Widening the Zionist conversation

State Zionist council presidents in a panel moderated by former ZFA president, Philip Chester. Photo: Josh Riesel

WE must keep the Zionist ‘tent’ open, according to author and commentator Professor Gil Troy.

Speaking at the Zionist Federation of Australia’s plenary conference on Sunday at Sydney’s Central Synagogue, he said, “A big tent has to be open on all four sides. We need to bring more air and sunlight into the Zionist movement.”

The need to embrace differing viewpoints was reiterated in the panel discussion, ‘The state of the states – challenges and opportunities in Zionist engagement in Australian Jewish communities’ which featured the state Zionist council presidents.

“Part of our challenge and part of what we are trying to do is to widen the conversation,” remarked Victoria’s Sharene Hambur, who reflected on the changing view of Zionism as an identity.

“Our community is strong for our ability to respectfully hear a range of views, and I think if we do that, that is a way we are going to engage the younger members.”

She also suggested bringing speakers who resonate with a younger audience, for instance in a way that bears relevance to their careers.

Retaining engagement with youth after they have returned from an Israel program, or finished their involvement in a youth movement formed a core part of the discussion, with Richard Balkin of NSW pointing to the volunteer opportunities available after the Yesh Israel program as a way for young people to contribute to “something that resonated with them” and “stay involved in a real way”.

But he said there is “no better way of selling Israel and instilling pride in our young people” than by bringing out and hearing from “outstanding young advocates from Israel”.

In Jeff Lin’s state of WA, “things are on the up in terms of youth involvement, but I think that’s the area I am certainly focusing on”, he said, while Queensland’s Zionist council vice-president Jason Steinberg spoke about the difficulty in retaining leaders, saying Israel programs are “a double-sided coin for us”. When participants return, rarely do they relocate back to Brisbane, he explained, suggesting a shlichim program may draw youth back to Queensland.

South Australia’s Ehud Hauben talked about engagement with Israelis, and a pressing need for greater funding support was a common aspect shared by many states.

Also addressing the plenary was Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Mark Sofer, and Member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, while Israeli author and culinary journalist Gil Hovav enthralled the audience with anecdotes about his great-grandfather Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s success in reviving modern Hebrew.

As a long-standing supporter of ZFA, Harry Triguboff was acknowledged for his contribution, particularly to Kangarusski.

SOPHIE DEUTSCH