In writing about the Shifting Thought Shifting Action gathering in Berlin I am not going to describe the entire event, but the thoughts that came to me specifically because I had a chance to be there.
For some time now, sociologists have been describing the change in people’s relations, which have transformed from local to global. The greatly reduced travel time to the farthest regions of the world and the economy of it allows us to move easily and participate in the same conference in some central location, allowing for the exchange of views and the building of strategic relationships.
Facebook, which has had doctor’s theses devoted to it, changed personal relations for the better, into quick, concrete, task and information exchange oriented contacts. Not community bonds, but supranational relations have become the everyday staple of human communication. However, humans cannot live in such conditions for long, because we are gregarious creatures and need contact with other people. When I say contact, I mean face to face, hand in hand, where the exchange of thoughts and observations counts and not just brief, specific information. What is more, we are no longer satisfied by international contacts, as those, which were to be intimate. Relationships such as family, friendship, partnership, those closest to humans are slowly returning to its place, that is the local environment. Long distance relationships through the Internet, Skype friendships, were an interesting experiment of our contemporary period, but despite their ease and accessibility did not give us the same satisfaction as „old fashioned”, pre-Internet relations.
Jews around the world began to realize this. As a „global nation” tied by a network of various contacts, they realized that the strength and basis of its existence is that which is local. But so far, from my „Polish-Jewish” observations, I can say that, that which is local is often pathological, incompetent, without a long-term goal, chaotic. How then can one build a great supranational network based on this? I believe that Jewish organizations such as ROI and Paideia noticed this problem long ago, but it did not seem right for them to speak out about it. Firstly, because ROI is an Israeli-American organization, so any comments made about Europe could be perceived as interfering in matters not on their turf or a form of paternalism. Secondly, Americans, Israelis and Poles all differ mentally, so even if the intention were good, communication could fail. Regardless, ROI was bold enough to organize a conference, with a catchy name – Shifting Thought, Shifting Action, which simply screams, Europe, it’s time for some pretty serious changes.
Such a logo could only imply one thing – there will be discord. 50 confident, young people, activists with approaches as different as the two extremities of a river, were locked in one conference room with a table decked with bagels and coffee. For three days. Honestly? It turned out fantastic. Why? Because ROI and all the wonderful people working for the organization knew, that they were treading on thin ice. There was time for conversation, official and personal, time for direct action and time for a spiritual connection (personally, I’m not fond of candles or spiritual morning exercises, so I don’t even know what to call it, though I still wear the blue string on my right wrist. By the way, only those that were there in Berlin know about the blue string). There was time for an exchange of thoughts and not the shallow, goal-oriented type, but of the deeper kind, which comes to you when given a bit of time to interact with another person. It was then that important comments were made by the event’s participants. Even though it was nice to spend time and work together, get to know each other and promise to keep in touch, the meeting wasn’t all that local. Because, even though it was an event for Jews in Europe and even though we stated how we wanted our modern community to look, few of us can actually return to it and make a change. There is a certain establishment, and excuse me for saying so, but it is mostly post-communist or blind to new initiatives. Those who managed to get in, can slowly drill into the rock and hope that someday there will be a tunnel; however most of us will crash into that rock.
A true challenge for organizations such as ROI, though perhaps not that one specifically, would be to gather for 3 days, in one room with bagels, members of the establishment. Would the days pass by in as pleasant an atmosphere? I would venture to guess – no. Although ROI is probably capable of surprising me. Much was said about us being the future of our local communities, but most of us probably thought, „sure, when the establishment dies off”. Although I believe that the priority of approaching social changes will be local community, I’m afraid that for some time still, young people will escape to the international, shallow, informational, task and goal oriented contacts. There is such a great chasm between the way of thinking of that which is young, fresh and new and that which is stale and firmly clinging to the wall, that I personally don’t see much of a role for us in local Jewish communities in Europe. You can tell by the projects that young Jews create. There are a lot of apps, websites, video blogs and photos. We feel better in the virtual realm than we do with flesh and blood. In the case of problems or unpleasantness we can retreat more quickly. We close the site and we disappear, born again on a new page. In the real world of local Jewish communities, the mistakes of our youth, interesting initiatives which the establishment calls „being out of line” or even the less diplomatic plays, they haunt us and spoil every new idea from the start. But how is a young man to know, what is diplomatically correct or what is not. Which strategy will prove successful? Many people may not agree with me.
This text is not a summary of research but rather an observation. And as any observation, it is based on the specific physical and mental characteristics of my person. I do not doubt that organizations such as ROI or Paideia will tackle this problem as well. They have proven many times their great intuition for spotting trends, correlations and nuance. I am only calling attention to it...