Personal Contact and Managing Relationships
Community is Personal
There are two main reasons why it is important for those running Jewish student organisations to get to know people personally. The first is that, without personal contact and an environment where people know each other by name and make an effort to be personable with each other, it is impossible to create a community. Ultimately, that's one of the things that Jewish student groups are trying to do, and so leaders need to show the way by treating people as individuals and getting to know them personally. The second reason why it is important to get to know people personally, and to treat people as individuals, is because they respond a lot better when they think that they personally are considered important. Anonymous attempts to persuade people to get involved often fail, personal attempts often succeed.
Establishing personal contact and using it for the good of the Jewish group and students is essentially a three stage process. First, talk to students and get to know as much about them as possible. Second, create a system for recording this information, so that it is available for use. Third, use personal information to make people feel special and involved in a community-like Jewish group.
Discover Personal Details
Talking to people is the obvious first step in creating a real community. At every event, in corridors, around campus, over the telephone, by e-mail, whatever the setting the prime weapon of the Jewish society activist is the ability to ask questions and to listen for answers.
Whenever you have the chance to talk to a Jewish student, try to find out as much about them as you can. Talk about things you have in common, find out where they are from, who they know, how old they are, what they're studying, what they want to do after their course, what 'kind' of Jew they are, what their parents do, whether they have any relatives who are famous or rich, and so on. This information is all useful - the more that you know about people, the more you can impress them by asking how their sister Esther is, or do yourself a favour by asking if their famous uncle can come and speak to your group.
Discover Opinions and Interests
To really create a community, and to allow more targeted publicity attempts, it is important to find out what the Jewish students you meet think about things. The more that you talk to them, the more you are able to target your publicity at them, and also create the right kind of events for your members. For example, if you find out that one of your members, Daniel lets say, is interested in Kabbalah, if you organise something on Kabbalah you can make the effort to phone him especially as a reminder. Taking the time to find out what members think about things means that you will be thanked for asking people to come along, instead of being told to get lost.
As well as helping to arrange and publicise successful events, discovering the opinions and interests of your members also helps you in community building. If you can talk to people on a personal level when you see them, about things that you know that they are interested in, they will feel more welcomed at Jewish society events. Additionally, by finding out what individuals are interested in, you are able to put them in touch with each other. This can create a rich network of social connections, ensuring that your Jewish group becomes a real community.
Unearth Social Networks
Students often like to go to events that their friends go to. The difficulty is to know who is friends with whom, and which members of a group of friends are the 'ring-leaders' - that is, the ones who are most likely to be able to persuade other people to copy what they do.
By talking to people, you can find out who people are friendly with. Then you can begin to create a picture of the social networks that exist at your university. Then, when trying to distribute information, create a 'buzz', or get people to come to events, you can save time by concentrating on the more 'central' people.
If you find out about rivalries and hatreds, you can also use this information. Sometimes students don't want to go to events that ex-partners, people they hate, and so on are going to be at. You can use this information to let people know when the other is going to be there, or, more constructively, just promise that people won't be sat near to people they don't want to be near, etc.
Find Skills and Strengths
The effective Jewish student organisation uses as many students as possible, doing things that they are good at, in order to run activities. Different people have different talents and interests, and the job of those people most involved in a Jewish student organisation is to find out what skills and strengths people have so that they can be asked to do things that they will be good at. So, if somebody is really sociable and enjoys phoning people, get them to help do publicity for events. If somebody is a hot-shot on computers, get them to help with the website and the design of newsletters, or in setting up the database. Every student has skills and interests. Finding out what they are is the first step to getting people involved, and in getting work done for your Jewish student union.
Managing Personal Information
Some people have good memories, and for them there is no certain need to write down what they learn about people. Of course, writing things down helps pass information on to future leaders, but some think it better to let people get to know people for themselves. If you don't have a good memory however, you will need to record the things that you find out about people. Write things down, bearing in mind that using computer for this might be illegal in some countries, due to data-protection laws. Either write things that you learn about each person on a new page, or, create a new page for 'skills people have', 'friendship circles', 'specific interests', 'contacts and relatives' and so on. If you have time, use both systems so that you can find stuff out about individuals and also quickly find out who has the skills, contacts etc. that you need.
Using Personal Information
Once you have collected personal information, make sure that you use it to improve your Jewish student group: