The Power of DIY Holidays


By Emily Comisar

In 2011 my team decided to experiment with the incentives model we had been using for NEXT Shabbat, hoping that we could inspire BirthrightIsraelalumni (and their friends by association) to participate in home-based holiday celebrations as well.   Birthright Israel alumni were eligible to host Tu B’shvat Seders, Passover Seders, and Sukkot celebrations and NEXT offered a subsidy of up to $12 per person for up to 16 people at the meal.  For Sukkot, we also offered the option of a $200 subsidy for materials to build a Sukkah.

We weren’t sure how popular the opportunities would be but after a quiet showing for Tu B’Shvat – 48 Seders – the response to Passover blew us away.  Not only did we have to double the size of the program, to allow for 400 instead of Passover Seders, but we found that 54% of those people were new to NEXT and 60% of them had never hosted their own Passover Seder before.  That means that over 200 young Jewish adults took the step from participant in a Jewish experience to owner of a Jewish experience.

Now that we were certain there was a substantial amount of genuine interest in holiday celebrations, we tweaked the incentives model for Sukkot, offering two separate ways that a Birthright Israel alumnus could participate: hosting a meal for a per person payment rate or building a Sukkah for payment based on actual expenses.

Sukkot has been our most popular holiday to date; the first 150 slots were taken in less than two hours.  By the time we closed registration a few days before Sukkot, around 300 people had been registered. What happened next, however, was entirely unexpected.

What we see every week with the NEXT Shabbat program was echoed in the Tu B’Shvat and Passover micro-grants of 2011; not everyone who signs up follows through.  Typically the drop off is somewhere around 30%.  That rate for Sukkot was nearly double, with 60% of Sukkah building registrants not reporting back to us for the funds.

Although we have used incentives to ignite interest, we’re still figuring out how to get past the next barrier to participation.  What this process has shown us is that maybe money is not the entire answer and cost is not always the barrier.   Anecdotally, we hear that things like, weather, illness, apartment size, and school and work schedules get in the way.  So, the question remains, what’s the next step to surmount that logistics barrier?


 Emily Comisar is the Manager of National Projects at NEXT.

Jewish Women On the Map

There has been no guide to physical landmarks in Jewish women’s history – until now.
Jewish Women’s Archive puts women on the map.

Click on the map to be taken to

JWA – Judith – Part of the Hanukkah Story

In this video, Leah of the Jewish Women’s Archive discusses the Judith story and its connection to Hanukkah. All images used in the video are in the public domain. Music is by Kevin Macleod,

Video: Getting the One on One. Joel Frankel

Joel Frankel of the St. Louis Federation shares his tips for getting a one on one meeting with a new participant.


Image by Aiden Jones, licensed under Creative Commons.

Video: Email Marketing: Testing Subject Lines

Heather Wolfson, Western Regional Director at NEXT describes the A/B testing process to improve marketing email performance.

Image by miniyo73, licensed under Creative Commons.

What’s Your EQ? Self-Awareness


By Heather Wolfson

IQ isn’t the only way to measure your smarts. Take your EQ, your emotional intelligence, for instance.  Emotional intelligence refers to five areas within an individual:  self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill.  Each of these characteristics helps to shape you as a leader and it engenders more effective interpersonal communication. This is vital in developing meaningful professional relationships and can position you best to engage young adults in your community.  Having high emotional intelligence will position you as a stronger communicator with the ability to do more successful outreach and engagement.  Over the course of several blog posts, I am going to break down each of these five areas.

One very important characteristic of someone who has high EQ is self-awareness.  Self-awareness is defined as the ability to recognize and understand your moods and emotions, as well as their effect on others.  Those with high self-awareness are self-confident, have a realistic self-assessment, and may even have a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Is this you?  In my years of serving both as a lay leader and a professional in the Jewish community, I’ve found that self-awareness is key to being a strong leader and manager.  Even the most deliberate people with high emotional intelligence can forget to examine the efficacy of their leadership from time to time.

At the start of the New Year, I made a commitment to myself to spend a bit more time reflecting on me and becoming more self-aware.

Self-awareness is also about being responsible for your own well-being. Checking-in with your emotions gives you greater perspective, makes you more receptive and empathetic in relationships, and can be grounding, especially in the face of stressors.

Here are some of the questions I have been pondering in my own quest to be more self-aware

  • When under pressure, how do I feel?  What do I do to cope with this pressure?
  • How can I work to balance my professional, volunteer and personal life?  When is it appropriate to say “no” to requests?  When do I need to step up and step back?
  • How do my actions impact other people?  What can I do to ensure that what I do is in the best interest of everyone?
  • What do I question?  Why do I question?  How can I question in a productive way?
  • What are my weak points?  What are my strengths?
  • I am happiest when…
  • I am fulfilled when…

I encourage you to find some time during your day, be it even on the commute into your office or at the end of your day with a glass of wine, to think a bit about yourself.  The more self-aware you are, the stronger a leader you will be and the more productive a team you will lead.

Until next time…happy thinking!


Heather Wolfson is the Western Regional Director at NEXT.

Photo by tj scenes, licensed under Creative Commons.