Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Shaliach has embodied at least one aspect of the tangible expression of the symbiotic relationship between Israel and its Diasporas. This article discusses the educational Shaliach sent from Israel to the Jewish Diaspora in Australia, and is based on a research study carried out between 2006 and 2009 using a qualitative methodology. Through in-depth interviews with 20 Shlichim, their experience was examined before departure, during their mission in Australia, and after their return back to Israel. This article focuses on one aspect that was examined: the educational message of the Shlichim and the clarity of their mission within the local Jewish community.
This research study has clearly indicated that, for the time being, the criteria for success of the Shlichim in their mission were determined solely by the Shlichim individually. Thus, it corroborates the necessity by all parties to take into account the factor, among others, of mission clarity in order to maximize the effectiveness and potential success of the mission in question.
This study has provided the opportunity to examine acculturation problems of Shlichim to Australia in detail and investigated the experience of the Shlichim from before the initial stage of their actual arrival to the Jewish Diaspora community in Australia until after their return to Israel.
It dealt with Shlichim as Israelis sent for an educational mission to the Jewish community in Australia. The Shlichim came with educational messages and a sense of representation as Israelis. In fact, although most are sent by the Jewish Agency, the findings indicate the presence of an array of perspectives and agendas. However, as a result of the different Jewish reality in the Diaspora, they developed new understandings, which impacted on their work. Their experience in the Australian Diaspora community affected their perceptions about Judaism, Israel, and Israel-Diaspora relations. This aspect was found to be the most significant in the acculturation process of the Shaliach in Australia. They also came to realize that the personal connection with their students and the community members was a vital factor for success.
Although this is not a comparative research and focused on the Shlichim to the Jewish Diaspora in Australia, the Australian case can provide insights into the phenomenon of Shlichim to other Diasporas in general. As Rutland (2006), referring to the studies of the Australian Diaspora, put it: “Each Diaspora Jewish community across the world has unique characteristics, as well as common elements. Therefore, studying Australia’s Jewish community creates a better understanding of the overall Diaspora Jewish experience” (p. 299). Comparative research should examine in what ways the specific cultural elements and community features impact the acculturation experience of Shlichim and their work in other communities.
Moreover, the mission of Shlichim can be seen as being comprised of imparting values and messages and the means for delivering the message. While the underlying values of the purpose of Shlichut may be fixed, the message and means of conveying the message should be reconsidered and revisited. As this research has focused on the Shaliach’s perspective, further research should determine whether there is a synergy between all parties involved with Shlichut in order to create a clear mission statement and an assessment tool defining a successful assignment. Research should examine in what way Shlichim actually manage to bring about change as educators within the cross-cultural encounter they are aiming to impact. The effectiveness of this system should be examined in light of current changes in Israel-Diaspora relations and developing concepts of Diaspora in general. Therefore, traditional notions of the role that the Shaliach plays within the context of Israel-Diaspora relations must be revisited.