1988 CSJO Conference Keynote by Amy Meckler
I could, perhaps, go to Israel and live on a kibbutz -for sometime and interest my friends in my experience, or I could, write Gorbachev a letter demanding the rights of Soviet Jews, sending my efforts to the other end of the earth, or I could, go on a hunger strike? Until there no longer is unrest in the Middle East, alerting the media and my community and beyond of my goal. But what can I say right here, right now, to alert you of my message as a teenager in a secular Jewish society today. At this stage I don't have the experience or imagination to speak to you about experiences in the Middle East or martyrdom. But I think I will interest you all the same. My best chance to interest you is to tell you something you don't already know. 1 now come against the problem of obtaining something I know and you don't. I figure it, you win both ways. Either I interest you with my speech, or I don't find something I know and you don't, so my speech will be short. But there is one thing I can teach you that you don't, know. It has to be something beyond just being a secular Jew, since? We all are that; beyond just being a teen, since a third of the room is that; even beyond just my family, since most of them are here. That leaves myself. Me, as a teen, as a part of a secular family in my secular community. I do think I am qualified to speak on the topic of this weekend, "The Promise and the Challenge." It is I, as a part of the youth of the community, that am the promise and with that, face the challenge. It's encouraging that about 50 teens feel it important enough to spend a weekend surrounded by secular Jews, going to workshops dealing with secular Judaism, and sharing their secular Jewish experiences. And that we don't want to waste a minute by sleeping. But our challenge is more than making room for one weekend out of a year. This experience for the teens also has to have greater significance than a social one. This can be measured by how many teens here today are here in ten years. Many teens have lost interest once they became young adults. Though I have not faced this problem personally in this situation, at home I have lost interest in many aspects of the Jewish Secu1ar Community youth group. I first joined for social reasons. Now I'm not interested in any of the social aspects, only attending meetings with speakers or programs appealing to my identity as a Secular Jewish teen, and avoiding the sleepovers, tobogganing, and other purely social events. Luckily, my identity as a Secular Jewish teen was strong enough to keep me in the group at all. I fear one reason teens stop attending the conference is because they were never interested beyond the social part of staying up all night and moving the furniture.
The challenge is for the teens to find interest in the workshops and keynote speech and discussions enough to maintain an attraction and need after they no longer need or identify with the social aspects. A person will naturally outgrow social needs as they get older but an identity as a Secular Jew should be a lifelong one,, The challenge is ail so on the adults, to be aware of this increasing problem and perhaps help to remedy it, by supporting and creating programs that hopefully interest young adults during the ages of 18-25. Or, we could just create social attractions throughout their whole involvement in CSJO. (I think my mom only comes for the social aspects and she's 46). But that would be ignoring the other half of the problem stated earlier. Not only to keep them coming back here for a weekend of content, but to encourage a Secular Jewish identity throughout the year. No, this weekend is not enough, but it is most obviously the place to begin. It is not enough to let time go by and wait for the teens to become adults therefore alleviating the problem. If we allow this to happen, we lose half the message, the promise. The promise of the teens-to-be who will inevitably face what we are facing right now. At this point I'd like to say "And the solution to this problem is... "and tell you all just what should be done. I'd like to, but I can't. I don't have the perfect answer. None of us do, or it wouldn't tae a problem. One step towards a solution is to give more time and focus on the content, the workshops. Not in just planning them, but in attending them. My first conference in Cleveland five years ago, helped me see the significance in the workshops mostly because I, as a member of the hosting city, helped create them. But I really understood the significance of the workshops in Toronto, my second conference, where I had nothing to do with planning the conference, and still found value? In the workshops. Later, in Chicago, I worked heavily for two of the workshops there. They were both successes, and I was hurt that a few people didn't come, but the main idea that stuck with me is that the workshops are important to the person who plans them and to the people who attend. Another advantage to a less social-based conference is that new members who are not interested or don't relate to the social aspects of the conference can still find the conference rewarding. I might, add also that the workshops are the perfect place to begin social contacts. They provide an already assembled group of peers who are interested in the same subject you are. Another answer is to strengthen our secular groups at home, so the conference isn't one experience in the whole year but just a continuation of what you are involved in all year round. CSJO also should consider doing more throughout the year than just one annual event.
Maybe the next time I address you, I’ll be speaking of my experiences on a Kibbutz or be soliciting support for Soviet Jews or alerting you of the increasing problem in the Middle East. Or maybe I’ll have stayed at home addressing a situation more personal, but I’ll somehow be making a difference. I can't help undertaking challenges because of the person I am. I am a product of my heritage, community and family and all these elements offer the promise of success. And with everyone here today, our combined effort will face our mutual challenge and our common background holds the promise.