40 Percent of Australia’s Jews Join Chabad Program

Close to 40 percent of all Australia’s Jews joined a virtual Lag B’Omer event with Rabbis and dignitaries from around the world.

By Mendel Super for Chabad.org

From Dunedin on the southern tip of New Zealand to Townsville in Australia’s tropical north, they came together on Lag BaOmer as “one people with one heart.” The tough coronavirus lockdowns since mid-March down under haven’t dampened the spirits of the Jews across the vast Australasian continent.

Branded as “18 for 18,” more than 200 Jewish organizations came together to create 18 minutes of inspiration and Jewish musical entertainment on the 18th day of Iyar, with the initial hope of reaching 18,000 Jews. But according to data analytics from multiple platforms, the organizers far surpassed their already ambitious expectations, with more than 40,000 people tuning in—an astonishing 40 percent of Australasian Jewry.

They heard from world rabbinic leaders and community figures, including Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Ephraim Mirvis; Chief Rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein; Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar; Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and Australian treasurer the Hon. Josh Frydenberg—the second highest-ranking official in the Australian government and a proud Melbourne Jew.

“While we can’t be together in person this year, we can still celebrate this day of unity together in spirit,” Frydenberg told the thousands tuned in on social media. “It’s so special that even during these times of social distancing, that 18,000 Jewish people from across that Tasman can come together for 18 minutes on the 18th of Iyar. Lag BaOmer is traditionally a time for self-improvement, reflection and acting with extra ahavat yisrael. As we deal with the COVID-19 crisis, it’s more important than ever that we show extra consideration and kindness as we support each other through these challenging and uncertain times.”

Mirvis said: “We are living in extraordinary times. Throughout the world, our communities have been plunged into an unprecedented situation which none of us could have planned for nor even dreamt of. But nonetheless, we have proven that Jewish communities go well beyond our buildings—in fact, our communities are all about people.”

Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia
Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia

Lag BaOmer rallies and parades have gained newfound popularity in the past half-century with the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—calling for children and adults alike to gather in unity at grand Lag BaOmer parades, celebrating our common heritage of Torah and mitzvot.

Kids Are Front and Center

Children from around the continent recited the 12 Torah passages online, while others shared their personal stories of Jewish pride. “My mother’s mom’s mother lit Shabbat candles on Friday evenings,” shared Jayde Effie Land from Morphet Vale, South Australia, “and I only found out about my Jewish heritage in the last year, so I’m very proud to continue my heritage and light Shabbat candles on Friday evenings, too.”

Philanthropist Sir Frank Lowy spoke from Israel.
Philanthropist Sir Frank Lowy spoke from Israel.

A deluge of warm feedback quickly came in. “This is a truly amazing display of unity—I’m so proud to be Jewish” declared one of the online participants, echoing the sentiments of many. “It’s incredible connecting with people from all over the world,” Aviva Raisun of Auckland, New Zealand, told Chabad.org. “It gives me a little bit of hope that the Jewish people will come through this united. We are never forgotten; we can connect from anywhere in the world. You will never find a Jew left behind anywhere. Never.”

An immediate follow-up initiative has been launched urging the Jewish communities of Australia and New Zealand to collectively commit to 18,000 acts of kindness.

“We cannot allow the inspiration to dissipate without translating it into making this world a better place,” said a spokesperson for the organizing committee. “We must allow the spiritual high we’ve all felt over the past 24 hours to inspire our acts of altruism and to strengthen our Jewish traditions.”

Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org

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