I recently returned from presenting at a Jewish education conference at one of the worlds most isolated Jewish communities in Perth, Western Australia. Despite the fact that the nearest Jewish community is about 2000 miles away, the 8000 Jews of Perth have managed not only to survive, but to thrive.
One of the most inspirational concepts I learned about during my trip was the decision by the community to build only one Jewish day school, Carmel, for all of the Jewish denominations. The result of this decision is that all the families in Perth who want a Jewish day school education send their children to (a subsidised) Carmel. The students I addressed at the twelfth-grade conference had grown up with Jews (and a few non-Jews) of all Jewish denominations from across the ideological and religious spectrum, ranging from Lubavitch to secular. Despite the differences of ideology, there was a tremendous amount of mutual respect concerning what we Jews have in common, such as love of Israel, and not what differentiates us.
The Carmel Day school invests heavily both financially and time-wise in Zionist education, as do most of the leading Jewish Day Schools in Australia, and the results are laudable. This year Carmel is starting to send all of their year ten students to Israel in order to experience the Zionist dream in the Jewish homeland first hand.
I felt that the levels of respect, tolerance and open-mindedness amongst both the school students and adults at the community conference were exceptional. The mishnaic statement, “who is wise? S/he who learns from all people,” was in full evidence in this community. In these trying times, with constant media reports on internecine Jewish struggles, I think that the Perth model is something we can all learn from, and endeavour to emulate, in order to foster Jewish unity and aspire to a better Jewish future.