The New Direction

For a brief history of the blog, please read this post.

Not long after this blog began in May, a phenomenon emerged: some of the more interesting developments began to take place either via email, or offline altogether.

After having lived away from the community – both in Australia and overseas – for ten years, I began reconnecting with Jews from the various sub-communities, and from different generations.

This was both a refresher course (some things hadn’t changed) and a steep learning curve, as I navigated through the labyrinthine arcana of communal politics and caught up on developments among the younger generations.

Since returning from the hiatus and outing myself in early August, blog-related activity offline has become even more frenetic. Being “out” has given me the opportunity to meet numerous people, and some of the more inspiring and exciting developments seem to be coming from Generations X and Y.

Every one of these people asks me – with varying degrees of seriousness – about how to “bring down” institutions like the JCCV. I find myself answering – at first to my surprise – that there is no need to bring anything down.

Certainly, some of our institutions are sclerotic. Issues such as transparency and representation are deeply problematic, and every so often, members of the leadership will speak to the broader community on behalf of all Jews.

Even if I agreed completely with any sentiments any leader expressed, this would still be highly undesirable for the simple reason that apart from the roof bodies’ not being representative (or indeed accountable), it is quite impossible to speak for us as a monolithic community.

Divisions along political, religious, cultural, and generational lines preclude a single “Jewish” response to most issues.

Of course, there’s also the inescapable issue of the very narrow pool from which our leaders emerge. The generational, cultural, and political homogeneity is compounded by the fact that almost all our leaders are men. That so many of them are from the legal fraternity only adds to the monochromatic nature of Australian Jewish leadership.

Back in May, when I first started discussing these issues with a number of people – most of whom were from Generation X – there was consensus that the institutions could not be reformed.

As I’ve had the opportunity to speak with more and more people, the constant refrain is that there is little relevance in these institutions to Generations X and Y. There is no desire to reform them, because there is no desire to participate in the first place.

A few people recounted the difficulty of attempting to engage the entrenched Baby Boomers, but most simply don’t see the point of it all.

Whether it’s apathy or disaffection on the part of young people, or a concerted Boomer effort to maintain the homogenous composition of our institutions is immaterial.

There simply isn’t a generation waiting to take over the current structures.

One or two young people at the helm of UIA, or JNF; or a small group at AUJS cannot replace the current leadership that is due to retire within the next decade, or so.

Generational stasis in our institutions does not, however, signal the death knell for our community – even if it might for the institutions themselves.

I have written previously about small, independent groups springing up and filling cultural or religious vacuums.

A very good example is the shul, SpiritGrow: a centre that, with a young rabbi (Menachem Wolf), a philosophy of inclusion, and a focus on the spiritual aspects of Judaism, provides an antidote to the denatured shule experiences that had turned so many young people off the religion.

It is the emergence and florescence of such small groups that provide our best hope of continuity. There will come a point at which these groups may benefit from existing within a network (a subject on which I will write in the future); however, for now, it is their very independence that gives them the freedom to innovate and attract young Jews who might not otherwise have found a reason to stay in the community.

Because I so strongly believe that our future lies in this new model, I am going to reorient the blog somewhat. Of course, The Sensible Jew will remain a commentator on issues that affect the community.

The blog’s new emphasis, however, will be on innovative and creative ways of dealing with the various challenges that face us, as well as analyses of broader political stories that are relevant to Jewish Australia.

Our community is at a critical juncture: shifts in practice and perception are necessary if the Australian Jewish community is going to survive beyond the next couple of generations.

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7 Responses to “The New Direction”

  1. MM says:

    Why the obsession with the JCCV? That’s the body that may get quoted in the Jewish News, but it doesn’t do anything else. The real power in the community is in the Zionist establishment, and behind that, amongst about half a dozen individuals or families that use their vast wealth to promote whatever they want.

    If you want a more representative, responsive, forward-looking community, that’s the target.

