Last week I defined communal unity as the most important issue impacting the Perth Jewish community. This is a very broad topic to address, but the one that I put at the top of my list because in a constructive sense, it is the area in which most can be accomplished.
At the simple level, it means working together – Jewish groups and individuals, to get the best outcome.
The best example we have in Perth is that there are centralised facilities in the form of Carmel School, Maccabi, the JCA, CSG and the Maurice Zeffert home, but to name a few. These are all unifying bodies that cater to the community as a whole. In other areas of the community, we have multiple facilities. Some would argue that they all have different purposes and affiliations. Others would consider that they are not so different in the overall scheme of things. Examples include the need for four Orthodox shules, the need for multiple libraries, multiple extra-curricular learning structures, multiple womens interest groups, or the need for multiple charities that support causes in Israel.
If we had to design a community from a blank sheet of paper, and allocate scarce resources, it would not reflect the structure of the community that we have today. Economic sustainability is an unfortunate reality that needs to be confronted. The duplication of activites and functions within the community represents an inefficient use of resources.
There is another aspect of community unity and cohesion that is not based on physical structures, but is rather attitudinal.
Although I had not wanted to blog about this one particular issue, I can no longer contain my silence, and it is an important example of where we fail ourselves. JewglePerth was recently challenged by a private communication. The circumstance related to a local business that supplies kosher food to the community which had been convicted and fined under health regulations. Jewgleperth was accused of cowardice because we did not profile the issue or provide comment. True, nothing was posted by any of the Jewgle bloggers, which does not mean that the bloggers did not hold their own views on the issue. I personally saw the matter as Lashon Hara, and had no desire to see the misfortune of a local business paraded on these pages, or any other. Sometimes having a viewpoint and not sharing it is quite appropriate, as the issue itself did not deserve oxygen.
Some private emails circulating about the above issues have contained allegations that are worst unfair and at best unconstructive. More recently, they have been outrighly hostile, and go beyond the release of oxygen to the release of poisionous gas. I have received those emails, and it is a recent communication that has led me to change my mind and raise this matter on the JewglePerth blog. At first I decided that it is not my business, simply a commercial matter that only impacts myself as an end consumer. Let market forces determine the matter, but also take into account that a Jewish business deserves the support and patronage of the community, especially when it takes corrective action and puts an unfortunate matter behind them. I have complete confidence in the assurance of the business that they maintain clean and healthy food production facilities. Nobody is compelled to shop at this business, or anywhere else. But imagine the consequences if the facilities in question were to be no longer available? Bottom line, where is our loyalty towards community unity and cohesion? I am not going to sanction or condone non-compliance, and would think that there is a lot more to this matter than meets the eye. We don’t know all the facts, and do not need to know all the facts, as we are not partners to the business. To spread malicious information, and slander both a business and the local Kashrut Authority on the basis of hearsay is shameful conduct, and must be denounced. All our kosher facilities are valuable services to the community, and deserve our patronage, respect, and above all, support during difficult times. In this instance the unity of the community can be the difference between deserving and maintaining our kosher infrstructure, or beating it into oblivion through vindictive conduct.
Back to the topic of Jewish unity. Another issue that is devisive is relationships at a religious level between orthodox (halachic) and reformist Jews. From an Orthodox persepective no compromise will be made to attempt to recognise or endorse something as Jewish when it is clearly beyond the halachic framework. That does not prevent orthodox and reform Jews working together on matters of common interest that have no resulting religious implications. Examples include cultural, Zionistic, ethnic, and social projects. Differences in religious affiliation do not call for relationships (organisational or individual) that are not civil, honest, respectful and informative.
There is an old cliche that the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In Perth we have a small Jewish community of 8,000 people that is endowed with superb facilities and endless opportunity. Sometimes I fear that the futurer leadership that is required to hold this all together and sustain our community life into the years ahead is not readily showing itself, and not being actively cultivated. There are enough people who care, but too few opportunities to harness the collective energy we have to make our community something better than it already is.
The best we can do for ourselves is to focus on those matters that bind us, occasionally at the expense of those matters that divide us. Greater unity and cohesion leads to greater harmony, visibility, and overall benefit. We shouldn’t have to revert to watching shmucks in the courtroom denouncing Judaism or start acting against misguided political aspirants leading boycotts of Israel before we find those defining matters of unity for the Jewish community. Rather we should look within, towards our own structures and activities to leverage a better outcome.
Where else in the world can you wander into a place like Carmel School or the Maurice Zeffert Home and see an entire communities needs met? What can be better than seeing the Maccabi oval full of soccer players on a Sunday morning from across the spectrum of the community? We have much to admire, but at the same time, still so much more to acheive.