In response to Jack Cohen’s article “Sink or Swim”:
For several years now the Mazkirut has operated in a manner more becoming of the Mossad than of a youth movement.
If the “several years” referred to in the above sentence are intended to stretch as far back as three years, I assume Jack’s article is also intended as a criticism of the Mazkirut that I was so fortunate to serve as a part of. As such, I take issue with many of the things raised. Luckily Adam Boxer has already voiced many of my objections in a typically clear and concise fashion, so my first recommendation would be to read his comment here.
But I’d like to directly respond to a couple of the other points Jack raised with actual examples from our year on the Mazkirut (5773).
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”.
I won’t take up space by listing all the “top-down innovations” that we implemented during our year, but a list of the highlights can be found in the annual report that I gave at Veida 5773. If you have the time, I would recommend taking a look here http://1drv.ms/1bQn4Le. A Boger approached me afterwards to express their surprise at how much we had accomplished, I hope some of you will feel similarly.
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:
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.
The summer just before I became Mazkir I was privileged to be appointed Rosh of Gimmel Machane. During one of our precamp Madrichims meetings, we entered into a heated discussion about Bogrim projects, Mazkirut projects, the feeling from Bogrim that the Mazkirut don’t provide enough opportunities, the feeling from the Mazkirut (elect) that Bogrim don’t come forward with enough initiatives, and so on and so forth.
The take home message that I (hope I) left the tzevet with was to approach the Mazkirut. We were planning on providing as many opportunities as possible for the Bogrim, but they – as the key shevet of Bogrim that coming year – had to, that they must, come to us with their ideas for initiatives within BAUK, and we would do our best to assist them to bring the ideas to fruition.
Though being an obvious idea, in my case it stems from my own personal philosophy on youth movements: I believe that the main point of a youth movement is to rebel against the establishment, to be a counter-culture. The members of the movement that will actually be involved in realising these ideologies are those of and around university age. We know from history that most of the revolutions that have taken place in the world – from France to the Arab Spring – were led by this demographic. Why do we as a movement focus so much on the chanichim? Mainly so that they will become the Bogrim of the future and will be able to have a real impact on the community.
It is not by chance that Bogrim are often described as being “the lifeblood of the movement…”
With these things in mind, I would claim that describing myself as a Mazkir, and by extension us as a Mazkirut, as leaders who do not “realise that its [BAUK’s] most important asset is not the Mazkirut, but the Bogrim,” is unfair.
As far as the “need for more leaders who have greater interest in the projects of Bogrim than their own,” is concerned. I feel that one of the projects that we undertook in 5773 that had the most potential was the Internships with Bnei Akiva (iBA) programme. This project, quite apart from it being yet another opportunity for our Bogrim, was actually the brainchild of a Boger.
Noah Nathan – consider this an official thank you for actually taking the time to approach us.
In my experience as a boger, as a Mazkir and as a now “ex-Boger” is that Mazkiruyot care. They really do. If an idea is good enough and someone has the capability to pursue it, there is no reason not to. At least in our year, that was our philosophy.
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.
Here I’m going to agree with Jack. We do not do a good enough job of stating our goals, of telling people how much work actually goes on behind the BAUK scenes, or of shouting about our achievements. It was even a Veida motion the summer of 5772 (found midway down the third page here). Unfortunately one of my regrets from my time on the Mazkirut was failing to fulfil this motion, for which I apologise to Eli Gottlieb (who even took the time to chase me up as best as he could).
I feel that we shoot ourselves in the foot by being bad at this. We leave ourselves open to that classic grumble of “oh what do the Mazkirut do all day anyway, other than sit in the Bayit eating pastries from Daniel’s?” Furthermore, this failure leads directly or indirectly to feelings amongst our Bogrim such as those expressed in Jack’s article.
And frankly, it’s a shame.
With reference to Jack Cohen’s article, my own belief is that the article, whilst important, deals with a symptom of a problem, rather than the problem itself.
Bnei Akiva is a prime example of the use of role model education, defined by Professor Barry Chazan as follows. “The informal Jewish educator is a total educational personality who educates by words, deeds, and by shaping a culture of Jewish values and experiences…the informal Jewish educator needs to be an educated and committed Jew. This educator must be knowledgeable since one of the values he/she comes to teach is talmud torah—Jewish knowledge. He/she must be committed to these values since teaching commitment to the Jewish people, to Jewish life, and Jewish values is at the heart of the enterprise. Commitment can only be learned if one sees examples of it up close”.
