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Uncovering future leaders

The AJN looks at how our Jewish communal organisations are engaging with our youth.

Main image by Stand Up has built meaningful relationships with First Nations communities.

There has never been a more pertinent time for future leaders of the Jewish community to step up, but many organisations are grappling with the challenge of finding meaningful ways to engage with the youth.

“Unfortunately, the landscape has changed for engaging young people, but it’s now up to all of us to figure out how we reinvigorate it,” WIZO’s Kira Brandt told The AJN.

“Now is the time.”

Attracting young people

Brandt is one of six young women who moved onto the WIZO NSW shadow board after completing an observership program, which provided an opportunity to passionately advocate for the organisation and the programs it funds.

“Being able to go to Israel and see the projects firsthand has given me the most drive to bring that information back to people,” Brandt said.

“But it’s really hard to engage young people. I think that young people are really busy, and I think there are lots of competing opportunities for engagement and volunteering. Gone are the days when people used to give up hours and hours of their time, not necessarily for their own gain.”

Brandt is the Australian representative on the federal board of WIZO Aviv, an international group that incorporates young women between the ages of 25 and 45, and she is involved in Sydney’s young adult WIZO group, WIZO Chai.

“What I would really love to do is get young people interested in being part of the organisation and interested in what we’re doing,” Brandt said.

From left: Alexa Zeh, Lisa Salkinder, Kira Brandt, Terri Benda, Olivia Templeman and Miki Hendler.

“I think with WIZO Chai, we’ve made it attractive for people to come along to our events.”

One of the most recent WIZO events in Australia was with Irish-born, Los Angeles-based Zionist Eve Barlow, who has amassed an enormous social media following for her pro-Israel stance. Her presence as a young guest speaker was particularly relevant given the current rise in antisemitism, and WIZO’s involvement in bringing her out to Australia proved a huge hit for the organisation.

“Not many people knew exactly who she was and that was really an interesting scenario for us, but we had the most engaging, unbelievable Aviv event with her,” Brandt said.

“She spoke for well over an hour to a room full of people who were just glued to her. Everyone was engaged in the conversation – asking questions and making comments.

“Getting someone like her, who is young and who can inspire other people to just be confident about standing up for Israel and standing up for Jews, is now more important than ever.

“So I think if we can just educate people about the basis of what WIZO is, then they’re more inclined to get involved, because who wouldn’t want to be involved with that?”

Young leaders effecting change

Another organisation positioned to build ties between Israel and young Jews around the world is Keren Hayesod-UIA (KH-UIA). To uncover future Jewish community leaders, Young Leadership (YL) is a division within the organisation that has campaigns in most of the 40 countries that KH-UIA works in. YL is dedicated to providing the next generation of global Jewish leaders with a forum to deepen ties to each other and to Israel. Its young leaders are effecting change through their local campaigns and by participating in regional and international programming. The YL division is dedicated to cultivating young leaders in Jewish communities throughout the world, evident through KH-UIA’s investment in YL globally through meetings, regional conferences and special delegations to Israel.

“Being run by youth, for youth, allows us unique insight into our audience, in turn, shaping our messaging, branding and content curation.” – Julia Sussman

Locally, Victoria and NSW are both running philanthropy fellowships in partnership with Australian Jewish Funders (and JCA in NSW) this month for emerging leaders and philanthropists, aged 25-40.

Young leaders of Keren Hayesod-UIA share a common interest in helping the people of Israel and it will be the responsibility of YL, being the next generation of leaders, to ensure that care and financial support is always there for Israel.

Consulting youth

Locally, an organisation looking for innovative ways to educate the youth about its services is JewishCare NSW. The organisation has established the JewishCare Youth Reference Group, which is made up of university studies who are paid to come up with ideas about how best to market the organisation to young people, so they know it exists and are able to access its support. “The intention was to have young people and treat them as the experts of their own experiences,” said JewishCare’s Jamie Adams.

“So we have them consulted about certain things, like our client spaces. We asked them, ‘Do you come in here and think that this will be useful for young people?’ And their answer was, ‘We think that there could be some improvements.’ So we put forward a proposal and it was recently confirmed that we can move forward with those building changes. They’re really excited about that because it’s been a long time coming through lots of conversations,” Adams said.

“JewishCare services a lot of clients, so of course we’re consulting with other teams to make sure that it works for all clients who use our services. It’s about making sure that people come in and feel welcome, safe and comfortable.”

Youth HEAR was established in 2018 and has grown rapidly since. Photos: Supplied.

Holocaust education

Then there is the urgent need for Holocaust education among young people, particularly with the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors. Youth HEAR (Holocaust Education And Remembrance) is an organisation run by young adults, for young adults, and is dedicated to mitigating hate in society by connecting young adults with the memory of the Holocaust.

What started as a small initiative in 2018 led by five 20 and 21-year-olds – Julia Sussman, Harry Rosen, Jesse Lenn, Jared Engelman and Joel Grunstein – Youth HEAR has grown into a registered charity led by 30 dedicated volunteer members and a growing team of staff.

