Alex Dover and Adam Cohen
We have been on Shlichut in Sydney for almost 8 months. Our work involves dividing our energies between the many different organisations across the Sydney Jewish community. The biggest portion of time goes to Moriah College (a Jewish day school which caterers for 1800 pupils aged 2-18) and Bnei Akiva.
The way Bnei Akiva works in Australia is that local snifim are run by Hanhagot for each city and national projects such as summer machane and certain areas of chinuch fall under the federal Hanhaga, which usually operates from Melbourne.
The local Hanhagot are responsible for everything that goes on in their city and, in Sydney, they organise daily Minyanim, shiurim, content for Shabbat afternoon peulot, as well as many more activities.
The fact that we have been heavily involved in two different Bnei Akiva frameworks in two different countries means that we can provide different perspectives and call on a wide range of experiences that can benefit both Tnuot in their goals of Torah, Avodah and Aliyah. We were asked to highlight a few differences between the two different Bnei Akivas and suggest areas where BAUK could possibly learn from the setup of Bnei Akiva in Australia.
The Madrichim for the older years (ages 12-18) in Sydney are all university students, whilst the younger years are taken by Madatzim (16-17 year olds). This means that almost all of the Madrichim have been to Israel on some sort of gap year programme and it is noticeable that these Madrichim have a huge love for Israel and the Torah they learnt there. This is transmitted to the Chanichim and, in our opinion, is the reason why a high percentage of Bnei Akiva Australia Bogrim make Aliyah. It also ensures that the weekly Tochniot are of a higher standard because most of the Madrichim have had more experience of being in a Hadracha framework, having just returned from Bnei Akiva’s Israel Programmes. The tochniot are also enhanced by the madrichim having developed their Jewish knowledge far beyond what they finished high school with.
In Sydney Bnei Akiva there is a Maon (lit. sanctuary, a Bayit for all intents and purposes) and every day there is something going on in it. On Sundays there is breakfast Minyan. On Mondays and Tuesdays there is Mincha and Maariv, with 45 minutes to an hour of Madrichim learning in Chavrutot in between. Wednesdays are Madrichims’ meeting and Thursday is BAMBA, Sydney’s equivalent of Limmud. On Shabbat, there are occasional Friday night and Shabbat lunch meals. On Shabbat morning, there is a weekly minyan followed by a Dvar Torah given by one of the Madrichim, a kiddush and group learning. On Shabbat afternoon, there are the Tochniot which incorporate Mincha and a communal Seuda Shlishit. The amount of activities are amazing bearing in mind that Sydney is not a huge Jewish community and has a relatively small modern orthodox section within that.
In the three cities (Melbourne, Sydney and Perth) that Bnei Akiva operates, it provides a number of services for the community which benefit the wider community and Bnei Akiva itself, due to the money that can be made from these services. In the run-up to Sukkot, we were involved in Syndey’s largest Arba Minim sale, which was organised by Bnei Akiva. Around Purim time, the Madrichim spent a number of late nights in the Maon packing Mishloach Manot which individuals and organisations buy from Bnei Akiva and, before Pesach, Bnei Akiva runs a pop-up car wash as well as organising a communal barbecue a couple of days before Pesach to give everyone a break from the cleaning and cooking. From what we’ve been told, the Tikkun Leil Shavuot is one of the highlights of the year, where teenagers from all sections of the community come together for a long night (much longer than England) of learning.
Finally, the emphasis on Madrichim and chanichim keeping a kesher (connection) out of the Bnei Akiva surroundings is huge. Madrichim are encouraged to message their chanichim regularly and, from day one, every shevet has a whatsapp group set up. More than this, madrichim are encouraged to meet up with the chanichim during the week, whether it be for learning, going out for dinner or just hanging out in one of the chanichims’ houses. There is also money and time put aside for Madrichim to organise events for their year and already this term there has been a Friday night dinner for 25 people, shevet meals in restaurants and plans to go to laser quest and the cinema are in the offing.
Obviously practical and cultural differences mean that no idea can be isolated, cloned and grafted to BAUK but certainly, the bold and varied thought processes highlighted in these initiatives can inspire us back in the UK. There are always new projects that can be trialled in our attempts to reach our goal of Torah, Avodah and Aliyah.