Interview with founder of Capital Jewish Forum
Project: The Capital Jewish Forum, a non-partisan, all-inclusive Australian-based group, facilitates meetings and discussions among Jewish professionals nationally, in particular focusing on networking and educational interactions with distinguished speakers such as politicians, diplomats, and senior bureaucrats held at diverse venues such as the Australian Parliament House, Australian National University and various embassies.
In one sentence, tell us who you are.
I’m a consequence of being Israeli-born, Australian-raised, ultra-Orthodox-bred, and the oldest boy in a family of seventeen children. I’ve had the opportunity to serve in the military, work in the not-for-profit sector, private sector, and the public service—this has helped me determine that my Jewish identity is most significant to me, and it is the area in which I would like to dedicate myself.
It arose by necessity. In February 2009 I relocated with my wife and three young boys from Melbourne to Canberra. As someone who had been an active member of the Jewish community for the past few years, including holding leadership positions, there were very limited options in terms of Jewish activity in Canberra. Upon surveying my Jewish colleagues, I soon realized the unique opportunity we had living and working in our national capital. Essentially, the establishment of the Capital Jewish Forum was largely inspired by the desire to promote and strengthen Jewish identity and continuity.
The greatest challenge is reaching out to those who have been disengaged and disconnected from the Jewish community, and instilling them with a sense of Jewish identity. With the broad recognition that this is indeed a global challenge, even a crisis, there is an additional challenge in identifying the best model and activities and then securing the funding to implement these.
As a former Chabadnik, I can’t overlook the influence the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the person whose Jewish name I carry, has had on me and my Jewish community activities. Chabad is renowned for its outreach to Jews around the globe—irrespective of where they are or their level of religiosity, affiliation, or beliefs. This is the ultimate form of self sacrifice for the benefit of a Jewish identity and continuity.
That such a community indeed exists. Often, we’re all engrossed in our day-to-day activities, focusing on what it is we are trying to accomplish. We either forget, or don’t realize, that there are many others like us out there in the wider world trying to have a positive impact on the world more broadly, and more specifically, within the Jewish community. This is especially pertinent in Australia, a country sometimes plagued by the “tyranny of distance,” which can magnify the isolation already felt by some Jews who may see themselves on the margin of international mainstream Jewish consciousness.
Who have you met at PresenTense that has made the most impact on your project?
I truly believe it has been an incredible team effort. Of course some may have had a greater impact on my project than others, but it is the incredible support that PresenTense offers which is so unique and beneficial, and in many ways complementary to the task each one has—the staff, mentors, coaches, informal coaches, steering committee, interns, and fellows. I think I managed to cover everyone here!
What big question are you struggling with right now?
How to successfully obtain the initial kick-start funding that I need in order to take my project to the next level—and to implement my vision.
If all goes as planned, where will your project be one year from now?
I hope my project will exist throughout Australia. Currently the Capital Jewish Forum only holds events in Canberra, and I hope to be able to hold events in other capital cities as well—not just in the two major Jewish hubs of Melbourne and Sydney, but also in the much smaller ones of Adelaide, Brisbane, and Perth.
What do you hope to see change / to help change in your field in the next ten years?
That the global Jewish community will embrace and support the changes the Jewish leaders of tomorrow are so desperately seeking. Changes in the structure, leadership, and attitude. This fundamental change will, I believe, go a long way in promoting and strengthening Jewish identity and continuity—it will ensure we retain many Jews and hopefully also bring back those who have left or who were pushed out.
An expanded, talented, and multifaceted global Jewish community network leading the way and exemplifying the promotion of Jewish identity and continuity.