Dear parents, shnattim, bogrim, bogrot, communities and friends shalom rav,
We hope you are well!
The month of Elul started last week. This is the last month of the Hebrew calendar (or the 6th, depends who you ask…). It is also known as a month of forgivness and repentence, as preparation for the High Holy Days. For us at Netzer Olami and Tamar, this year was a challenging one on many levels, but at the same time, we always look at what we achieved. While we do remember that we had challenges and issues, that not everything was as great as it could have been, we also did well.
Looking at the reports from recent camps, which are brought under the "International" section below, it is clear that we also do things right, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Our movement is active all over the world; we are previledged to be working with the next generation of leaders of the Progressive world; as a movement we fight for our rights and stand for what we believe in; we create meaningful experiences for youth and much more.
As we take the opportunity to reflect, we want to invite you for reflection as well. The Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) is pleased to share Elul Reflections with World Union congregations and members and invite your subscription to the daily emails. Elul Reflections were prepared by the UPJ Moetzah, the Progressive Rabbinic Council, as a series of reflections for each of the 29 days in the month of Elul, the month preceding the High Holy Days, traditionally approached as a period of self-examination and spiritual deepening. Elul Reflections will address: How can we focus, for a full month, on spiritual deepening? In what ways should we examine ourselves? How can we adequately prepare for the holiest days of our year? It is our hope that these reflections will encourage meaningful preparation for the High Holy Days. Subscribe to receive the daily email in your inbox or click through to read more,
On a different note, I'm pleased to announce that starting September, Orit Shoshani, who has been our educational and branch relations cordinator for the past 3 years, will be the new Shnat Netzer Director. We want to wish Orit the best of luck and know she will continue to be amazing at everything she does.
As for the shnattim- see below.
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom!
Weekly update by Caroline, Louis and Jason's phone
From IRAC's Newsletter
By Anat Hoffman
Hineni (Here I am) appears 177 times in the Bible. It famously appears as a response to a divine calling. Leonard Cohen (z"l) crowned his final song "You Want it Darker" with the cantor and choir singing "I'm ready my Lord. Hineni, Hineni."
I believe this is our "Hineni" week. IRAC launched the first Racism Crisis Center in Israel last Tuesday.
The Racism Crisis Center is modeled after the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama. Like the SPLC, IRAC will use litigation to protect the rights of minorities in Israel by elevating the voices of victims of racism and discrimination.
The Racism Crisis Center will provide support in cases of discrimination, hate speech, and hate crimes against minority populations, and collect data on the growing phenomenon of racism in Israel. The center provides support to victims of all backgrounds: Arab, Ethiopian Jews, Russian Jews, Mizrahi Jews, asylum seekers and migrant workers, and provides services in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic and English.
We believe that many of Israel's leaders are inundated with extreme ideology that is centered around a deep sense of victimhood. Ghosts from the past blind their eyes from seeing that anyone else could suffer from discrimination in our modern state. In fact, the definition of "traitor" nowadays is "peacenik" or even leftist. The Jewish values that inspired Israel's Declaration of Independence are too often less relevant to government policy than the dead sea scrolls.
Israel's moral challenges do not exist in a bubble, and we are feeling the rise of pollution and nationalism just like in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Our Racism Crisis Center is IRAC's attempt to push back against the tide of bigotry and create facts on the ground for tolerance.
Now is the time for every person with a moral backbone to stand up and be counted. This is the moment to cry out "Hineni!"
Say Hineni by supporting us in our work to fight racism in Israel.
The Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism has been busy these past months fighting for social justice, democracy and religious freedom on many fronts, including a very public campaign that lobbies for the acceptance of non-Orthodox conversion and prayer at the Kotel. To read all their updates, and find ways you can help, click through to follow them on Facebook.
Standing Together in Prayer: Bet Shalom in Barcelona Responds
Here at the Comunitat Jueva Bet Shalom we emphatically condemn the attacks which took place in the cities of Barcelona and Cambrils. During this painful time, our prayers are with the victims, with their families and friends, and our solidarity is with the citizens and the institutions that represent them.
