How an “Ah-ha” Moment Changed My Spiritual Community

Here’s a problem that many Jewish organizations or synagogues face: maintaining ongoing young adult engagement.

During the High Holidays and Passover, Ohel Ayalah, which I founded in 2004 and serve as rabbi, reaches out to young Jews who are actively looking for community and Jewish experiences. To meet their needs, we run free, walk-in High Holiday services in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and a low-cost Passover Seder just for 20s and 30s. Hundreds of young Jews attend these events. A new challenge is how to engage this audience on a more frequent basis. So I went in search of a solution.

_MG_0286 (3)Along with other spiritual community rabbis and professionals, I recently attended NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation’s NEXTwork Convening in New York City. It was an inspiring event that brought together the NEXTwork—NEXT’s network of professionals and volunteers engaging young Jewish adults. There, at a breakout session, I had my “ah-ha” moment: To ease the burden of planning and running these events, I need to develop a cadre of volunteers prepared and eager to reach young adults.

During the breakout session, my professional peers pointed out that I was not spending my time wisely.  They were right. I was performing tasks that volunteers could easily tackle, such as setting up and registering people for High Holiday services and Passover Seders.  Until now, I resisted looking for volunteers because I thought that giving instructions and following up with newcomers would take more time than executing these tasks myself.

But the truth is that working with volunteers would decrease the amount of time I spend on certain tasks, while empowering volunteers to bring their own unique energy and skills to executing and enhancing the Ohel Ayalah experience.  If volunteers understood what needed to be done and how to do it, I could have more time to prepare for services and Seders.

When I returned home after the NEXTwork convening, I decided to “test” my theory. I sent out an e-blast to Ohel Ayalah’s network, asking for volunteers to help with data collection surveys, increasing our social media presence, event planning, and fundraising for Ohel Ayalah.

Right away, I received a number of responses.  One volunteer, a retired sociologist, offered to write a survey for people to fill out at the Ohel Ayalah Hannukah party (a new event for us!), so we could learn more about the young Jewish adults we’re serving.

Another person volunteered to collect and input new email addresses into our online email software, and to prepare a spreadsheet with the survey data so that the sociologist could write a short analysis of the survey responses. A third individual volunteered to promote Ohel Ayalah events on social media; she had done so in the past, but my call for volunteers gave her new motivation to lend her skills and help.

The lesson for me is two-fold:

1) Engaging volunteers should be a priority for me. This became obvious once my “test” succeeded.

2) Coming together with others in my field pushes me to excel at my outreach to young Jews. I felt an excitement at the convening, surrounded by other professionals who “spoke my language” and were dedicated to engaging young Jewish adults. I loved the convening’s interactive panel because the speakers—all communal professionals or volunteer leaders—offered real suggestions about how to work with volunteers. And any time I interacted with convening participants, I could be honest about my challenges as we worked to find effective solutions.

Over the years, plenty of people out there have offered professional advice on one thing or another. But to truly be pushed into recruiting and engaging volunteers, I needed to hear directly from my professional peers. Undoubtedly, this will not be the first or last challenge I will face in my work. Having access to my professional peers through the NEXTwork provides the right environment to think creatively and to learn the best new ways to engage young Jewish adults.

Rabbi Judith Hauptman leads the Ohel Ayalah spiritual community in New York and is the E. Billi Ivry Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture at The Jewish Theological Seminary.

Shared from the Schusterman Foundation blog

Where are your community’s young adults?

As my colleagues and I have been criss-crossing the country, visiting with Jewish communities of all sizes, we hear a common refrain: Where are the young adults?

Whether the communities we speak to have an active young adult engagement strategy or not, there is always a sense there are a large number of young adults who are totally unknown to the Jewish community. When pressed, community professionals have a pretty good sense of how young adults are finding their way to the city, but it is the rare community that has created a strategy to leverage these avenues for connection. Below are a few examples and how best to identify and access the pipelines bringing young adults to your community.

Major Companies Located in Your City

The top five major employers in your city are also likely the top five locations of young adults, including Jewish young adults.  It is also highly likely that there are synagogue members or federation donors in higher-level positions in these companies. These people can help you make the inroads into the company’s HR and employee attachment/engagement infrastructure. A good HR professional understands the importance of employee engagement on reducing turnover.

Have a conversation with someone in HR about how the Jewish community can serve those employees who identify as Jewish, and in doing so, help the company’s talent management process. Ideally, it becomes part of the on-boarding process to inform employees of opportunities to connect to community beyond work, and suddenly you have a new pipeline of recently arrived young adults.

Graduate Programs and Residencies

We’re a people who place a high value on education, and you’ll still find a sizable number of Jewish young adults in graduate programs and medical residencies. In fact, 25% of American Jews hold a graduate degree, compared with 6% the general American population. Try reaching out to the dean of graduate students or community engagement to start the conversation about connecting with their Jewish students. Again, your main selling point is that you can provide the type of community that can prevent burnout and potentially help root a person locally.

