With Chanukah coinciding with the summer-camp season, a group of three-dozen Australian high school girls have been touring the Outback, holding Chanukah celebrations on the eastern coast of New South Wales, from Narooma (population 2,400) to Wollongong (population 292,388).
The trip was arranged by the Melbourne-based network of Camp Gan Israel overnight camp. The 11th-graders have been holding Chanukah parties for local Jews, complete with a Chanukah skit, refreshments and carnival games, and have also held Chanukah fairs in shopping malls along the way.
Traveling in a coach-bus-cum-mitzvah tank, the girls represent Chabad of RARA (Rural and Regional Australia), which serves Jewish individuals and communities outside of the established concentrations of Jewish life on the largely unsettled continent, roughly the size of the continental USA.
"We are so proud of our Gan Izzy representatives," said Rabbi Menachem Lipskier of Chabad Youth. "We have watched these girls grow from receivers to givers, and it is amazing to see the passion and enthusiasm that they've exhibited. We know that the investment that we've made will continue to pay off, in their personal lives and around Australia."
As the girls travel along the east coast, two rabbinical students, now at the tail end of a six-week tour, are holding celebrations in towns further up the coast.
Concurrently, two RARA couples—Rabbi Yossi and Malki Rodal, and Rabbi Ari and Mushkie Rubin—are visiting other parts of the continent, each couple holding celebrations in even more communities.
All told, the RARA groups are expected to celebrate in 20 communities (a 21st was canceled due to motor failure), with crowds ranging anywhere from seven to 70 attendees.
The girls represent Chabad of RARA (Rural and Regional Australia).
Increase in Festivities
Rabbi Rodal reports that the increase in festivities has meant that they have met yet more Jewish people, most of whom have no contact to any established Jewish community. He notes that while the Chanukah celebration in Jindabyne had just two Jewish guests last year, about 15 are expected this year. Chaperoned by older teens, the girls have been “roughing it,” spending the nights camped out in their hosts’ spacious yards, and making do with little in the way of fresh food or laundry. Nevertheless, Rodal reports that they have been maintaining good spirits and have “captured the hearts” of people they’ve met.
“I keep hearing that they are so wonderful, positive, fun and enthusiastic,” says the California native, who now directs RARA. “These girls’ parents—and indeed, our entire community—can be very proud. They have been bringing the light of Chanukah wherever they go!”
The group has been spending days traveling in a coach-bus-cum-mitzvah tank and nights camped out in the yards of people’s homes.
Many of those they meet along the way don't have access to a larger Jewish community, and so the girls have been bringing them a bit of tradition, company and Chanukah joy.
Sharing the lights with residents of all ages in the Australian Outback.
The 11th-graders have been holding Chanukah parties for local Jews, complete with a Chanukah skit, refreshments and carnival games.