All Work and No Play is Not the NEXT Way

Chicago Summers are the things of dreams (maybe because Winters can be nightmares), and it most certainly behooves you to take advantage of your time in the Windy City.

Whether you decided to come into Chicago for the full weekend leading up to the Convening, or you live just up the street, here is a taste of some of the Festivals taking place over the 10th and 11th. Get the full listing here.

Photograph: Steven A. Reynolds Photography,

Photograph: Steven A. Reynolds Photography,

9-11: Ginza Festival | Old Town
10-11: Retro on Roscoe | Roscoe Village
10-11: Northalsted Market Days | Boystown

Our entire convening is taking place in the hip West Loop neighborhood of Chicago, now home to many of the best restaurants in the city (and thereby, the country).

For locals, if you have not yet been able to explore the West Loop, we are giving you the perfect excuse.
For those of you joining us from out of town, be sure to plan a little time to explore and enjoy all the West Loop has to offer.

Check out this great neighborhood guide to help all of you navigate your adventure.

Yoni’s recommendation: If you are a coffee connoisseur, head to La Colombe for their cold pressed iced coffee.

Enjoy perusing online, we know your will enjoy exploring once your are here.

The registration deadline is THIS Thursday, August 1.
Register Here

Who are the people in your NEXT-borhood?

Conferences are important places to hear new ideas, be exposed to important skills, and often most memorably, to meet other interesting people.  With that in mind, we’ll be featuring some of our registered participants in order to help you get to know a little more about them before we meet up in Chicago on the 11th.

That brings us to Bradley Machov:

Bradley was born and raised in Minneapolis, went to college in New York City, and then moved back to Minneapolis after graduation. He had dreams of being a writer, so his dad connected him with a Jewish blog in the Twin Cities that happened to be looking for more writers. Bradley started writing for TC Jewfolk in late 2010 and became the editor in October 2012 once they had raised enough funds to hire the position.

TC Jewfolk is a multi-author blog, publishing original content just about daily that is relevant and interesting to young Twin Cities Jews. In addition to the articles, we have a community calendar, a Jewish jobs board, and a strong social media presence. TC Jewfolk is a subset of Jewfolk Media Inc., a registered non-profit, whose goal is to bring the TCJ model to other Jewish communities in the US and hopefully create a national network of hyper-local online opportunities for Jews to connect to their local communities.d connected me with a Jewish blog in the Twin Cities looking for more writers. Bradley started writing for TC Jewfolk in late 2010 and became the editor in October 2012 once they had raised enough funds to hire the position.

TC Jewfolk
Bradley is always happy to talk more about TCJ, and is also a really big baseball fan, and into improv comedy. He is very active with HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis. He’ll probably be hitting up a show at iO or Second City while in Chicago, so if improv is your thing, be sure to connect with Bradley.Want to connect but havn’t registered? Get it done here. Remember, registration ends August 1.

Is Your Brand Harmonious?

“Your brand is not what you say you are; it’s what your customers think you are,” says Steve Yastrow in his book ‘Brand Harmony’. 


Photo credit: Angi Krueger w/ Core Creative

When you run a campaign, be it email, promotional or other, throw an event, or even create a post on Facebook, you are putting your organization’s brand forward. As marketers we have an idea of how we want our brand received by our constituents, but is that truly the way they receive/perceive it?

When we decided, based on a lot of feedback from prior convenings, that branding and communication needed to be part of our masterclasses, Steve Yastrow was a natural choice.  As a brand consultant for our partners at ROI, Steve has worked intensively with young Jewish leaders.  You’ll love his balance of wisdom and informality, serious content, and approachability.


Sign up for Steve’s Branding and Communications masterclass if you would like to better understand how to bring your “customers”’ (constituents’) brand perceptions into harmony with your organization’s intended brand.  Check out a taste of  the masterclass sessions below.

  • Improvise! The Key to Ditching the Pitch
  • Brand Harmony: Bringing Your Future Forward
  • Brand Harmony: Developing Your Brand Story
  • Brand Harmony: Communicating your Brand Story

We look forward to you joining us (and Steve) August 11 & 12!

Learn more about Steve Yastrow:
SteveYastrowSteve Yastrow’s passion is creating revolutionary marketing systems that yield major profit breakthroughs. Steve has been called a thought leader, marketing guru, provocateur and business visionary. As an international speaker and consultant, Steve Yastrow has helped many companies, from the Fortune 500 level to smaller, owner-managed businesses (like McDonald’s Corporation, The Tom Peters Company, Discover Financial Services, Kimpton Hotels, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, Agilent Technologies, Jenny Craig International, Great Clips for Hair, Cold Stone Creamery, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts to name a few).

