Too often potential activists in Student Groups, (Jewish Students’ societies being no exception), slip by the notice of the executive and their potential is wasted.
This is a monumental loss when their ideas, innovation, and leadership could completely change the future of your organisation. More often than not it’s that one first interaction they have with the organisation that will have implications on the extent of their future involvement. This is why personal engagement is an approach that leaders in any organisation should take if potential talent is on the line. This is, with regards to Jewish student societies, especially true of the inevitable Jewish students whose upbringing may have lacked Jewish education and therefore are, up until now, disconnected from the Jewish community and for whom the Jewish society could be pivotal with their reconnection to Judaism and the community.
The real question is how to utilise personal engagement in the context of a Jewish Student Union.
Pretend this is you:
It’s your first day at Uni, Orientation Week in fact.
You’re walking through a strange campus where you know nobody, you feel obligated to do the rounds and circulate the Student Clubs and Societies attempting to enlist your fellow first years.
Out of the corner you spy the table advertising and signing up new members to the Jewish Students’ Society of your campus. You didn’t go to a Jewish school (perhaps the ones in your area didn’t do well enough academically for your parents’ taste), you weren’t in a Youth Movement (perhaps you had sporting commitments on Sundays), and you haven’t been to a synagogue since your own bar/bat mitzvah. However despite your fairly non-Jewish upbringing you love that you’re Jewish, the culture invigorates you, and politically you’re a huge supporter of Israel and would love to get involved in this Society.
However you don’t know anyone at that table, nor any Jews in your classes; you didn’t go to a Jewish school or Youth Movement – you don’t necessarily know any Jewish students at the university.
As you approach there are two ways that your sign up could potentially play out:
Of course these are two polarised and extreme scenarios of how the new member could have been received at that table but in one of those scenarios the student walked away knowing little more about the society, feeling apathetic towards it and the people running it, and knows nobody else in the society and would therefore be more unwilling to attend its events. In the other scenario the student walks away having been connected to other Jewish students doing the same classes and with whom they could attend society functions, knowing at least one of the society’s leaders quite well, and having a coffee date set with that leader to facilitate discussion on potential involvement in the society.
In the latter situation both the society and the new member win, the society gains a member who has the potential to assume work and leadership in the society as well as achieving, what should be, a goal of that society in successfully reconnecting a Jew back to his/her community, and the student gains that reconnection to the community and feels welcomed properly into the society.
Caelan Macbeth is a Law student at Victoria University of Wellington and Vice President of AUJS New Zealand
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