TEARS of joy and pain were spilled at Melbourne Airport last week, as parents, friends and youth movement leaders bade farewell to 50 young Shnat participants headed to Israel on the year-long program.
The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) together with the Australian Zionist Youth Council (AZYC) hosted a farewell ceremony, or “tekes” on the pavement near the airport’s entrance, to farewell groups from all youth movements, with the exception of those from Bnei Akiva, who left on an earlier flight.
Phillip Chester, chairman of Zionist Federation Australia (ZFA), an organisation responsible for facilitating Israel programs, said the 2012 group, which also included New Zealanders, was the biggest ever.
“I’m thrilled that the ZFA’s Israel programs department has been busier than ever this year,” he said.
Reuben Bolaffi, chairperson of Australasian Zionist Youth Council (AZYC) said the Shnat program was a stepping stone for young Zionists.
“It’s great that so many of them are taking a year off, but what is more exciting is that they all committed to coming back to be leaders in the community for two years after they return,” Bolaffi said.
“Like so many others before them, they will have a phenomenal time and a life-defining experience, and they will come back ready to step in to lead others in a similar capacity.”
In a traditional gesture, many Shnat participants chanted and cheered as they approached customs, while a reserved few remained behind, embracing their loved ones in tears.
Eden Adler, a participant from Habonim Dror said she was looking forward to the communal experience of the Shnat program, but leaving her family would be no simple task.
“It’s amazing because you know that everybody there still shares many of the same things we do, that you know that everybody is going to Shabbat each Friday and it’s special. Israel feels like it will be home.”
The “Shnatties”, as they’re known, will reconnect in Singapore en route to Israel, where a total of 147 Australians and New Zealanders from Betar, Bnei Akiva, Habonim Dror, Hashy, Hineni and Netzer will have the experience of a lifetime.