Helping 'engagers' build strong Jewish communities

morlie levin
Morlie Levin

Thousands of young Jewish adults had the summer of their lives in 2013. Travelling with peers on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, they built deep and personal connections to one another, Israelis and Israel, and stood face-to-face (perhaps for the first time) with their heritage.

As these participants returned home—we call them Birthrighters—they settled back in to their routine. But at the same time, their often newfound connection to the Jewish people and Israel can create a desire to explore their identity, tap into their community, and see what Jewish life is all about.

What can we do to help Birthrighters explore deeper Jewish living and learning? How can we help communities best engage and offer opportunities for these newly inspired and curious young adults?

Working on the individual level by connecting them to programs, events, and conversations is an important aspect of this work. So, too, is offering opportunities for young Jewish adults to create their own meaningful Jewish experiences. But in order to maximize this engagement opportunity, we must work systematically, by empowering and resourcing “engagers”—the professionals and volunteers who are in position to connect with these young Jewish adults.

Engagers are at the nexus of young adult communities, with a rare ability to keep a pulse on their interests and potential. They spend their days planning events, their evenings and weekends building communities, and their in-between time connecting one-on-one via social media and coffee dates.  

Tens of thousands young adults from this year’s Birthright Israel trips now join the already 280,000 U.S-based alums. Engagers will serve as an essential “entry point” through which Birthrighters build on their Israel experience. They are a key to our immense opportunity to help turn a ten day trip into a lifelong Jewish journey, and it is critical that they are given the resources, networks and support to help them realize success.

At the end of the summer in Chicago, 40 engagers from the Midwest convened as part of a partnership between NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation and the ROI Community of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network. The engagers learned how to further develop networks, effectively reach new members of their community, and bring change and innovation to their workplace. Through master classes and workshops with experts in these areas, engagers acquired tangible new tools for engagement.

Bringing together ROI’s community of innovators and NEXT’s NEXTwork—our network of engagement professionals—offered unique advantages. Already, seven NEXTwork regional convenings from Los Angeles to Cincinnati to Atlanta have brought together more than 175 individuals across the country. But the Chicago convening created and strengthened resources, creativity and knowledge sharing amongst a wider array of professionals from across different (and non-traditional) networks – with different experiences and backgrounds. It helped create a new, combined network of engagers who can learn and grow in their professions together.

Inevitably, while these professionals may come from different communities and contexts, they see similar engagement opportunities and experience similar challenges.  Which engagement strategies for young adults work best? How can we create the capacity within organizations to be successful? A strong and diversified network will help each engager answer these questions and develop their skill set.

Of course, the success of these professional networks is premised upon the broader network we build among our organizations, and we are committed to working closely with partners on the ground in local communities to make this a reality. In the Midwest, organizations like JUF, Mishkan Chicago, and JCC Chicago’s Sydney M. Shure Kehilla, as well as J-Burgh (Pittsburgh) and Next Dor STL (St. Louis) have made this crucial work of supporting engagers possible.

Building strong networks of successful engagers will help Jewish communities become more accessible to hundreds of thousands of Birthrighters. This strategy acknowledges both the importance of one-on-one engagement and the massive scale of the job.

There is no doubt that the Birthright Israel experience is a remarkable Jewish opportunity for its participants. But we must make sure to capitalize on the remarkable opportunity it presents for our community—to be newly energized and enriched by legions of young adults. Let’s make sure that when these participants return home, our engagers are ready, resourced, and empowered to make it happen.

Morlie Levin is CEO of NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.

Posted: 12/17/2013 3:39:06 PM
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