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What the Youth Crave

May 7, 2013 – 10:44 am8 Comments

Image: azyc.com.au

By Ben Scholl
Every few months our community is overcome by fear at the utterance of terms such as ‘assimilation’ and ‘continuity’.  A recurring theme of crisis is established as we realize that school fees are too high and we are losing ground in the battle to engage the next generation of Australian Jews.

Having recently finished my time as a Boger (graduate) in Habonim Dror, one of the most well-attended and well-structured of the six Zionist youth movements in Melbourne, I realized that the madrichim of such organizations are the best equipped to guide the leaders of tomorrow.

The youth movements provide outstanding young leaders because they place the youth in positions of responsibility with full control over their operations. This is what the youth crave – the opportunity to shape something as they wish, without restraint, and to express their ideas freely.

These organizations develop and foster honest working relationships. Leaders develop strong values and are encouraged to think innovatively, using their creativity to guide their organization to new frontiers. The youth movements are also the breeding ground of strong work ethics. Madrichim often engage in movement activities up to three times a week, putting in endless hours of preparation to ensure the growth and development of their chanichim. Most importantly, youth leaders know how to interact with and engage kids.

As young people growing up, we tend to only ever engage with two age demographics: our peer group (friends, school-mates etc.) and our parents’ age-group (parents, teachers etc.). This is why the role of a madrich has so much scope for potential – it is so rare that we get the opportunity to interact with the demographic nestled between these two groups and learn vital life lessons from them.

However, once these leaders finish their time in the movement, many become disengaged and have few outlets to utilize the talents and skills they learned from the movements. While some organizations have begun to take the lead, I propose our community should take steps to recognize the importance that youth movements play in the future of our community by adopting two approaches.

Firstly, it is imperative that communal leadership helps fund the sustainability of the youth movements. While some movements are tied to synagogue support, others rely on the generosity of ‘membership’ – a non-compulsory donation by parents to help purchase equipment and maintain upkeep of premises. Along with annual fundraising attempts, these revenue-raising initiatives simply do not suffice. As noted by the Gen08 Survey, youth movement education is one of the five key elements of a well-rounded Jewish upbringing. It is imperative that the older leaders of our community take note and give these organizations the support they so desperately need.

Secondly, organizations which seek to engage Jewish youth – and there are many that fall in this category, from synagogues and schools to Jewish support groups – need to alter their model to place ex-movement madrichim at their core of operations. The youth movement structure builds tzvatim (teams) by engaging like-minded individuals to work together and compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It also helps foster motivation and enables young leaders to find partners who share their vision. When we work together, the sky is the limit. Organizations in our community need to heed these lessons of the youth and implement structures which enable groups of madrichim to help guide their organization on the ground and engage the youth through creative activities. Provide them with the resources and support to thrive and do what they do best and the results will be there for all to see.

Youth leaders have brilliant ideas. They are talented, charismatic, and enthusiastic. They can truly engage with the next generation. The community needs to have the courage to place responsibility in the hands of these capable young adults before they too are disengaged.

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