The Derech Eretz group in Moree on January 26. Photos: supplied by Stand Up Derech Eretz.
The Derech Eretz group in Moree on January 26. Photos: supplied by Stand Up Derech Eretz.
'We love you'

Welcoming ‘the Jewish mob’ to country

Stand Up’s Derech Eretz program recently returned from its 18th trip to Toomelah and Boggabilla. The AJN finds out about the lasting impact the program has had on both the Jewish participants and First Nations communities involved.

“What’s that bread you guys bring?” asked Buddy, a member of the predominantly Aboriginal communities of Toomelah and Boggabilla.


“That with Vegemite changed my life! Deadset, I swear.”

A small cultural exchange that speaks volumes about the relationship that has been built up over time between Jewish participants and a First Nations community. Earlier this year, Stand Up’s Derech Eretz program returned Toomelah and Boggabilla for the 18th year.

The relationship has become so familiar and endearing, that the First Nations community affectionately refer to those on the Derech Eretz program as “the Jewish mob”.

“It’s really challenging to get community support in Boggabilla and Toomelah, so it’s really special for the Jewish mob to come up and contribute,” Buddy continued.

“We just absolutely love you guys and want you to come back every year, every holiday … we really value and appreciate your support. We love you!

“The kids know their faces, so there’s a lot of trust with the kids. They go with the flow, the Jewish mob have their own culture so they really understand our people and First Nations people of our country, but also First Nations people of our community, which is the Gomeroi people.”

The Hebrew term “derech eretz” translates to “the way of the land”. As a concept, however, it embodies the idea of conduct that contributes to decency, respect and social awareness.

Stand Up has benefited from the opportunity to do this since 2005, when a group of Jewish students set out to establish an enduring relationship with a First Nations community. They were connected with community Elders from Boggabilla and Toomelah (Gomeroi Country), a former mission, who entrusted them with the chance to travel north and facilitate school holiday programs.

The “Jewish mob” with community Elders.

For 18 years, Stand Up has ensured that Jewish youth continue to return, with the program now known as Derech Eretz. Through it, a unique and meaningful friendship has been forged between the Jewish community and the predominantly Aboriginal communities of Toomelah and Boggabilla.

Derech Eretz offers young Jewish adults (aged 18-30) the opportunity to facilitate holiday activities for local youth, connect with community members and participate in informal education sessions designed to bridge the blind spots of Australia’s mainstream curriculum in relation to First Nations Australia.

“While we are up there we facilitate informal school holiday programs for the local youth,” said Tahlia Bowen, who is Stand Up’s First Nations partnerships coordinator.

“But also, since 2005, our relationship has strengthened and developed. When we go up it’s no longer just about engaging with us, but we also have an Elders tea, we meet up with Elders and visit friends, and this year in particular we had six volunteers from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.”

Community Elder Aunty Dawn was asked about her earliest memory of the “Jewish mob”.

“To me personally, it’s like one big family,” she said.

“We’ve been together so long, and I really love it because their first stop is at my house. It’s just coming together, and whatever you can do to help out children here in this community is a real blessing to me.

“We just love you coming up. All the years you’ve been coming up and getting to know everybody and … I would love to know how many from the first day to now, how many have come here. I’d love to see someone take a roll call, but we really enjoy you coming up here and this is what it’s all about: getting to know each other and just to help one another.”

Another community Elder, Aunty Chrissie, said she first remembers meeting the “Jewish mob” 14 years ago when her husband passed away.

“I’ve known you all for about that time,” she said.

The “Jewish mob” in Toomelah.

“Met a lot of good friends, so when I go to Sydney I just ring or text and let them know I’m there and then we organise to meet up somewhere. So that’s the sweetest thing about meeting all you guys and when I’ve been down, it’s good to meet up again.

“It means a lot because you’ve been coming for so long … great friendships, great heart for one another, you know? It’s just really deadly when you ring to say you’re coming. I look forward to all of that. You come to my mum’s house and I like to see the respect that you show to my mum.”

Asked if she wants to continue to see the “Jewish mob” come back, Aunty Chrissie said: “Yes, of course! Yes, it wouldn’t be the same without you. And these kids …. they need you to be here for them, you know? And that friendship that’s available for them, that’s special for them as well.”

This year, the Derech Eretz group flew to Brisbane then drove to Boggabilla, which is where they stayed and spent 10 days doing activities with the local children.

“We engaged with about 40 young people over the course of the 10 days, ranging from the age of around three or four, to 18,” Bowen said.

“We also supported some of the other school holiday programs that were being offered by service providers in the area, including an organisation called Drug ARM and another one called Winangali Infusion.

The young community members often speak of their excitement when those on the Derech Eretz program arrive.

“I get to spend time with other people that I don’t know and meet the people who work as the Jewish mob. They’re really nice,” Angel said.

“We do puppet shows, some yoga and … spraying people with water guns! There’s nowhere else that I want to be when the Jewish mob’s here.”

The Derech Eretz group joining local communities on January 26. Photos: supplied by Stand Up Derech Eretz.

One of the most meaningful days for the “Jewish mob” to be alongside the communities of Toomelah and Boggabilla is January 26. Some refer to it as Australia Day, others as Invasion Day or Survival Day.

For the Derech Eretz group, January 26, 2023 began with an early rising in Moree, NSW.

“Moree’s history of official segregation is impressed upon its contemporary demography,” Bowen said.

“Speaker Uncle Lyall Munro pointed out the irony that new immigrants were being welcomed to Australia in citizenship ceremonies across the river, rather than being “over here with us”, welcomed by the true sovereigns – First Peoples. His comment served as a reminder of how lucky our Derech Eretz group was to spend the morning with the local Gomeroi community.

The Derech Eretz participants engaging with local children.

“As the commemorative march ended, a celebration of survival ensued. The crowd of a few hundred dispersed between a number of stalls, featuring weaving, boomerang-painting, song and dance, a sausage sizzle and SOBAH (bush-tucker infused, non-alcoholic beer). Later that afternoon, we were invited to take part in a similar range of activities at a Survival Day event organised by Winangali Infusion. Between eating damper, gathering bush teas and learning from community members, we celebrated what is most worth celebrating about Australia: the survival of the oldest continuing cultures in the world.”

That marked the last day of the trip, which Bowen said was particularly meaningful as by then, the students had already established relationships with the children and the wider community.

“Most of the volunteers knew many of the kids’ names and we could just spend the day playing with them and chatting with the Elders and feeling a part of the community,” Bowen said.

“It’s really special. They’re always happy to open their arms to us and welcome us in.”

Those on the Derech Eretz program have described the trip as a “life-changing experience” and one that is hugely beneficial to both the Jewish and First Nations communities.

Liam, a Derech Eretz participant, said he will “never forget the wonderful kids, the stories they shared with me and the fun we had together”.

Another participant, Taya, said she learned so much and gained “intense amounts of inspiration”, while Liam added, “I am so grateful I came on this program. I feel more informed and prepared to engage with First Nations peoples across Australia and advocate for their rights”.

For more information about Stand Up’s Derech Eretz program, visit


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