Engaging Alumni With Multiple Jewish Identities

There is a tendency in the Jewish communal space to see individual projects as siloed, without realizing that often we are all intimately woven into the same web.

by Martin Storrow

Last month, I had the privilege of taking part in the final #NetTalks Alumni Engagement Webinar, which featured No’a Gorlin, Associate Executive Director of ROI Community, and Or Mars, Director of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program. #NetTalks is an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation.

Both Gorlin and Mars shared the various ways they engage their communities, including their strategies for providing value to participants once they have become alumni. Mars explained that at Wexner, they see the process as fluid, and operate under the belief that their alumni community is born in the selection process and formed in the active stages of the program. Similarly, Gorlin emphasized ROI’s philosophy of focusing on people vs. projects, and the importance of training and investing in individuals, including their deliberate and continuous investment in ROI’s growing alumni network.

For me, one of the main takeaways from the webinar is the idea that no one is only “your’” alum; people carry multiple identities, and often associate their Jewish experience with multiple programs, organizations, and communities. This particularly resonated with me, as both a professional and a participant. I consider myself fortunate to be involved with multiple Jewish communities – not only am I a Moishe House alumnus, having helped start a Moishe House in Los Angeles, but I am also heavily involved with JDC Entwine, I am a Birthright Israel alum, a former Jewish summer camp song leader, and more. And all of these experiences have contributed to my sense of Jewish identity and belonging.

There is a tendency in the Jewish communal space to see individual projects as siloed, without realizing that often we are all intimately woven into the same web. The Moishe House experience, for example, can be an intense and impactful one – especially for our residents, who are living and planning multiple programs together every month. But it is also a relatively short experience (residents typically live in a Moishe House for 1-3 years). In terms of identity and experience, people are coming to Moishe House from somewhere; and when they move out of a Moishe House, they’re going somewhere as well – some may be starting families or moving on to new phases of their lives; others may simply be moving to a new city, starting a new job, or looking to make a change. Sometimes a resident will even move out of one Moishe House and move into another one, in a different community, a few months later. Often these paths are not linear, but multifaceted and complex like the individuals who are embarking on them.

At Moishe House, we offer a number of resources for our alumni that take into account their “multiple” identities and associations. This includes professional development and Jewish education scholarships, access to our immersive Learning and Leadership Retreats, and the use of Moishe House Without Walls (MHWOW), an initiative that provides programmatic and financial support to Moishe House alumni who wish to continue their leadership by hosting their own programs outside of the Moishe House environment. MHWOW was originally supported by the Leichtag Foundation, which recognized that we could fill a growing need for engagement outside of the Moishe Houses themselves, and over the last year, MHWOW programs have reached an estimated 4400 participants around the world.

We do not expect to be the only Jewish presence in the lives of our former residents, and we do not expect to remain the number one priority for them Jewishly when they leave as well. There are many great organizations and communities positioned to play a part in their journeys, and the challenge for all of us is to learn to see the process holistically. We must consider what we can provide that will support our alumni as leaders, creators, and community builders, while recognizing that ultimately they will evolve and grow in their personal, spiritual, and cultural identities.

Our alumni network at Moishe House recently became 500 strong, and we are fortunate to be in a place where we can look at each individual and maintain our personal relationships with him or her. We will always seek to provide meaningful opportunities to our alumni, while trusting in the experience we have offered them as residents, and having faith that we will become part of their story and they will remain part of ours.

Martin Storrow is director of leadership development at Moishe House.