Editorial, December 3, 2010

Less talk, more action

IT is the eternal question of all Jewish organisations, how do they attract the younger generations? This week, we have listened to leaders and staff at a number of community groups about the strategies they are employing to engage those born after 1980. We have spoken to young people who are engaged and those who are completely isolated from Judaism. We have also heard from the executive director the NSW Jewish Communal Appeal, about his learnings on this very topic.

It seems there are several buzz terms when it comes to engaging the young: social media is one. So is the idea of being “Jewed out”.

But what we have noticed is there seems to be a lot of talk, but not that much action, particularly, it seems, in Melbourne. A lot of organisations are sitting around, workshopping, chatting and planning what to do. The people involved in these discussions are community stalwarts, committed to the vitality and future of Australian Jewry, not the disengaged. Their intentions are admirable. But apart from conversations, what is actually being done to attract people who don’t do anything Jewish except go to weddings or funerals, like one of the interviewees in this week’s “Game On” feature?

Appealing to social media is not enough. A Facebook page is not going to engage a “Jewed-out” 27-year-old who has a busy job, a partner, plenty of social activities and doesn’t even fast on Yom Kippur. Sending a couple of tweets is not going to convince a 23-year-old student living outside the Jewish suburbs to attend a discussion on Jewish history.

Social media might remind or alert young people of coming activities, but it is not going to compel them to come along. Young people need incentives apart from the opportunity to make a donation or meet a partner. They also need to feel welcomed. Fun, interesting and unique activities at convenient times in appropriate locations are important. Unfortunately, they need the Jewish community to fit in with their lives, not the other way around.

Similarly, an open attitude, where diversity is welcomed, is required. Alienating those with non-Jewish partners, those in a same-sex relationship, those who sit on the far left, or those who live outside the Jewish suburbs is not the way to do it. Attracting the next generation is a matter of creativity, effort and inclusiveness. Let’s stop talking and start doing.

A threat to peace

Everything has consequences. That’s a law that applies to all things, but especially international relations. WikiLeaks, which has made a name for itself for releasing classified documents, recently procured a cache of more than 250,000 US embassy cables dating from 1966 to the end of February 2010 and has begun releasing them. And the consequences are only just beginning.

Make no mistake: the organisation has an agenda. If its intention was to merely give people around the world an unprecedented insight into US Government foreign activities, as the website claims, there would be no need to release the documents in stages. Instead, WikiLeaks is undermining global foreign relations by spoon-feeding journalists the documents in dribs and drabs, so as to make sure the organisation remains in the headlines.
WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange has defended the site’s actions and criticised the US as “a regime that doesn’t believe in the freedom of the press and doesn’t act like it believes it” for failing to cooperate with WikiLeaks to censure some content that may destroy people’s lives.

But who gave Assange the authority to become the arbiter of what is allowed to remain secret and what becomes public domain?

“This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors,” the website reads.

News flash — such is diplomacy. That is why there is a door there. Sometimes the door must remain closed to allow the exploration of ideas that would otherwise be too risky to discuss out in the open.

Sometimes the issues are about war, but often they are about peace. And it is the impact of WikiLeaks’ reckless act on peacemaking that will be the greatest tragedy.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, a man who brought Israel to the brink of a peace deal in 2000, knows a little something about diplomacy. His remarks on Tuesday reflect the damage that WikiLeaks has done to peacemaking efforts from this day forward. “I think that diplomacy will look different after today,” he said. “People, diplomats, in every corner of the world, will be much more careful when they talk, and I assume not only with the Americans. This will make the diplomacy more shallow.”

Shallow diplomacy will increase the likelihood of global misunderstandings and conflict. This, above all, is why WikiLeaks’ actions must be ¬≠condemned in the strongest way possible.