Going for Broke in Vegas
by Adam Pollack
This fall, we hit the jackpot in Vegas!
After betting on the entrepreneurial spirit of Vegas-based Birthright Israel alumni, we cashed out with 100 ideas designed to impact the future of the Las Vegas Jewish community – all generated in only one hour by the Birthrighters themselves.
The best part? Putting young adults in the driver’s seat resulted in their commitment to bring their own ideas to life.
How did it happen?
Earlier this spring, Elliot Karp and Marni Unger of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas approached us at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation to help develop a follow-up strategy for the 164 local young adults who had recently returned from Birthright Israel trips. Elliot and Marni knew that the local potential for engagement was high. At the same time, they still had an important question to answer: What did young Jewish adults want?
Moreover, the federation recognized that as Las Vegas continues to reinvent and position itself as a new home for the start-up sector, more and more young Jewish adults will be moving there, further increasing the need for a welcoming and engaging Jewish community.
At NEXT, we know that a crucial step toward authentic engagement is through the creation of opportunities for Jews in their 20s and 30s to dream and envision what they want their Jewish community to be.
As we helped Elliot and Marni think about how this opportunity could manifest itself in Vegas, we developed the concept for an Idea Slam. Carried out in partnership with a local community or institution, the Idea Slam would be a space where young adults are empowered to not only generate ideas, but also to make them a reality.
Flash forward to October, when a devoted group of local Birthrighters attended our first-ever Idea Slam. Over the course of the evening, participants schmoozed, ate dinner, and brainstormed new ways to engage with their peers, Judaism, and the local Las Vegas Jewish community.
By evening’s end, they had generated over 100 ideas, voted on the top three that they wanted to see happen, and signed up to help actualize the ideas they liked best.
- Birthrighters can teach us new ways to engage them. More than 90 percent of the ideas generated at the Idea Slam were for programs not currently offered in the Las Vegas community. All of the ideas that the Birthrighters voted up and are now working to make happen will be new opportunities, creating a more diverse web of engagement. When we create an intentionally open, creative and collaborative space for young adults to share their ideas, they will be more likely to innovate and dream up something new.
- Their Birthright Israel experience inspired their ideas. Several of the ideas that surfaced at the Idea Slam evoked the activities Birthrighters experienced on their Israel trips. For example, several participants submitted an idea for a “reverse mifgash” program, through which Israelis who accompanied these Birthrighters on their buses during the mifgash portion of their Birthright Israel trips would come to visit the Las Vegas community.
- The Idea Slam model is easily adaptable to fit the needs of any community. Las Vegas is a unique community, and we built Idea Slam to fit their needs. But in doing so, we realized that this model could easily work elsewhere. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether a community is large, small, well-resourced, under-capitalized, has a multi-generational Jewish history or whose Jewish population is recently emerging. With more than 280,000 Birthrighters living in communities across this country (including more than 7,000 who have created their own Jewish experiences for their peers with NEXT’s help), we know that there is an eager group of young adults looking to engage and continue their journey.
We are already discussing the Idea Slam concept with other communities of different shapes and sizes, many of which have approached us to discuss partnerships built on this engagement model. We are eager to continue testing it and will share what we learn with all of those working hard to engage young adults.
In the end, everyone got a chance to “cash in.”
Birthrighters won because they received not only the opportunity to voice their ideas, but also the support to actualize the ones they loved most. They will ultimately shape a community that authentically represents them in partnership with an organization (the federation) that can make it happen.
Elliot and Marni – and indeed the entire federation – also won. They’ve got a new crop of young adults who are now invested in taking their Jewish community to the next level. These young adults can readily serve as ambassadors to their networks and friends, helping to explain what’s being built for young Jews in Las Vegas. By opening this line of communication and creating dialogue with these Birthrighters, the Las Vegas Jewish community has indeed invested in a strategy with highly favorable odds of success.
Adam Pollack is the western regional director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. He co-moderated the Idea Slam event with Danielle Rugoff, NEXT’s former Southern regional director as part of a partnership between NEXT and the Jewish Federation of Greater Las Vegas.