Today [August 17, 2017] our hearts meet, we share your pain, your sorrow, your anger; we are in shock, a shock that has been felt before by the citizens of Madrid, London, Paris, New York, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Kabul, Bombay, Moscow, Ankara or Nairobi. As Progressive Jews, committed to repairing the world, committed to the Tikkun Olam, it is crucial for us to remember, to remind ourselves today more than ever of our commitment to peace, justice and democracy. To remember our rejection of all forms of violence, especially those which shield themselves with religion in order to commit murder and acts of unspeakable terror. Remembering this is the only path to victory.
We want to thank the kindness and solidarity we are being shown, especially from the World Union for Progressive Judaism committee in New York, from the European Union for Progressive Judaism committee in London, from the Jewish communities in Spain, particularly those which are a part of the Union of Progressive Communities in Spain; from kehilot and Jewish institutions in Israel, Europe, the United States, Canada… From rabbis and woman rabbis, from friends and members of other religious traditions from around the world.
Barcelona is our city, many of our members were born in Barcelona or have chosen to live there and to cherish it. We are visited all year round by citizens from all over the world who come to get acquainted with this city and spend a Shabbat with us, a Shabbat of Peace.
We wish that the Peace of Shabbat should live long and reach the entire world, that it should give us strength and guide us.
Barcelona, August 17, 2017
UpJ Netzer Germany: Summer Machane 5777
Israel and the Diaspora
This year we had our summer machane near Einbeck in the beautiful Harz in Lower Saxony. 90 chanichim and a team of 22 madrichim had the most beautiful time of the summer for two weeks together. The time was filled with peulot, leisure workshops and wonderful evening programs and based on our machane theme „Israel and the Diaspora“.
The children at the age between 8 and 17, were divided into five groups. So that it was possible that their specific needs and differences of experience could be taken into consideration to their age. The playful approach to some Jewish prayers - like Birkat Hamason - was a part of our camp as well as our Jewish youth rituals, which were held during the Shabbat.
For our program, we also had great supporters and teachers. For example, Professor Dr. Ralph Selig, lecturer at Abraham Geiger College, who helped us to improve the musical elements of our services. In addition to the lessons and the fun programs we also had planned nice trips. We went to the university town of Goettingen, had an excursion to the car city of Wolfsburg (VW) and last but not least to the beautiful old town of Einbeck. Finally, this summermachane was the largest camp (based on the number of participants), which we were allowed to organize.
Have a nice weekend and Shabbat Shalom <3
THREE THOUGHTS ON THE YOUTH MOVEMENT
I’m coming to the end of ten years of unbroken involvement in RSY-Netzer. I’ve cut my hair, cleared my desk, and at the end of this week I’ll leave the Sternberg Centre as an outgoing Movement Worker. The movement has been, without a shadow of a doubt, the single best thing I’ve been involved in during my life so far. After eleven consecutive summers of kef I wanted to put forward three unconnected reflections on our dear youth movement before I go.
Mobile Phones, Mental Health, and Hadracha
First, I want to suggest one fairly uncontroversial claim, and then another that may be a little more contentious. The uncontroversial claim is that the current high level of mobile phone usage (and social media addiction) amongst both our chanichim and madrichim is bad for them. This may seem obvious but in recent summers it’s become so apparent to me just what a brilliant thing we are still able to do in banishing mobile phones almost completely from our machanot.
When our young people are distressed about a social matter, whether romantic or purely friendship, it is almost always the case that a mobile phone appears somewhere in the story. There’s usually a ‘and then he posted X on Instagram’ or ‘and then they created this Whatsap group without me’. Although I’ve got no statistics to back it up, it seems all too clear that social media usage is making our young people worryingly unhappy and dangerously anxious. As a young person addicted to social media myself I’m not at all surprised. I crave likes and cyber-appreciation. How will I know my friends truly like me if I’m not in numerous Facebook and Whatsapp threads with them at all times? Thankfully I’ve got sufficiently honest relationships with good friends who are all too willing to burst my social media bubble and remind me that it’s human interactions that deepen relationships- not comment threads.
