Professionals from across the Northeast gathered this week at the first-ever Northeast Regional Convening of the NEXTwork – the only national network of engagement professionals and leaders who interact directly with Birthright Israel alumni and young Jewish adults across the country. The two-day conference, hosted by NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel, brings together professionals from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Stamford, New Jersey, and Boston to learn new engagement strategies, share best practices, and grow into a strong regional “learning network,” shaping the Jewish journeys of thousands of young Jewish adults.
“Engagers are on the ground welcoming home and interacting directly with Birthright Israel alumni,” says Morlie Levin, CEO of NEXT. “If we truly want a vibrant ecosystem of Jewish opportunities, we need to resource engagers and empower them to create dynamic Jewish experiences. Over the past two years, we have developed the infrastructure needed to support an ever-growing network of engagers who work or volunteer with hundreds of different organizations. This first Northeast convening focuses on the immense opportunities for enhancing skills, programs and support for engaging Birthrighters and their friends in the region.”
Throughout the year, the NEXTwork brings together engagers from different organizations to further advance the skills, strategies, tools and careers of the people who actually make Jewish journeys happen. This convening was designed to help engagers understand what young adults’ Jewish journeys look like, and how they can better foster them in their communities. Rabbi Daniel Smokler, Director of Education and Engagement at NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, provided the keynote address on the diversity and characteristics of the Birthright Israel demographic. Engagers also practiced new tools for storytelling, facilitation, marketing, and relationship building; and learned directly from fellow professionals about engagement tools that have proven both successful and challenging.
“In our jobs as engagers, we experience failures and successes every day, often without rhyme or reason,” Says Emma Goldman, Outreach Coordinator at Innovation: Africa, who presented a case study on her work at the Convening. “At the Convening, I’m looking forward to sharing the different ways I’ve developed and empowered our volunteers to make positive change in our community and organization. I think there’s much to be learned from my situation, and much for me to learn from others.”
NEXT has held more than 100 individual meetings with Northeast engagers over the last year alone to learn about their needs and how NEXT most can add value to their work. Among other key findings, NEXT learned that some engagers are unaware of professional opportunities and communal resources, and have few opportunities to connect with their peers.