Rabbi Shua Smukler talks about Aliyah

April 13, 2022 by  
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Ha’Aliyah and the new Olim to Israel was celebrated in Israel…a time to talk with Sydney’s Rabbi Shua Smukler as he and his family prepare for Aliyah…writes Michael Manhaim.

Rabbi Shua Smukler with his family

While for many of us, travelling back to Israel and reuniting with friends and family is only a recent thing, the Jewish Agency Aliyah reports shows the numbers of Olim Chadashim from Australia has increased significantly compared to previous years. The Jewish agency supports the Aliyah process of Olim, from the application stages to Aliyah approval, easing their absorption into Israel.

More than 10% of Olim were young adults (18-24 year old’s) who chose to make Israel their home at this stage of life and to enlist and become Israeli lone soldiers. This inspiring group of young olim , settled into different communities in Israel whilst being absorbed into Israeli society and culture, with the support of Tzofim Garin Tzabar.

In celebration of Yom Ha’Aliyah, I sat down with one of the most fascinating soon-to-be Olim Chadashim- Rabbi Shua and Laya Smukler, their daughter Chana, a combat lone soldier and their children.

Almost two years after Chana made Aliyah with Garin Tzabar to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, the rest of the family decided to make Aliyah, and join Chana and her older brother, who made Aliyah in 2019, and served as a lone soldier himself, and is still currently serving in the IDF.

Rabbi Shua is the principal of Moriah College in Sydney and has served as an educational leader in the Australian Jewish community for over 20 years.

Although their decision to make Aliyah caught everyone by surprise, the Aliyah statistics show that between 30%-40% of families follow their children and make Israel their home, and for the Smuklers, this was the culmination of a life-long dream.

The Smukler family always knew they would end up in Israel. “My father was a Merakez of Bnei Akiva and he infused the love of Israel in us from childhood” shares Laya. “My first visit to Israel was when we got married and Shua went to study in Bar Ilan”. Thst time in Israel was when they first knew they would come back one day.

What happened next?

Laya: ‘10 years later, Shua took a Shnat Shabbaton Sabbatical Year of Study. We  moved to Jerusalem with our 3 children. They went to school and learned Hebrew. We loved it! We made lots of Israeli friends and knew we needed to come back one day. At the time we also adopted a lone soldier, and he became part of our family.’

A trip to Israel became an annual event with a Zionist injection once a year ever since. Each time we visited, we left more and more of our hearts behind.

In 2019, Yaacov made Aliyah and went to study in Yeshivat Hesder in Tekoa. He enlisted in a full service as a combat soldier. Not long after, Chana decided to make Aliyah herself and join the Garin Tzabar program.

Where did that idea come from? Make Aliyah, live on a religious Kibbutz and enlist in the IDF?

Chana: ‘I went to study in Israel for six months in year 10 in Ma ’ale Adumim. Since returning home, I knew I would one day make Aliyah. Becoming a part of Tzahal was a dream of mine since I was a little girl. The program offered me a home and a support system to ease my journey in Israel.’

Laya: ‘For Chana, a religious girl who wanted to make Aliyah, Garin Tzabar was the best support system we could ask for. She found a new family, and despite her service being tough, she loves her life there. Without the support of Garin Tzabar, who contributed to her Aliyah success, she wouldn’t have been able to do it. The program took care of her from the minute she decided to make Aliyah and through her service, all along the way.They are a second family.’

Chana Smukler…a lone soldier but n ot for long

What exactly are you doing? Isn’t it challenging for a religious girl?

Chana: ‘I serve as a combat soldier in Bardelas, a Border-Combat Brigade. I wanted to do a meaningful service and the Border Brigades were the most suitable. I currently serve near the Jordanian border, I give back and I feel like I’m taking care of my home. To be a religious girl in the IDF is not as challenging as I expected. Everyone is respectful and works together. It’s a lot of fun.’

Did you ever imagine you would follow your children in pursuing your dreams?

Shua: “And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children’ (Malachi 3:24). Our children are an integral part of the decision to make Aliyah as a family and be together.

We saw that life in Israel for our two kids is great, this is what we want for our future generations and our family, so what are we waiting for?! That’s a COVID lesson.’

How did the community react when they heard that you are leaving Sydney for Israel?

Shua: ‘It’s been mixed emotions. They are happy for us on a personal level, that we are leaving to fulfill a lifelong ambition and that we will be together as a family, ,however, they are concerned, about the void we will leave in the community. It is very challenging to find communal leadership to lead  significant institutions in Australia. It weighs on me heavily. The community are very appreciative that we are making sacrifices as a family, and after Laya and the kids head off to Israel I will remain in Sydney until the end of 2023, and commute to visit my family in order to strengthen the school and help the school  transition to a new leader. This is very important to me.’

As a leader who still shares a responsibility for the community he is leaving behind, do you think we need to be concerned about the Zionist affiliation among the younger generation?

Shua: ‘I think we went through a dip in the positive connection to Israel amongst our youth starting 15-18 years ago until 5 or so years ago. Young people developed a negative perceptions toward Israel. In Australia, over the past 4-5 years we have bounced back in positive sentiment towards Israel. I think that many recent events have done our community a favour by strengthening the Jewish identity among many segments of the community. Now, by in large, the youth in our school stand up for and defend Israel and they see it in a more positive light.

