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Filling the Communal Black Hole

September 11, 2013 – 8:51 am13 Comments

By Jo Silver:

esther2Is there really a black hole into which all Jewish 24 – 40 year olds disappear? Hasn’t this always been a problem? What happens to young adult leaders who make their way up the ranks in AUJS and Youth Groups? Do they take a 20 year break whilst they establish careers and families?

Yes, there is a black hole around young adult leaders, specifically within Jewish institutions and it is likely to have always been a problem. However, with the ‘Gen 08’ studies identifying Jewish continuity as a real threat to Melbourne Jewry and the very different ways in which younger generations engage and communicate, the lack of youth leadership in organisations is an issue that needs addressing.

A number of groups have been working on this issue and this year has seen an explosion of platforms and young adult engagement points. Groups such as The Australian Jewish Funders provided a space for young adults to collaborate and develop initiatives such as The Eden Project, Moishe House and The Isaiah Scholarship. Other inspired young leaders have created YJP and AICC’s Young Business Network and ZFA has started Dor Atid in an effort to retain young adult leaders.

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) has also been hard at work and developed CONNECTS, a unique program designed as a young Jewish leaders networking group, for 20 – 28 yr. olds who are working and volunteering within community organizations.

For what purpose?

Well, the JCCV is the communal roof body, a group charged with representing Jews to Government, other faith groups and the Victorian community, to protect and promote Jewish interests.

The JCCV is also the communal leadership, representing over 2/3 of communal organizations (60 in total). As the communal leadership, the JCCV’s role is to represent, support and coordinate communal organisations to address issues and effect efficiencies such as retaining young adult leadership and Jewish continuity.

Given these two roles, the JCCV approached young adults working within Jewish organizations and put before them a fabulous solution – a youth summit – that they quickly rebuffed! Apart from the concern that one event creates lots of talk but no action, the group wanted to learn from each other, share resources across organizations, address issues of concern, be given support, mentoring and ongoing development.

The group suggested a three-pronged approach: meet and greet; think tank or summit; and ongoing networking and skills development.

This idea became CONNECTS. A program aimed at supporting, engaging and connecting young adults to each other and across organisations.

By creating a network of our community’s future leaders, the implications are many. In the short term, young leaders are more likely to stay involved within organizations and stay connected, develop strong networks and hopefully collaborate and address issues collectively. In the long term, this may translate to reducing duplication across organisations and the silo structure of our organisations. The issues and opportunities discussed at CONNECTS meetings may also filter into Boardrooms to impact on the existing leadership.

As with all projects and initiatives, the challenges will lay in the execution and funds. The first CONNECTS event at Zagames on Thursday 12th September is just the beginning of this journey. Ultimately, CONNECTS will network young adult leaders to each other and eventually to the existing communal leadership. The JCCV already has a networking platform operating amongst the professional and lay leadership and is perfectly suited to building these connections to unify and strengthen the community.

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  • Mike says:

    Such a “me too” idea. If there are all these other programs, and you recognise they’re worthwhile, why start another? Seems you’re just itching to claim some turf.

  • David Langsam says:

    As I have written elsewhere, I think one of the worst impacts of the AIJAC/JCCV/SZC/Danby vitriolic attacks on Noam Chomsky, Miriam Margolyes, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society and other Jewish critics of bad Israeli behaviour, is that young, engaged, politically and socially aware Jews cower on the subject of Israel.
    It is too hard.
    If you speak up against the constant breaches of human rights by Israel’s Government and the IDF under its orders, you will be attacked mercilessly by the AIJAC gang.
    So, Israel, when it is behaving badly, is not an easy subject for Galut Jews.
    What do the young, socially and politically-engaged do instead? Watch football, teevee soaps or get involved in worthy non-Israel politics, such as the environment or concern over China’s treatment of animals, or anything but the Middle East.
    This disengagement is not healthy. But the self-appointed attack-dogs of the community prefer disengaged silence to criticism.
    I don’t see any particular answer, other than for the few conscientious members of AIJAC, JCCV and SZC to recognize their error and encourage their comrades to allow dissent.
    Breath. Not holding.
    David Langsam

  • Jo Silver says:

    Mike, if it’s ‘me too’, the participants on Thursday night will let us know and all will be dropped. We have been planning this concurrently whilst the other programs have gotten up and it has been a young adult led initiative not a JCCV one. We aim to provide the support. From my knowledge, no one else is offering cross-organisational networking for young leaders. How wonderful if they are – we could collaborate.

  • Joe in Australia says:

    David, have you considered that they may not be cowering, but simply disagree with you?

  • Philip Mendes says:

    David – you are not a tiny bit paranoid are you?

  • Alex Fein says:

    Mike, I agree that there’s too much duplication; but that’s exactly why we need a central, communal place to network, collaborate, and make sure we’re not re-inventing any wheels.

    It might also be helpful to have a large institution’s experience and resources behind such a project.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Please don’t make personal remarks. Any such remarks will be deleted and a warning will be issued. Thanks

  • David Langsam says:

    Joe and Phillip,
    No, I wouldn’t have written what I did without evidence.
    I have met too many younger (20-35-ish) Jews in Melbourne who tell me they can’t be bothered with Zionism because it is too difficult.
    Not that they oppose Israel or Zionism, simply that a discussion that involves human rights and Occupation is a hiding to nothing.
    I’m not sure if there has been a drop in the membership of the Zionist organizations, but Habonim’s HQ in Gordon Street looks very tired, as does Hashomer Hatzayir’s.
    I know Netzer runs loads of activities, but when I go to shuls (TBI, East Melbourne, Toorak) attendances appear to be much lower than 40 years ago and dominated by very old people (older than me!).
    It doesn’t seem to be a ‘normal’ communal activity any more.
    Does anyone have any long term data on attendances at the youth organizations?

  • This is a great initiative, and a very suitable project for a roof body like JCCV that can act as a hub for the leaders of existing organisations.

    The Jewish innovation space where AJF has been active doesn’t overlap very much with this, and like it or not, there will always be a place for (most of) the Jewish orgs in our community. This is an opportunity for leaders & orgs to learn from each other, and possibly improve, rationalise, collaborate.

  • Jo Silver says:

    Thank you David. I just met some people from YMDA and they and others I have spoken to are excited by this initiative. Whether you are Zionist or local focused, we all operate in Melbourne and have similar issues that we could possibly resource/develop together. Ahhh – imagine a central IT pool, marketing expertise, shared database, online hub…

  • Alex Fein says:

    That would really be amazing, Jo!

    I can’t confirm or refute what David Langsam says, but in the past, there’s been a definite institutional culture that has turned many otherwise community-minded young people off. Things were just too adversarial and sometimes, downright nasty.

    A sense I get really strongly from Jo is that that culture is changing in some quarters – that there’s a new effort to collaborate with people beyond the institutions.

  • R B says:


    It is not surprising that Habonim and Hashi in Melbourne are declining – the same happens in Israel. These organisations, which flourished in the golden age of secular-socialist-left-leaning-Zionism, are not appealing for young people any more.
    Secular Zionism has died, and the potential members of these organisations prefer to either disengage from Israel for the reasons you wrote above, and/or do not care much about the Jewish community or about their own Jewish-ness. In Israel, participation of secular youngsters in youth organisations of this type is lower than ever.

  • David Langsam says:

    Thanks for your comment RB.


    I think there is far too much polarization in the community.


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