Anna Maylis, Zionist Federation of Australia’s Kangarusski community co-ordinator, wants you to know a few things about Russians, firstly, that they do not drink Vodka every day, and secondly, that they do not necessarily like the cold weather just because they are from a cold country. But in all seriousness, on Tuesday 17 September the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies held their Plenum where Maylis was given the opportunity to present on Kangarusski and the Russian-speaking Jewish community (RSJC).
Kangarusski is a vibrant Russian-speaking department of the ZFA that has been running since 2012, though only in Sydney for the last 5 years. Their activities are spearheaded by Maylis and led by a dedicated group of volunteers who are key members of the RSJC community and are the heart and soul of Kangarusski.
Maylis opened with a brief history of the Russian community in Australia noting that in 1880, a few thousand Eastern Europeans settled in NSW and Victoria, bringing with them Yiddish and Yiddish culture, music, food and the shtetl lifestyle. She also referenced prominent Jews from the Russian Empire, such as Fanny Reading, Victor Smorgon AO AC, Simcha Mayer Baevski (Sydney Mayer) and Aaron Bolotinskiy (Bolot) showing how immigrants that came to Australia at different points in the last century managed to make their lives a success in their new homes.
The RSJC community has faced many challenges such as their unique and different attitude to being Jewish than the wider Jewish community. They also found difficulties with language, inadequate income and difficulties with making friends in the community.
But in 2010 the ZFA sought to find ways to inspire, connect and empower the RSJC in Australia, and encourage a broader range of cooperation between the RSJC and the wider Jewish community.
According to Maylis, the birth of “Kangarusski” has given the next generation of the RSJC an opportunity to discover their identities and a sense of belonging. In the last five years, Kangarusski has held an impressive range of different events catering to different parts of the community, including holding Limmud FSU three times (including twice in Sydney). In addition, they have had four Taglit-Birthright busses solely for members of the RSJC, an experience that participant Ellie Shafir credited with “creating a really strong bond between me here in Australia and a culture and country that is halfway across the world”.
Kangarusski also holds holiday camps which David Kless, who also sang on the night said, “have inspired me to learn more about Jewish culture, and, in particular, Jewish music. I will sing a song in Yiddish later tonight – I heard the song for the first time at a Kangarusski camp”. David and two other youngsters who call themselves “Pearls and Sapphires” had the entire crowd singing and dancing along to their unforgettable performance of songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and English.
Of Kangarusski, Kira Kless, a volunteer and mother of two children told the audiences, “my parents had close to no opportunities to practice being Jewish in the Former Soviet Union, and a lot of times had to hide their Jewish identity. They brought me to Australia as a teenager, so that I could be safe and so that I could be Jewish. I have found that middle ground, that golden meaning of being a “Russian” Jew at Kangarusski. Kangarusski camps (and other Kangarusski activities) have given my family opportunities to pass on to my children the traditions of my grandparents in an engaging, non-invasive, fun way”.
Of the presentation, ZFA Life Member Ron Weiser AM said, “It made me truly proud to be associated with such an important initiative that has grown tremendously under Anna, into a remarkable pathway for Russian-speaking Jews to rediscover their Jewish identity and to connect to the community.”
Maylis concluded, “Our vision for the future is to continue to organise amazing Kangarusski events to help people discover their identity and bring them closer to Israel and Judaism, and to strengthen the connection between the RSJC and the wider Jewish community of Australia. We could not do this without the outstanding, visionary contribution that Harry Triguboff has made to Kangarusski in Sydney for the past five years.”