by Tom Francies
An organisation in which seven-year-olds have a say in its running, and none of the leaders is aged over 25, might lead to thoughts of utter chaos. But at LJY-Netzer, the youth movement of Liberal Judaism, that policy has led to fantastic events, engagement and empowerment. LJY-Netzer is built on the concept that young people, with the right tools, training and support, can do inspirational things. We call this youth empowerment – it is one of our four pillars of ideology and runs all the way through our movement.
All our leaders are aged 16 to 25 and three members of employed staff are between 22 and 25. They are given an incredible amount of responsibility for people their age, in a way that I have not seen outside the Jewish community. But our belief in youth empowerment goes much further than just letting young people lead on events. Our members shape the movement with our various decision-making forums, giving opportunities for all our members (aged from seven to 25) to influence strategy, policy and ideology.
This isn’t just confined to our movement in the UK. Once a year we come together with other branches of Netzer throughout the world and make worldwide policy decisions. Young members from five continents debate the big issues in the young Progressive Jewish and Zionist worlds. When you give young people responsibility to make decisions, they normally rise to the challenge.
If you give them a voice, they will take it seriously. Looking more widely, youth empowerment is something I would recommend to synagogues. I know there are some shuls that have young people on their board and from, what I have heard, this has been a positive step in realising what are the needs of young people in Jewish communal life.
If the Jewish communities want to engage young people, they need to give them a voice and listen.
• Tom Francies is a movement worker for LJY-Netzer