AS we gathered around our seder tables last Friday night, our community participated in a historic and sacred tradition – commemorating the creation of the Jewish people and our wondrous liberation from Egypt.
However, what is unique about the seder is not the matzah we eat, nor the songs we sing. The seder is a timeless ritual that bridges the Jews of the past to the Jews of the future. It is where one generation teaches the next generation about the triumphs and successes of the Jewish nation, in the face of persistent persecution and suffering. At our seder tables, the relay of Jewish history continues and the baton is passed from one generation to the next.
These principles of transmission and continuity are central to the political work of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) and were especially present last week, during our Political Training Seminar (PTS) in Canberra.
At AUJS, one of our proudest services to the community is mentoring and developing the next generation of Jewish leadership. PTS helps to achieve this.
Now in its 20th year, PTS is the premier political conference for young Jewish leaders in Australia. Leading our largest ever delegation to the nation’s capital, AUJS provided 55 university students with the exceptional opportunity to meet politicians, lobbyists, diplomats and journalists from all parts of the political spectrum. No other student organisation in the country provides this level of access to leading decision-makers.
Prime Minister Turnbull, Bill Shorten, Julie Bishop, Mark Dreyfus, Tony Abbott, Josh Frydenberg, Chris Bowen, Marise Payne and Richard Di Natale were just some of the 32 speakers who participated. With seven cabinet ministers and seven shadow ministers in attendance, PTS 2018 boasted the strongest representation of front-benchers in the seminar’s history.
Consistent with our desire to expose our students to a diverse range of speakers, it was also the first year that our students had the opportunity to meet the leaders of the three largest political parties in Australia – the Coalition, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens. Additionally, our students had the opportunity to engage with and learn from some of Israel’s best advocates, His Excellency Mark Sofer, the Israeli ambassador to Australia, and Member of Knesset Yoel Hasson.
This outstanding line-up reflects the esteem in which the Australian Jewish community is held by Australia’s most senior leadership. Cognisant of the outstanding political contributions the Jewish community has achieved over the last two generations, throughout our time in Canberra, our students were enthusiastic and inspired to continue this important work and build on our community’s political activism.
Since planning and running PTS, I have been reflecting on this conference and the significant role it plays in our community. I believe, there are four reasons why PTS is essential to AUJS and the work we do.
First, PTS inspires our students to become politically active and engaged. In fact, tens of AUJS leaders have started their political journeys while on PTS and have gone on to work as staffers for Members of Parliament and senators.
It is no coincidence that while we were in Canberra, AUJS had the opportunity to meet up with three past AUJS leaders who are now working for ministers and MPs in Canberra.
When I attended my first PTS in 2014, I was so inspired by the calibre of speakers and opportunities for political activism that I joined the Liberal Party and AUJS’ political team. Four years later, it was exciting to organise the seminar that had a formative impact on my communal engagement.
Second, there is no other forum where Jewish students can directly question Australia’s key decision-makers.
I am proud that our 2018 delegation took advantage of this unparalleled access and asked challenging questions of our political leaders, covering a range of policy topics such as Israel, anti-Semitism, education and the economy.
Third, PTS equips our students with the skills necessary to operate in the political arena, and specifically on campus. During the first day of PTS, students participated in a series of workshops teaching them the skills of lobbying, debating and public speaking.
Moreover, PTS is only one of the many programs that AUJS currently offers to develop rising leaders in the community. The Susan Wakil Fellowship, the Victorian Winter Internship Program, the NSW Political Conference, Q&AUJS and the Victorian Political Training Seminar reflect AUJS’s continued commitment to investing in our community’s future leadership.
Finally, PTS complements the important work that AUJS does on campus. With Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism on the rise, as student activists, we have a responsibility to alert politicians of the dangers our students face.
Meeting with politicians and explaining our concerns complements our work on campus, to promote Holocaust education and fight anti-Semitism.
With these achievements in mind, I believe that initiatives like PTS play a seminal role in shaping the next generation of Australian Jewish leaders.
To me, it was fitting that PTS took place on the eve of Passover. At this time of year, when we reflect on the transmission of the Jewish narrative from parent to child, we should also reflect on the transmission of communal responsibilities to the youth of our community and be proud of the successes of programs, such as PTS.
NOA BLOCH is AUJS’national political affairs director.