Sink or Swim: How BAUK Needs to Change

Jack Cohen

Editors’ note: The content of this article is in no way representative of the views of Yediot, but its publication reflects the policies and aspirations outlined at the time of its launch (here and here). We hope that resultant debate will be vigorous and respectful, and welcome the submission of articles and letters to the editors

We live in a world where the notion of attracting Jewish youth to local and national programs is fast becoming an anachronism. This, combined with the rapid shrinking of the “middle ground” on which Modern Orthodoxy is situated, makes it no surprise that BAUK has taken heavy hits, with camp closures in the winter, and more of the same likely this summer. This is an ominous time for the Tnua; continue as it has been and it seems unlikely things will improve. Put simply, its options are sink or swim. The problem is that, at present, the movement seems woefully ill-equipped to deal with these challenges, and, unless it faces up to this unwelcome reality, its days may well be numbered.

Now, more than ever before, it seems essential that the best people are working in the movement’s key positions. From the Roshim at Sviva and Machane, to Madrichim in Israel, right up to those sitting on the Mazkirut, there need to be passionate individuals who exude dugma and are willing to innovate. These individuals need to be able to connect, inspire, and support those around them. Such a set up would ensure that novel approaches are tried, commitment from Bogrim is secured, and unrivalled experiences for Chanichim are created. Only like this will the survival of BAUK be guaranteed.

The problem is that there just don’t seem to have been enough of these kinds of people in these key positions. This is worrying, and if it were merely down to a dearth of appropriate applicants, it would be unfortunate. What makes the situation alarming, however, is that such a dearth does not exist; instead, over the last few years, a number of decisions have been made by the Mazkirut barring abundantly talented applicants from Tafkidim. With examples at all levels of the movement, it’s worth realizing that, in the current climate, such decisions are not just bizarre; they are potentially devastating. And repeatedly it has been the Tnua, rather than the rejected applicants, which has suffered the most from such decisions.

These points are not intended as a mere précis of old ground but as a much-needed wakeup call for all in BAUK, and – most importantly – for the incumbent and future Mazkirut. We must learn in order to improve, and the lessons are twofold:

1. Take Chances.

I cannot claim credit for the astute observation that, if Machlaka was suggested to any given Mazkirut over the last few years, it would be laughed out of the Bayit. There simply isn’t enough top-down innovation in BAUK, and perhaps more importantly, there isn’t enough support for grassroots innovation. All too often it seems that “new” is seen as synonymous with “a risk not worth taking”.

Clearly there is a need for more leaders who, when assessing applicants, see perceived risk as being outweighed by potential contribution. There is a need for more leaders who value hadrachic or leadership capabilities far more than experience. Finally, there is a need for more leaders who have greater interest in the projects of Bogrim than their own – which brings us to the next lesson:

2. Increase Accountability and Transparency.

In times like these, BAUK must realise that its most important asset is not the Mazkirut, but the Bogrim and Chanichim; only these individuals can propel the movement into the future. The Mazkirut must therefore realise that its primary task is to encourage and facilitate the operations of the rest of the movement, and, in order to do this, the Mazkirut must connect with the Bogrim. However, this is currently something of a challenge, as for several years now the Mazkirut has operated in a manner more becoming of the Mossad than of a youth movement. Repeatedly, controversial decisions have been taken behind a veil of “confidentiality”, resulting in the alienation of many Bogrim.

Going forward, the Mazkirut must strive to be more open, it must go to far greater lengths to inform applicants of the reasons behind decisions, and it must create avenues for these decisions to be appealed. More than this, the Mazkirut must make it clear to the movement at large what it gets up to on a daily basis, what its long term goals are, and what its progress towards them has been.  Most importantly, it must ensure that Bogrim play an active role in setting its agenda by doing more to directly nurture relationships throughout the movement.

Before I end, I’d like to pre-empt two criticisms; the first, that this piece is merely the venting of a frustrated Boger. The second, that I should be more involved in implementing the changes I describe.

To the first: I’ve been in BAUK for as long as I can remember, I love this movement, and owe much of who I am to the ideals which it has imparted in me over the years. Furthermore, I have always been fortunate enough to receive every Tafkid I’ve applied for, and, for the most part, got on well with those I have crossed paths with. This article, then, is hardly motivated by personal gripes; rather, it is informed by a genuine desire to see the movement, which I value so dearly, continue to impact lives for generations to come. To the second: whilst I was given the opportunity to be involved in the leadership of the movement, events conspired such that I could not take it in good conscience. Still, should I have another bite at the apple, I would view it as a duty to rectify this missed opportunity.

With that out of the way, the take-home message is short and clear: BAUK must conduct major alternations, lest it be consigned to a footnote on a Wikipedia page.

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