Catalyzing Jewish Networks: How Can Jewish Schools and Camps Join In?

by Leah Meir

“Jewish geography” is a favorite game among Jews who meet up anywhere – conferences, social gatherings, work meetings, street corners. You know the game questions: “So where are you from?” “No kidding, New Jersey! Do you know my brother (son, daughter, sister), who went to school (camp, college) there?” “Sure, I know your brother (son, daughter etc.) – We were really friendly at school (camp, college etc.)! I actually just connected with him (her) again through Facebook (Twitter, LinkedIn).”

Jews have been master networkers since the Babylonian exile 3,000 years ago – our survival as a people has depended on the ability to stay connected with fellow Jews wherever they were scattered across the globe. Our networking helped us hold fast to our shared values, texts, behaviors and religious traditions.

Jewish geography was just the jumping-off point at the recent “NetWORKS” conference in Boulder: “Exploring the Power and Possibilities of Networks in the Jewish Community.” The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation hosted 36 hours of discussion of “the power and possibilities of networks as a tool for strengthening both the Jewish community and the broader world.” In other words: let’s appreciate the power of the networking that the Jewish people has been doing for millennia and harness all those multiple relationships toward common goals and values.

The power of these webs of relationships to lead to common goals and actions is termed “social capital.” Social capital has to be based on trust and reciprocity, give and take. Personal relationships and networks are the heart of social capital, with technology and social media amplifying and expanding the networks in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

It’s not only the younger innovators and the “start-up” folks who are recognizing the power of these relationships in building a 21st century paradigm of Jewish community. Prominent foundations in the Jewish community such as the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The AVI CHAI Foundation, are moving toward what Adene Sacks of the Jim Joseph Foundation, calls “a network mindset” in a recent post in eJewishPhilanthropy.

We at AVI CHAI have begun by helping Jewish day schools and summer camps to think and function in a more networked way. They each have potentially powerful networks of alumni linked by relationships built during their years of positive Jewish experiences together. Last spring and summer, we sponsored a “Social Media Academy” for eight New York-area day schools led by Darim Online, in which they learned how a “Networked Nonprofit” thinks and behaves; they each established ongoing conversations with their alumni and parents using social media. We’re now sponsoring a “Jewish Day School Video Academy” for day schools throughout North America in which they are learning how to make and distribute online videos about their schools. It will culminate in the “Jewish Day School Video Academy Awards”, a contest in which two schools will each win first prizes of $10,000 for a five-minute video created as a result of participating in the Academy training; one of the prizes will be awarded by a panel of judges and the other by public voting. There will be second and third prizes in each of the two categories as well. The academy was developed and is being run by See3 Communications.

These are examples of first attempt to enable Jewish schools and camps to harness the power of their networks. We’re interested in your suggestions for ways to transform Jewish day schools and camps into “networked nonprofits” with the power to energize their networks to act in support of intensive and immersive Jewish education. Send us your comments, ideas and suggestions. We believe that there’s power in our network too!

Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation.

Cross-posted from blog.