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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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