This is an edited and updated version of the speech given by Leeor Chabat at the Caulfield Synagogue Second Night Seder, April 2016.
Leeor is the founder of J-Seek and works as a freelance Community Liaison Consultant.
The central theme of Pesach is freedom.
Literally defined freedom is “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants.”
I have luckily been brought up in a country, society and community which all have fostered this idea, and made it fiercely known to me the value of such a privilege.
I was taught at school about the oppression of my ancestors, and the adversity they endured.
Tonight, we look down at our plates and see symbols. These symbols are representative of the pain, suffering and oppression our ancestors faced.
As we reflect on this holy holiday, the most important question to me is how we move forward from those times.
A couple of months after graduating Bialik College in 2014, I found myself sitting on a rock on cold and windy Brighton Beach thinking about my life’s purpose. And what impact, what difference I wanted to make in this world around me.
Somehow, the cold and the wind had an effect, and I left the rock with an understanding from that day on, that now impacts on my decision making, my reactions and my analysis of situations that arise.
It’s what now drives me on a day-to-day basis: to do the best and be the best person that I can be. I walked away from that rock knowing that a simple philosophy heard so many times was now my own. “If you want to, you can”.
In a nutshell: the belief in self is the most powerful asset that you have the ability to control.
And so walking away from the cold beach that day, in my t-shirt, shorts and thongs, I decided then and there that to the best of my ability I will try to somehow, some way make a difference of my own.
The first step was identifying problems. My first port of call was my community, as it is the one that I am most affected by. Next was understanding why those problems existed and then, what I could do about it to try and solve them.
Every day I would be thinking, what can I do? How can I fix this? Is it worth fixing?
And then one day in August 2015, it happened.
I was searching for a platform that would provide me with a simple word-of-mouth recommendation for a service I required. Simple, yes? Especially in my own community?
I was hit with a brick wall, nothing existed. And so, Jseek was created.
A simple Facebook page, where people could ask their own community members for advice, suggestions and references for reputable businesses and services. No request too large or small.
This simple page became an instant “Community Centre Online”.
7 months later, with in excess of 10,000 members (20% of the Melbourne Jewish population), Jseek has changed the way we as a community communicate, care, and most importantly Support each other.
This idea of support is not only ingrained in the core values of our culture and religion but in the make up of our being. Whether it be thousands of years ago aiding survival in the desert or helping somebody find a plumber today, we love helping our own.
And this is why, today, as Pesach marks the birth of the Jewish nation, we focus on our Jewish unity and by way of contrast, our Jewish identity.
We know from multiple studies that though our community is so large and diverse, we aren’t as unified in the same ways as in the past. Engagement in Jewish activities, communal gatherings and events and Jewish retention rates have all declined.
Whilst this may seem a cause for concern, I see it as an opportunity.
Because the internet can bring people together from their desks and their phones.
By understanding the needs and wants of today’s generations we may be able to define why, what and how we are able to solve the ‘problems’ that we face as a community, together.
To me, Jseek is the primary case study.
Creating this online platform has sparked an interest amongst many individuals to create similar platforms both here and abroad, importantly, for our community and by our community.
I’m incredibly proud of that.
If we, as a community, can find ways to keep opening multiple lines of communication, this will have a multiplying effect.
I believe that we need to do everything in our power to encourage individuals to continue to create initiatives that will work towards this goal.
Our aim should be multigenerational engagement, a stronger sense of Jewish identity, and in the spirit of Pesach, a more unified Jewish community.
“If you want to, you can”.