A Mazkirut member’s perception of the perception of the Mazkirut
It is October 2001, and little Eli Maman is being taken to his first ever Salford BA Sukkah Crawl, probably by his mum, and probably crying his eyes out because all he wants to do was stay at home and play with his wooden train set (remember those??). He doesn’t want to go and make friends and learn stuff (ew!). Who wants to learn stuff when there are trains to be played with?!
Fast forward 17 years to October 2018, and little (although a little bit bigger) Eli Maman is being elected as Chinuch Worker for Bnei Akiva United Kingdom (part-time albeit, before Gidon Schwartz & Penina Myerson remind him of that fact). He is still playing with that wooden train set (with his nephews & nieces, he swears), but he is now also writing all the educational content for the very chanichim who are now being torn away from their train sets and taken to Svivot all over the country. Oh, and he now gets to be part of the Mazkirut, with all the associated bells and whistles (front row seat at Yom Ha’atzmaut, get in).
So, what happened to this kid?
After going on many, many machanot, two years at a non-Hachshara Yeshiva (*gasp*), a spell as a nivchar Hanhallah, and being a Madrich on many more Machanot, I thought I was done – that I had done all I could do for Bnei Akiva UK, that I would wish the tnua well in all its endeavours, and we would part ways. Then things changed.
Personal reasons had meant that I was able to get a job alongside university this year, and, over a coffee with Rav Aharon, I was presented with the opportunity to be on the Mazkirut. The reaction of little Eli Maman – who had spent 17 years with a youth movement that had given him life-changing experiences, life-long friends, and had shaped him into the person he is today – should have been:
“Woah! The Mazkirut! A chance to really impact the movement that has given me so much – of course, I’ll do it!”
But it wasn’t.
Instead, I had the realisation that it would mean that I would be the Chinuch Worker, which, let’s face it, doesn’t seem the most glamorous of roles, and definitely was not the job on the Mazkirut that I had ever seen myself doing.
Despite this, I gave it a chance, and after a few conversations with Hannah and Adam Waters, I sent my application in. However, I still wasn’t sure. I spoke to more people – Michael Rainsbury, Gideon Bratt, Rafi Cohen, to name a few – and that pushed me a bit more to want to take the job. Even after this, I still wasn’t fully sure I wanted to do it, even with my family and close friends pushing me to, and I just couldn’t work out why!
Then it hit me. When I was on the Bet Midrash Programme in year 13 (this isn’t a plug for its amazing return this summer, I promise), we had a joke among us that Marina, the Rosh & Chinuch Worker-elect, was going to ‘sell her soul to the Mazkirut’ and would never be the same again. She would become some sort of detached and aloof figure, out of touch with the day-to-day reality of the average BA-nik. See, we had this perception of what had happened to previous Mazkirut members – it may not have been true, but that’s what we felt had happened, and would happen to her. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)
This joke seemed to have stuck with me subconsciously and made me feel a bit uncomfortable in taking the job, because I didn’t want to sell my soul to the Mazkirut. I like my soul. So, I said that I was going to shatter that perception, along with the amazing Mazkirut that had already been elected earlier in the year. So, I took the job.
However, this dream was quickly forgotten by me, quickly overtaken by more practical things.
In practical terms, the Tnua is so strong at this point of the year. A record number of Chanichim are going on Israel Machane this summer; Summer Machane numbers are the highest they have been for the past five years; our new learning programme, Student Beit Midrash, has around 50 people coming on a weekly basis; and many more amazing things are happening. Oh, and being Chinuch Worker has turned out to be exactly little Eli Maman’s cup of tea, for so many reasons, and it is such a rewarding and important job – but, I digress.
One thing that I am increasingly aware of, however, is that this is the same practical situation that the Tnua was in back when we were making jokes to Marina on BMP. With the help of every Mazkirut, the Tnua always achieves amazing things – and yet, the negative perception is still there. Nothing seems to be enough and, to the best of my knowledge, my goal to shatter this perception has not been reached.
So, the question remains: can my goal ever be reached? Can we ever shatter this perception?
We all know the importance of having Rosh Gadol (initiative), and how the ability to apply it in every situation is truly the mark of a good leader. I can point to many of my inspirational Madrichim and say that they had amazing Rosh Gadol in every aspect of their life. It has always been something that I have tried to work on personally, and, moreover, it is something that I’m proud to say I feel is a strong point in this Mazkirut. Even though we have at times been swamped with trying to meet the amazing practical goals mentioned above, we have always had the collective goal of trying to break the negative perception. In any situation where we’ve seen a chance to improve the perception, we have taken the initiative and switched focus to do just that. But, the reality is, we quickly get back into our day-to-day work, and that goal is rapidly forgotten once again.
The past couple of months have made me realise why this perception has perpetuated for so long in the past, and why it still exists today, despite my personal goal this year to remove it.
When someone is on the Mazkirut, they are no longer on the outside looking in. They are the inside. And perception cannot be changed if the people who are being perceived in that way are not aware that it is still a big issue.
This is why I have titled this article “A Two-Way Street”. The relationship between the Mazkirut and the Tnua as a whole is a two-way street: it cannot be improved unless both sides are active participants. Just as in any relationship or in any team, communication is so important, to both making people understand when there is a problem and eliciting change, the same is true of the relationship between the Mazkirut and the rest of the Tnua. A seeming lack of this in the past is what has caused people to have bad experiences as Chanichim, Madrichim, Senior Tzvatim, and even when on the Mazkirut. It is this that has driven many people away from wanting to stay involved in the Tnua.
As the Mazkirut, we were recently made to realise that our efforts have not been enough in this area. As an effort to improve our side of the relationship, we have set up www.bauk.org/feedback as a general feedback page; we are urging people to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see our everyday activities; and, as always, we urge people to text, call, or even come to the Bayit to just tell us their thoughts, concerns, or any questions they have about the Tnua.
That’s what we can do, that’s our side of the relationship. But from the outside, from your side, there is even more that can be done. There is little use in talking about problems in the Tnua, but not saying anything to the people who can engender change and work out an effective solution. You can even become the person to make that change; becoming a part of Summer Machane, Sviva, bringing a motion to Veida, or even applying for the remaining positions on the Mazkirut for next year! If we all make sure to do our bit, we can take the Tnua from strength to strength, together, for years to come. In doing each your bit, you enable yourself to feel more of an ownership over the Tnua, truly creating something we are all proud to be a part of.
We are a youth movement; the Tnua is meant to be by the youth, for the youth. There is little meaning in leaving the direction of the Tnua to just five of the youth who happen to be in an office in Temple Fortune munching on leftover croutons from the last Shabbatot Ha’Irgun. The Mazkirut are here to serve each and every Chaver of the Tnua, and if someone wants something to happen in the movement, then we are happy to discuss and put your visions into action. We can have record numbers of Chanichim across the board, but that is of no benefit if the youth don’t feel an ownership of the movement. If that isn’t happening, then we are not doing our jobs properly. We as the Mazkirut, and we as the Tnua. We all have a common goal of making the youth of the Modern Orthodox & Religious Zionist community have a place where they can strengthen their Judaism and Zionism, and we can’t do it by ourselves.
Together we can achieve these goals, and this perception will be broken.
Oh, and we should get some wooden train sets, definitely need some of those in the Tnua.
B’Virkat Shalom L’Torah V’Avodah.
Little Eli Maman
P.S. Happy to discuss anything in this article. If you’re a bit confused by something or it isn’t clear, please don’t speculate about it, just call me!! 07931176429.