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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Arnold Zable on the Jewish Bund Community

Mara Moustafine and Arnold Zable.

Writer Arnold Zable describes the active community life around "Skif", the Bund (Jewish Socialist) youth movement.



Date Added:

02 April 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

11.7 MB




My parents grew up in the Bund and in – and its youth organisation, zukunft which means, “future.” And they came to Melbourne partly because that was one of the few places in the world where it had reconstituted itself and was quite strong. And in fact, as a child, I went to camps of the youth organisation which is called SKIF and in fact, just yesterday on – two days ago on the Saturday night, we celebrated the 80th anniversary of SKIF and it was quite interesting thinking back on what that meant in our lives.

Because it was a youth movement that was non-Zionist and before the war, probably anti-Zionist and – but after the war I think after the Holocaust, most Jews I think the consensus became, well thank God we’ve got somewhere in case things get tough. Now, that’s another issue, you know, that – that’s the hotly debated issue within the Bund community, what Israel actually means. But the focus has always been and some people are critical, some are not, but the focus has always been on creating a Jewish life wherever one is and also respecting other communities right to create a life for themselves. Like, in a sense, the Bund were multi-culturalist before the word was even dreamt of probably or invoked.

And it goes back to its origins in the late 1890s, the Bundist part of the general Russian socialist movement, which included, you know the Mencheviks and the Bolsheviks and the social revolutionaries and the Narodniks and all the rest of it, but by 1901 they had said, “Yes, we’re all of those things, but we believe in a social democracy where the rights of minorities are respected.” And I think that their – that sense of – remains strong with me for the rest – you know, for the rest of my life and also, they conveyed a love of language. The Yiddish language was central to their – to what they were doing.

They sent me out into that secular Yiddish speaking community of Melbourne, which was the Bund and the Yiddish schools, they helped create. I felt quite comfortable moving between the two worlds: the Australian world and the Yiddish secular world.

Because I grew up in Carlton, I often call this the Carlton model of education. While I respect the right of different communities to have their individual schools based on their denominations and their backgrounds, I personally I think that the ideal form of education for a multicultural society is what I had. Where you go to the local state school through the week, so you’re part of an integrated community. And in Carlton in the ‘50s and ‘60s that was Italians, Greeks, Jews, all these newcomers, Yugoslavs, the post-war immigration boomers – many of them from displaced persons camps, you know this is our community –alongside working class Australians.

And we had our conflicts, and we had our harmonies and we lived in one community together, we went to school together and then on the weekend, you look at Carlton, you look at Drummond Street, in Carlton, there was one section of Drummond Street you had the Yiddish Peretz school, right that’s a secular Peretz school I went to on Sunday mornings and Wednesday after school. And Peretz is known as the father of Yiddish literature. And they had a counterpart in St Kilda called Sholem Aleichem school. Right? And then you had the Bialik school for those who wanted to learn Hebrew and then you had the Talmud Torah for those who wanted to learn the scriptures.

And to me, that model is a fantastic model for a multicultural society. I think it gets the balance right of social justice and multiculturalism in later life.

End transcript