The power of young leadership

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At 24 years of age Julia Sussman has embraced the opportunities that our community offers to young adults and has been instrumental in making a difference. 

It was never Julia’s original intention to be in a young leadership role in the Jewish community. After HSC, she headed off to rural Namibia where she volunteered at an animal rescue and rehabilitation centre. That experience lit a fire in her – a deep feeling of emotional connection you get when you’re doing something to better others. When she came home she knew she wanted to do more and a door opened for her. She was invited to apply for the Susan Wakil Fellowship program which aims to empower a generation of Jewish leaders to make a difference in Australian society.

“As a community, we create the most unbelievable empowerment opportunities for young adults. All youneed is to want to be involved”.

As a teenager, Julia wasn’t deeply involved in the Jewish community at large. While she had been school captain at Emanuel School she had not gone on an Israel program or been part of the Jewish youth movements in Sydney.  It was after returning to Sydney from Africa that she he began to focus on the community around her as the place where she could make a difference. “I can’t work with cheetahs here but I can work with a community that needs more voices, more engagement, and more empowerment.” 

The 2018 Susan Wakil Fellowship gave her the practical tools to start making that happen. 

Through the Wakil Fellowship, Julia, and fellow alumnus, Harrison Rosen, as well as Jesse Lenn, Joel Grunstein and Jared Engelman, founded Youth HEAR – an organisation dedicated to mitigating hate in society by connecting young Australians with the memory of the Holocaust.  

Creating a space for Holocaust commemoration that is specifically designed for young adults is paramount to the mission. Julia attributes the success of Youth HEAR to its team of 25 volunteer members, “the organisation is created by young adults, for young adults.”

“The reach and engagement we’ve had in the community is unbelievable,” said Julia. 

At the end of 2019, in recognition of their ongoing community engagement, Youth HEAR was one of the prize-winning organisations at JCA Jumpstart’s annual Shark Tank event.

Last year, like many other community organisations, they moved their activities online and their reach and engagement on social media platforms continued to grow.

This year, in the lead up to their second in-person commemoration event for Yom HaShoah, Youth HEAR curated a series of personal video stories for the Six Million Project, available to view on their Facebook page. “We interviewed all our members and youth leadership from JCA, AUJS and the Jewish Board of Deputies, and asked ‘when did the enormity and the heartache of the Holocaust really hit home for you?’ They’re 25 powerful stories that all come back to the central realisation: the shellshock of what happened, the industrial process of wiping out an entire population.”

Julia is also involved in cross-cultural advocacy in her role as a Director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. It was through the Board of Deputies that she participated in the inaugural Jeremy Spinak Young Leaders Program 2019, established in honour of the late Jeremy Spinak, one of the youngest Presidents to lead the Board and an inspirational force in the broader community.

Last year, Julia was asked to lead the 2020 Jeremy Spinak program. 

At the age of 24, whether she intended to or not, Julia has become a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration to a new generation of young leaders in the NSW Jewish community.

Thanks to your support of JCA, young leaders like Julia are able to make a difference in our community and mentor others.  To support the JCA 2021 campaign go to www.jca.org.au/donate