Madrichim at work

September 20, 2016 by Hayley Hadassin
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The Zionist Federation of Australia spent an afternoon at Sydney’s Emanuel School  observing the year 11 students at their mifgash (session) with their team of five Israeli Madrichim.

These phenomenal young educators with five very different personal stories ran the sessions. The students all participated, grappled, laughed and challenged.

Ari, Sophie and Yael

Ari, Sophie and Yael

Year 11 student, Yael Grunseit has been at Emanuel School throughout high school and has participated and looked forward to Zionist Seminars yearly. She said: – “Zionism for me is not just the support of Israel but it is also about being able to criticise it in a way that you feel you’re going to make it better; it is about being an active Zionist – It’s understanding Israel and trying to make it better. So, being educated on issues is a really integral part of Zionism especially for us living in the Diaspora, otherwise we wouldn’t really understand how we can support Israel and how we can express our Zionism.”

Expression was a key element in the lessons. In one session, students were asked to choose which of the following statements resonated with them:-

I think that Judaism mistreats/disregards women

Speaking Hebrew is important to me as a Jew

Being involved in a Jewish youth movement is Zionism

Assimilation is a threat to the Jewish world. We must marry Jews.

As a Jew you must support Israel

Fasting on Yom Kippur is crucial

Being a Jew and practising Judaism are two different things

Anyone who feels Jewish should be considered a Jew

Tikkun Olam is the most important Jewish value.



There were no right or wrong answers. It was a safe and open forum for discussion and the topics presented the stimulus for interesting, impassioned discussions.

Aarin Regan-Lacey believes Zionist seminars are: – “A very relevant thing for me, it’s the opportunity to discuss things that are going on in Israel and the ability to hug and wrestle with it and be able to look at the good things and the bad things and balance them and then make a conscious decision about what Israel is doing well and what it is doing poorly.”

Zionist education creates a reciprocal connection for Australian students to Israel, it becomes a mutual relationship. Shlicha Marylee Kleiman, one of the Israeli madrichim at Emanuel, has worked as a counsellor in American Summer camps and as a madricha to Australian teens on their gap year in Israel. She said: – “I wanted to come to Australia. I didn’t realise how Zionistic they (Australians) were and I wanted to know where they came from and what their education was back home.”

The seminars provide an opportunity for informal learning and education that informs the students as well as the Israelis. The shlichim take back to their community in Israel a new-found understanding of the Diaspora. Marylee says: – “Secular Jews in Israel know less about being Jewish because they can afford to. Secular Jews in Australia cannot afford not to know.

Not everyone has grown up attending Zionist Seminars. Sophie Lew, who recently moved from Rose Bay Secondary School said: – “This is my first mifgash having Israeli Madrichim. In the media, you see Israel from the perspective of someone who is displaced or someone who is in the Diaspora. But to have young people from Israel, who are similar to us, and to see their way of life, it becomes real. I feel if you’re not in the country you are connected much more to it through these seminars, rather than a media portrayal of Israel.”

The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) has brought out Israeli Madrichim to our Jewish schools across Australia for over 30 years to discuss these very questions. In 2016, 33 shlichim came to Australia to work with seven Jewish Day schools across Melbourne, Sydney and Perth as well as with students attending non-Jewish schools through Academy BJE. The shlichim are selected with the outlook and requirements of their host communities in mind and come to the programs with specific training and world-class resources.

ZFA and JAFI have worked for many years with the support and cooperation of the Jewish day schools to provide this very real connection and interaction between Israel and Australia. The consistent belief in informal education and its ability to affect the hearts and minds of youth in a real and meaningful way has reverberated across the decades.

The students felt this connection together with responsibility. Aarin Regan-Lacey said: – “I think it’s really important that our school supports Zionist seminars, especially like this. What’s good about these seminars is that these Israelis come, they have experienced it, it’s not perfect and it needs to improve but we also have to support it, because without our support it won’t improve.”

Yael Grunseit: – “The way the Israeli Madrichim teach us in an informal way and come onto our level, and include us in discussions, is very different to anything we could learn in a classroom about Israel. So I think it’s really important. All students would feel more connected to Israel today than if they learnt about the history of Israel in a classroom. It’s easier to get involved with these sort of activities.”

The male and female shlichim represent Israel’s fabric of society and provide a tangible connection to Israel. Nofar Privman, an Israeli madricha (22) said it is important to know Israel and establish a love for the country, because: – “When you love something, you also know how to criticise it.”

This sentiment is echoed by Informal Jewish Educator at Emanuel School, Kobi Bloom, who said: – “It’s huge for our kids to put a face to Israel and make a connection with somebody who can be a real Dugma (a personal example/leader for them,) someone who is fun, energetic but also intellectual and can connect with them on an emotional level. It helps our kids fall in love with Israel.”

ZFA Executive Director, Ginette Searle said: “The Zionist Seminar program started in Australia in the early 1980s. The camps and activities are eagerly anticipated by students from across the day school system and beyond, with a team working directly with Academy BJE in Sydney.

The “near peer” leadership of the young shlichim provides Australian students with intensive, authentic approaches to the issues young people want to discuss. The connections developed between the shlichim and the students often endure for years afterwards.

Over 30 years, thousands of students have participated in Zionist Seminars and its continued inclusion within the school curriculum demonstrates its value. The program has a profound impact on the students’ Jewish and Zionist identity and the ZFA is proud to bring Zionist Seminars into our community, students and schools.”


Zionist Seminars are an integral program of the Zionist Federation of Australia and JAFI in Australia. For more information on this or any other of our programs please contact us on (03) 9272 5644.

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