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Sam Tatarka On Generational Change

August 21, 2013 – 9:46 am11 Comments

By Sam Tatarka:

change-same2As a member of the Monash Jewish Students’ Society in the 1970s I railed against the Hillel establishment that sought to control our funding based on their perception of what we as students ought to be setting as our priorities.  Not long thereafter and as a young graduate I joined the Hillel Executive where my successors in the student movement railed against me (and the rest of the Executive) for doing precisely the same thing.

Fast forward a decade or three and the discussion about whither the future of the established Jewish community and its relationship to younger members has a familiar resonance albeit it in a more modern context.  We worry as our predecessors did where the next generation of leaders will come from and the younger generations complain that the staid older generations just don’t get it.

I am far more hopeful for the future than this vision of a dinosaur like extinction might allow.  In my view, the key to the future is to ensure that the best and the brightest of the next generation of leadership feel that there is a place for them in the established communal bodies.  A failure to do so brings the unwelcome prospect that some may simply turn their backs on those institutions as apathy and disengagement become the response to the issues that we consider important.

It is undoubtedly true that social media and the internet have completely revolutionised the nature of communication.  The opportunities for individuals to gain significant audiences for their views and causes through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and a myriad of other channels is unparalleled.  The broad expression of opinion has been democratised in a way that has not been seen before and the validity of traditional organisational structures and their “right” to speak on behalf of their constituencies has been called into question with some arguing that they are archaic and doomed to fade into the dying light.

We must be willing to adapt and embrace these new channels for what they mean to the younger generations, namely a legitimate and effective means by which individuals and groups can coalesce around causes or ideas.  Furthermore, there is a strong case for us to consider how they might be used to improve our communication with and open our processes to the community at large.

In reality these alternate means of fostering community and connection should not be seen as threatening traditional structures but rather as a means to enhance our community by providing different ways for people to identify with their Jewishness and to connect with Israel.  Ultimately I believe that it is that identification and connectedness that will nurture future generations of leaders as they seek to take what is meaningful to them into the mainstream institutions just as we did in years gone by.

From the perspective of the current leadership it is important that we nurture and encourage those who show an aptitude for leadership to do so by making our organisations inviting and accessible and by mentoring them as they develop.  A significant challenge is to make these young leaders feel that their voices are heard and to make participation as flexible as possible.  That requires sensitivity on the part of the current leadership to the fact that some budding leaders find our processes intimidatory or boring or may fear being shouted down if they say the “wrong” thing.  Mostly that requires us to take the time to listen to the voices, read the blogs and the posts and the tweets and to truly hear the conversations that are generating passionate responses amongst the younger members of our community.  Having done so it ought not be too big a step to see how these causes can be adopted or our existing organisations adapted in order to make them more relevant and appealing to those who might one day lead.

That there will be generational change in the years to come is inevitable.  The Zionist council of 2013 is not the Zionist Council of 1953, 1973 or 1993 and it is undoubtedly not going to be the Zionist Council of 2023.

It is my hope that through evolution and adaptation young and enthusiastic leaders will find a welcoming home for their commitment to our community.

Editor’s note: For an opposing view, you can read this piece by an anonymous insider.

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11 Comments »

  • AK says:

    He doesn’t say anything radical.. just that organisations evolve over time and new people come on board.. what’s his point? What if the young people he is talking about find the current institutions not just boring and intimidating, but irrelevant and unnecessary.. Is he prepared for that? Is the community?

  • Joel says:

    Sam, I very much appreciate your earnestness and willingness to dig deeper to make space for youth and young adult leaders.

    I have two points to make that I’d love to hear your thoughts on:

    (1) I don’t think you are quite hitting the mark with what the ‘issue’ is. Largely, you addressed the FORM (or METHOD) of our institutional structures (“improve communication”, “intimidation”, “boring” etc.) but not the SUBSTANCE. Most of the long-standing institutions in the community spend a great deal of their time, money and message on Zionism and, specifically, Zionist politics. Obviously that is ZCV’s remit, but even other organisations such as ECAJ and JCCV (meant to represent large bodies of JEWRY) are preoccupied with a rather myopic range of issues. While undoubtedly Israel is essential to Jewish identification in the diaspora, many (I’ll even argue MOST) young Jews’ daily lives are not preoccupied with constant Zionist debate and discussion. Young Jews care about a whole range of social, cultural, political, artistic and entrepreneurial matters that simply are not part of the mission of our main organisations. These areas significantly shape their identity, bolstering their Selves with layers of meaning; how they see their place in the world; where they want their lives to lead and how they want to influence the lives of others. So at the very least, creative approaches to Jewish engagement are what some seek, but at most, it’s a whole range of things that our organisational bodies have neither the willingness, desire or capacity to enrich.

