The Community Survey: Civil Discussion, the “Volunteer” Canard, and Intimidation

Yesterday, Mum and I attended the afternoon session of Andrew Marcus’s discussion of the community survey, at Monash University.

I urge everyone who can, to get hold of a copy of the survey results. At the presentation, we were also offered “Key Findings from the 2006 Census” on Victoria’s Jews, collated by Markus and Tanya Aronov.

Markus’s audience yesterday was small, comprising mostly academics, some students, and a few interested members of the public.

Everyone sat in silence as Professor Markus spoke. When it was time for questions, people were very keen to contribute, and many had difficult questions for Markus.

But there were no raised voices, no accusations, no personal remarks, and no jockeying for a stance of moral superiority. The atmosphere was electrified by the collective passion for the subject, and people were tenacious in making sure they received satisfactory answers to their questions.

But respect, dignity, and the love of scholarship were paramount.

Because there was no interference from the static of egos or belligerence, so much more information could be delivered and exchanged.

Here are just some of the wonderful questions people asked Professor Markus:

Ari Ofengden, asked why questions regarding attitudes the Holocaust had been omitted from the survey, while Nathan Wolski wondered why questions about belief in God had not been included.

Markus responded by saying that questions about God had been vetoed by people in a position to do so in Sydney, and that the Holocaust was omitted because it is such an obvious component of Jewish life in Australia.

This raised a fair bit of discussion. Most seemed to disagree that questions about the Holocaust would return obvious or less than useful results.

Yvonne Fein pointed out that it would make an interesting  study to track descendance from Holocaust survivors and a possible correlation with drug abuse. In other words, are second and third generation Jews more likely to be at risk of substance abuse if the Holocaust affected their first generation family members?

Mark Baker, meanwhile posited something extremely important: Professor Markus had deduced from a set of indicators that those attending Progressive synagogues were also those most likely to be on their way out of the community.

Dr Baker, turned this proposition on its head by suggesting that it may be more likely that Jews who would otherwise have been on their way out of the community (because of intermarriage, or disaffection), were most likely using Progressive worship as a way of coming back into the community.

This is because of all the strands in Judaism, Progressives have the most developed structures for accepting and embracing people who would otherwise disengage from community life.

Melanie Landau’s concern seemed to strike a chord in the room: she wondered whether the results of the survey might be used in certain sectors to promote a homogenised definition of a good Jew.

After the presentation ended, I sat down with both the community survey and the census. A couple of things struck me:

1) The census (page 34) tells us that 26% of the Jewish population does voluntary work, compared with 18% of the general population.

This has significance beyond motherhood statements about our community’s caring nature. Many Australian Jews have been, for good portions of their lives, involved in unpaid work for the community. The census tells us that women are particularly likely to volunteer.

Now, how many of these Jews expect to be congratulated by the entire  community for their work? How many undertake their tasks under no scrutiny, unaccountable to the people they serve? How many get to drink a l’chaim with the Premier, Prime Minister, or other luminary?

Almost none, of course.

So why is the standard defence of our leadership’s unaccountability, lack of transparency, and unrepresentative nature that they volunteer their time? It’s wonderful that they’re prepared to do some work on our behalf for no pay, but they do accrue one or two perks in the process.

And no one, as far as I know, has ever been forced to lead the community against his will.

2) Another extremely important result can be found on page 9 of the community survey.

Quite simply, a very large number of people do not feel they have any real say on Jewish communal issues.

Those who responded that they felt they had influence, “always” or “most” of the time comprised only 22%.

On the same page, this figure is compared with the Australian census figure, in which 29% of  Australians  feel they have influence.

How is it, that in a relatively small community such as ours, people are less likely to feel they have influence than citizens of a country containing 20 million people?

More to the point, why have we, as a community, allowed such a situation to come to pass?

A clue lies in the riotous behaviour in the comments sections here and in the pages of The AJN – particularly in the letters to the editor. I have witnessed similar styles of discourse in communal public meetings.

The civility and scholarly respect in evidence yesterday, do not characterise broader communal mores.

He who shouts loudest wins.

On the other hand, almost every Jew I know personally is kind and decent. I have been fortunate because of this blog to meet many more such folk.

How can a small, unrepresentative group of aggressive people dominate our community’s agenda and the way we talk to each other?



Within the space of a post, it is impossible to provide the entirety on the context in which various statements were made at the presentation of the community survey. I urge readers to bear such complexities and contextual issues in mind when reading my report of what was discussed at the seminar. Without the entire context of the highly detailed presentation, the wide ranging discussion, and the questions coming from various quarters, it is possible to misconstrue the intent of the various speakers reported on in this post.

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Related posts:

  1. In The AJN – The Community Survey; a Question; and Coming Next
  2. Coming Next – In The AJN Bumper Edition: Pontificators, Congratulations, and our GLBT Community
  3. Where to now? practical questions and suggestions for change in our community and a link to Manny Wax’s Report
  4. SJ Signs off – temporarily
  5. Dvir Abramovich in The Age: No Laughing!

13 Responses to “The Community Survey: Civil Discussion, the “Volunteer” Canard, and Intimidation”

  1. Princess says:

    At the risk of sounding too much like a fan, I gotta say, this is your best post yet, SJ. May those voices of reason in the community achieve that harmony which I believe you are working so hard to find.

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  2. Baroness von Lovelock says:

    Having too often attended communal meetings where s/he who shouts loudest wins, I am all for this strange new idea of people being heard because of substance of their ideas rather than the volume of them. Kudos to Prof Marcus and his team for all the hard work done in putting this survey together and to the ACJC for giving him the space and support in which to do that work. Such endeavours truly assist the community to be the best it can be!

