Early February this year saw the second meeting of the Leadel Leader’s Forum, held in conjunction with the organisation’s Fly Budapest Conference. The Forum brought together 12 leaders in their 30s and 40s from across the Europe to discuss how best to support and strengthen the ties between their communities. All participants were picked for their existing commitment to their home communities, and the meeting included Presidents, Treasurers and communal officials from 9 European countries.
The Budapest gathering followed on from a ‘getting to know you’ inaugural meeting, held in London in January 2014. This second meeting aimed to energise the network following a change of leadership at Leadel, and to identify a shared project for the network aimed at strengthening intra-European Jewish ties. The discussion covered existing projects which might fruitfully be copied across multiple communities, and raised concerns about the perceived fixation with new and ‘trendy’ projects at a time when many communities were struggling to fund the basics of communal existence; synagogue upkeep and the salaries of clergy. This stimulated discussion around the need for communities to find alternative ways to fund their own core costs. This was easier, it was felt, in larger communities, and those whose governments had been more supportive in returning property confiscated during the Nazi era. In Serbia, for example, smaller communities were finding it easier to sustain themselves than the main, Belgrade, community, whose municipal government has been less forthcoming with the settlement of claims.
Delegates agreed that, at a time of economic hardship for many young people, it was vital that any project undertaken by the network should be focused, not on Jewish engagement per sae, but on addressing the very real needs of community members in terms of employment and academic opportunities. A plan emerged for a Jewish, web-based network allowing young Jews to access accommodation, internships and study opportunities across Europe. The network would put young people in touch with community members who had offered their help, supporting their movement from one community to another. The scheme would also be open to young Israelis wishing to experience Europe, helping them engage with host communities and to experience diaspora Jewry in all its beauty and richness. This was felt to be particularly important at a time when many young Israelis are being encouraged to view European Jewry as, at best, a pool of potential alyia, with neither value nor future of its own.
In so far as the Budapest meeting brought together young leaders with a genuine ability to affect and direct their communities’ future, and allowed them space for discussion and debate, it proved a worthwhile exercise. A true measure of the network’s effectiveness will only emerge over time, however, if it proved able not only to connect Europe’s young Jewish leadership, but to facilitate joint working across their communities.
Dr. Noga Zivan is a freelance NGO professional and member of the Leadel Leaders’ Forum. She works in international development for AJEEC-NISPED and occasionally blogs on Jewish subjects. Her opinions are always her own.