Teach for America, and Similar Programs

There are now a number of programs like AmeriCorps, Teach for America, and Venture for America that are bringing college graduates into cities across the country. It is always worth connecting with these groups, particularly with their local chapters, as they tend to attract Jewish young adults (at least 10% of TFA corps members self-identify as Jewish). The burnout rate can be quite high in these programs, so make sure to stress that the sense of community you can offer can help provide the support network to keep people focused, positive, and productive. For more on how to engage local, Jewish Teach for America corp members, check out Rabbi Adam Grossman’s post here.

Now What?

Now that you know where to find young Jewish adults, what should you do next? Here are some tips that will help make your initial outreach a success, a crucial step for building a strong relationship down the line. Don’t forget, you have something to offer people, and to your city;  Citizens’ sense of community attachment is  linked with a city’s GDP growth. For more suggestions, program ideas, or feedback, you can always connect to us, @BI_NEXT or to me, @yonisarason.

 

Have You Reached Out to Jewish Teach for America Fellows?

This past year over 5,900 of Teach for America (TFA) fellows were placed in 48 regions across 35 states and the District of Columbia to begin a two-year commitment to provide low-income students an excellent education. While there is both praise and criticism surrounding this program, the accepted fellows, mostly recent college graduates, are truly stellar individuals. Fellows come from top-notch academic institutions, are leaders in their respective communities, and seek to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

Rabbiadamgrossman

However, being a fellow is not easy. Fellows move to new cities away from the comforts of home and college life. They are quickly immersed into the work force with limited classroom experience. And the intensity of the workload can be demoralizing.

Various sources indicate that about 10% of TFA fellows self-identify as “Jewish.” This means that a significant number of Jews in their early twenties enter Jewish communities across the country every year. In Memphis alone, over 200 individuals begin their TFA experience every year, and typically between 15 and 20 of them are Jewish.

When these fellows are confronted with professional hardship, connection to and support from a Jewish community could provide the sense of home and familiarity needed for

a Jewish TFA fellow’s success and a local community’s growth. Yet, more often than not, Jewish fellows do not reach out to local Jewish institutions or synagogues for reassurance, aid or community. In parallel, these local synagogues and Jewish institutions fail to realize the exceptional talent entering their community yearly.

In order to address this situation, Temple Israel in Memphis, in partnership with Teach for America in Memphis, created a Jewish interest group open to any fellow. Mostly attended by Jews, we developed a three-prong approach to support TFA fellows in their service, connect them to the Jewish community, and engage them with the synagogue.

Professional Support

While TFA does a significant amount of training and professional development, many fellows struggle to adapt to their new position. Classroom management, balancing time, and creating lesson plans can be overwhelming. At Temple Israel, we identified a well-respected school administrator in our congregation to be a liaison for the fellows. After introducing the fellows to the educator at a sponsored wel

come dinner, she became a much needed personal resource for them to ask teacher-specific questions, to link them with more experienced teachers in the city, and to help their overall development.

Additionally, since a percentage of the fellows will move away from teaching following their TFA commitment, we network them with congregants currently working in their specific field of interest. The goal is to encourage the fellows to consider Memphis as a permanent home well beyond their TFA contract.

Community Networks

Being in an unfamiliar location, working long hours, and not knowing many individuals in the city can make finding a doctor, an auto mechanic, or a quality salon indeed daunting. So, Temple Israel created a team of individuals that fellows could call to immediately find answers to these kinds of questions. In one instance, a fellow coming down with an infection was reluctant to take the time off to see a doctor, so he called his designated community support person, who arranged for the fellow to see the doctor in the doctor’s home that evening.

Realizing the importance of this network, we set out to do more. Prior to the start of the school year, the Jewish interest group was invited to a welcome dinner at a local restaurant with a community member and me to make introductions and to offer the fellows our help. In order for fellows continue to build connections with the community, share our “Southern hospitality,” and give the fellows time to unwind away from the office, we set up monthly Shabbat dinners rotating between homes of temple congregants and the clergy. The community members have become valuable resources for the fellows as they navigate the city and go through employment struggles. Additionally, the congregants can be instrumental in helping the fellows find long-term employment opportunities in Memphis post-fellowship.

Social Needs

When moving to a new city, it’s hard to imagine that the place can ever become a “home.” It’s not until one feels secures navigating the city and confident with friendship networks that the new locale feels comfortable. Typically, transplants are left on their own to reach out to communities and to individuals. While Temple Israel cannot guarantee friendships, it is crucial to provide space where friendships can take shape.

Upon arrival to Memphis, Jewish TFA fellows are given a complimentary Temple Israel and JCC membership for the duration of their two-year fellowship. During the summer, we arranged with local Jewish 20s and 30s two events complete with free food and drink – a VIP area at an outdoor concert and a suite for a Memphis baseball game – to acclimate the fellows with Memphis residents and encourage friendships outside of the TFA bubble.

Furthermore, I contacted each of the fellows and offered to meet them for coffee or lunch. Learning more about them and their hopes beyond the classroom, I sought to help them better network in the community whether through sports leagues, social action projects, or teaching religious school. Finally, I selected a group of TFA fellows and local “twenty-somethings” to create unique Jewish experiences for their age group. Providing micro grants between $50-$250, ideas such as Friday night Shabbat dinners, Bible and Bike Rides, and social action projects came to fruition.

