 1,000 students have benefitted and participated in this transformative Israel experience. Developing an attachment to Israel and Judaism at a formative period in a young person’s life has a significant impact on strengthening their sense of Jewish identity.

At Sydney’s Mount Sinai College:

The College calendar reflects the centrality of Jewish festivals and Israel in its Informal Jewish Educational Programs.

Informal or Experiential Jewish Learning is a significant feature of the curriculum and is facilitated by both teaching staff and Informal Educators (Shlichot) from Israel.

We believe that the centrality of the Hebrew language to Jewish Learning should never be underestimated. It links both to our past and sacred texts as well as the Modern State of Israel.

Graduates emerge as self-directed, life-long learners with a strong Jewish identity and a commitment to the State of Israel.

Sydney’s Masada College has no reference to Israel in its mission statements.

However, Masada did unfurl the blue and white on 19 October 2023 with:

#standwithisrael

In a beautiful display of unity, the Masada College community came together to express unwavering support for the state of Israel.

The school also rallied in support of Hamas-held Israeli hostages:

‘On Thursday 28 March [2024], vibrant splashes of yellow could be seen throughout the entire College, symbolising Masada’s united support for Israel and the hostages.’

Sydney’s Emanuel School also takes a formally low-key approach to Israel.

However, Emanuel emphasises celebrations on the Jewish calendar, amongst which:

‘On Yom Ha’Atzmaut, we celebrate the miraculous history of the Jewish State, while looking at present-day Israel, its challenges and promise…’

Melbourne’s Sholem Aleichem College was founded in large part by Jewish Labour Bundists.

The Bundtists’ Wikipedia entry notes:

‘…the SKIF [the Bund’s youth organisation] and Bund act as an “important antidote” to the “overwhelming strength” of Zionism within the Australian Jewish community, and that the Bund’s ideology of Doikayt or “Hereness” has been important in preserving both Yiddish culture and a Jewishness that is rooted in living in Australia; as opposed to focusing around Israel.’

In spite of that divergent trajectory (and in spite of attempts to suppress Yiddish in Jewish Mandatory Palestine and subsequently in Israel), we read on Sholem Aleichem’s website:

‘Our purpose is to cultivate in our students a passionate Jewish identity, and a sense of belonging to the worldwide Jewish and Australian community with strong ties to the State of Israel.’

Michael Brull spent 13 years at Moriah College, and he outlined in 2013 his experience as a fish out of water. The Jewish school system’s attachment to Israel appears deeply embedded. In particular, camps, both in Australia and Israel, involve soldier training simulations that feed, whether directly through recruitment or in sympathy, into Israel’s militarised society and killing machine.

An unqualified attachment by the Jewish school system to a pariah state sits uneasily with the system’s other “core values” that emphasise critical thinking and Jewish ethics.

Is this school system the nursery for the Israel lobby in Australia?

Courtesy Independent Australia dated 13 June 20924.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
Original article: https://independentaustralia.net/life/life-display/the-elephant-in-the-zionist-classroom,18680