Fundamental to Youth HEAR’s approach is a dedication to maximising the engagement of youth, defined as 17-35 years of age.

Co-founder and CEO Julia Sussman told The AJN that Youth HEAR focuses on both Jewish and non-Jewish Australian youth through education, commemoration and cross-community collaboration.

“In this way, we strive to learn the lessons of the past in the hope that we will truly be able to say never again,” she said.

“In my eyes, Youth HEAR’s success is thanks to our incredible team of volunteer members who drive the projects, initiatives and outreach of Youth HEAR on a daily basis. Being run by youth, for youth, allows us unique insight into our audience, in turn, shaping our messaging, branding and content curation. Our projects’ success relies on our volunteer members’ commitment and dedication to Youth HEAR and our mission. As such, we put significant time and resources into empowering, supporting and training our members to take ownership of Youth HEAR. This allows young members of our community, and beyond, the opportunity to lead the change they want to see in society, furthering the mission of Youth HEAR as well as becoming strong allies and advocates for the Jewish community.”

On Yom Hashoah this year, Youth HEAR brought together over 450 young adults to commemorate the Holocaust, which Sussman said is largely because the audience identifies with the people hosting the event and even more so with the content shared.

“Long-term success for the organisation means it continues to grow its reach, impact and audience long after I am no longer involved,” Sussman said.

“If we successfully fill our roles as leaders of Youth HEAR, we will be building and supporting our young adult members to take over from us and lead the organisation to even greater success. Staying true to our founding principle of being run by youth for youth ensures this organisation will always be relevant, relatable and engaging.”

‘Future in good hands’

The Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) has targeted an even younger audience by founding a youth committee comprised of school students from years 9-12. The students come from diverse backgrounds, represent different religions and attend a variety of schools, including Emanuel School, Kiama High School, Mercy Catholic College, Macarthur Girls Anglican, Randwick Girls High, Corpus Christi Catholic High, and the King’s School. The students engage with the museum in a variety of ways – from acting as young ambassadors, to providing insight into the needs of youth.

Dr Breann Fallon, who created and oversees the youth committee program, said she is inspired by the young students’ determination to connect more young people to the museum.

“Engaging with the SJM Youth Committee has left an impression that Australia’s future is in good hands,” Fallon said.

“These students have taken the lessons of the past and are forging forward with kindness, empathy and compassion. Their drive to share the mission of the museum in their schools and communities has been nothing short of remarkable.

“These students allow us to have front of mind our next generation visitors, members and donors; they put a face, name and voice to the audiences of the museum we are creating for tomorrow,” she said.

School students visit the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Rise in activism

One of the most exemplary Jewish community organisations working to create a future generation of change-makers, or ‘upstanders’ in our community who have the confidence to lead, is Stand Up. Stand Up recognises that education and action go hand in hand, and participants are provided with the opportunity to learn, as well as participate meaningfully, with partner organisations, particularly refugee and First Nations communities.

“It’s important that participants across all of our programs understand that social justice and ‘tikkun olam’ are intrinsic parts of the Australian Jewish community, and that Jewish history is full of social justice activism,” Stand Up CEO Courtney Winter-Peters told The AJN.

“We want them to be passionate about this knowledge, and to use this to inspire their own leadership journey.

“We provide a number of engaging and empowering programs for people of all ages. With the generous support of the Gandel Foundation, we introduce Jewish participants to the themes of social justice through our Step Up b’nei mitzvah program. Students across Jewish day schools in Melbourne and Sydney then have the opportunity to deepen their understanding through our range of programs that are developed in partnership with the Jewish day schools. Our programs look at empathy, inequality, refugees, climate change, reconciliation and responsibility, all in the context of Jewish values and their role as future leaders of our community.”

Stand Up also provides young Jewish adults with the chance to build real relationships based on respect and friendship, while also learning about First Nations history and stories. Through this partnership, Stand Up has made a longstanding and valuable contribution to the people and the communities of Toomelah and Boggabilla.

“Right now, there is a real sense of uncertainty for all of us; we are watching natural disasters like floods occur with increasing frequency, racism and antisemitism on the rise and a real push for change in relation to First Nations justice,” Winter-Peters said.

“The younger generation are aware of all of this – they are consuming information through social media at an unprecedented speed and they want to understand more and be involved.

Stand Up partners with refugee organisations.

“We want to harness this passion.”

Winter-Peters said there has been a rise in activism among the younger members of the Jewish community, particularly when it comes to the important issues of gender equality, First Nations history and justice, and climate change.

With that, there is the hope that it inspires even more future leaders of the community to begin standing up.

“We need leaders who have the confidence to speak out,” Winter-Peters said.

“As Jewish people, the pursuit for social justice is part of our DNA; we all recognise the term ‘tikkun olam’. We are determined to learn from our own experiences of injustice and understand how we can do better for others. The younger generation are finding a connection to their Jewish identity in this desire to make the world a better place.”

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