There Must Be a New Youth Organization
Die Gemeinde (The Community) Nr. 591 (10/2006)
Die Gemeinde (The Community) speaks with the director, Rafel Schwarz.
One year ago The Community introduced youth counselor, Maxim Slutski. Since then, what has changed? How does the future look?
We have gotten the youth counselor in the religious community involved in putting more input into working with the young. We have five youth organizations working autonomously. They have more or less members, but at the same time the Israelite Religious Community (IKG) understands that apparently many young people from these organizations don’t feel spoken to. It’s this group for which more needs to be done. As head of JUKO one can do a lot and get things moving. As a working person, however, one is quite limited in terms of time. We have discovered that since we have a youth counselor, we were able to organize many more events and seminars (Leadership/Hadracha Seminars) and international events during the year. That would have been impossible without Maxim Slutski.
What kind of output brought input?
Recently an Ashkenazi boy married a Sephardic girl after having met at an international ball which we had organized. That is the best output there is in a Jewish community in which one is fighting for greater assimilation. Apart from that, the youth counselor is also responsible for motivating the youth organization, helping them, supporting them as well as coordinating their work. In 2006 we coordinated the Hadrach (informal education) Seminar. In 2007 there will be three of them. The short-term output entails surely more motivation on the part of the heads of the organizations since they now have a point of contact and a coordinating office. The long-term output is that there will be more educated Madrichim (leaders), who can be integrated into the IKG as honorary members.
Does JUKO take itself to serve as an umbrella for these youth organizations?
Some years ago JUKO was there to distribute grant money. I think that when the IKG offers subsidies, it should be sure the money is used appropriately, also in the case of the youth organizations. When one coordinates the work, then this money can be better used.
Are the youth organizations now autonomous or not?
The youth organizations are autonomous in terms of their contents and ideology. Actually if any one of the institutions is subsidized by the IKG, it can be made to feel obligated and one can demand something from them in return. We don’t do that, however, because we are satisfied with the work performed by the youth organizations. When we want to increase the budget reserved for the youth over long term, I hope then that the money will be used appropriately for such things as shared events and educational programs. On the one hand, autonomy; on the other hand, it is the number of members in our community seen in its entirety that is our target group. That is the group we wish to professionally speak to.
In the groups to be targeted, there are differences, however, within the individual member organizations of JUKO. That means that there can be no one seminar for all of them.
That’s also true. That’s why in the past we had a Hadracha Seminar for the young target group and a Leadership Seminar for the older. Last year it was in cooperation with another organization, and in the coming year we will be able to organize it by ourselves.
The youth organizations suffer from lack of members. Are there any plans being made to correct the problem?
I have spoken with a market researcher on youth in order to hear what he thinks of this phenomenon. He thinks that this is a problem recognized worldwide. It is not only our problem, which makes it, however, not unimportant. Yes, there are fewer members as there used to be and reasons for it vary. What disturbs me is that there must be something to make youth organizations more attractive. We have seen that there is the possibility of reaching the “neutral” Commission for Youth with programs. Events have already been scheduled up to summer 2007, offering various events for various target groups having various interests. The organizations haven’t discarded their values. They all have an ideology which they follow. Fewer and fewer parents want their children to take a concrete direction, whether Zionist or religious or both. In regard to their children, parents are searching for a coming together of all Jews within a neutral context.
Does that mean establishing a new organization?
I find that it is time to think about whether one shouldn’t create an IKG youth organization. To be specific, I am thinking of an organization for children from age six to twelve having a program on Sundays so as not to conflict with the Sabbath and not to compete with the programs offered by other youth organizations. The substance would involve teaching the basics of Judaism, basics of Jewish history, Israel and the Jewish community.
One should have its own youth organization because that is the basic work of the Jewish community and one cannot be exempted by simply distributing funds. By having a youth organization one can achieve a lot – also among the large immigration group, which our president reminded us of. When people come to Vienna, they will look at what the Jewish community has to offer. Many people from Eastern Europe don’t want to commit themselves to a particular direction. When IKG, and the Zwi Perez Chajes School (ZPC) cannot offer something for their children, then they will look, sooner or later, for alternatives.
This IKG youth organization should be a home for children, whether they have grown up here or immigrated, whether they are Ashkenazi or Sephardic Jews. If we are always speaking about integration, then we also have to do more for after-school hours. A situation has developed whereby there is both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardic youth organization, and I must really praise Benei Akiva because it is really mixed. But once more, it is time that the IKG itself offers something for children and also recruits Madrichim educational leaders and gives them a very good education, there where they can use it. When one is clever, one is capable of integrating everyone into an organization.
In one of the last plenary meetings, it was Identity/Zehut (exploring the meaning of Jewish identity), that was asked for. We still have no IKG children’s organization, but already some two new groups - namely Identity/Zehut and Nefesch Yjehudi - which are working exactly in this direction. Is there another age group being addressed?
Identity is worked out with that of the IKG and the Rabbinate together and will become a “complement” to the Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbi has a very broad and extensive area to work with, but has, however, only one assistant. It is really high time that the team be strengthened.
Does that mean offering more youth religious services, etc.?
Identity speaks mainly to those eighteen years and older; that is, young adults and adults who want to learn about the religion. Identity is also a part of the curriculum at the ZPC School.
School children would not be addressed?
That should be the task of the IKG youth organization. I mean, this organization should be parve (neutral): Have no one real direction but rather adapt to children and professionally offer everything which one expects from a European Jewish community.
How does one estimate the financial side when considering the IKG budget?
The entire structure has two main pillars: One pillar stands for the five youth organizations which will continue to receive subsidies and will continue to be coordinated by youth counselors. The second pillar needs a youth leader, Madrichim, building space and working material for these children’s organizations. Long term, we will also need a third person to oversee a division which offers information and other material. For this entire project, we need considerably more funds than we presently have.
I didn’t want to be religious director only to be criticized and fight against issues. I have become involved in ZPC work in order to make things better and become active. That’s why I am also looking for a broad support in working for the youth.