By Rikki Stern
Published in The Jewish Report
Growing up in Sydney, I was lucky enough to experience the joys of the Hakoah Club on Hall Street.
I vividly remember cruising down the catwalk in the main hall at the WIZO kids’ fashion show, laughing in the games room as we played Crash Bandicoot. There were the distinct noises of kids learning karate and adults parading around as they danced to Israeli music.
The Hakoah Club is also the scene of some of my most cherished memories with my late grandfather and great grandmother. I can still close my eyes and hear us all laughing together over dinner at the bistro. I recall the pearls of wisdom they imparted to me while I sat alongside them at the pokie machines. Hakoah was always a special place, not just for the community, but for families. For my family. And it was a sad day when it closed.
When I was in high school, my family moved to Vancouver, Canada. During that time we took full advantage of having a local Jewish Community Centre. Going there always reminded us about the importance of belonging to a Jewish community and the strong bonds that we share, even when we were from 12,000 kilometres from home. The JCC warmly welcomed expats like us and gave us a sense of belonging. It was a safe, accessible space to forge friendships with people that we likely wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise.
The Jewish day school I attended was across the road from the JCC. We often used the facilities for our weekly sport, swimming, basketball and gym sessions. When my grandparents came from Sydney to stay for a couple of months, my grandfather would drop me off at school and go straight to the JCC. There, he would meet others, play bridge, swim laps, enjoy a coffee or attend group discussions on all things from Israel to world politics. Today, nearly a decade later, he’s still in contact with many of the people he met at the Vancouver JCC.
Study after study shows that chronic feelings of loneliness and disconnection can lead to depression. This, of course, is true too for members of our Jewish community. I was alarmed to read that a recent study (Social Isolation in the New South Wales Jewish Community), by Dr Eva Lowy, found that 70% of respondents experienced loneliness. These findings are especially true for the more mature members of our community. I believe Hakoah will be a powerful antidote to loneliness and, therefore, prevent the devastating impact it can have on someone’s life.
But Hakoah’s vital role in the health of our community is not just for our more mature members. Even for my age group it can be hard to find a place to go and meet your friends or make new ones. Many of my single friends find it challenging to meet partners. The pandemic has obviously made it even worse. That is why the idea of a Sydney JCC – a buzzing hub of creative activities and programs that will draw people in weekly to do the things they love – is incredibly exciting. People will leave having not just undertaken a yoga session or enjoyed a gig at the bar, but they will depart knowing they are part of a community. Rather than feeling lonely, they will have that special sense of belonging and connection. And any time they venture into Hakoah, they may just have a serendipitous meeting that can change the course of their lives.
I’m confident that Hakoah at White City can become the vibrant centerpiece for the Sydney Jewish Community that JCCs are for so many other Jewish communities around the world. A place that people gravitate to on a regular basis. My hope is that Hakoah, our JCC, will similarly be a place where Jews who visit Sydney know they can find the familiarity of home – or even find a relative over a game of Jewish geography. A place where friendships will be forged between unlikely companions, across generations and diverse backgrounds, and innovative programming ideas will come to life.
I feel lucky to have experienced the sense of community and togetherness at Hakoah on Hall Street and at the JCC in Vancouver. I look forward to seeing how the new Hakoah at White City will become an inspiring place to be part of a community in all its manifestations.
The buildings will be beautiful, but it’s what will take place inside those that attracts me to this project. Whether it be dance classes, yoga, bridge club, cooking workshops, futsal, the community garden or mums and bubs groups, there promises to be something for everyone’s interests and passions.
So, please join me and the nearly 2,000 others who have already joined Hakoah. Your membership will help Hakoah reach its membership target in order to start construction in early 2022. Only then can we begin creating new memories, together, at Hakoah in late 2023.
Rikki Stern is a young Jewish community leader who founded Cancer Chicks Australia. She also works for Hakoah, creating content for social media.