THE first Taglit-Birthright program catering specifically for Australian Russian-speaking Jews landed in Israel last week.
Dubbed KangaRUski, the group comprises 38 Russian-speaking Jews between the ages of 18 and 26, hailing from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.
The program, which was organised in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, the Genesis Fund and the World Zionist Organisation, strives to connect participants with their Jewish heritage with the aim to integrate them into the Australian Jewish community on their return.
“For most of the participants, this is the first step to discovering their Jewish identity,” Jewish Agency emissary Sasha Klyachkina said.
The KangaRUski program features many of the essential Israel experiences in its itinerary, with visits to key sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, hikes in the countryside as well as a visit to the Museum of the Jewish People.
Key highlights include meeting with Israeli soldiers of Russian heritage as well as five days interacting with Russian Jews from the United States, who are in Israel on a similar program organised by America’s oldest Zionist youth movement, Young Judaea.
Participant Shannon Zaidenberg, from Brighton East in Victoria, is on the program with her brother Jamie.
“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,” she said. “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.”
The Australian group is made up of a mix of first-generation immigrants and second and third-generation Australians with parents or grandparents from the Former Soviet Union.
Many of Australia’s 20,000 Jews with Russian heritage have little or no connection to their Judaism or the Jewish community in Australia.
KangaRUski participants meet their American and Israeli counterparts. Photo: Laura Kelly