Strangers amongst their own

July 10, 2013 by  
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A group of 38 Russian speaking Jews from Australia arrived in Israel earlier this month for a 10 day Birthright tour…the first of its kind catered especially for the Russian speaking community.

Kangaruskis in blue hats  Photo: Laura Kelly

Kangaruskis in blue hats Photo: Laura Kelly

Despite a strong presence with a community of over 20,000, Jews of Russian descent have often felt isolated from Australia’s Jewish community.

The participants, fondly referred to as Kanaruskis,  range from age 18 – 26, come from all over Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. They are a mix of first generation immigrants and second and third generation native-born Australians with parents or grandparents from the former Soviet Union.
A staggering 20% of Australian Jewry is of Russian descent, but many of them have little or no connection to their Jewish heritage or with Australia’s Jewish community at large. One of the chief aims of the trip is to integrate the Russian Jews into the community and to connect them with their unique heritage.

“For most of the participants, this is the first step to discovering their Jewish identity,” said Sasha Klyachkina, an emissary for the Jewish Agency in Australia.

The trip was organised in conjunction with local Jewish communities in Australia, as well as the Jewish Agency, the Genesis Fund and the World Zionist Organization.

Like most of the participants, it is the first time in Israel for Shannon Zaidenberg, 19, from East Brighton in Melbourne. “I wouldn’t be able to come here if it wasn’t for this trip and I have so much family here. I’m feeling so lucky – and excited.” Zaidenberg’s parents immigrated to Australia from the Ukraine and Lithuania respectively. Because she attended King David High School, Zaidenberg – who is on the trip along with her brother Jamie – has a lot more knowledge about her Jewish identity. As for the rest of the group, Zaidenberg asserts that it’s a mixed bag. “This trip is special because they’ve mixed the Jewish [aspect] as well as the Russian heritage. So you have some people who see their identity as a lot more religious while others connect to the Russian side. It’s very interesting because we all have different points of view yet we’re all connected in some way.”

In addition to the standard hikes and tours of the country, the participants will be also taken to the Museum of the Jewish People (formerly the Diaspora Museum) in Tel Aviv where they can learn more about their genealogy. But perhaps the highlight of the trip will be when the participants have a chance to engage with their Russian-speaking peers from North America. There are 5 days scheduled in which the Australian Russians will meet Russian Jews from all over the US. The latter are on a similar trip that was organised by Young Judaea, America’s oldest Zionist youth movement, also as part of an attempt to reengage America’s Russian-speaking Jews into the wider community.

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