It’s rare for me to write in the first person but it would be dishonest to omit to disclose that I am a former pupil of Mount Scopus College, the pioneer Jewish Day School in Melbourne, Australia. The Mount Scopus Foundation, largely comprising alumni of the college, decided to hold the largest-ever gathering of current students, staff members and alumni at a school reunion in Israel.
College principal Rabbi James Kennard, who since taking up his appointment in 2007 has introduced a much stronger spirit of Zionism and Jewish identity, visited Israel in his early period at the helm and hosted a much smaller reunion in Jerusalem with alumni living in Israel and just a few Australian alumni who happened to be vacationing in Israel. Since then, many more Scopus graduates have chosen to make their homes and raise their families in Israel, and the school has continued its connection with most of them.
In addition to the Mount Scopus Foundation leaders and other alumni, including former Israel ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, chairman of James Richardson Duty Free Gary Stock, a former president of Scopus; and Paul Israel, executive director of the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce, attending this week’s reunion at the magnificent Lago Events Center in Rishon Lezion were President Isaac Herzog, a representative of the Australian Embassy, and former principal Rabbi William Altshul and his photojournalist wife Sharon, who have maintained contact with many former students and their parents.
The gathering of close to a thousand people included alumni who had been among the first students at the school when it was still in its experimental stage, more than 70 years ago. Also among the alumni were two and three-generation family members and numerous siblings. There were many cries of recognition among people who had not seen each other for years and in some cases for decades.
That, in itself, was a good reason for the reunion because Melbourne Jewry, even though it has grown tremendously, was always a close-knit community, as evidenced by supporters of the Mount Scopus Foundation. They include people who were among the founders of other Jewish schools or Jewish youth movements but nonetheless recognize and value the importance of Mount Scopus, which started out as a community day school that taught Hebrew and Jewish studies as part of its curriculum but has expanded its Zionist and Jewish identity focus and its strong connection to Israel.
The school’s motto Hazak v’ematz (Be strong and of good courage) perpetuates the words of Joshua, who led the Children of Israel into Israel. It was repeated several times during the evening, first by Herzog at the conclusion of his address and also by other speakers.
Foundation president David Gold recalled that he had been in the audience of students in 1986, when Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, became the first president of Israel to come to Australia and the first to come to Scopus. Noting that earlier in the day, Herzog had attended a memorial service for his mother, Aura, on the first anniversary of her passing, Gold said the fact that afterward, he had come to the Scopus reunion showed the importance that Israel attaches to relations with Australia and to Scopus.
Gold invited Herzog to visit Melbourne next year for the school’s 75th anniversary and the laying of the cornerstone for the new campus in the heartland of Jewish Melbourne, and Herzog accepted.
OUTLINING SOME of the Foundation’s activities, Gold spoke of helping parents who did not have the wherewithal to send their children to Jewish day schools by providing bursaries, an Israel experience ulpan program, supporting an international Baccalaureate program and more. On the immediate agenda is to develop closer ties with alumni living in Israel and already in the morning following the reunion, questionnaires were emailed to alumni thanking them for attending and asking about whether they were interested in further and more frequent reunions, and how they envisaged them.
Herzog, in relating to his mother, also mentioned other members of his family and said that he could not help but reflect on the ways in which Jewish leaders and educators meet the public is also part of their private lives. In reference to his father, the Irish-born son of a great Polish-born rabbi, he commented that his father had paid a visit to a Jewish community school in Melbourne but that in his lifetime he had also seen the greatest imaginable peaks and valleys in Jewish history.
In 1945, when helping to liberate Bergen Belsen, he assured the emaciated survivors that there were still Jews in the free world. Later, he dedicated his life to what his son referred to as “the radical Zionist endeavor” and among other milestones in his career, he became Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and Israel’s sixth president.
“For my father, like for the founders of Mount Scopus, questions of the sustainability of Jewish life were deeply personal,” he said. He attributed similar feelings to his mother, who was born in Egypt. Both his parents fought in the War of Independence, in which his mother was wounded. Recalling his father’s visit to Mount Scopus, Herzog quoted from his father’s address, “I am incapable of taking for granted, outward expressions of Israel’s Independence.”
Explaining this, Herzog said “he always said that because he saw where the Jewish People were from, from which depths they had climbed. For him, it was not a given that this country built on the toil and tears of so many would survive, let alone prosper. And it wasn’t a given that Jewish education would be able to reinvent itself to be able to meet the needs of a changing world, as the Jewish People returned from the brink of destruction. The founders of Mount Scopus shared a similar concern for the Jewish future,” he said.
Kennard spoke of building a connection with Israel and helping children to understand the country’s history and challenges. He also was enthused about the five-week ulpan that Scopus students attend in the course of their Israel experience. The COVID lockdown had put a freeze on such visits but Kennard had promised every student who had been on the list for Israel that in the long run, they would go. “And we kept our promise,” he exalted, saying that for some who participated in this program, it was a life-changing experience.
Many such students have chosen to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. “Every year more of our graduates are wearing the uniform of Israel’s Army and are making their homes in Israel to share in Israel’s destiny,” said Kennard.
The memories of Australians who have died on Israeli soil, including those who fought in World War I, those who lost their lives in 1997 in the Maccabiah bridge disaster and more recently in the IDF were also honored during the evening.
Fashion imports and successes
■ DESPITE THE very affordable fashion imported not only to Israel from cheap labor countries, such as China and India. Some Israeli designers are also among the designers who are successful abroad, such as Hagar Alembik, whose creations under the Alembika label are sold in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and Australia.
Buyers from these countries will see the 2024 fall/winter collection at a small, intimate fashion show at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel in Tel Aviv, next week. Alembik is very excited and a little nervous because the collection has not yet been reviewed. This means that the reactions of the buyers will not be influenced by fashion writers. Orders placed for different garments will indicate the extent to which the collection finds favor in the eyes of its viewers.
Korean Air resumes direct Israel flights
■ FOLLOWING A three-year hiatus, Korean Air has resumed direct flights to and from Israel. Passengers who disembarked from flight KE957, the first of the renewed flights toward the end of last month, were surprised to be greeted by a welcoming committee that included Korean Charge d’Affaires Kim Jinwook, Korean Air regional manager and chair of the Maman Group Nehama Ronen, Ofer Bloch, CEO of the Maman Group and Ofer Reinhardt, the new GSA of Korean Air in Israel.
Following a traditional welcoming ceremony, Reinhardt said that until flights were suspended there had been a record number of some 60,000 passengers on the Tel Aviv-Seoul route in 2019. In view of requests by tour organizers in both Israel and South Korea, and in light of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries, a decision was made to renew the flights. There are three weekly flights on the route.
■ IN OTHER Airline news, following the renewal of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkye, Turkish Airlines has joined the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce. Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, Irit Lillian, has already presented her credentials to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkye’s ambassador to Israel, Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, is due to present his credentials to President Isaac Herzog on January 11.
THE JERUSALEM Great Synagogue choir conducted by Elli Jaffe is always impressive but will probably make an extra effort this coming Saturday when the conductor’s nephew, prospective bridegroom Danel Jaffe, is called to the Torah prior to his marriage, next week. Danel is the son of the congregation’s deputy president Zalli Jaffe and his wife Tamar, and the bride-to-be is Roni Levin, the daughter of Eitan and Yael Levin.