    (2) It is beyond self-evident that the most successful programs for youth engagement across the (Jewish) world these days is via PEER-LEAD, GRASSROOTS movement-making. Examples of this is the Moishe House, a hub of meaning and activity entirely fueled by the people whom it serves. It comes as no surprise that when a person or group are empowered to create programs and share ideas for THEMSELVES, and not have any pre-existing policies, structures and hierarchies in which that experience is to take place, amazing things can happen. i will even argue that that is why AUJS doesn’t quite hit the mark with a lot of people. While they advertise message like: “AUJS is yours – make of it what you will”, it is forever shrouded in insanely complex hierarchies and bureaucracies (titles like: “chair”, “vice chair”, “national president” “national vice chair”, “State campus engagement officer” etc etc etc). These titles and organisational structures tend to create power imbalance and inevitably can be DIS-empowering (even though their aim is to place power in hands of lay leaders). Not to mention that endless committee meetings are not fun for anyone – even when run by youth, for youth.

    On the other hand, programs like AUJS Israel programs are highly successful as they are run, as I’ve indicated above, BY youth, FOR youth and tend not to be influenced too heavily by those hierarchies.

    So unfortunately, until community bodies (a) completely restructure themselves so as to promote grassroots, non-hierarchical kinds of organising and (b) begin engaging with the broad array of issues that define our existence, there can be little hope of nurturing young Jews into positions of leadership in these community bodies.

    You may disagree with this position but, unfortunately, just as art is in the eye of the beholder, I am the EXACT demographic you seek to appeal to and I am very much in touch with why my peers find a propositions as yours not entirely compelling.

    But this article is a good first step!

  • Alex Fein says:

    Sam, Joel, and Alex – while I agree with much of what Joel and Alex have to say about the institutions’ essential problems, I don’t actually think we can do without institutions all together.

    As important as grassroots initiatives are, we still need the capacity for organised response and action – some of which is sufficiently costly that we do need a hierarchical structure to administer funds and to organise complex events. In terms of lobbying government, I also believe organised, ordered responses are the best.

    It’s a huge problem, however, that our institutions currently speak to so few Jews. The problem runs far deeper than form. For example, ECAJ has had a post up on Facebook for about a week asking for communal input on its official response to the Government’s refugee policy.

    That the post elicited only two comments – one of which was solicited – is a stark indication that social media is utterly useless if no one cares about the issue or organisation.

    So what to do?

    I’d recommend a two step approach that harnesses the best of both grass roots engagement and hierarchical organisation.

    1) Create a hub that networks as many grass roots and official groups as possible so that they can communicate with each other, help each other, and not duplicate resources.

    2) Develop a “universal” Jewish franchise that enables everyone who identifies as a Jew to elect their representatives.

    I realise both ideas border on the grandiose, but I think we urgently need change. The Monash Gen08 study describes a community in quite some peril. Grassroots initiatives are important, but there are many functions they will not be able to perform.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Addendum: I forgot to add – the universal franchise idea is predicated on a rationalisation of organisations. Already,ECAJ opines publicly on matters that are really ZFA issues and other duplications are common.

    The cost – both financial and in PR terms – of so many institutions is enormous and unnecessary.

  • Jo Silver says:

    Enough talk – Come along to CONNECTS and do it yourself.

    JCCV is launching CONNECTS on Sept 12 – https://www.facebook.com/events/396995887066901/

    Rightly or wrongly, I have been meeting with youth organisations or those who work with youth. Here’s what they want:

    – The role and involvement of young adults in communal organisations
    – The need for networking and collaboration between organisations for development, knowledge sharing and opportunity
    – Providing young adults with a voice to develop policy and community leadership Mentorship
    – Regular meetings that address issues, knowledge sharing & solutions Promotion of organisational events to the community
    – Youth leadership run by young adults for young adults
    – Redress the missing 28 – 40 year old age group as there are limited pathways for young adults

    The group felt that given more support, pathways and connections, in the 18-24 year old bracket, they would be better able to address the issues, establish pathways and be more likely to stay involved as they reached 25 – 40 years old.

    It was decided that a once off summit would be insufficient to garner and sustain interest. Hence a staged approach including networking, input and buy in with ongoing sessions was felt best.

