Idea #5 - Create a 'community service' programme for young Jews

By Miriam Shaviv
March 4, 2010


During the month of March, I will be publishing a daily proposal to transform the British Jewish community. Email your own idea (up to 350 words) to

Today's idea comes from Mark Gardner: Create a 'community service' programme for young Jews

For all its imperfections, our Jewish community is rightly envied by every other minority group in Britain today. We have Jewish nurseries, Jewish cemeteries and Jewish everything in between. None of this, however, has a sacred right to exist and it is a matter of the utmost importance that we encourage and facilitate practical continuity.

If we want to maintain or develop our communal infrastructure, future generations need to find a way to protect this birthright. I propose that we do this by developing a new tradition that is premised upon taking communal responsibility.

It is hard to escape my everlasting childhood memory of what it means to share and take communal responsibility. It is nothing grand, but it is exactly the sort of grass-roots activity that enables our community to function and makes it the special place that it is.

For me, the imprinted memory is of the regular early Sunday morning phone call reminding my father that it was his turn “to do the blind society run”. In those pre-Outlook (indeed pre-Filofax) days, the phone call always seemed to come as a bolt from the blue. From its timing, early on a Sunday morning, the whole house knew what it was before the phone had even been answered. This enabled my father to get his cursing out of the way before he politely answered the call, and received the details about which elderly and infirm Jewish men and women needed picked up and where they needed taken to. (Usually from tenement flats to Glasgow’s Jewish Welfare Society for a hot kosher lunch and then back home again).

Literally until writing this article, I had always regarded my father’s dedication to the run as a singularly heroic and selfless act. After all, the shock of the call never prevented it from taking immediate priority over whatever else he (and we) had planned for that day. Imagine my amazement then, when I mentioned it to my wife (who is also from Glasgow) and discovered that she had exactly the same phone call / shock / curse / drop everything else experience with her own father.

It now seems obvious that many, perhaps most, Glasgow Jews of my generation witnessed their own parents doing this relatively simple deed. Every single week there were far more people attending the Welfare Society than my dad’s single occasional carload: so what has happened to this type of communal participation? Does it persist in some communities?

To my deep shame, I confess that I do not even know if my own synagogue has such a routine.

So, I propose that the community institutionalises a process whereby Jewish adults know that they are fully expected to share and take communal responsibility.

At a certain milestone – returning from a gap year in Israel? Marriage? A particular age? - it would become the norm for grown men and women to choose from a range of communal projects and charities; and then work together in groups to give their time and energy towards a shared goal. It would be a form of national service: without the uniforms certainly, but very much with the formal taking of communal responsibility and with communal acknowledgement of that fact built into the process. (JFS entry points? Reduced rates for hiring of communal halls for simchahs?)

Perhaps each synagogue could even have an annual ceremony recognising each year’s cohort; unlike a bar- or batmitzvah, this would not be about putting on a public show, throwing a party and counting the gifts. It would be all about what you can give.

In practise, this could involve a commitment to give elderly Jews a lift to communal events; painting the walls or doing a bit of gardening at your shul; placing your professional expertise at the free disposal of the community; making up a minyan at shuls or at funerals; developing communal networking internet sites etc etc.

None of these activities are especially dramatic, but it is instituting the ethos that is most important in all of this – even if you curse when it is your turn to pick up the responsibility, the important thing is that you know where your responsibility lies and that you act accordingly.

Mark Gardner is the CST spokesman. He is writing in a private capacity

Check out our previous ideas:

4 - Recruit older people to volunteer for the community

3 - Establish a fund for the Jewish arts

2 - Pay membership fees to your community, not your shul

1 - Make 2010/11 the year of synagogue renewal



Fri, 03/05/2010 - 13:41

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This a wonderful column. May I propose Intergenerational Projects, bringing old and young together. As a mature student studying a course on Intergenerational work, I have found in my research that family life and forms have changed significantly over the decades with major gaps in the old and young relating to each other. I am now working on a proposal as a pilot scheme for my assignment and am member of the Beth Johnson Foundation, who are dedicated to Intergenerational Projects.
There are many intergenerational projects that are established in the wider British community. Personally, I would like to see more initiatives in this area, within the Jewish community. In my research I found statistics indicate that social changes and trends within communities and family life have notably changed over the decades. It has been argued that there has been a decline in community life and that there is a far greater disconnection between the generations that is, the young and the old. As Jews, we have always revered family and community life, but we also like the general population have our issues. It would be wonderful to encourage some social entrepreneurs amongst our community, from both ends of the generational spectrum,

"by bringing together two generations which have become separated from each other .......Intergenerational Projects have the potential to reduce tensions and misunderstandings between the two groups and can offer solutions to many of the social issues that concern communities (Granville, 2002


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