Friday, October 17, 2008

Representative Leadership

There have been a number of comments here, in shul and around the community about the Vaad Ruchni and it's recent rulings. Unfortunately there is a lot of scepticism and cynicism about the leadership of Chabad in Melbourne and Yeshiva Shul in particular. These feelings have been brewing for a while but, with the passing of Rabbi Groner obm, they are being expressed more openly.

Due to a number of reasons, not the least Rabbi Groner's ill health over the last few years, our community has had a feeling of being rudderless. This is despite the many Chabad Houses and good works done by groups and individuals in the community. Even though there is a lot being done as far as outreach to the general Jewish community there is a feeling that not enough is being done to nurture our own community. I believe that this needs to start with either the Yeshivah Executive/Committee of Management, the Vaad Ruchni, Rabbi Telsner or maybe some other group of people who really care.

It appears to me that the established leadership has certain strengths and weaknesses:

The Yeshivah Executive/Committee of Management: From my observation this self-appointed committee work hard on an individual and group basis. I know that many, if not all, of them give much of their time to Yeshivah matters despite having businesses to run and the needs of their family to meet. The issues I see are that
(1) they are self-appointed therefore not giving other talented people in the community a chance to participate. This also ensures that only like-minded people are appointed to the executive and different points of view may not necessarily be heard.
(2) they appear to be mainly concerned with the running of Yeshivah and Beth Rivkah Colleges and not necessarily with the general Chabad community.
(3) being self appointed they are not accountable to anyone in the community and we have to accept their decisions as there is no other choice. I believe it would benefit everyone if they were subject to elections.
(4) there is no financial transparency. I assume that they control the finances but how would we know (see no 3 above).

The Vaad Ruchni:
(1) Nobody is really sure how they were appointed. We are told that Rabbi Groner directed that a Vaad Ruchni be setup before his passing but there appears to be general disbelief about that.
(2) While I have the utmost respect for the individual members some of them appear to be political appointments.
(3) The original statement from the Executive about their appointment states that the Vaad Ruchni will work together with the Committee of Management. I know that a lot of people feel that their rulings are subject to approval by the Executive and this weakens the impact and respect of the Vaad Ruchni.
(4) I don't believe that the Vaad Ruchni has made a convincing case that they should be allowed to make statements and rulings which affect us all. Already one of the members is involved in an unfortunate business dealing which negatively impacted on a number of people here.
(5) The latest ruling about exiting shul was, I believe, a good one. Unfortunately the practical aspects were not thought through and it became a source of annoyance and amusement.

Rabbi Telsner: I think that Rabbi Telsner has impressed most of the community with his knowledge and his commitment to serving the community. Being that he is only the Rav of the shul and has no input into the schools or the wider Chabad community. He is therefore the spiritual leader of the Yeshivah Shul and not of Melbourne Chabad which is, I believe, to the detriment of the community.

It seems obvious to me that there needs to be some way of uniting the whole of the Melbourne Chabad community. Demographics have changed drastically in the last 15 or 20 years and the community is not just based in Hotham Street but throughout Melbourne. There needs to be some mechanism where we can all meet together and discuss our needs and formulate a way for the community to proceed into the future. It appears that there needs to be an elected committee which is accountable to everyone and has fixed terms so that those elected understand that they have to perform or they will not be elected next time. In other words a simple democracy.

I know that there are a number of people and families who think that it is their right to "run" Melbourne but times have changed. There are many extremely talented people (men and women) - some are not even wealthy or related to the "major" families - who have a lot to give and who would love to devote their free time to the community. If we give everyone a chance it can only be a positive thing for us all.

It goes without saying that these ideas are mine alone. I welcome comments and input from others who have a different insight.