I grew up in Perth, Australia – the most isolated Jewish community in the world. While I may not wrestle crocodiles in my everyday life (sorry to disappoint!), life in Australia was definitely an adventure of another sort. I grew up thinking that a 24-hour flight is reasonable, red pepper is called “capsicum” and that it’s totally normal for my rabbi to go jet-skiing.
Two weeks ago I joined the World WIZO Fundraising Division in Tel Aviv. One of my first assignments was to travel to Afula with a group of Habonim Dror leaders from Holland on a visit to the WIZO Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Community Centre sponsored by WIZO UK and WIZO Holland. I really did not know what to expect from the experience. The only things I connect with Holland are Anne Frank, the red light district and “special” brownies. Somehow, I didn’t think any of those would be suitable conversational pieces.
When I first boarded the bus, the buzz of Dutch overwhelmed me. I tried desperately to remember the little bit of Afrikaans my dad taught me in hope it would sound something like Dutch. All I could remember was the word for “farmer” and “nectarine”. Not so useful. Relief came when one of the girls asked me if I would like some water in perfect English. As it turned out, not only did we speak the same language but we discovered a whole lot of mutual friends and two of them who have plans to travel to Australia next year now have an invitation for Seder. This is Jewish Geography at its best.
Led by the warmth and knowledge of the center’s director Dudu Moatty, we were taken from the center on a brief panoramic tour of Afula and then on to play games and activities with the children. While my task was simply to gain a deeper understanding of the WIZO community in Afula, the Habonim leaders had put together an action-packed afternoon for the kids from low socio-economic backgrounds. In the sweltering heat, I was amazed by the energy and enthusiasm that the madrichim showed throughout the day. Before long, I was listening to a group of Israeli children chanting a song in Dutch as they jumped around like kangaroos – not something you see every day.
At one stage, I stood back and marveled at the situation. While separately we were a left-wing Dutch youth movement, a Bnei Akiva graduate from Australia and a mob of Hebrew-speaking children from Ethiopia, Russia and all over Europe – together we were simply a group of people working together under the WIZO banner. Coming from all four corners of the earth and different ends of the Jewish spectrum, what was far more powerful than the obvious differences between us was that which bound us together. Being so accustomed to that feeling of distance and isolation from the rest of the Jewish world, it was inspiring to feel so connected with a group of people from such a totally different background than my own.
This is what WIZO means to me: to be proud of where I come from and to feel connected to a family from all over the world. In one day, I will communicate with WIZO superwomen from Europe, South America, North America, Africa, Australia and Israel. WIZO celebrates our uniqueness and works tirelessly for that which we share. So while I may be an Australian with a South African father, a British mother, survivors from the Holocaust on one side and the Spanish Inquisition on the other – I am proud to consider myself a new dimension to the melting-pot of this very special WIZO sisterhood.