A flourish of activity, but don’t lose sight of the endgame

Its a busy week for the Jewish community. 

Last Shabbat was active with the Project Seed Shabbaton at Noranda Shule, a visiting halachic scientist at Dianella Shule, and a visiting Chazzan at the Perth Hebrew Congregation.  Sunday was the Community Appeal fundraising dinner.  Last night there was a brilliant guest presentation by Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth who is visting Carmel School, and tonight acclaimed author Naomi Ragen will be hosted by the State Zionist Council. 

As a small Jewish community, Perth sustains a huge amount of communal activity.  We are very fortunate to benefit from so many quality events.  We are also rapidly approaching saturation point.  How sustainable and resource intensive does all this community activity become.  Is the collective benefit always taken into consideration when planning so many big ticket events that involve costly overheads?  How do we choose one event over another when there is a clash? 

I ask these questions due to a conversation that took place on Sunday evening.  Mr X was accosted by Mrs Y for eating a shwarma that was on sale as a Yeshiva fundraiser (concurrent to the dinner), with the suggestion that it was appaling that  “young religious people were not at the JCA dinner”.  That the pro rata portion of young religious people at the dinner was far higher than any other demographic segment of our community is incidental to the stereotypical stance of Mrs Y.  The moral highground is very easy to claim.

As it happens Mr X was very upset.  Mr X has a number of children at Carmel School and pays tens of thousands of dollars in school fees.  With the high cost of living it is beyond the realm of his weekly budget to afford an appeal dinner.  He is not principally opposed to an appeal, but he is not in a position to support it. 

The JCA appeal itself is an administration designed for the greater good.  It has to compete with major professional charities that remit funds to Israel, and it has yet to develop into a formidiable fundraising force.  It will also only fight to service the status quo and retain many components of our communities interest groups. 

Our community has within it an economy.  The cost of running many shules, a school, old age home, approximately 40 community organisations, charities, security, a paper, and welfare organisations amounts to as much as $15 million per annum if you calculate the total turnover of each and every community group.  That excludes the amount of non-chargeable time contributed by governors, trustees, committee members and volunteers.  Spread across a population base of 8,000 people, it just does not add up.

The JCA is an important development for Perth but one that has not been able to establish itself into the structure and culture of our community.  It is however commendable work in progress and the efforts of those involved need to be encouraged, respected, and rewarded.  This post is not against the appeal, but at the same time challenges a couple of perceived structural anomilies.

First, there are certain beneficiaries of the JCA that some sectors of the community do not wish to support.  For example, I would not want any of my donor money supporting organisations that publically desecrate Shabbat or serve non-kosher food.  If the direction of funds could be specific to organisations it would make the appeal easier to support.  Jewish community groups that are not respectful of the Jewish way of living do not deserve to be funded by pooled community funds.  

Secondly, it is not a Jewish trait to publically name donors, because it can embarass those who wish to contribute and don’t have the means. 

But more than this, the biggest limitation of the process is that funds are a means to an end, and not the end itself.  The focus of the JCA could be project specific, and not necessarily organisational.  For example supporting people (a shaliach), a development (item of construction), an area of activity (aged care, cultural development).  The communities needs do change, and trying to spread a diminishing level of funds to an increasing cost base is unsustainable. 

If we are to collect money at a communal level, then we also need to structure and manage the community at a communal level. If the concept of the JCA is to ever deliver to its full potential, then I believe the JCCWA needs to be elevated to a professional organisation and resourced using the JCA as a funding resource to administrate the community.  The same debate is currently taking place in Melbourne with the restructure of the JCCV.   

As an aside comment, one of the most effective functions of the JCCWA over recent times has been the work undertaken in the area of public affairs.  The proactive management of this portfolio has been outstanding, all the moreso because it is voluntary driven.  This is one example of a critical area of need for the community that is not resourced through a centralised funding model. 

Let’s commend the JCA for doing what it can do.  Lets also think of the potential that aggregation and resource efficiency can deliver.  We need to work backwards by firstly identifying those areas of need – social support, education, security, culture and religion, youth, public affairs, communications, etc etc etc.  We then need to cost these out and set an appeal target that shows the community exactly what needs to be sacrificied if we cannot collectively provision for all we need.  Put the needs before the organisational banners. 

This is a hard task.  It is however time to look realistically at the future resource requirements of the Perth Jewish community.  At the moment we are asking for funds, but we are not asking for a sustainable community structure or solutions that relate to continuity.  We are asking for funds without quantifying what is required.  We are asking for funds without identifying the black holes where no activity exists.  We are asking for funds without defining the outcomes – a financially viable and active Jewish community that delivers to the most important community needs within the resource constraints identified.  

Is this acheivable, or do I expect too much? 

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