'Let's forget the old paradigms'

A watershed moment for our community

In the immediate aftermath of the horrific atrocities perpetrated against Israel, I'd have predicted the latter.

Zeddy Lawrence moderating an AJN-Zionism Victoria state election debate in 2018.Photo: Peter Haskin
Zeddy Lawrence moderating an AJN-Zionism Victoria state election debate in 2018.Photo: Peter Haskin

Four months on from October 7, our community stands on the brink. The brink of what though remains to be seen. It could be argued that we are either about to plunge into an abyss or we’re on the verge of a glorious renaissance.

In the immediate aftermath of the horrific atrocities perpetrated against Israel, I’d have predicted the latter.

In recent months we’ve seen Australian Jewry united and energised as never before. As well as an unprecedented level of collaboration between communal organisations, we’ve witnessed Orthodox and Progressive rabbis sharing platforms, the previously distinct Israeli community rallying with the Jewish community, disengaged masses flocking to participate and a groundswell of grassroots activism and volunteering.

The attacks on Israel and the seizing of hostages, combined with the fallout on these shores – a highly tangible spike in antisemitism and anti-Zionism – have at one and the same time made us alert and cautious as Jews … but also proud to be Jews, with formerly passive members of the community now visibly identifying and wanting to be involved.

There is an eagerness to participate, and it would be remiss of us not to seize that momentum and harness it. Just as the Six-Day War led to the creation of the JCA, so too could October 7 serve as another catalyst for renewal.

Let’s forget the old paradigms, the alphabet soup of organisations replete within our community. Just as peak bodies have cooperated since October 7, each playing to their strengths in this challenging time, let’s rationalise and reform to best serve the emergent community, inspiring and motivating active affiliation through contemporary structures that suit the 21st century rather than the parochial demands of the last one.

And let’s not be afraid to ask critical questions. For instance, would our reinvigorated community and the masses rediscovering themselves benefit from a Jewish community centre, a social, educational and cultural hub with a weekly calendar of events and activities? By the time Hakoah White City in Sydney is open for business, will we have missed the bus by then and sunk into our old ways?

Perhaps existing facilities could meet the need right away and help shape our community at least for the foreseeable future.

Which brings us to the other brink. The one that sees us plunge into an abyss.

To turn a current facility into a community would require a degree of investment – a fraction of what it would take to build such a centre from scratch, but investment nonetheless.

And resourcing is the key issue.

Investment in our own community has taken a huge hit since October 7. Organisations already struggling in the current economic climate have been dealt a further blow with financial support that would have otherwise come their way being diverted to Israel.

Of course, it’s critical that we give Israel and its citizens every bit of assistance we can. Especially as much of the international community and mainstream media portray the only victims since October 7 as Gazans, turning a blind eye to the tens of thousands of displaced Israelis, the rockets being fired into Israeli cities, the growing threat of Hezbollah, the need to rebuild shattered kibbutzim and shattered lives, and the ongoing trauma of those who lost loved ones or those whose loved ones are languishing in the tunnels beneath Khan Younis.

As Jews in the Diaspora who support Israel, it behoves us to deliver help and hope to our homeland.

However, we can’t pretend that doesn’t comes at a price.

In recent weeks, it has become apparent that a number of organisations forced to tighten their belts are running out of notches. Rather than delivering valuable activities supporting the community, their time is spent wondering how they will survive.

It is ironic that at the very moment we’re depending on our institutions to give us a sense of belonging, our institutions find themselves struggling to meet that demand.

Likewise, at the very moment members of our community are crying out for opportunities to engage, to feel united and to demonstrate solidarity, the funds to create those meaningful opportunities are not forthcoming.

In short, there is a risk – that through our focus on Israel we might lose our focus on our needs as a community.

But it’s not just our needs today we risk sacrificing. It’s also the potential to build the community of tomorrow.

For how many years have we been searching for the panacea that would bring the disinterested, the disengaged and the unaffiliated into the fold?

Well now they’re here, and we have a chance to keep them here.

We have a golden opportunity to channel unparalleled levels of enthusiasm and engagement into a vibrant and vigorous Jewish and Zionist community. Let’s not turn around in two years or 10 years and regret the fact we’ve squandered it.

Zeddy Lawrence is the executive director of Zionism Victoria.

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