Rabbi Kennard delivers Korsunski Oration

In one of the most important speeches delivered to the Perth Jewish community in recent years, Rabbi James Kennard, Principal of Mt Scopus College (Australia’s largest Jewish Day School in Melbourne), presented some challenges and thought provoking ideas.

Rabbi Kennard emphasised the importance of Jewish Day school education for four key reasons:

1) The movement has preserved Jewish identity by integrating Jewish and secular conduct in a seamless manner. In making this point, Rabbi Kennard dispelled the myth that the insulated nature of Jewish day schools made it hard for students to then integrate into non-Jewish society, and noted that precisely because of their pride and confidence in Jewish living, that many hundreds of thousands of graduates from the Jewish day school movement over decades had excelled in professional circles, often leading in their fields.

2) Jewish children learn to value a Jewish way of living through the construct of the daily routine.  Kashrut, festivals and other aspects of Jewish living are naturally built into the environment and this has a lasting effect on Jewish identity.  

3) Parents make a statement when they send kids to a Jewish school, because they sacrifice other comforts and commitments in order to provide for their children. Here in Perth, 70% of Jewish children attend Carmel school.  The cost of this, and the importance of this to a family is a value in itself.

4) Jewish day schools have the benefit of uniting a community, particularly in Perth where there is one school.  Rabbi Kennard challenged the way that we measure Jewish strenght of identity by the number of times a person attends shule on Shabbat morning.  He said that identification with a Shabbat service, a shule, with prayer, is hard enough for an adult let alone a child, and that we need to stop thinking about the Shule as the first and foremost point of contact that a young Jewish person has with Jewish communal life.   The amount of contact time with professional educators in the school is far more important and impacting than the disaggregated nature of a formal shule service.   

Having noted these ideas, Rabbi Kennard looked to the future. He challenged the reality of having subsidised fees for some students, and the consequences of this. He spoke of the value that we place on teaching as a profession (socially and financially), noting that the cost of sourcing teachers is rising, and also that we are not doing enough to identify our own leadership or encouraging our own community members to move into Jewish education. He also challenged the amount of money that is raised and sent offshore to Israel as a culture that is depriving us of local opportunity.

This point has previously been a topic of discussion on this blog, and one that needs to be brought to the forefront of further discussion.   Just imagine if we had another million dollars or more per annum in Perth to buy more shlichim, hebrew teachers, yeshiva bochrim and the like.  The money donated would still be applied to “Israel”, but by bringing Israel to our shores.  The longer term economic flow back to Israel by strenghened identity, personal visits, and advocacy, would be far greater than the initially remitted funds.

Whilst this account of Rabbi Kennard’s speech is no where near as articulate as they way in which he put his ideas forward and connected them together, I hope that it will provide some thought for further debate and discussion.  It takes courage to challenge the status quo, however Rabbi Kennard did so in a way that was not confronting, yet vitally thought provoking. 

It was fitting that the evening was also used to honour Dr Michael Levitt for his years of service to the school.  All of the parent body have been very fortunate to benefit from his vision and leadership, and to avail ourselves of a facility that is exceptionally well managed.