How We’re Building a Jewish Talent Pipeline

“Springboard has been, hands down, the best out-of-college job
I could have dreamed of.
This job has truly changed the entire trajectory of my life.”
Emma Kaplan, Springboard Fellow, Penn State Hillel

By Josh Feldman

Floor to ceiling windows are entirely covered with large post-it notes that are scrawled with ideas about programs and experiences for college students. Pairs of early-stage professionals are working together to approach a design challenge: How might we create Jewish experiences and programs that meet college students where they are?

The scene I describe took place one afternoon last July in Washington, D.C. during training for Hillel International’s Springboard Fellowship. This two-year fellowship engages emerging leaders who might not otherwise have chosen to work in the Jewish communal sector. The fellows, who are fewer than three years out of college, are being trained to work as innovators and changemakers at local Hillels across North America.

Populating the Jewish organizational talent pipeline has been identified as one of the most important priorities in Jewish life. As boomers retire and step back from leadership roles, Jewish nonprofits must intentionally invest in future leadership, which needs to be as diverse as the Jewish community itself. Recognizing Hillel’s potential to address this issue, Mimi Kravetz, Hillel International’s chief talent officer, articulated the vision for launching this new initiative.

The fellowship launched in 2016 with 20 fellows who were chosen from among 100 applicants through a highly competitive process. The pilot attracted outstanding young leaders who bring to this role creativity, digital and social media skills, and innovative approaches to program and experience design. Without this unique opportunity, more than 75% of the fellows report that they would not have otherwise have opted for positions at Hillel and more than 50% say they would not be working anywhere in the Jewish communal sector.

Momentum is growing: There were 135 applicants for 25 spots in Springboard’s second class, which starts this July. Now we plan to scale Hillel’s Springboard Fellowship. In the next two years, our goal is to support 100+ Fellows annually, and that goal is squarely within reach.

During the research phase of the fellowship, our team spoke with Hillel leaders and Jewish professionals across the country to identify their professional development needs, which included training in innovation, design thinking, digital strategy, social justice and social media. These skills are also of great interest to young leaders and will help them thrive in today’s professional marketplace. In response to this data, the first cohort launched with two tracks: social media and innovation. Leading experts are teaching our innovation fellows about human-centered design, an empathy-based approach to innovation, while the social media fellows are learning about what makes a video go viral.

Fellows are also engaged in deep Jewish learning with rabbis and Jewish educators. They are developing a community of practice to support each other’s ideas. During the second cohort, the two tracks will center on the shared interests of campuses and young adults, focusing on innovation or social justice.

One of Springboard’s top-line goals is that at least 60% of alumni will remain in professional or lay leadership positions long term. (Many, we hope, will continue their professional trajectories within Hillel). To reach this goal, we recognize that fellows must find experiences that enable them to envision themselves as Jewish leaders. Springboard will also offer access to an alumni community willing to coach and support fellows as they continue their professional journeys.

Another major goal is to effect positive changes on participating campuses. Nine months into the program, we’ve already seen evidence of that impact. With the help of sociologist Dr. Tobin Belzer, we are systematically evaluating the program, using an iterative model inspired by the continuous improvement approach. The initial findings have been very encouraging. More than 90% of supervisors report that the program is a good to great fit and more 90% of fellows report the same. Emma Kaplan, our fellow at Penn State Hillel, says: “Springboard has been, hands down, the best out-of-college job I could have dreamed of. This job has truly changed the entire trajectory of my life.”

The impact on students is also beginning to register. Fellows are community-building for a new generation of students: they have engaged more than 1500 students, and developed meaningful relationships with students one-on-one and in small groups. Fellows are practicing their newly acquired skills to actively listen to students, and to design spaces, experiences and programs based on what they’ve learned. Events and experiences have included interfaith contemplative workshops on the role of words in our lives, tee-shirt making inspired by Israeli designers and redesigning Shabbat experiences where college students are empowered to build their own Jewish programming. The fellows are succeeding at engagement both in person and digitally: The video content they’ve created has amassed more than 50,000 views.

A year from now our first class of Springboard Fellows will graduate from this robust training program prepared to make incredible contributions to Jewish life. Keep your eye on these leaders: They will be key contributors to the new Jewish communal landscape forming in our midst.

Josh Feldman is the Springboard Fellowship Director at Hillel International.