    Is it good – is it bad. I don’t know. By as time-poor part time community professional, I would be delighted to work with you, have you attend and get some serious constructive activity happening because I know, I can get this going but it has to be championed by young people who really care. I am the wrong demographic!

    Email me on jo.silver@jccv.org.au if you want a copy of the plan.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Hi Jo.

    With respect, the tone of your comment reflects precisely the culture that turns so many young people off the established institutions.

    You say:
    “Enough talk – Come along to CONNECTS and do it yourself.”

    This seems to presume that younger people who are unimpressed with the established institutions are not, “doing,” only, “talking.”

    That’s not only incorrect, it quite insulting.

    You say:
    “Rightly or wrongly, I have been meeting with youth organisations or those who work with youth. Here’s what they want:

    – The role and involvement of young adults in communal organisations”

    Which young people are these? I do not know more that a couple of young people who have any desire to engage in the established institutions.

    You say:
    “- The need for networking and collaboration between organisations for development, knowledge sharing and opportunity”

    What is the intended practical manifestation of this?

    You say:
    “- Regular meetings that address issues, knowledge sharing & solutions Promotion of organisational events to the community”

    I find it hard to believe there are many young people who seek institutional meetings.

    You say:
    “- Youth leadership run by young adults for young adults”

    Again, what does this mean? Are you sure you’re not duplicating resources with organisations such as Jewish Aid, YBF, CJF, Moishe House, The Eden Project, the shuls, etc? Have you consulted with these organisations?

    You say:
    “- Redress the missing 28 – 40 year old age group as there are limited pathways for young adults”

    Pathways to where? To institutional leadership?

    You say:
    “The group felt that given more support, pathways and connections, in the 18-24 year old bracket, they would be better able to address the issues, establish pathways and be more likely to stay involved as they reached 25 – 40 years old.”

    Once again, what does this mean? Support in what? Pathways to where, connections to whom/what?

    You say:
    “It was decided that a once off summit would be insufficient to garner and sustain interest. Hence a staged approach including networking, input and buy in with ongoing sessions was felt best.”

    Please explain further what this means.

    You say:
    “Is it good – is it bad. I don’t know. By as time-poor part time community professional, I would be delighted to work with you, have you attend and get some serious constructive activity happening because I know, I can get this going but it has to be championed by young people who really care. I am the wrong demographic!”

    Again, this seems to contain the assumption that there is no activity currently happening. Again, that is incorrect and insulting.

  • Sam Tatarka says:

    Hi Joel,

    In response to your comments:

    On the question of communal institutions overlapping in their remit, I agree that there is some overlap and that there is a case to be made for clearer demarcation. On the other hand the last thing I want to foster is a turf war. Accepting that your perspective may well be different, Israel is a key issue that often crosses the lines between domestic and international politics. Bob Carr’s comments on settlements is case in point.

    I don’t agree with your comment about the JCCV’s focus being on Zionist politics. In fact very little of what the JCCV does is Israel or Zionist focused and there is minimal overlap between ZCV and JCCV’s work.

    To paraphrase you, both young and not so young Jews care about a whole range of social, cultural, political, artistic and entrepreneurial matters that simply are not part of the mission of our main organisations. TRUE. However it is important to remember that the “main organisations” are roof bodies of many other organisations (in the ZCV’s case 52 others) that are involved in the very issues that you identify. We (the roof bodies) serve to synthesise, filter and present the consensus of a range of views and interests of our constituent organisations. We certainly do not profess to be nor can we be all things to all people.

    Hence Moshe House or Eden Project or any grassroots organisation you might care to mention or imagine are encouraged to participate in the broader communal roof body structures and bring their take on issues to the fora in which the community comes together and draw on such resources as we are able to offer them in aid of their causes. An example from my neck of the woods is that Beth Weizmann gladly hosted the Eden project last week and a range of communal grass roots organisations such as KOOK (the Kosher Open Kitchen at BW, KOGO and the Jewish Bereaved Parents group all of which have found homes in the Lamm Jewish Library complex.

    I respectfully disagree with your assertion that the roof bodies have neither the desire nor the willingness to enrich the lives of individuals or the activities of community groups though it is fair to say our capacity to do so (at least economically) is limited by the budgets we have to work with and the number of hours in a day.

    I’m afraid I also need to disagree with you about organisational structure. With remarkably few exceptions all groupings have structures of some sort or another. If not formal then informal hierarchies inevitably develop in order to facilitate function. Can we do better in making the hierarchy more accessible and less title bound? Absolutely. Can we do away with organisations altogether, I don’t think so.