Taking away the phones of our chanichim (even just temporarily) frees them from the bondage of social media and the mental slavery of working out how they will curate their lives across various profiles. It liberates them into the sphere of real life human interactions. Don’t get me wrong, our young people can still be tremendously unkind to each other in person, yet there is a different character to it, and usually the real life disputes are easier to resolve. Even if they are not easier to resolve they serve the purpose of teaching our young people resilience and personal strength. Dodging and ducking through two weeks of fragile adolescent social dynamics is part of what makes camp a growing and maturing experiences for our chanichim.
On the flipside of this, our madrichim are on their phones more and more. As long as they are still fully committed members of the tzevet, and the ‘camp bubble’ is preserved for our chanichim, then this isn’t a problem per se, but in recent years it’s highlighted a different albeit connected trend. Our madrichim are suffering from mental ill health in pretty large numbers. Now here’s my second claim: the way we conceptualise hadracha is under threat from our current approach and understanding of mental health. To be a leader is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. At the point of leading on your first RSY-Netzer event, however many events you’ve been on as a chanicha, you should find it a scary and tough task. Hadracha is brilliant, but it’s also hard, and finding it tough is necessary to growing and developing as a madricha. We need a movement of madrichim who can find things hard, and do them anyway! If, as seems to happen more and more, our movement is made up of brilliant individuals who are suffering from anxiety and depression then we need to think carefully about how those people are pushed and push themselves.
We need to reconceptualise hadracha but we need to do so in a way that preserves what is good about it. Across my time in the movement I’ve seen countless cases of people who have real struggles in their lives behave in remarkable ways once given the chance to lead. Depressed bogrim who find it hard to get up for their uni lectures, or alephs who suffer badly from anxiety in their ‘normal’ lives, are then transformed when in the rough and tumble, all-in-this-together-atude of a machane. They conquer their struggles and function with great personal satisfaction as full members of a tzevet. It is that tzevet itself that can create an atmosphere of unique support. Here are a group of people who are with you 24/7, all dedicated to the same overall goal. At it’s best it can and should be an environment of trust, kindness, and love (and if all goes well you’ll get a cheeky snog with someone you fancy at Sumpar at the end of it all). However, it’s important we tread the line carefully between support and self-indulgence.
Hadracha is nothing if it is not about pushing oneself. I don’t want to be mistaken for putting forward that we should ignore peoples’ needs. That’s not what I am suggesting. However, I do have a fear about the destination we could find ourselves in by mistake. RSY-Netzer is counter-cultural in a number of ways. One of those ways is that it is ‘softer’ than mainstream society- people are more at ease with each other, and that’s brilliant. Yet if this results in an approach to those with mental ill health that pussyfoots around them and offers them no challenge, then I fear we’ll lose what is most brilliant about youth leadership. We need to build a spirit of resilience, support, and bravery. I fully believe we already have the systems in place- what we need now is the courage to walk the line between embracing each other when we’re down and pushing each other to do more when we can.
2. A Marxist Analysis of Hadracha (or ‘why madrichim already inhabit a communist paradise’)
(This is a particularly nerdy attempt to bring together two of my favourite things: hadracha and political philosophy. It doesn’t quite work but hear me out on it…)
Karl Marx had an analysis of capitalism based partially on how products are made. For Marx, we are in a pre-revolution period of history because too few people (the bosses) own all the means of production. What this means is that a few people own all the things that are necessary to create products. So, the owner of a factory owns all the equipment, all the raw materials, and then simply has to pay the workers a wage, after which the factory owner gets to keep all the profit that is made on the product. The workers are paid the lowest amount they can be paid to do the job, and their wage is unconnected to whatever profit the factory owner is making from the their labour. For Marx, this is why a communist society would be one in which their would be collective ownership of all industries.
