Setting the Record Straight – Part 1: “Why The GSC is Not for Me”

accepting-constructive-criticismAs one of the more “vocal” Givat Shmuel residents, I receive tens of questions, comments, and critique in any given week, mostly about life in Givat Shmuel, and the going-ons of the GSC.

In an effort to clear the air and set the record straight, I’m taking it upon myself to discuss some of the biggest critiques and misconceptions about community life and the nonprofit that works tirelessly to help sustain it.

DISCLAIMER: This post has not been approved by the Nonprofit’s leadership, and solely represents the views of the author.

While I plan to cover many more (and controversial) topics in the future, for this post, we’re starting with the basics:

What is the GSC and where did it come from?

The GSC – Givat Shmuel Community (R.A.) is a local initiative to help support Anglos in Givat Shmuel. We’re a group of community volunteers from the myriad of “micro-communities” in the area, who work tirelessly to help the Olim in our city.

You used to be a BIU Student or a BIU Alumni, and your needs were the same as everyone else's. <em>BIU Escape - 2008</em>
In 2008, you were either a BIU student or alumnus and your needs were the same as everyone else’s.

A long time ago (9 years and counting), community life was much simpler. Our entire population of 150 English-speakers was comprised mainly of either Bar-Ilan students or recent alumni. While the Israelis went home for Shabbat, we looked after each other like our own family. Back then, your needs were synonymous with the needs of the greater, and we needed no help looking after our own.

Word about Givat Shmuel began to spread – and the community started to grow and diversify at an exponential rate. Suddenly we weren’t just BIU students anymore, but students from all the other universities, young families sending their kids to school, professionals starting a career with a degree from overseas, and even some lone soldiers who were just looking for a supportive atmosphere on their off-weekends . The needs of the community became varied and complex, the community grew fragmented, and people began slipping through the cracks. We were left with a single common denominator – we were all lone Olim.

Fast-forward a few years, and initiative after initiative to help rehabilitate the community met little success. We learned that “top-down organizing” was ineffective; community strength can only come from within itself, and when one group tries to meet the needs of everyone, they end up helping no one.

And so, after marathon conversations with numerous residents, The GSC was formed. Instead of trying (and failing) to dictate the needs of everyone, we’d function as the logistical backbone of the community, and enable people, in a grassroots fashion, to provide for themselves.

The GSC’s Model and Scaling for 750 Olim

As mentioned, our model is quite straightforward: we help leaders from within the community service the needs of their demographic.

People from the community tell us what issues their demographic faces, and we work with them to develop an initiative. We provide the logistical frameworks, bureaucratic know-how, and even volunteers needed to make said venture a success.

Torah & Cholent has been meeting every week for two years, with over 100 attendees each time. Why? Because a few passionate students volunteer every week to make sure it happens!
Torah & Cholent has been meeting every week for two years, with over 100 attendees each time. Why? Because a few passionate students volunteer every week to make sure it happens!

The GSC is split up into several “Committees” [full disclose: I really hate that term]. These are working groups centered around a particular demographic, community need, or a simple shared passion. The members of the Torah Committee, for example, want to improve the religious life, and work together to create shiurim, onegs and communal tefilot. The people on the Social Committee care about helping locals integrate, and spend their time planning Welcoming Shabbatons, informational workshops, parties, cultural movie nights, and more.

The way it works is simple:

  1. A community member (let’s call her “Lizzy” – a recently married, third year resident) identifies a need in her demographic (e.g. “Married couples don’t have any way to meet each other.”).
  2. She then pitches an initiative to the other volunteers (“Let’s organize periodic Seudat Shlishit for all the married couples!”).
  3. Other GSC volunteers jump on the bandwagon, and help with the logistics. One person will create a flyer, someone else will publicize the event, a third will volunteer to host, etc..

And so it is with all the events in the community – a passionate person chooses to take point, and everyone else pitches in to ensure the initiative is a success.

Which brings us to my favorite question….

Why doesn’t The GSC service my group’s needs?

By now, the answer to this should be readily apparent: no-one has stepped up to do so.

As an organization made up entirely of volunteers, community leaders in The GSC focus on their passions and the needs of their demographic. While most members will volunteer to help with things outside of their personal interests, for any initiative to be successful someone needs to be motivated enough to take charge.

If The GSC isn't doing something it's because no one has volunteered to do it.
If The GSC isn’t doing something it’s because no one has volunteered to do it.

Let’s return to my example: in order for there to be a monthly Seudat Shlishit for married couples (or a parent-child learning program, or a BIU student orientation, or a casino night, etc.), Lizzy needs to set aside time to register attendees, buy supplies, etc.- or find other volunteers and delegate tasks. The sad fact is that without Lizzy the initiative will fail! No matter how great an idea is (and I hear tens of great ideas every week), it is doomed to stay just an idea, unless someone chooses to run with it.

Thus, the question people should be asking isn’t “Why isn’t The GSC doing X”, but rather “Why am I not volunteering and making sure X happens?”

For most, the answer is understandable: between school, work, army service, and/or raising a family, you don’t have time to take on anything else. However, so long as this is true for everyone, you can’t expect someone else to volunteer in your stead. If you don’t step up, who will?

Luckily, there are many ways to get involved in The GSC – even for those with little free time –  and help make sure we’re addressing the needs of the community together – but that’s a subject for a separate post.

Moreover, with all the activities people in the community are planning, there might be something for you that you don’t even know about! – follow our Facebook page, sign up for the monthly newsletter, or even call me directly –  we just might surprise you!

Bottom Line:

It takes a community to build a community, but there isn’t any reason we can’t build one together.

Until next time,
Dovid Levine
7-year Givat Shmuel Resident & Volunteer ‘til death.