Beyond the classroom, TFA Fellows can make an extraordinary impact on any community. Their determination, eagerness, and sacrifice to make a difference are valuable assets to any city. When synagogues and local Jewish organizations recognize this and subsequently offer them the professional, communal and social support needed to thrive, the fellows can become more inspired and connected with Jewish life.

As Pirkei Avot 5:23 challenges, “According to the effort is the reward” – both for the fellow and our community.

Since becoming a rabbi at Temple Israel in Memphis in 2008, Rabbi Adam Grossman has constantly sought to break old paradigms with cutting-edge ways to engage Jews of all ages with Judaism. He has co-founded the nationally recognized TI Fellowship, designed the URJ Belin Award winner, “Community Six Pack,” developed an HGTV-esque “How-to” Jewish video series,  and been selected to the 2013 Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders cohort.

How Improv Helped Me Manage My Jewish Anxiety

We Jews have been thought of as an anxious people, by ourselves and by others. In my case, baseline Jewish anxiety is compounded by the fact that I work at a brand-new start-up, compounded once again by the fact that it’s a Jewish start-up. Building something from the ground up requires experimentation, iteration, and failure. As a Type A Millenial, failure isn’t something I relish, or something I’m very good at processing. My deepest fears all center around public failure—this characteristic, when combined with an inherently risky endeavor like starting a new organization, was a recipe for white-knuckling it through my organization’s first (and pretty successful!) year of existence. As my colleagues can tell you, for much of our first year I was wound tighter than than a two dollar watch.

Rachel at iO

Enter the 5 day Improv Intensive at Chicago’s famous Improv Olympic (iO), where comedy legends like Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert and   (it seems) everyone important in comedy honed their long-form improv skills.   After reading about the benefits of improv in the workplace, a colleague and I were interested in dipping our toes into the improv world. Our executive director gamely gave us the go-ahead to enroll in the intensive, which met for six hours a day for five days straight. And because I’m a Type A, overachieving Millenial, I also bought and read the Improv Bible “Truth in Comedy,” written by iO’s founder, Charna Halpern.

It turns out that improv isn’t about being funny. Laughs happen, but they’re really a byproduct of “terrific connections made intellectually, or terrific revelations made emotionally,” as Halpern writes. The skills of improvisation are actually about listening and communication, building on the ideas of others and creating a group mind, being adaptive and flexible, and most importantly, GETTING OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD.

I know of no better definition for my particular brand of anxiety than being trapped in your own head, held hostage by a devious brain unspooling all sorts of worst-case scenarios. Improvisation demands that you stay anchored in the present and in what’s going on around you, rather than re-living the past or agonizing over the future. As Halpern explains, “An actor following each moment through to the next is constantly making discoveries…if he is planning ahead and thinking about the direction he wants the action to go, then he isn’t paying attention to what is going on in the moment.”

So, I failed plenty during improv. Plenty! Just ask my classmates At the start, I was so busy desperately searching for a clever line that I felt paralyzed on stage. It was terrifying, and a little embarrassing, and I’m sure it was hard to watch. But as the week went on, I learned to shrug off my failures, to dust myself off and get back on stage. To my surprise, the first time I got a laugh wasn’t when I was trying to be funny, but when I was responding authentically to what somebody else was doing on the stage. I learned that I could succeed just by being myself and making observations, because, as Halpern writes,  “The truth is funny.” Relaxing my control freak tendencies, getting out of my own head, and responding authentically without searching for the “perfect” answer allowed me to be successful in the context of improv.

Improv Class at iO

I have every reason to believe that cultivating these skills will also help me in my work; I’ll be a more collaborative colleague, a more creative and innovative thinker, and a more resilient person. What’s more, I have come to believe that the skills of improv are exactly the kinds of generative skills that Jewish communities can use to maintain the dynamism of our inherently creative tradition. Improvising doesn’t mean messily making things up, willy-nilly. One of the major principles of improv is “finding the game”—i.e., figuring out the pattern or “rule” of the game your scene partners are playing, and then using those constraints to create something new. Rules help us to focus our creative process and actually free us up to improvise. As you may know, there are no shortage of “rules” or patterns of behavior in Jewish tradition, which to my mind makes Jewish life ripe for a good dose of improvisation.

Most people would say that neurosis is the hallmark of Jewish comedy. As I’ve since learned since taking my class at the iO, several of the most important figures in improv’s development—Halpern, Ed Asner, Bernie Sahlins—were Jewish, which leads me to wonder if improv emerged, in part, as a response to dealing with Jewish anxiety, and whether it is improv and not neurosis that is the real Jewish art form. Perhaps that’s a topic for another time.

I’m considering signing up for more classes in the fall. After all, it’s cheaper than getting an analyst.

The author of this piece, Rachel Cort is the Director of Community Building Programs at jU Chicago, a project of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future. Her piece was originally posted here. Rachel recently participated in the NEXTwork convening in Chicago.

 

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, chicagomag.com

Photograph: Steven A. Reynolds Photography, chicagomag.com

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’. 

brandharmony

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.