Additionally, it’s important to understand that for Marx workers are also alienated. This refers to the way in which workers in an industrial society lose all connection to the product they are creating. Once upon a time one person would be responsible for the creation of a product, say a chair, from the beginning until the end of the process. They would gain the satisfaction of seeing the chair being created and they would know that their labour has gone into creating it. In an industrial society the ‘division of labour’ causes people to take on much smaller specialised roles on a bigger production line. Therefore, the worker who has a role sanding-down a hundred chair legs does not receive the same satisfaction as they would if they made one complete chair. They are alienated from their labour and from the product of their labour.
In my view, the youth movement defies this analysis and instead exists in a communist paradise already. Yep, It’s bold…but here goes…
Let’s say the product of our youth movement is broadly ‘more ideological young people’. The chanichim are the raw material and the madrichim are the workers. However, all the other things that are needed to create the final product are things that the madrichim (the workers) possess themselves. They develop the programming and engage in the all-important social interactions that shape our young people. Once the ‘product’ has been created it is also the madrichim themselves (through their own collective ownership of the movement) who continue to ‘own’ the additional value of the product. More ideological young people only go to improve our movement further.
Yes, one could make an argument that the computers that the Movement Workers use are crucial to the process, or that the tissue paper that goes into to making resources is crucial to the process, and that the madrichim do not ‘own’ these things. However, these elements of production are relatively minor- they are the things that allow the REAL process (the human interactions) to occur. These objects are just accessories to the real production process. In this, our madrichim exist in a post-capitalist communist reality. Huzzah!
As an additional element you’ll remember that I explained how, under capitalism, workers are alienated from their labour and from the product of their labour. In quite the opposite way to this, to engage in hadracha is to see and appreciate the transformation of young people in real time across hours, days, weeks, and even years! This is the product of our labour as madrichim. By committing ourselves to positive social interactions with our chanichim we see our time and effort realised in their changing behaviors. Every bold new point made in issues groups, every fear conquered on the climbing wall, every proposal put forward at Veidah is a realisation of the labour of madrichim. For me, hadracha is a sphere where madrichim are most in touch with their labour and the product of their labour. In this, we’ve created a unique and truly utopian role for ourselves- never take it for granted!
3. Believing in stuff is good; having responsibility is even better.
RSY-Netzer gave me something to believe it and this is a bloody brilliant thing. Our ideology is one that I was taught to agree with, hold dear, and then preach myself. As a 13-16 year old it’s so incredibly easy to be despondent about the world. You’re grumpy, you hate everyone and everything, and you believe that no one will understand you…ever. Having something to believe in and a community around you who shared those beliefs protected me against the depths of grumpiness. There is nothing that is quite as motivating and energesing than having a purpose and trying to chase that purpose with all your energy.
Would I have come to the same conclusions about the world had I not been part of RSY-Netzer? Perhaps I would have, but I’ll never really know, and even if I had done, I wouldn’t have had a community of people around me believing the same things. I’ve felt part of lots of different communities in my life. I loved my secondary school and felt very at home there; I love Tottenham Hotspur and feel a real sense of quasi-religious community when going to home matches at White Hart Lane. However, neither of these things are the same as my involvement with RSY-Netzer. Crucially, in having a set of beliefs attached to it, the movement provides purpose. In a world so void of truth and commitment this is worth hanging onto. It’s useful to note that our set of beliefs aren’t even that solid. We are extremists for nuance, fundamentalists for self-education, beyond that there is a huge difference in individual doctrine across our chaverim. Yet it doesn’t matter that our individual decisions may converge- it’s the central tenets of our ideology that still manage to hold us together.
