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.