    Kind regards

    Sam

  • Beck says:

    I find all of this fascinating. What if we don’t want to be marketed to or don’t want to be lead along demarcated pathways? This is a community, not a product. In a community people contribute what they have, when they have it. It may not be their entire lives, it may just be a small part of them, but people give what they can and take what they need. As a young adult many of us need very little and don’t want to take a lot either. That is part of what being young is about. At some point we will realise we need more and will come back and give and take.

    I would suggest that much of the work for the children in our community is done by young people (specifically the afore mentioned 18-24 year olds). I think the reason much of the 24-30 year age bracket are not engaged is partly because they are sick of the responsibility that is required when they have been engaged. It becomes your life, and competes with everything else that needs to be done. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing, in fact I think it’s good and I agree with Joel that the peer initiated activities work.

    That is because when the 24-30 year old bracket want something they can and will do it. Unfortunately if we don’t want it enough we won’t so it, and we won’t come to it when it’s run for us.

    Arguable we have our friendship and support circles in our youth movements, in our universities, in our small niches of the community that we are comfortable in. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The informal parties, hikes, sleepovers, weekends away and even Jewish activity are all part of the Jewish community. Its just not official, but it still exists.

    Do we want the community to be strong and thrive? Yes. Do we want to run it and take on the same responsibility that we had in youth movements? No way.

  • Alex Fein says:

    I just had the pleasure of speaking to Jo Silver from the JCCV, and it’s become clear that there was a misunderstanding.

    Jo is currently involved in work that’s crucial to positive generational change in our institutions, and I wish her all the very best in her endeavours.

    Yasher koach, Jo.

  • Jo Silver says:

    Alex, thank you. I am excited by your energy, ideas and passion and the many wonderful projects taking place in our community.

    I met the three great house mates at Moishe House last night and would love to see the JCCV supporting and embracing their energy and fresh way of thinking, as with all the community initiatives. They are looking for 2 house mates and a new home and we have a 10,000 strong email list so can perhaps help (if interested… contact them).

    There are challenges in embracing change and new ways of thinking. The detail and prevailing culture. How to include, how to welcome, how to change without squashing the energy…

    So we shall start with a conversation. Looking forward to it.

  • PutYourHandUp says:

    Hi All

    I’m not sure if this post is more appropriate here or on the AnonymousInsider’s post, but given this is the more recent one I’ll share my thoughts here.

    Being just under 30 puts me in the demographic that I believe is being focussed on here. I’ve had the pleasure of living and working in a number of cities and Jewish communities and have held numerous positions (professional and volunteer) in numerous organisations, big and small. My personal experience has taught me one thing – if you roll up your sleeves, put your hand up and throw your all into something then you can and will be counted, but if you don’t, you most certainly won’t.

    That doesn’t mean that one can expect to put their hand up and immediately be inundated with funds for a new communal project or be installed as president of an existing communal organisation, and nor should it. It means that just like in all areas of life the right combination of passion, skills and dedication are what is needed in being able to participate in the building of our community. Anyone who has tried entering the workforce will know that we don’t always get the job we are hoping to land (despite thinking we are more than adequately appropriate for) or that the startup we are driving can’t find that one key investor to help it get off the ground despite thinking we have the next facebook idea buzzing around inside. But it is presumed that if it is important, we will keep fighting for it, whatever it takes.

    Our community shouldn’t be any different. Are there big organisations that aren’t necessarily 100% in touch with the younger generation? For sure. Are there gaps in the communal ‘market’ that require fresh energy and new ideas to develop and fill them? Absolutely. Should we (collectively) be doing absolutely everything we can do to make sure that anyone who wants to be involved in our community can be on some level? No doubt. But whilst we should hope for encouragement and support from current leadership and communal structures we can’t expect to be counted if we don’t put in the hard yards and prove our worth and potential.

    There are numerous examples of young people in our community joining major communal organisations and rising through the ranks and/or coming up with the next big idea that has been able to being together the right mix of energy and support to enable our communities to expand and grow into those communal gaps. In most cases that come to mind, there is one common theme that runs through all these ideas – a combination of genuine passion to contribute and make a difference (and where appropriate, but certainly not always the case, put together with a specific skill set).

    Whilst I implore the ‘older’ generation to help, support and encourage our communal participation in whichever ways that we see fit (and in some of the ways they see fit too), let’s make sure that we are simultaneously ready and worthy to take up any opportunity that comes our way and doing all that we can to create new ones too.

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