Even more than believing in stuff, being given responsibility is life-changing. If hadracha is build on the interactions we have with our chanichim then it reaches its peak when we are given significant responsibility over those very same chanichim. As a seventeen year old, leading on Atid for the very first time, I was given the chance to be the ‘Rosh Campsite’ for one night for one of the campsites we were using for tiyul. I was responsible for the general supervision of the pitching of tents, cooking of dinner, and anything else that may be going on that evening. A series of unfortunate events mixed with terrible weather meant it turned out to be one of the most challenging nights of my life. However, when the rain finally stopped and we were back on the main site a few days later I felt such a sense of achievement- it fueled me for the rest of machane. We’ve all got memories of being given responsibility, feeling the pressure, and growing as a result of those experiences. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that giving people this kind of trust is under threat. We’re more concerned than we’ve ever been before about parents, about organisational reputation, about how our movement looks on social media. All these things are important, but we’ve got to make sure we keep them in perspective. We must keep giving our madrichim those moments of responsibility and those chances to grow. We must let people fail and the let them sore. We must let people lead. We can always be there to support and offer advice along the way, but only by allowing people the chance to take a step forward themselves will they reach their own full potential!
A year ago I came across a book published in 1956 by the name of ‘The Jewish Youth Group: A Handbook For Progressive Jewish Youth Groups’. It’s a collection of essays that give advice and guidance of how to build your very own synagogue youth group. The different contributors are mainly young adults who were involved in YASGB (the Youth Association of the Synagogues of Great Britain), which became RSY, and then eventually RSY-Netzer. Parts of it are comically dated (I mean…it was published 60 years ago), however, parts of the first chapter, entitled ‘The task of the Youth Group’ wrung very true to me. In it, Colette Kessler states that the youth group should have a threefold goal:
Awaken the love of God and Torah
Stimulate the sense of the ‘community of Israel’
Arouse an ardent consciousness of the ‘Mission of Israel’
Reading these goals I was taken aback at just how similar they are to three of our four pillars in RSY-Netzer today. Put a different way ‘loving God and Torah’ could be Reform Judaism, ‘community of Israel’ could be Reform Zionism, and ‘mission of Israel’ could be Tikun Olam. There it was, in black and white, in 1956- the roots of our ideology. However, the passage goes on even more beautifully: ‘Obviously these aims can be realised only in an atmosphere of harmony and friendship. Every member of the youth group must be made to feel deep in his heart the truth of the Psalmists’ words: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for breathren to dwell together in unity”’.
As things have changed they have also stayed the same and just as likely as chanichim will continue to enquire about the age of their madrichim so to things will continue to change and they will also stay the same. The movement has given me so much. It has given me friendship, belief, energy, purpose, motivation, a moral compass, a community, role models, a partner, a sense of duty, and so much more besides. If it offers you a small fraction of what it’s given me you’ll be very lucky indeed. Own the movement, be responsible for it, drive it forward, hold it tight (but not too tight), and most of all, enjoy it.
In the Parashat Hashavu'a corner, we will direct you to the World Union for Progressive Judaism's column "Torah from around the world", where each week another Progressive Rabbi writes about the weekly portion. For this week's portion click here.
AZYC Cycling for Kids Kicking Cancer
The Australasian Zionist Youth Council (AZYC) is the roof body that unites the seven Zionist Youth Movements across Australia and New Zealand. The AZYC facilitates a support network between Betar, Bnei Akiva, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Hineni, Netzer, Tzofim and two pluralist youth organisations in the small communities of Adelaide and Canberra. This year the 2017 Shnat participants have come together to raise funds for Kids Kicking Cancer. This group of engaged young Jews have spent the year learning about Hebrew, Israel, Jewish History and Hadracha (leadership) to go back to their communities and take a position as a Madrich within their cities.
Support this cause and make a difference
Your donation is tax deductible!
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom,
Lior and the Netzer staff
This may be the first weekly update you receive directly from us, and is part of our goal to have more direct and open communication with all our partners in this program
if you think there is anyone else that should receive this weekly updates, please send me their details
As always, the local Netzer Branch is always there for you as well