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Drash on Shabbat HaGadol 2024

Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky

Beit Shalom Synagogue

It is a less than a week until the first Pesach seder, and once again there is no matzah to be found in South Australia. The one branch of (insert name of major-brand supermarket here) has sold out of every brand of unleavened bread, although there is a plentiful supply of kosher-for-Pesach canned tuna and strawberry jam. The central headquarters of this unnamed major supermarket chain has once again proven to be completely uninterested in catering to the needs of the 500 or so families in the Adelaide metropolitan area who rely on access to matzah for one week out of the year. For those living in Sydney, Melbourne and possibly Hong Kong, such problems must seem unthinkable. But I have recently learnt that Adelaide is far from alone among smaller Jewish communities in struggling to obtain enough supplies of the Bread of our Affliction.

This is only one among many challenges and surprises I’ve encountered since I moved nearly eighteen years ago from the Pittsburgh area with its relatively large Jewish population to Adelaide. In my early weeks here, I was interviewed by the Australian Jewish News, whose first question was, “How does it feel to be serving a dying Jewish community?” This is not really the kind of query one wishes to confront after moving to the other side of the world. Fortunately, our little Jewish community here as proven remarkably durable. The membership of Beit Shalom has not grown in my time here, but it has also not shrunk. South Australia has actually discovered a silver lining from the dark cloud of October 7: at the start of the year, Beit Shalom’s Cheder re-launched as a Hebrew school, catering for non-Hebrew speakers and also native Hebrew speakers. Our little Jewish learning centre doubled in size overnight. I’m thrilled to see Jewish children from all different backgrounds connecting with each other.

There are other challenges that confront such tiny Jewish communities: if you want a challah in Adelaide, or latkes, or any other Jewish food, you need to cook it yourself. If you want a mezuzah or a new tallit, you either need to hop on the internet or find an excuse to visit Melbourne or Sydney. There is no Jewish nursing home in South Australia, and so it is up to new Jewish nursing home residents and their families to educate the facilities about what is and isn’t appropriate to serve at meals. A community member who was recently in hospital had to explain to the attendant that ham and pea soup was in fact not vegetarian or appropriate to serve to a Jewish patient. Jews living in these remote corners of our region have proven themselves endlessly resilient and resourceful time and time again.

After 17 ½ years of teaching, singing, and baking here in South Australia, I am moving on. Starting 1 July, I will be serving as an intentional interim rabbi at a small congregation in northern Indiana as that community moves through a time of transition. I am more than a bit fearful about returning to the United States during the presidential election. However, I am very keen to experience once again what it is like living in a country with a Jewish population 50 times that of Australia. If Israel is one centre for exciting and passionate Jewish culture, the US is surely a second centre. There is a great deal I will miss about Australia and Adelaide in particular. But I’m guessing next Pesach there will definitely be no shortage of matzah!

This will almost certainly be the most difficult Pesach we’ve encountered since we celebrated our seders in lockdown in 2020. I do not expect a miracle in the next few days. I do pray that we will find the inspiration we need from this festival, and that by the time Pesach comes around next year we will find ourselves in a much better place. Hag sameach!

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