Capital Change

October 10, 2010 by Sylvia Deutsch
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Two ex-Melburnians are now at the helm of the ACT Jewish community in a generational shift of leadership at its annual general meeting last week.

Manny Waks and Kim Rubenstein photo: Sylvia Deutsch

New president is Manny Waks,  34,  is one of the youngest presidents to hold office. Elected unopposed, he held several communal positions in Melbourne before his move to Canberra about 18 months ago. Since arriving in Canberra he has served as vice-president on the Canberra community’s outgoing Board and also established the Capital Jewish Forum, an organisation for Jewish professionals living in Canberra which hosts a range of high-powered political, diplomatic and bureaucratic speakers.

Professor Kim Rubenstein won the vice-presidency in a contested election against a former president, Bill Arnold. Born and raised in Melbourne, Professor Rubenstein moved to Canberra in 2005 to become director of the Australian National University’s Centre for International and Public Law in the ANU College of Law. As vice-president she will be specifically responsible for communal education across the generations, liaising with the relevant volunteers.

“I am delighted, honoured and humbled to have been elected president of the ACT Jewish community,” Mr. Waks said on assuming his position. “I am under no illusion about the challenges ahead.” He thanked outgoing president Dr. Anita Shroot for “her outstanding, active and dedicated leadership”.

His goals include improvements in Board responsibilities and accountability, more youth activities, a membership drive extending beyond Canberra, and a more professional staff working environment. Outreach will include young families coming into Canberra and Israeli residents, whose numbers have risen with the arrival of two major IT companies and Elbit, a major Israeli defence company which recently won a government tender. Challenges include addressing antisemitism in Canberra’s schools, and continuing the community’s unique and successful arrangement with Orthodox and Progressive congregations worshipping separately under one roof and sharing communal activities and facilities. Another challenge, even with the invaluable support of the NSW Jewish Communal Appeal, is to find capital and operational funding to support staff, programs and facilities.

Mr. Waks also flagged the ACT Jewish community’s relationship with the local Chabad representatives as a particular issue. Rabbi Dan Avital and his wife Naomi arrived in Canberra in early 2009 to set up Chabad of the ACT, the first separate Jewish institution in Canberra since the ACT Jewish community was established in 1951. The ACT Jewish community does not have its own rabbi and relies on volunteers to run services. Until now the relationship between the two centres has been informal. “We need to ensure we work together as much as possible in the interests of the Jewish community,” Mr. Waks told the meeting.

The passing of the generational baton was not entirely smooth, with some speakers at the annual general meeting questioning Mr. Waks’ experience of the community and commitment. He rejected these claims, and also welcomed the fact that the vice-presidency had been contested, seeing it as a democratic demonstration of “the vibrancy of our active and dedicated community”.

The new leadership attests to the success of Dr. Shroot’s efforts to foster younger people coming onto the Board. Stepping down after three years, the maximum consecutive term allowed under the community’s constitution, she expressed delight that younger families were willing and able to step into leadership positions. “Along with other senior members of the community I am happy to support fresh ideas that will grow and reshape the ACT Jewish community in order to surmount the challenges of the next 40 years,” she said in her report.

She paid tribute to the NSW Jewish Communal Appeal for its support which was vital in underpinning communal activities. She also singled out the work done by the community’s strategic planning committee on plotting future improvements as one of the main achievements in the past year. This includes planning for a dedicated Progressive prayer space, an honour board for Jewish servicemen and women who have died fighting for Australia, and improving the functionality, security and amenity of the National Jewish Memorial Centre. “It is a very special community, trying to be a microcosm of a larger [Jewish] community in Australia,” she said.


One Response to “Capital Change”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    With all the power in the ACT religious and civil, there should be easy access to one each other and any disputes quickly settled.
    That would have to be a bonus wouldn’t it?

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