Every year, Bnei Akiva UK sends over 40 bogrim on Hachshara programmes, along with many others who attend alternative programmes in Israel, most of whom return with a passionate desire to enter the tnua in leadership roles. Most of these people are certainly the role models to whom Chazan is referring, and yet when 2/3 years have passed, and senior leadership roles are within their grasp, very few are left in the tnua. The issue is not that Bnei Akiva doesn’t have role models, both in the halakhic and ideological senses, but rather that many leave the tnua before their time.
I was privileged to meet with Torani in Modiin several weeks ago, and to know many of the participants from my time in education in the UK. The real challenge is not in finding the exemplary role models, they exist, but rather ensuring that they are still in Bnei Akiva in 3 years’ time, willing to don the mantle of leadership.
That requires much thought and effort, but in my opinion, challenging the charedi dominated education scene is an important first step. Campus is full of programmes such as Aish, JLE, Chabad, all espousing a particular way of life. Modern Orthodoxy is sadly missing from the options available, and over the years, I have seen many bogrim turn to other options. The main challenge is to ensure that Bnei Akiva provides a MO/RZ experience for its bogrim, so as to enable these people to stay involved longer in the tnua.
Reading Jack Cohen’s article ‘Sink or Swim’ took me back to that time when I was a boger of BAUK and didn’t get the tafkid I wanted. Actually, it happened three times. But there was that one time when I didn’t get Israel Machane, and I was understandably upset. I followed the well-trodden steps of frustration, telling myself that the Mazkirut got it wrong and getting my friends to reassure me the same. BAUK lost out, we said. Perhaps I was right, and would have been a better IM madrich. But one thing’s for certain – BAUK didn’t lose out. Because Bnei Akiva is all about leadership, and leadership is all about learning from mistakes and disappointments. After a few months, and especially after that summer’s time as a Sgan Machane, I realised that not getting that specific tafkid was the best thing for me.
Firstly, it helped me improve – maybe there were aspects of my hadracha ability that I could improve? Before the ‘rejection’ (in speechmarks because I did get a tafkid that summer), did I even ask myself that question? Secondly, it was a reminder that every tafkid for Bnei Akiva is an honour, and that there should be an inherent respect for the Mazkirut’s ability to decide. Yes they make mistakes sometimes – and if they do, you only have a few months to wait before trying to do a better job. There is something beautiful about the bogrim electing their peers, of only 23 years of age, to make decisions which affect the movement and the whole community. And thirdly, because when I eventually was on the Mazkirut, it made me sensitive to how it felt not to get a tafkid. Yes, we made decisions. There were people we gave tafkidim to, and people we didn’t. And I’m fine with that. As long as the thought process was robust, opinions were heard and the decisions were broken in an appropriately sensitive way, I slept well at night. There were times when I spoke to individuals who we had “rejected” (read: given a tafkid, just not what they wanted) and explained why we felt their talents were vital to the tnua – just not in the way they had planned.
But there is one more reason why I am happy I did not get IM. It made me into who I am today. Every success I have ever had in leadership has only been possible because I learnt from when I failed. If other people felt I wasn’t appropriate for a position, it didn’t matter whether they were right or wrong. What mattered was that I would improve and put the next decision beyond doubt. And again, perhaps I didn’t need to have stepped up to have been vindicated. But when is it right not to motivate yourself to be better? Being a member of Bnei Akiva is about always striving to be better, in our middot, our ideological passion and our passion to make a difference.
I have the privilege to be educating many of the movement’s future leaders on Torani, and this is the message I want to impart to them. There will be setbacks and frustrations as you work your way up in the movement – but when those come, it’s incumbent on every boger to use those times as a propeller forward to improve yourself, and ultimately the tnua we hold so dearly.
Regarding Ayelet Persey’s excellent article on the centrality of consistency: I totally agree on the importance of consistency and the role of habit in our religious service. I would add and slightly amend the conclusion that once we are able to habitualise our service to God, then we can and where permissible (maybe) should individualise our service. Within our habit of praying three times a day, we must avoid habitualising the prayer itself, instead making it individual and heartfelt (as the Mishna in Avot tells us…).
Habits allow us to avoid having to make choices constantly; instead we reserve the choices for actions and thoughts we have not yet habitualised, allowing us to constantly strive to grow on our previous good habits whilst attempting to remove and alter the negative habits we may have picked up.
For an excellent book on the topic of habit please see “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.