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  3. The Governor says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time but i now feel compelled to speak. I cried a bit at this posting. They were tears of gratitude. Thank you.

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  4. Malki Rose says:

    Kol Hakavod to Professor Markus, Tanya Aronov, their entire team… and to YOU Alex for reporting on this with such candor, breadth and positivity , and in a manner which I believe will give hope to thousands of others in the Australian Jewish Community that there is so much diversity and beauty in our community worth admiring, cherishing and working hard to keep and protect!

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  5. Wolfie says:

    Thanks to Alex for attending this event.

    In regards to Yvonne Fein suggestion of a study correlating the incidence of drug use with identity as a descendant of the Holocaust – I’d also have been interested to see further study undertaken of the correlation between descendants of Holocaust survivors and the following issues:

    * mental health issues;
    * self harming behaviors / risk taking behaviors
    * family violence
    * educational levels
    * religious observance /affiliation
    * views on Israel
    * intermarriage
    * geographical location
    * socio-economic well-being
    * and feelings of connectedness with Jewish community.

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  6. Morry says:

    Thanks for the report SJ. It’s something many of us would otherwise not have known about. Reading it raised two issues. The first was a seeming ambiguity.

    Professor Markus had deduced from a set of indicators that those attending Progressive synagogues were also those most likely to be on their way out of the community.

    Does this mean that people who might otherwise have been on their way out were now not, or does this mean that people pass through Progressive synagogues on their way out. You see what I mean … are they leaving or not? The implication of Mark Baker’s comment is that they’re not, but if they are, then what we label it is quite moot.

    The other issue was:

    Those who responded that they felt they had influence, “always” or “most” of the time comprised only 22%.
    On the same page, this figure is compared with the Australian census figure, in which 29% of Australians feel they have influence.

    I would have thought this disparity self-evident. Australians get to vote directly for representatives, so once in four years you can feel you make a difference, despite the fact that we are actually singularly unrepresented … but that’s my own pet hobby horse. The Jewish communal representation based on representatives from organisations clearly will leave people with far less of a feeling of personal involvement … even if they are actually being far better represented than at our government level, where, if there is any conflict between party needs and community needs, the party always wins out, despite he theory, at least, that this person elected by me actually represents me in some way. The case of Campbell and the gold vote in WA is a glaring example of this anomally, for those who followed it.

    It was a good read, SJ.

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  7. aussie says:

    Excellent post SJ. I’ve enjoyed and been enlightened by many of the activities undertaken by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization at Monash University and congratulate all concerned. The atmosphere generated there is of openness and genuine intellectual pursuit for students and community alike. I’m not surprised that Prof Markus and his team’s survey results were received in the dignified manner you described. I’m interested in learning more of your impressions of the findings.

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  8. David Zyngier says:

    On Thursday I attended the monthly meeting of the State Zionist Council of Victoria. MY sole reason for being there was to accompany my daughter who was being presented with a Mezzuzah to mark her going to Israel to work for the cross national NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East.

    I was struck by the irony of its President, sitting comfortably in his official position at the centre of the table – in a position once held by his father – the typification of all that is wrong with our Jewish Community leadership – farewelling the best of Melbourne’s Jewish Community – while he and his ilk remain here pontificating about the importance of Aliyah to Israel from all countries – living the very comfortable life here in Melbourne while others go to Israel on his behalf to fulfill Zionism’s goals.

    Such is the leadership’s hypocrisy. What ever one may think if Isi Leibler’s politics at least he walked the walk – unlike his brother Mark and the other community maches!

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  9. Daniel Levy says:

    David, if all of our community leaders go to Israel, who will remain to lead our community?

    The simple fact is, the SZC promotes Aaliyah but does not preach that it is an absolute must.

    It would only be hypocritical if his mantra was “all Jews MUST make aaliyah” this is very different to saying “aaliyah is an important and honourable thing to undertake”.

    Leibler undoubtedly sees his role as a promoter of zionism and aaliyah to the Victorian Jewish community. Why would you begrudge him what he sees as his role in life? That is his pursuit of happiness, what has brought out in you such bitter judgment of this man?

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  10. Morry says:

    A bit black and white, David, a bit harsh, and probably saying more about you than the SZC.

    We all make choices, and they are more often than not pragmatic ones. Somebody may believe that a certain charity deserves a million dollars, but is simply in no position to donate a million dollars. Does that make them a hypocrite? I think not. In my own case I went on Aliyah, met an American girl in Haifa who didn’t want to stay and we set up house in Australia? Hypocrite? Well, if that turns you on. Personally I think the world would be a better place if people were a little less angry and judgemental, and simply appreciate what people do, rather than focus on what they haven’t done, especially when that’s entirely their choice, weighed in light of the things that happen in their lives. I’m just celebrating that people are being helped to realise their dreams … does it really matter that the ferryman isn’t making the trip?

    Was it a nice Mezzuzah?

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  11. Tanya Aronov says:

    Hi SJ,

    I’m curious, did you also attend the public forum on the 1st Sept?

    I only ask because I think the questions that came out of that would have been just as interesting if not moreso to report on. Unfortunately I was away at the time but I was looking forward to reading any feedback that you may have had.


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  12. sensiblejew says:

    Governor, I’m touched. Keep reading, and keep commenting. Please know that there are many, many like-minded people out there.

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  13. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Tanya, and welcome.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it then either. If you know anyone who was there, could you perhaps direct them to the blog to fill us in on what happened?

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