What’s a Wexner Alum Like Me Doing in Australia?
Last year, after having lived in San Francisco, I returned to my home town of Melbourne, Australia, with my wife, Jennifer, and our 5 small children (all aged between 2 and 9). Many of my friends from Wexner days wonder what it’s like living in Melbourne as a Jew, so I thought I would tell you a little bit about our lives.
In Melbourne, Australia, 70% of the Jewish population (45,000 out of the total of 60,000 Jews) lives within a tight circle — a ten mile radius. This results in a unique interface between different strands of Jewish affiliation because of this “close-living”, so that there is an amazing familiarity amongst various sub communities. The Australian Jewish Community is the largest post-Holocaust surviving community outside of Israel (quite a switch from San Francisco). Viewing Israel as the primary barrier to another Holocaust, the immigrant community (also 70% of Melbourne’s Jews) are strong Israel supporters and we have one of the highest per capita aliyah rates of any world Jewish community. As a result, Israel looms large in our consciousness and identity. Australian Jewry is the highest contributor to Israel per capita of any other Jewish community in the diaspora.
Melbourne is organizationally highly centralized and yet provides total freedom and initiative to its component organizations. Luckily for us, with so many kids, Melbourne has one of the most extensive and comprehensive Jewish day school and after school Jewish education systems of any world Jewish community outside of Israel. Our 13 Jewish schools enjoy participation rates above 65%, and the students from these day schools consistently place near the top in the state. My own children attend Mount Scopus, the states’ largest co-educational Jewish day school. The Scopus mission is to engender values, knowledge and skills. My children and their friends are learning why it’s important to preserve a Jewish tradition alongside of the meaning of our rituals. The leaders of the school create a sense of community and impress upon the parents the impact that home life plays in shaping the character of the child’s Jewish identity.
I am highly motivated to continue my community involvement, particularly with a focus on how values and traditions can be transmitted generationally; and also to seek out and develop creative approaches to stem the inexorable ‘creep’ of assimilation and erosion of support for Israel within the emerging younger age groups, especially in the face of a hostile global media.
Lest you think we have literally gone off the deep end and entirely forgotten our San Francisco days, we also enjoy Spiritgrow, an avant garde Jewish spiritual centre that has pioneered a model of Jewish involvement unique in the world, including Jewish facilities and perspectives on meditation, health and wellness, spiritual practice, relationship enrichment, and provides the community with a dynamic synagogue. Jennifer and I are deeply connected to the founders, Rabbis Laibl and Menachem Wolf, and last year we were privileged to dedicate a Sefer Torah to this dynamic organization.
I am also on the Forum Steering Committee, part of The United Israel Appeal/Keren Hayesod. This is a global leadership group that seeks to create the next generation of international Jewish leadership. Its focus is to build a core group of major donors, encouraging them to take responsibility as leaders for the future of Israel, the Jewish People, and the relationship between them.
Jennifer and I are proud of our leadership in Melbourne and hope that among the many beneficiaries of our input are our own children, who observe our modelling of social/organizational contribution, and note how passionate we are about strengthening Jewish life here and abroad. Let’s hope all of us go from strength to strength no matter where in the world we find ourselves.
In the past two decades Tony has lived in Sydney for 8 years and in San Francisco for 6, during which time he was enrolled in the Wexner Heritage Program (SF 08). Tony is a Director of the Escor Group, an Australian based diversified investment company. He is also the CEO of Dascor, a property investment business jointly owned by his family company. Whilst in San Francisco, he served on the board of the JCC and also on the grant making and allocations committee for the SF Jewish Community Federation. Based on the model of the Jewish Funders Network in America his family’s foundation co-founded the Australian Jewish Funders (AJF). The AJF provides a forum for its donor members to enhance the understanding, quality and effectiveness of their philanthropy in the global Jewish community and the wider Australian society. AJF has been very successful in attracting programs which have been developed by leading Foundations in the US. Jennifer is a Board Director. Tony can be reached at email@example.com.