Be an Upstart!

Our “Develop Yourself and Your Network” Convening is based in our belief that if we invest in you; your work with Birthright alumni and their peers will benefit. In deciding how to maximize this investment, we’ve sought the best. That’s why we are proud to be joined in our efforts by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network.  For years, many of the innovative and impactful initiatives in the Jewish world have received crucial support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. This network of innovative thinkers, activists, and leaders continues to grow, and we’re delighted to be able to invite those participants to join us.

Toby Rubin, UpStart Founder

Toby Rubin, UpStart CEO & Founder

But it isn’t merely the participants who will be impressive.  Our masterclass facilitators are top professionals in their fields.

Toby Rubin, founder and CEO of Upstart, will be bringing her unique background in organizational change as she leads a masterclass for senior professionals and those with big aspirations.  Upstart is dedicated to advancing innovative ideas for Jewish life through: incubating projects of Jewish social entrepreneurs; consulting to established organizations looking to change; and building a network that connects change makers to ideas, resources and each other to further construction of 21st century Jewish life.

UpStart logoToby’s track will cover ‘Leading without Authority’, ‘Getting onto the Balcony’, and how to apply these ideas.

If you are interested in increasing confidence in your ability to bring innovation and/or change into your workplace, then this is the session for you. Select the Organizational Change track when you register.




Room to Think

In designing our upcoming convening, we wanted to ensure we had a space that reflects our hopes and values for the time we’ll share together: open-mindedness, creativity, excitement, and interaction.

We know of no better space for these values to come together than Catalyst Ranch, where bright colors meet open floor designs, eclectic furnishings, and unique space.  Combine that with a fantastic staff, and great amenities, and it should be obvious why, when we say you deserve the best, Catalyst is our top choice.  Be sure to take the tour, below, and see for yourself (we’ll be hanging out in the Polka Room, complete with a Turkish style cushion cove).

We’ll be giving you plenty of opportunities to interact with each other in one-on-one settings, small groups, and all together, and having a versatile space like this one (with unlimited coffee, tea, and Diet Coke), can help facilitate those conversations.  Creative people deserve creative spaces, right?

We are excited to see you all there. Register today.
Registration deadline is August 1st.


Get Ready to Get Better.


In anticipation of our “Develop Yourself and Your Network” Convening, hosted in conjunction with the Schusterman Philanthropic Network at Catalyst Ranch in Chicago, August 11th and 12th, we decided to provide some ongoing updates, blog style.

Leading up to the big event, we’ll be posting more in depth information like speaker bios, ideas of who to meet and what to do while you are here, plus a few other goodies along the way.

To kick us off, check out some pictures highlighting the conversations we’ve had at prior convenings.

Identifying Participant Needs

by Bennie Cohen

This post is the second in a series entitled “Who Do We Serve,” inspired by our Southeast NEXTwork Launch in May 2012.

The question of “Who Do We Serve?” is one that we have already flagged as crucial to young adult engagement. When determining how to assess the experience of the people that we serve—Jewish young adults—one interesting factor stood out: the impact of the economy and growth of the “boomerang child” phenomenon. With so many young Jewish adults nationwide moving back in with their parents/guardians, we have to rethink the picture of what the average 23-year-old looks like.

At our Southeast NEXTwork Launch in May, we considered this scenario. Joel Marcovitch, director of Hillel at the University of Georgia, then posed the following question: What is a young Jewish adult going to need now and five years from now?

Brainstorm on Participant Needs

A Brainstorm on Participant Needs from the Southeast NEXTWork Launch

When considering what makes our audience unique, who they are, and what they are all about, we had not yet touched on what their needs are and how we can help—the “serve” part of “who do we serve.”

Before we solicit young Jewish adults to volunteer or come to an event, how can we help them get settled? What more immediate needs can we fulfill?

Think of the “boomerang child” moving back home, or the recent college graduate moving to a new city. We know that when someone relocates, there are certain things that have to get done in order to put their lives in order. They need to find a job, build a social network, pick new doctors, and even locate new places to eat!

What if there was a Jewish life website that could serve as a “Welcome to [your town here]!” The site could be set up to provide all of the things that a new person needs to get started and settled in the community. I know I would have greatly benefited from something like this when I moved to Atlanta.

Help me further explore this idea. What sort of information do you think should be offered on this kind of site? Do you think there should be an Angie’s List-type function so people can leave comments and ratings? Maybe by starting this discussion here, we can one day soon make it real.

As we look for new ways to engage young Jewish adults in our communities, we must try to understand not just what we need from them, but what they need from us. For many of them, finding a place to live and building up a circle of friends is a top priority, and their needs are always going to come before ours. However, as natural connectors in our communities, we can help them fill those needs. We now need to determine how. Got ideas? Please share in the comments section below!

Bennie Cohen is the Southeast Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.

Engaging the Four Students

by Benji Berlow

In his book Conscious Business, Fred Koffman articulates a concept that he calls “mental models”–models that depict how each of us perceives the world.  As a result of biology, culture, and personal experiences, we each have a unique lens through which we see the world, one that is often different even from those closest to us.  Many times, we get stuck in a pattern of seeing the world a certain way, making us oblivious to problems that surround us (even though they are obvious to others with different mental models).  Koffman goes further and suggests an evolutionary model for how mental models can change overtime, from the unconscious stage (not even perceived) to the impulsive stage (“it’s all about me”) to the conformist stage (herd mentality) to the reflective stage (not satisfied with conventional thinking).

As I read Koffman’s description for each stage, it hit me that each stage corresponds to one of the four children from the Passover story, and that each child has a different mental model for how they view the Jewish community.  It inspired me to analyze college students from this perspective in order to uncover engagement methods that fit their mental model:

First is the student that does not know how to ask.  He is unconscious and unaware of the Jewish community.  However, he is not at fault for not knowing how to ask, because he has no language, no background, and no connection to the Jewish community.  For this student, one must make the barrier to entry as low as possible.  Find out who he is and create relevant and attractive programs in the physical place where he is already. Being warm and welcoming will not work, because he will never step foot into Hillel.  Your approach should be accessible, sexy, and visible.

Next is the simple student.  She knows about the Jewish community, but only has a surface relationship.  She attends events with free food, but never will stay for the speaker.  With a sense of entitlement, she will take everything that Hillel has to offer, but give nothing in return.  For this student, one must demonstrate the value of community and purpose.  Find out what her passions are and connect her like-minded students.  Show her the power of organizing and shared value.  Your approach should focus on creating networks of interest groups and meaningful programs.

Then there is the wise student.  He is absorbed in the Jewish community, perhaps even a leader.  Although he gives all of his time and energy to his group, he also seems to be going through the motions of recreating the same, stagnant programs.  For this student, one must change the status quo.  As Wayne Firestone says, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  Challenge his assumptions and innovate with compelling, never-before-seen initiatives.  Your approach should be out-of-the-box and anything but normal.

Finally, there is the wicked student.  She knows the Jewish community, but sees herself as better than the establishment.  She may come to events, but will not fully engage with the program because she will tend to point out what is missing or unappealing.  While the simple student may not feel part of the group, the wicked student sees all of the people not included in the group.  For this student, one must trust and take a huge risk.  Create a space for her to be independent and still part of the community.  Give her an internship with responsibility to do things her way.  You will take a leap of faith to engage this student, but listening to her will allow you to connect to others who are not yet engaged and who have difficulty feeling included in their community.

I once had a teacher who explained to me the difference between Shammai and Hillel.  When someone asked a question of Shammai, he would labor intensively for days to find the “true” answer.  When a question was asked of Hillel, he would answer with a question: “Who is asking?”  As we create different models for young adult engagement and assess their effectiveness, we need to know exactly who we are engaging.  Which type of student was Taglit-Birthright Israel designed for?  What would a successful experience look like through the lens of each of these mental models?  Should we expect every student to become a leader?  How should we engage students who are already leaders?  Is the student who sees everyone that is left out of the group truly wicked or just perceived as wicked from the mental model of the establishment?

It is important to remember that while we may get stuck in our own mental model, we are able to transform and grow out of them as well.  As we continue to evolve our mental models and our engagement methods from the unconscious stage to the reflective stage, what could the next stage look like?

Benji Berlow (@benjiberlow) is the director of Jewish student life at Carnegie Mellon University.

Honoring what Matters: Making Young Jewish Engagement a Profession

By Morlie Levin

Last month, Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Global Planning Table issued this challenge: What do you think are the important Jewish issues that could be significantly influenced by philanthropic intervention if the Jewish community could devote sufficient resources on a large scale? What types of interventions would be most effective? NEXT CEO Morlie Levin authored the piece below in response.*

Connecting young Jewish adults to one another, Israel, and their local and global Jewish communities fills much of the bandwith of communal discussions about Jewish identity and continuity. Watching and learning from Taglit-Birthright Israel, we know a great deal about what matters to young Jewish adults in their 20s who are exploring their Jewish connections. While the reality on the ground is complex, in the end the broad message is simple. It’s about:

  • Authentic, personal experiences;
  • Being with friends and experiencing (or creating) community together; and
  • Opportunities that deepen Jewish knowledge and stimulate Jewish growth.

This is not a new message. We’ve long understood that identity formation is episodic and ultimately a result of personal discovery. That’s why experiential, immersive, interventions (like camping and Birthright Israel trips) have gained such traction. And while we have, in certain instances, invested in deepening the knowledge of the young professionals who touch the participants — the guide/madrich – we have done woefully little as a community to commit to their careers. This is a plea for taking that on as a serious commitment of the Jewish people.

From my perch at Birthright, I see time and time again the impact of a talented trip leader or motivational local engagement staff. The anecdotes are supported by the analysis. Numerous analytical studies, both in the Jewish world and the secular world demonstrate the profound impact a gifted teacher, camp counselor, young leadership professional, innovator, community organizer can have. We know it; we see it; most of us have experienced it.

But even the most gifted are often frustrated. We’ve heard the litany: low pay, impossible hours, divided (often conflicting) responsibilities, no career path, devalued skills, minimal collegial interaction, little investment in “continuing education,” an invisible community of practice. The turnover in staff is huge, rapid, and costly – not only in dollars and impact but, most importantly, in squandered passion. We dangle the opportunity to connect mission and meaning to work and then by our actions indicate that we consider “this work” simply as a way station on the way to a “real” career — and one increasingly outside the Jewish community.

It is true of course that some turnover is not only good, it is some times warranted. Some people age out of their role, others burnout in them. For still others, it’s simply not the right match. But systemic turnover undermines our communal ability to leverage many of the other investments we are making, especially in experiential interventions like camping and Birthright.

A serious philanthropic focus on young engagement professionals (across all organizations–mainline, entrepreneurial, and grassroots) could make a significant difference by:

  • Raising salaries of young engagement professionals;
  • Adding additional staff positions so that engagement is the sole responsibility, not one of many tasks;
  • Holding national gatherings across organizations to create a community of practice;
  • Developing, and continually refreshing, core curricula that fuses engagement strategies with up-to-date information about social/social media trends;
  • Arming engagement professionals with the (ever-evolving) technological savvy to interact with a wired generation;
  • Teaching research and analytical skills so that trends can be assessed and acted on;
  • Promoting full-time opportunities to part-time engagers working in informal Jewish education settings like camp;
  • Convening international conferences that bring young adult engagers from Israel, the FSU, Europe, and South America together to share best practices and develop professional networks, which would then be supported by online gatherings to sustain connections built during in-person gatherings;
  • Offering competitive grants to mentors to work with young professionals to teach work/life balance and provide coaching on career options and opportunities, coupled with opportunities for mentors to meet periodically and report back to the field on trends they have observed and new practices that have surfaced;
  • Creating a “master class” where highly-regarded young engagement professionals would teach and train their peers, receiving additional remuneration and recognition in the process;
  • Exploring the skill and knowledge linkage between engagement work and Jewish education so as to create alternative (and refreshing) career paths. This could mean offering special grants to those who have excelled in one and the opportunity to take on new roles in the other.

While not exhaustive, this list is illustrative of the kind of activities a major, systemic, philanthropic effort could enable. Embedded in many of these examples is the assumption that this effort would help to network myriad organizations in a way that would operationally bridge the work done between and amongst them: a dream many of us have had for a long time.

We know that young Jewish adults want to learn from peer engagers. Through and with them, young adults explore their identities, take on commitments to themselves and their communities and discover and embrace deep convictions about Jewish life.

It is time to really invest in peer engagers. This is a clarion call for convening a roundtable to move them to the forefront of our funding agenda!

*This brief think piece makes no attempt to address many of the mega-issues facing the Jewish people. Rather, and intentionally, it focuses on a narrow (and systemic) issue that, with a relatively modest increase of funds and attention, could have a disproportionately high impact.