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
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.