Sink or Swim: A Response

Joe Boxer 

As a way of beginning my response to this week’s article by Jack Cohen in Yediot, these views, although shared by others, are my own opinions. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Nivcharim or the Mazkirut and is as such not a party line.

To begin with: as a body of Bogrim it is about time that we stopped being so reductionist when it comes to analysing Bnei Akiva. We are by no means a perfect movement that fulfils all of its aims, yet at the same time, it’s about time we stopped scapegoating past and present Mazkiruyot. Before commenting on some of the claims made within the article I’m going to highlight a few alternative issues that we must be dealing with.

The first is finances. Bnei Akiva is not in the strongest of all financial positions, summer machane will cost between £755-£865 per head, winter machane cost over £400; that is a lot of money. Realistically speaking, this is not affordable for many people and although some bursaries are available, many will not accept them. Furthermore, a lot of our chanachim go to schools where they are subjected to what is often a Charedi education, which means that we are having to deal with education which is either forcing our chanachim to the right of where many of us are or alienating them totally. These are just a couple of major issues facing us, without speculating on general trends of youth participation across the United Kingdom.

In regards to the section about a lack of transparency within the movement, there are several key and important things which must be looked at. First up, I need to apologise – it was my intention to publish all minutes post Hanhallah meetings to the bogrim. I did not do that, that rests on me and me alone. Now to deal with the Mazkirut application process; if we are going to critique the process, let’s start at square one. It’s immoral. The whole process is a huge conflict of interest as everybody knows all the applicants personally; this is a professional appointment, where peers are giving out jobs on prior knowledge and character opinions, even setting aside the issue of friends reading each other’s personal and confidential information. Assuming this does not change, as people have an ideological affinity to the process being done by its own members, we must remember that this remains a professional appointment and it will therefore be unethical to publicise why someone didn’t get a job. In regards to that point, this year we did respond to this issue as best as we can. In the case that an applicant permits it, the feedback that they will receive, both positive and negative, will be made public. This means that no-one is given half-truths; it’s either confidential or fully published in an official statement. This will end speculation as to why someone has or hasn’t got a job, and if there is speculation it is unequivocally unjustified as no source will be accurate if the decision has been made to not publicise the feedback. Were an applicant to decide to keep their feedback private, any comments that they make will be half-truths. This year we invested time in to making feedback constructive and honest, so that the situations that have arisen in the past will not rise again.

Next I would like to deal with the paragraph that is somewhat offensive and certainly unsubstantiated about the quality of the Mazkirut, Roshim, Sganim and pretty much every one who has contributed to the movement. Let me put to you an alternate opinion: most people that have worked and volunteered for the movement have in fact been of a high quality. This year camps have already been successful, our involvement within schools has been massive, cash flows in svivot have been superbly organised, hadracha training has been further expanded beyond where it has been in the past, and on Shabbat UK, Mitzvah day and our new communities’ project, our communal work has been at an unprecedented standard. The amount of older bogrim that have been constantly telling me (and I’m sure many others) that hadracha is not what it used to be…my usual response contains a single expletive. I remember when I was a young Chanich at local sviva we used to play a game called dominos, which involved us running away from our madrich who tried to push us into each other to see how many people he could knock over with one push – every Shabbat afternoon, from 3-5. However fun that sounds, it’s difficult to see how that is ‘forming the future of world Jewry.’ From my travels around different svivot this year I honestly believe that Hadracha is of an excellent standard. The only question is: are we applying ourselves?

The one claim that this article makes that confuses me the most is in the section of taking chances. Might I ask where this opinion is from? I fail to understand how Bnei Akiva is stifling grassroots innovation. This year people have brought me ideas and we have discussed them in Hanhallah meetings. In fact across the Mazkirut there have been new programmes in schools, communities, educational materials, and Hadracha. I would argue that the reason that Bnei Akiva doesn’t always seem to be changing is not due to a lack of innovation, but is due to failings in implementation. These comments are not intended to be self-righteous babble, I most certainly have not always stuck my head above the parapet to take part in essential programmes that Bnei Akiva has started, and these comments are certainly not a criticism of a large section of the tnua. However this year the Mazkirut has struggled with getting Bogrim to visit schools, to be Roshim, to help out at local svivot, to volunteer for the new communities’ project and to go to Shabbat Bogrim in Birmingham. How can we constantly criticise the ‘higher ups’ within Bnei Akiva for denying change, when we ourselves are largely culpable of not being there to support change? In my own opinion, for Bnei Akiva to thrive, we need to transfer our work in svivot to schools – but do we have the man power to do that? We can talk about saving Modern Orthodoxy and changing the movement, but this is a group project and only with the help of the Bogrim can we start to work in these areas which are paramount to our continuity.

Finally – Bogrim, if you have an idea, pick up the phone, we all know the number. The one thing that we really shouldn’t even need to discuss is Bogrim communicating with the Mazkirut. Do not take it as a given that the Mazkirut will call each and every one of us asking us what our opinions are on absolutely everything – that is not productive and unrealistic. If you do or don’t like something, call the Bayit or any of the Nivcharim. There is only a detachment between the Bogrim and Mazkirut if we allow there to be.

%d bloggers like this: