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.

Welcome!

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.

They’re Shown It, But Can They Own It?

[The below essay originally appeared in The Peoplehood Papers, Volume 8 - Nurturing Jewish Peoplehood in the 21st Century - What Should We Do Differently? - published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]

In the past 13 years, more than 300,000 young Jews – almost 200,000 from the United States alone – have experienced a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. As the website says, “The trip aims to … build an understanding, friendship and lasting bond with the land and people of Israel; and to reinforce the solidarity of the Jewish people worldwide.” It is an apt “operational” definition of Jewish peoplehood.

The words signal the issues of concern that motivated the project in the first place: a lack of knowledge about Jewish history, religion, and tradition; a dearth of personal Jewish experiences, and little (or more often no) exposure to the land and people of Israel and Jews worldwide. These issues are byproducts of longstanding social and cultural trends that have been the fodder for numerous articles about Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people. The 10-day stint in Israel is meant to address those issues by providing a personal encounter with the land and the lore, and perhaps most profoundly, the Jewish people.

The awareness that one is part of something larger, something global and timeless, is what marks the beginning of what we might call peoplehood. But for one to feel a part of a people, one must first recognize themselves within a people. Trip-goers are shown it, but can they own it?

One thing that happens on a Birthright trip – and often for the first time – is the realization that Judaism is more than a religion. Time and again we have seen that realization slowly to sink in. We can almost read the internal dialog:

“I’ve never seen so many Jews in one place before. It makes me feel proud, but I’m also confused. Here, being Jewish seems to mean something different for everyone. How come I feel so comfortable (or uncomfortable)?
I want to know more…”

Those on the trip and those they encounter may define their Jewish identity in ethnic or nationalistic terms, or in different terms altogether. This can be a difficult thing for young Diaspora Jews to grasp, but it can also be a fascinating thing to explore. Judaism is revealed as the complex, living, evolving entity that it is. And in the process of exploring, Birthright participants emerge with more questions than ever about what the Jewish part of them is and how it ultimately will – or should – guide their actions and choices.

Our challenge, then, is not to assign or assume Jewishness, or a sense of peoplehood. Our job is to help these young Jews make sense of their new questions, and understand their Jewishness in the context of all of their other identities. In that process, peoplehood becomes something larger – the result of connecting to something that is at the same time common across people and deeply profound personally.

What can we do to ignite the process of personal discovery? How can we interest young Jewish adults to explore Judaism’s depths and meaning in their own lives? We believe the answer lies in providing opportunities for ownership of Jewish living and learning experiences. This is what peoplehood-building looks like in the 21st century.

At NEXT, we take the spark ignited on a Birthright Israel trip and work with partners to fan it into a fire. We use choice and ownership as our guide, connecting young Jews to myriad events and opportunities that appeal to their individual interests and inclinations. But we are also cognizant of the fact that organized Jewish activities are not for everyone. For some, finding meaning and making community is not a function of attending organized activities run by others but happens rather within a circle of friends, at home.

That insight galvanized NEXT to develop a do-it-yourself approach to holidays, Shabbat, and community-building that enables young Jews to create authentic Jewish experiences on their own terms. We also provide all of the resources and funding necessary to help them along the way. More than 20 young Jews have received support to fund their own community projects through Natan/NEXT Grants for Social Entrepreneurs. Over 6,400 Birthright alumni have hosted 16,000 Shabbat and holiday meals through NEXT Shabbat and Holiday grant programs. With an average of 10 people at the typical Shabbat meal or seder powered by NEXT micro-grants and educational material, we now know that this approach truly resonates with Birthright alums and their peers.

In looking at the words of young Jews who hosted Passover seders this year through our holiday grant program, we begin to see the true impact of owning a Jewish experience:

“Inclusivity and education are two of the most important values that I associate with Passover and the seder tradition. I wanted to host a seder to share these values with many friends of mine who had never attended a seder and had very little knowledge of Passover. For my Jewish friends, it was a great opportunity to discuss the different traditions we had grown up with and reconnect with our roots.” – Sam, New Orleans, LA

For others, owning these experiences allows them to create Jewish experiences in places where they cannot be found:

“Hosting a seder is a great way for me to connect with my heritage and celebrate the traditions that I grew up with. Going to school and living in Hawaii, I am physically isolated from my relatives back on the mainland. In Hawaii, my close friends are my family and I am more than happy to share my traditions with them.” – Matthew, Honolulu, HI

In these words, we start to see the things that connect one to a people – seeing one’s values reflected in a holiday, reconnecting with roots, and finding psychic comfort in sharing traditions despite physical separation.

At the same time, by providing ways for young Jews to own their journeys and experiences, we instinctively do something different that is profound in itself. We create spaces and opportunities where they aren’t asked to check their complexity at the door. Within these spaces, they are able to explore who they are as a Jew and as a person, and make their own determinations about what constitutes a meaningful experience.

This has ramifications for the larger conversation. Emphasizing Jewish “peoplehood” is not enough. For a large and growing share of the young Jewish population in the Diaspora, a sense of being part of the Jewish people occurs among peers and in a community that values authenticity, learning and debate, and interaction with the outside world. That’s when real ownership happens.

How such communities can be built, nurtured, and replicated is the question to which the peoplehood conversation must turn.

Morlie Levin is the CEO of NEXT, a division of Birthright Israel Foundation.

From Birth-right to Birth-responsibility

by Emily Comisar

Of all of the questions that I hear about Taglit-Birthright Israel, one that comes up over and over again is that of how we get trip participants to view their experience as a gift to be paid forward instead of simply a right to which they are entitled. Paying it forward isn’t restricted to donating that $250 deposit back to the organization; it also means feeling a sense of responsibility to the community, to engage in it in whichever way is most meaningful and make it a more welcoming place for a rising generation of young Jewish adults.

Two weeks ago, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (Brandeis University), and NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation convened a group of 25 young professionals to talk about Taglit-Birthright Israel. Being on staff at NEXT, I was of course keenly interested in conversations about how we engage trip returnees once they land back on U.S. soil – emotionally exhausted, intellectually challenged and inevitably glowing.

On the second day of the gathering, as we grappled with that question of entitlement and responsibility, a few important words floated to the surface over and over again:

  1. Word Cloud

    Word cloud from the Birth-right to Birth-responsibility discussion

    Transparency: the need to be clear with participants up front about the goals of the trip.

  2. Reflection: understanding that each participant is on a unique Jewish journey and that Taglit-Birthright Israel will play a different role in each of their lives, that they will unpack what they learn about themselves on the trip in different ways, and that’s OK.
  3. Ownership: decreasing the amount of hand-holding on the trip and giving participants a sense of ownership over the experience.

To be transparent and to create a space for reflection is one thing, but how do we encourage participants to take ownership over an experience that has been planned for them down to the minute by people they have never met?

We can let them facilitate conversations, organize an oneg or lead a text study, but the meat of any sort of ownership experience comes down to this: feeling needed. Instead of asking, how do we get them to donate, how do we get them to invite people, how do we get them in the door, let’s ask: How do we make them feel needed? How do we make them feel necessary?

I know, I know, this is easier said than done. The reality of working in the nonprofit sector is that we report quantitatively. We talk to our funders and stakeholders about how many people we’ve reached. Even if we aren’t experiencing explicit pressure from our senior staff and boards to put butts in seats, we can’t help but put that pressure on ourselves.

But here’s the thing: I’d be willing to bet that the majority of people who get into this line of work didn’t do it because they like sales. We do it because we care about what the Jewish world looks like now and what it will look like 20 years from now. It’s a question of long-term thinking and strategy. The number of people in the door is no doubt a valuable short-term indicator to use alongside qualitative feedback that we’re getting on our work, but the problem with relying on it is that our audiences can see right through it.

It doesn’t take a social researcher to tell us that young Jewish adults (or humans in general) want to be counted as more than simply a butt in a seat or a body in the door.

Let’s stop working so hard to be event planners and start being relationship builders. Maybe we can build a stronger community if, instead of counting heads, we tap into the entire person, figure out which of their talents and skills are necessary to make things happen, and let them know that they are the only ones who can do it.

Emily Comisar is Manager of National Projects for NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. This piece  is cross-posted on the Schusterman Networks blog and eJewishPhilanthropy.

Creating Worthwhile Programming

by Heather Wolfson

An asset map of enriching programming areas from the Southwest NEXTWork Launch. Click to enlarge.

During the Southwest NEXTwork Launch a question about programming caught my eye. Specifically, what types of programs can we, as engagement professionals, create for young Jewish adults that are not only engaging, but also worth people’s time? I believe it means developing relevant and authentic events. Here’s how:

1. Consult with participants. Don’t hesitate to conduct an informal focus group of your participants to find out what they want.

2. Develop goals and objectives. Before developing the program out, go into it with clear ideas of what you want people to get out of the program.

3. Get buy-in from key participants. Have some of your participants been clamoring for a specific type of event? Is this program someone’s idea? Don’t do it all yourself — involve participants throughout the process.

4. Think outside the box. Get as creative as possible. Consider the content, venue, food, presenters, entertainment…etc.

5. Present meaningful content. Participants should walk away with a new nugget of knowledge.

6. Set the mood. The tone of the program is really important. Fostering a warm and welcoming environment is critical. Have greeters at the door, floaters to connect with new people and always do a short ice breaker (clearly dependent on number of people in attendance).

7. Create action. What is one thing people can do when they go home? Think about how this program can be relevant beyond the program itself.

8. Plan for follow-up. Before the program begins, know how you want to follow up with everyone in attendance, more than just a thank you. Provide participants with links to other programs of interest, educational resources or anything else that may have come out of your program.

 

Heather Wolfson is the Western Regional Director for NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.