Leaders from 10 Asian, Pacific Jewish Communities Discuss Need to Upgrade Jewish Educational Facilit

The vital need to upgrade Jewish educational facilities was the prime concern of leaders from 10 Asian and Pacific Jewish communities meeting here yesterday.

Representatives of Jewish communities in Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea were attending the Asia Pacific Jewish Association (APJA) conference, the second since its inception in 1980. They represent communities ranging in size from 250 in Thailand to 75,000 in Australia.

The conference program covered community reports, an educational report and the recommendations and resolutions for future action. Special guests included the Israel Ambassador to Singapore, Moshe Ben-Yaacov; Israel’s Minister for Science, and Development, Yuval Neeman; Tel Aviv University rector Prof. Yoram Dinstein; and Hebrew University professor Zwi Werblowsky.

The APJA president, Isi Leibler of Australia, said that the survival of the small communities in the region depended on ensuring that Jewish children received education both in Jewish religious values and in the concept of K’lal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish people.

CENTRALITY OF ISRAEL STRESSED

All speakers emphasized the centrality of Israel in Jewish education, particularly in the small communities. Dinstein said that whereas in the past the centrality of Israel may have been theoretical, demographically it was now a reality. If the young people of the Asian-Pacific region did not ultimately make aliya, then “none of your descendants will be Jews”, he told the delegates.

Neeman likened the Jewish “outposts” in the region to a kind of Hanseatic League with Israel as its center, while Werblowsky said it is often only Israel which serves as a link between the small communities and provides for them a sense of identity.

The gradual erosion of all the communities in the region, with the exception of Australia was detailed in the various communal reports. The once 4000-strong Singapore Jewish community, for example, now numbers less than 300 people, its representative, Jeffrey Pinsler, told the conference.

OTHER VITAL NEEDS CITED

With the exception of Australia, New Zealand, India and Singapore, the other Jewish communities tend to be “transient” or “rotational” with a changing Jewish population resident for economic and other reasons and without close ties to the state of residence. This did not allow for any particular sense of communal pride or identity and made the work of education harder, delegates reported.

Lack of rabbinic guidance in many communities led to a suggestion that a “roving rabbi” might be appointed with qualifications as a mohel and schochet, to serve the small Asian Jewish communities.

Newly appointed APJA education officer, Michael Cohen, who has recently toured the region, reported on educational materials available which the communities could use for both education of children and adults.

Cohen, a teacher at Mount Scopus College in Melbourne, one of the largest Jewish day schools in the world, has prepared a series of educational aides including audio-visual materials which can be adapted for use in the small communities. Youngsters from these communities can also participate in camps and education programs in Australia or Israel, and local Jewish studies teachers can look to Australia for training programs, he said.

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