Guest Blog – An Outsiders View

langdon

On the 4th of February JVN 2013 held a meeting in Manchester which brought volunteer-involving organisation together to ascertain how to motivate and inspire Jewish volunteers in Manchester. The guest speaker was Langdon Community chief executive Robert Mutch whose aim was to offer a perspective of volunteering in the Jewish community that the Jewish community themselves were unable to offer. Below he emphasises the need to bring all members and all organisations within the community together in order to secure its future and inspire future generations of community leaders.

It was an interesting challenge for me when tasked with speaking today. And when asked by Esmond for a title, without hesitation I said “An Outsiders View”.  After 10 years of working here in Manchester there are one or two observations that I feel reasonable qualified to make. As today is about volunteering it is important that throughout this presentation my comments and observations relate solely to my own personal view on volunteering in the Jewish community and what I believe to be, its true role and purpose.

maggy

Whilst we talk about the Jewish community, as something tangible, as if it has a life of its own, the truth is that it does not exist. 30,000 Jews living in Manchester does not in itself create a Jewish community. What makes a “community” are the actions of individuals and groups to help one another, to build and to care for one another.  What defines a community is the level of effort and commitment given by these individuals and groups to help, to build and to care.   Today we will refer too many of these people as volunteers and try to group these individuals and pigeon hole them. But in truth over the years these people and their efforts have been the glue that binds the 30,000 into a community today.Or at least not in the way in which many of us would like to think as we go about our daily lives or work within “the Jewish community”. The journalist Douglas Keay faithfully reproduced Margaret Thatcher’s reflections on society, famously transcribing the phrase “There is no such thing as society“. Likewise I would offer to you that there is no such thing as “the Jewish community”.  As with the often misquoted phrase from Margaret Thatcher her view of “society” like my view of the “Jewish community” is that it doesn’t just happen. It requires a beginning, a catalyst something that binds people together so as to produce this group identity.

When I first started working here in Manchester many of the organisations I would visit had old photographs on the walls of the founders and successive chairmen and women. Some dating back to the early 1900’s. All I may add “volunteers”, people with a sense of social justice and responsibility.

Quick history reference: What was founded in Manchester in 1896?

The Jewish Home for Aged, Sick and Incurable.

What about 1904?

The Jewish Hospital in Cheetham Hill. Established some 44 years before the NHS.

I chose these reference points simple because they don’t exist anymore but are examples of how groups of people come together “as volunteers” to change and improve the lives of others. And to recognise that it is still happening today!

A recent report identified 2,500 registered charities working within the Jewish community. Look around you today at the range of organisations and charities working in the community and established by people who were and are volunteers.These people were and are; “the builders of your community”. Whilst not everyone is going to establish a charity, they all sit at some point on what we can

view as the volunteer’s continuum.

But through volunteering many people, especially the young go onto becoming the champions of causes within the community. With this in mind how do we inspire the next generation of community leaders, volunteers and charity founders? There needs to be greater community awareness that “only by doing so can we cement the foundations that will continue to support the notion of a Manchester Jewish community”. This is why I believe the volunteering and the work of JVN is critical if the sense of a Jewish community is to prevail.

My criticism of the community is of the criticism from the community. It is easily given and readily offered to those individuals and groups who try to make a difference. Too many people are happy to tell people “how they should have done it” rather than offering their own support. I believe this to be both divisive and in the long term detrimental to community cohesion.

film

I spoke with my wife about using my favourite film as an Allegory for my subject today. Is anyone familiar with the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”? With James Stewart?

My wife’s response was, “you are going to use a film about Christmas to underpin the value of volunteering in the Jewish community?”

My response was “I think I can get away with it”. Anyway it’s not about Christmas really and I want to use it as an Allegorical representation of community. And if that doesn’t work I can always tell the audience that the original short story was written by Philip Stern.

For those people who don’t know the film it’s about a man called George Bailey. A simple man who throughout his life is faced with many choices, to help himself or to help others. Often helping others, not because his first choice was to help but because he felt compelled to. At a moment of personal and financial crisis he wishes that “he had never been born”.  And it this wish that delivers to George an Angel called Clarence who is able to show him the lives of the people in his community had George Bailey never been born. Realising the true effect on his family and community he retracts his wish. And in the final scene George is saved by the support and generosity of his community.

My view of George’s Angel is that he represented George’s community. A community that over the years George helped to grow through small acts of kindness, generosity and help. It was George who through his life lay the foundations for what would eventually save himself. There is in the Jewish community a lack of recognition of the “George or Georgina Bailey’s” who work to selflessly to help others.

There is palpable lack of recognition of the quality of support and resources here in the community to help those in real need. The range and quality of services is the envy of the secular community. You should trust me when I tell you “it’s a cold world out there”. Value what you have and cherish those who work to make it happen.  From the volunteer who founds a new charity to the volunteer who delivers the “meals on wheels”. All help to cement your community.  Time to stop kicking your true Angels. Giving; through your own personal time and effort; binds a community together and means that when you need help there is a good chance of there will be a community to come to your aid.

As the group of people here are volunteers or work within the voluntary sector there is an element of “preaching to the choir”. Because we are, by default, predisposed to give our time and to help to others. But we are often culpable in assuming that everyone else does too. Assuming that this ethos pervades the Jewish community and is naturally occurring. This is not the case and there is a real need to work at supporting, encouraging and developing volunteering;

Consider what work must be done to grow the “communal benefit ethos” so as to ensure a strong and vibrant sense of community.

  • Who are the next community leaders and volunteers?
  • Where will we find them?
  • What causes will inspire them?
  • What needs to be done now?

Thank you

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Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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