. More young people want to go on a gap year or Israel study tours. They crave an Israel experience and connection. Covid made it difficult, yet we have capitalised as a community of the challenge and   Aliyah is at a high.

I believe that post Covid we will find that the relationship with Israel will be stronger than ever.’

 What does support for Israel and Zionism mean to you?

Shua: ‘Aside from support for Israel from the Diaspora, you need to experience Israel, to walk, breathe and be in Israel to experience  Zionism.

Israel needs a strong Diaspora, but that is only part of the story.’

Are you setting an example for others of what is the new Zionism by making Aliyah post covid?

Shua: I Bumped into a highly intelligent woman in the supermarket who told me “I am devastated you are leaving but thank you and Mazal Tov! Thank you for setting such a clear and real example for us and our children.” Yet, she is devastated for the community. She realises we are fulfilling an important life ambition and uniting our family..

We are not trail-blazers many people came before us and they inspired us. But we are grateful to be able to set an example for the community.’

Making Aliyah is very exciting, but in the end, it’s an immigration process, moving to a new country and making a new home is challenging.

Laya: ‘I am nervous about the little things and the big things. Just going to the bank in Israel with all the bureaucracy is challenging, navigating the girls’ new school is foreign, the culture is so different. We want our kids to have friends. We know life there will not be easy. But a good friend of mine said: “who said easy is good?”. It’s not about easy or better- this is the life we want. We will embrace the challenges because we are living our dream all together.’ Chana: ‘I hope it will be easy for them to learn Hebrew and become Israelis. Israel is very different from Australia.’

And may I ask, what are you most looking forward to, and what will you do first?

Chana: ‘I can’t wait to show them my home on the Kibbutz, to introduce them to my friends in the Garin, to take them on hikes and visit places they never usually go.’

Laya: ‘We will go to the Kotel right after seeing the kids at the airport. I am looking forward to having Shabbat with all our children together; to walk to shul together on a Friday night. To know that I can pick up Chana when she returns from her base. The little things mean a lot.’

Any Tips for new Olim or those who are considering making Aliyah?

Chana: ‘Speak with other Olim. Ask specific questions, especially about the nature of army service, if that is what you are looking. Don’t be shy to get support.’

Shua: ‘I have two philosophies that I wish to share with you and the community:

The first philosophy is in a general context. Over the years Israel needed a strong Diaspora, but now more than ever the Diaspora needs a strong Israel. Not just in case anything go wrong and we need a place to go, but because Israel has gone from being a ‘charity case’ to being a world leader of Democracy, freedom, technological development, quality of life, innovation, medicine, education, the arts, in fact Israel leads in so many things. Aliyah has changed- people now want to make Aliyah, not to escape the Diaspora, but because of the opportunities Israel holds. The Diaspora benefits from a strong, vibrant Israel. By us strengthening Israel we are giving back to our community in Australia.

The second philosophy is of a more personal nature, our family has strong core values, and the order of these values is important. The first value is Sipuk Ha’Chayim -life satisfaction and purpose, and the second value is  Simchat Ha’Chaim  the joy of life. Many people swap the order of these values and  pursue happiness and joy but they miss the point. When you have true purpose and life satisfaction the joy in life comes from your purpose and actions. Seeing our  children, we realise they are so fortunate to have true meaning and purpose in their lives, and it brings us and them great joy and life satisfaction.

We have tremendous Sipuk Chayim, purpose and life satisfaction in Australia, but now with our move to Israel, we will be able to continue our purpose in life in different ways. I intend to continue to work with Jewish schools in the Diaspora and Israel to help them transform themselves and continue to improve theireducational product, connection with Israel and to inspire Jewish learning and continuity.’

Lastly, what do you wish for yourself? Where do you see yourself in five years?

‘Klita kala – a smooth absorption and transition for our children into school, and with the language. I will  continue teaching Pilates as well as get back into Hi-Tech. We want to have a full family life. We will have an open home for our Australian friends and community, for lone soldiers, and for people who make Aliyah. We want to bring the Australian spirit into our home in Jerusalem.

Each of our family members want to make a meaningful and significant impact, in their own way, and to give back to Israeli society and Am Yisrael.

Want to explore the opportunities of Aliyah- visit https://www.zfa.com.au/aliyah/

To start your Aliyah Journey through the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Jewish Agency, Israel Aliyah Centre please call the Global Aliyah Centre in Israel: 1800 445 781 (Toll free call, 10:30 am-05:00 pm Israel time)

If you want to learn more about Garin Tzabar visit: garintzabar.org or email garinaus@israelscouts.org

Michael Manhaim is the Executive Director of Ha’Tzofim Australia, Garin Tzabar and The Jewish Agency’s  Aliyah representative in Sydney.


One Response to “Rabbi Shua Smukler talks about Aliyah”
  1. Fan of Yaacov says:

    I would like to hear from their son Yaacov more. Seems like an amazing guy

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