On the Edge of the Diaspora

Adina Merenlender, September 2004


Scroll Case A member of the Israeli Philharmonic who visited with Kadimah, a small Jewish community in Brisbane Australia, said they were "on the edge of the diaspora." Of course we in Mendocino County are used to small Jewish communities but Kadimah is tiny with 15 people attending Yom Kippur services and half of those were visiting from other countries. "It all started five years ago in John's house on Kol Nidre" said Gordan. Gordon and John led high-holiday services this year because Uri, their part time Rabbi, was on the Gold Coast.

Johnathan_Bradley Despite their size, Kadimah offers a wealth of Jewish experience, wisdom, and diversity. John speaks Yanyuwa, an Australian aboriginal language, others come from South Africa, and of course New York City. Brenda plays the essential role of simcha food organizer and made sure that I had her number so that she could include me in her Chalah deliveries when she comes up from the Gold Coast where there is a baker who makes real Chalah. Non-kosher she warns but delicious. On the topic of food, this small community puts on a pot luck with food for 50 kings and queens.

Its over a potluck lunch on Rosh Hashanah that we were invited to Brisbane's only all girl band by a singer from Greenwich Village and to Thanksgiving dinner where there would be all the essential fixings. Now reading this in Mendocino County may seem like nothing special but I can assure you that finding it all in Queensland Australia was a blessing.

There is an old saying that no matter how small the town there will always be two synagogues, one for the people to go to and one for the people who will not go to that one. The fact that this is not true for coastal and inland Mendocino County speaks to the strength of our communities. Margaret Street Synagogue in downtown Brisbane is a historic structure and serves as the shull for Jews affiliated with the Chabad movement. Kadimah started to carry on Jewish traditions in a more progressive way without gender bias and as John said on Rosh Hashana it is their intention to be an open community.

Evening services were held on the University campus and during the day at a lovely Quaker meeting house. Kadimah transformed the upstairs into a Shull and downstairs is a warm lounge and kitchen for pot lucks. Both rooms have wonderful windows that look out onto a small wooded area. The Australian bunya pines, which remind me of a cross between a Douglas fir and a Truffala tree, dominate this little wood. Wonderful light streamed in from the windows. And for those of you who have never been to Australia it is worth making the visit just for the light. The sky has a light blue quality that I have become addicted to.

Interior designers talk about bringing the outside in but it didn't prepare me for when the small portable ark was opened to reveal the most unusual torah covers I have ever seen. Gum trees! Yes, these torah scroll cases were solid eucalyptus carved by John himself in honor of each of his children's bar and bat mitzvah. His father finds the hollow logs along the Murray River. They were ornately carved with Hebrew letters and symbols and topped with a crown of carved branches. Hanging from the branches are beautifully designed eucalyptus leaves and colored glass decorate the carved spaces. These are fantastic and symbolize the unique qualities that people on the edge of the Diaspora bring to the people of Israel.

3_scroll_cases Together we read the New Union Prayer Book for the Days of Awe from cover to cover and I was thankful for every word.

Adina Merenlender, corresponding from the edge of the Diaspora

© 2004 Adina Merenlender

updated 10/13/2004 - rge

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