JEWISH leaders gathered in Jerusalem to honour the Brit who became the soul of the Aussie olim community.
Yigal Sela has just stepped down after 12 years directing the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Israel office. He describes himself as “British by birth, Israeli by choice, but Australian by love”.
Dozens of people attended a farewell lunch, including Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency.
Herzog lauded Sela’s work, and also heaped praise on the Australian Jewish community for its “great Jewish education system, commitment to Zionism, and love of Israel”.
Australia’s ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan said that Sela, a 67-year-old kibbutznik, is “widely respected and loved by people in Australia and in Israel”.
The ambassador said, “The ZFA and Yigal in particular are such important partners for the Australian government – building this close strong relationship that we’ve had in place for so many years.”
Talking to The AJN after the event, Sela said that building connections – his own relationships with Australians, and helping Aussies and Israelis to get connected – has been his favourite part of the job.
He expressed confidence that his successor Moriah Ben-David, a former Knesset lobbyist and Bnei Akiva shlichah to Melbourne, will continue his work.
Sela said: “The highlight of the last 12 years was working with the Australian community which, despite its distance, is so Zionistic. The people who come to live here make such a big step – and the families they leave behind are so positive and proud about the move there relations make.
“I’ve worked with dozens of communities in my career – I’ve travelled the world and seen the places – and nothing compares to the Australian community.”
Sela made aliyah from Britain in 1970. He was inspired by his youth movement Dror, and moved to Kibbutz Mahanayim near Tzfat, where he still lives.
He took on the ZFA job a few years after fighting cancer, and found Australian olim very supportive when it came to his rather unusual way of putting his illness behind him. He took up long-distance swimming despite having a long rod running through most of his left leg from cancer, which makes it act as a “brake”.
When he took on a 22-kilometre swimming challenge in 2015, Australian Israelis turned out in force to cheer him on.
Sela has spent much of his time working with gap year groups, and said that seeing the sense of harmony that students have for their Australian and Jewish identities is one of his big pleasures.
“I always get very moved by Anzac day, seeing keen young Zionists so excited to honour their Australian history while exploring Israel.”