These last few weeks I had the pleasure of representing Jewish Students to various Jewish and Israeli organizations’ general assemblies. If there was one common theme at each of those assemblies, it was concerning how we could develop the next generation of real Jewish leaders.
The truth is, whilst all of our Jewish communal bodies and Jewish philanthropists clamor around for the answer – it’s staring them right in the face.
But first let’s start with what youth leadership is not. Student leadership is not hand feeding young leaders by arranging all their programming, explaining how they should be defending Israel on campus and giving endless seminars on how to promote youth leadership.
This April I sat in on a meeting of many major Jewish organizations whose mandate it was to discuss how to prevent the delegimitzation of Israel on American university campuses. Of the 30 invited representatives in the room, zero were under 30 and perhaps five were under 40. This was a meeting, once again, to discuss issues on university campuses. Yet meetings like this, I argue, both in terms of tackling the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, and creating a generation of new leaders, are the problem, not the solution.
When experienced members of the Jewish community strategize the solution to a problem on campus, they not only miss the important insight of the students themselves, but deprive a generation of future Jewish leaders the opportunity to think for themselves. Jewish students should not just be carrying out the strategy of experienced Jewish community members, but creating the strategy themselves.
I’d urge organizations and Jewish philanthropists to not just think about “how can we train Jewish leaders,” but rather “how can we give Jewish students the resources and tools to train each other.” This might seem a bit like a dream, but Jewish student unions are an absolute testimony that this method can and does work, indeed far more effectively than non student-led models.
In South Africa, Britain, Australia, Canada, France (and many more countries), Jewish students are not being brought to Israel by older members of the community, but rather Jewish students are bringing Jewish students to Israel and equipping them with the necessary tools to become Jewish leaders. Afterwards that next generation takes upon itself the responsibility of bringing up the students coming after them. In the same vain, Hasbara initiatives are directed, at every level, by Jewish students, because giving the students this mandate, of training each other, not only helps create Jewish leaders, it actually ends up being a more effective solution, as no-one better understands what is needed in the fight against the assault on Israel’s legitimacy on university campuses.
At WUJS, we are all about the development of Jewish leadership, and student responses to student problems. At WUJS we believe it is better to allow young leaders to make the odd mistake and learn from it, than to deprive them of the opportunity of becoming Jewish leaders. I only hope that those whom are truly serious about ensuring the next generation of Jewish leaders fulfill their promise, offer their resources not only to organizations that assist students in becoming leaders, but also directly to student led initiatives and student-led organizations themselves.