Can Innovation and Sustainability Go Hand in Hand?

by Smadar Bar-Akiva

Aimed at revitalizing the established Jewish community, the wide array of innovative projects initiated by young Jews has recently gone center stage. Yet, very often the question is asked how many new initiatives can the Jewish community sustain over time? One cannot but admire start-up projects that range from tours for individuals with special needs to educational computer games, from educating for peace to Jewish animation. Organizations such as PresenTense, ROI Community, JHub in London, to name but a few, find a way to attract the best and brightest and provide cutting edge tools and a supportive network. As an organization representing the established Jewish community, we, at the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers (WCJCC), were intrigued by this phenomenon. So when Nancy Amiel, former chair of the Global Jewish Connections Initiative of the Commission on the Jewish People at UJA Federation of New York suggested that we find a way to collaborate with PresenTense, we thought this could be a great experiment.

Hence, the ‘Global Jewish Connections Fellows’ was developed. PresenTense contributed the enthusiasm and energy of young Jews who want to change the world, a set of tools to make an idea happen and a fresh approach to social connections. WCJCC provided the Jews themselves who belong to JCCs and to a network of more than 1,100 JCCs worldwide, many years of trial and error in community building, a developed infrastructure and also young individuals who want to make an impact.

We recruited 13 young lay leaders with a spark in their eyes from 11 JCCs in seven countries – Argentina, Bulgaria, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine and New York, USA – with the understanding that the projects that they will develop – all focusing on Jewish Peoplehood – will then be nurtured and implemented by the local JCC. Tweaking our leadership models was a daily challenge. Working within the setting of a JCC often meant adjusting the original plan, leaders who were used to the JCC world had to learn the new “language” of social media and we, the organizers, had to balance the two systems. No doubt; launching the projects in Jerusalem last month was a moment of great satisfaction. WCJCC is now committed to provide supervision for an entire year so that by next summer the projects will already be implemented.

PresenTense believes that it takes a community to raise an innovator, and to generate new ideas for the future. We agree. JCCs are community based institutions constantly assessing the pulse of the community and can become a great platform for social entrepreneurship to flourish.

Smadar Bar-Akiva is the Executive Director of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers, an umbrella organization of more than 1,100 JCCs. The program is in partnership with WCJCC affiliate organizations and supported by the UJA Federation of New York, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israel New York Connections office. It is implemented in partnership with PresenTense.

A New York launch event will take place on September 10th. For more information please contact: Smadar@wcjcc.org