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  2. sydyid says:

    SJ

    Certain observations you made are accurate. More to the point is the fact that very recent communal studies have ellicited data consistent with some of your own.
    The big HOWEVER concerns several opinions which would not have derived from the said studies.
    While it is not difficult to blame individuals for communal problems, simply because they occupy the positions of leaders, resting our problems with one individual, not to mention his/her proffessional profile, cannot possibly help in addressing the said problems.
    Firstly, the roof bodies have little, if any, authority over the organisations which “constitute” the roof body itself. In NSW the JCA is far more powerful than its own roof body , the NSW Board of Deputies. B’nai Brith, as in Vic., althougha member of the Board, is blatantly authonomous in almost everything they act on.
    Secondly, while coincidetally correct, the inordinate number of solicitors in certain top position does not make for their dominance of lay leadership and important representatives. A few examples: Jeremy Jones, Vic Alhadeff and the entire AIJAC, Dvir Abramovich, Collin Rubinstein
    most of whom have been at the top of our community far longer than the prevalent solicitors.
    The other matter is also related to the perceived function ( and “attractiveness” ) of the HONORARY leadership positions. The Presidents of Boards ( with whom you may not know, but for whch I have gained some unique reputation of fighting with within the perimeter of the Board itself ) work on a voluntary basis, are expected to go into bat constantly on all manner of issues – for which it is, wrongly perceived, that a lawyer’s profile is the best suite -.
    The position itself is incredibly demanding and not few of them have worn great risks of jeopardising their jobs while constantly being “on call” for the community. Simply put, there is a critical shortage of people willing to sacrifice all of the above. At times quality does suffer and that is where collective contribution to improving performance is necessary.
    Two of the individuals on whom comments have been made on this blog, Robert Goot and Peter Wertheim, happen to be by far the MOST accessible, tollerant, intellectually superb in accepting critical contributions. I am personally very fond of them, in spite of the fact that I have been known to lock horns with both publicly and quite firmly. And I am only talking about the last 26 years…..

    The whole issue of engaging a whole generation in the Jewish continuity process is of such complexity that, while your own initiative is most laudable, the treatement of it requires enormous attention.
    Suffice to say, at the outset of your new “theme”, that we are dealing with the non religious sector of the Jewish larger community, and to be even more specific, the non Orthodox fraction.
    Conversely, some of the best ideas will have to come FROM that section of our community which does NOT have the problems so clearly you have outlined.
    Like it or not, Judaism has its core values in one place only. Discovering, re-discovering, and embracing it will offer the essence of our quest.

    to be continued….surely

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  3. SJ,

    I commend you for taking what I see as a more pragmatic and solution-oriented approach to issues facing our community.

    Also not surprised to the “strange connections” piece fizzle into nothing.

    MM,

    Your comment reeks of conspiracy theory; last time we checked, there wasn’t a secret cabal of wealthy Zionists deciding the future for everyone else.

    And why must there be a ‘target’ at all?

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  4. sydyid says:

    MM

    Could you share with us your kind of complete impressions about Zionism, what you really think it means, does etc. I somehow get the feeling that, in your book, Zionism is some type of blemish, a characteristic unworthy of respect. Could I be right/wrong ?!
    Also if someone happens to be wealthy and also a Zionist, how does that amount to anthing other than absolutely pedestrian normal, even if such a combination exerts strong influences within the Jewish community or without !?

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  5. MM says:

    I did not mean “Zionist” in any negative sense at all. I just meant that the real power to determine the future of the community rests with the UIA and Zionist organisations rather than the toothless and irrelevant JCCV.

    And I didn’t suggest that these wealthy families operate as a secret cabal, just that they make the decisions what to fund and hence what direction the rest of us are forced to take. Interesting that David is so defensive in the face of the obvious.

    And I said that “that is the target” as opposed to SJ’s targetting of the JCCV.

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  6. TheSadducee says:

    Sydyid

    Can you elaborate a bit further on this part of your comment #2:

    “Like it or not, Judaism has its core values in one place only.”

    -I’m not finding it clear as to what you are referring to here?

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  7. sensiblejew says:

    David, Unlike The Age or the ABC, as a single blogger, I don’t have an army of lawyers, or the time and resources to devote to a full investigation. That does not mean that the story doesn’t exist.

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