On the 8th of February 70 members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) from across Australia and New Zealand congregated at the Beth Weisman Community Centre to commence the annual AUJS summer training programme for active members.
This year’s conference took the form of a four day camp and had attendees covering a large variety of roles in AUJS including campus executives, regional executives, and the national executive, as well as non-executive members aspiring to further their involvement in the Union. The attendees predominantly came from campuses in Melbourne and Sydney (AUJS’ two main membership cities) as well as from Perth, Auckland, and Wellington.
AUJS constitutionally runs on four pillars: Judaism, Zionism, Pluralism and Activism. Across the four days, AUJS members took part in various forms of intensive programming designed to engage them in a variety of ways, revolving largely around the four pillars of AUJS.
Amongst the programming and sessions run were a political engagement session by former National Political Affairs Director, Matthew Lesh, with the goal of training AUJS members on building relationships with young religious political leaders, a session on finding your Jewish identity by last year’s AUJS Leadership Programme team, an Israeli election summary and discussion by AUJS Shaliach, Rachel Adams and a communications training session by Hillel Sydney Director, Rachel Flitman, and former Melbourne University Jewish Students’ Society President, Daniella Silverstein. The programming was conducive to fostering a more engaged AUJS membership; as well as aiding in the development of tomorrow’s leaders in AUJS, and the wider Jewish community.
“The programmes that I undertook at Summer gave me a breadth of invaluable knowledge that will undoubtedly assist me both as a leader and member of Australasia's diverse Jewish community.” Sam Khavin, Vice President of AUJS New South Wales
On top of the diverse range of programming, AUJS Summer invited numerous speakers and panels to head discussions to Summer attendees including such dignitaries as Jonathon Barnett from the Jewish LGBT advocacy group, Keshet, discussing LGBT rights in the Jewish community of the US, a panel on current Jewish community issues formed by Chabad Rabbi Glassman, reform Jewish student Tal Meretz, and post-denominational Jewish curator of the Melbourne Jewish Museum, Rebecca Forgasz and a lecture on goal development and achievement by Osher Gutnick, founder of 4x4 Direct. These lectures encouraged AUJS members to understand different perspectives on issues in the Jewish community, as well as fostering an environment of discussion where attendees could ask and engage with the speakers themselves, thus were contributing to the knowledge and understanding in future Jewish leaders.
Finally, aside from the lectures, sessions and programming provided at AUJS Summer, team building and bonding exercises with focus group discussion sessions, regional review meetings and an AUJS Summer ideas thinking tank for future AUJS initiatives; all of which yielding impressive results of enthusiasm and innovative ideas for the future of the Union, which also demonstrated the way AUJS Summer succeeded in engaging and inspiring new ideas and levels of involvement. Such activities also included nights of various team drinking games, and a “Battle of the Regions” which demonstrated the bonds and community feeling of the Union that only grew during AUJS Summer.
“The idea of groups and think tanks gave an opportunity for everyone to have a say on different topics and it was needed to find out the variety of opinions that exists within AUJS. Bonding between groups and people was very important” Itamar Naftaly, Secretary of AUJS at Deakin University
Why Jewish Student Union conferences such as AUJS Summer are important:
Disengagement and apathy is an issue that can be detrimental to any student union, especially one administrated over such a large geographical area. In accomplishing these achievements, AUJS Summer and other cross-regional conferences can combat such disengagement and break down regional divides by bring members together and reminding them that they work together for one Union and one community.
AUJS Summer achieved many accomplishments crucial to the future of AUJS in that it helped the AUJS executives identify and mentor AUJS members showing interest in the future leadership of the Union, engaged AUJS members on issues both relating to AUJS and its pillars, as well as issues in the Jewish community in general with the result that such attendees are better facilitated to be contributing members of the Jewish community, and congregated and created connections between members from across a huge region thus fostering the community feeling of the Union and facilitating the future cooperation and work of executives across two countries and many campuses.
To conclude, AUJS Summer is the life blood of the future of AUJS leadership and therefore an initiative the likes of which other Jewish Students’ Unions should consider undertaking.
Caelan Macbeth is a Law student at Victoria University of Wellington and Vice President of AUJS New Zealand
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