Battle of the bottle

A JEWISH youth organisation has come under fire for using free alcohol, purchased with thousands of dollars of communal funds, to entice young people to participate in Jewish life.
While the community continues its search for long-term solutions to the well-known disconnect between young adults and Jewish Sydney, Fusion just focuses on getting 20-somethings through the door.

“We get Jews to a function room. That is our main aim and goal and that is what they [Shalom College, which is fully funded by the Jewish Communal Appeal] are giving us money for,” Fusion coordinator Danielle Kacen told The AJN in a candid interview.

Fusion was established last year as a part of young Jewish group, Network, to cater for 20 to 25-year-old Jews.

“Alcohol is part of getting people, but I’m doing a good job and I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do,” Kacen added.

The AJN understands that there was a bar tab of more than $3000 at a recent event, Summerfest.

One participant, Leeran Gold, 20, said that while Fusion’s events are fun, there is too much of a focus on alcohol.¬†”There was a massive bar tab at Summerfest,” she said. “I had four free drinks, which is ridiculous because of the prices of their drinks at Ravesis in Bondi.”

She added: “Most people were drinking, but not everyone got smashed.”

Gold, who has been involved with the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, Hillel and Communal Security Group, said she felt the money could be put to better use.

“When I thought about the amount of money that was spent on the bar that night, I realised it could have sent a person on an Israel program, planted 300 trees in Israel or gone towards a Magen David Adom ambulance,” she said. “When you really think about it you feel a bit silly spending the money on alcohol.

She also felt there was too much pandering to the culture of drinking among young people. “If they spent money on live music or entertainment then I would go because it would be fun.”

Kacen’s superior, Network director Cara Katz, disagreed that alcohol was used to attract people to functions.¬†”We have never used alcohol to entice people to functions and Summerfest was a very successful night.”

However, the Summerfest flier (pictured) clearly depicts a large bottle of beer and promotes a “free bar tab” and “free entry”.

“The focus was to connect young Jewish people and drinking was a¬†by-product of that,” Katz said.

When approached by The AJN,  Shalom Institute chief executive Hilton Immerman, who oversees the running of Network and Fusion, agreed the flier does use alcohol to attract people.

“Personally, this is not the type of marketing that I would use to engage people but we are entrusting them [Fusion’s staff] and I will discuss this flier with them,” Immerman said. “But if they succeeded in getting 200 young adults to this event then it is a worthwhile point.

“I think it’s obvious that we are offering companionships and a social event in the flier,” he added.

Jewish House CEO Rabbi Mendel Kastel said alcohol abuse is a problem in the community.¬†”I find it a very sad day when Judaism and the community is reduced to the point when the only way we can get the community together is by enticing people with alcohol,” Rabbi Kastel said. “There is a lack of creativity, engagement and want to engage people.”

He called alcohol a form of short-term engagement because young people “come, get smashed, then go home”.

“We need to find a long term solution that keeps them engaged in the community.”

JOSH LEVI