More Than a Weekend: Advancing Leadership Through Retreats

Welcoming Shabbat at Retreatology
Welcoming Shabbat at Retreatology

by David Rittberg and David Cygielman

The Jewish community needs more stories like Ofir Barashy’s. At 22, Ofir felt disconnected from organized Jewish life until a close childhood friend introduced him to Moishe House, an organization that empowers Jews in their 20s to create vibrant home-based communities for themselves and their peers.

It was then that Ofir learned about the Moishe House Ignite Arts and Leadership retreat in Marin, CA, and decided to give it a try. Two months later, Ofir is working to establish a Moishe House in his home community of Las Vegas.

Ofir’s story was set in motion two years ago when Moishe House approached the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation – which focuses on engaging, training and supporting rising leaders to take an active role in shaping a strong Jewish future – about the results of a 2011 study.

According to the report, 25 percent of Moishe House residents said they played a leadership role in their communities before interacting with the organization. After their Moishe House experience, 79 percent described themselves as leaders.

Eager to capitalize on these findings, Moishe House and Schusterman worked together to develop the concept for Moishe House Ignite, a series of weekend-long leadership retreats that provide young Jews with training, coaching and relationship-building to nurture their desire to build a better world.

To date there have been three leadership retreats, in Warsaw, Marin and San Diego, reaching more than 130 participants. There are seven more planned through 2015, which we anticipate will directly engage more than 230 emerging leaders.

The calling card of these leadership retreats lies in Moishe House’s ability to achieve dual arcs of progression in just one weekend. Participants are guided through a multi-step process that encourages personal growth while also learning how to build community. Importantly, participants leave the retreat with a network they can call upon for support and with which they have shared a powerful and intimate experience.

Moishe House Ignite is young, but we are already seeing clear demand, impact and potential.

First and foremost, young Jews are hungry for the leadership experiences these retreats have to offer. For the latest retreat in Marin, demand exceeded capacity by 30 percent and we expect to see more waitlists as the program grows.

Second, post-event surveys confirm retreats are having their intended impact. Across the board, participants report a significant increase in their confidence in their ability to lead, form working relationships with like-minded professionals and link their interests to an active Jewish life.

Moreover, the impact lasts beyond the close of the weekend. Through Moishe House’s ongoing opportunities, participants have an immediate outlet for exercising their skills in their home communities. Since January, retreat participants have hosted over 40 Moishe House events.

Participants also have the chance to continue their personal development. Moishe House is currently working with executive coach Jeff Riddle to expand upon the powerful – and popular – coaching sessions he led during the U.S. retreats.

Lastly, these retreats also have the potential to “multiply the multiplier” by empowering participants to create and lead similar experiences for their peers. Case in point, Moishe House hosted “Retreatology  – The Art of Jewish Retreat-Making” as part of the Schusterman Connection Points program, a series of 11 global peer-led gatherings.

Retreatology participants worked on all aspects of creating meaningful Jewish gatherings, from designing the intended arc of the experience to practicing inclusive facilitation methods. Now, with the support of the Maimonides Fund, eight Retreatology participants will be chosen to design their own trainings for their peers.

Experiences like these leadership retreats are helping participants develop the motivation and capacity they need to lead, and they are creating a powerful ripple effect.

We need to turn these ripples into waves. We have the opportunity to deepen our investment in the leadership potential of young Jews by helping to scale the model forged by Moishe House, Connection Points and others, and offer more young Jews opportunities to connect and learn from one another.

This year, we anticipate that some 75,000 young Jewish adults will participate in Moishe House programs across the 64 houses in 14 countries, from China to Ukraine. Many of those who come to the doors of Moishe House will be young adults just like Ofir, whose desire to be involved in the Jewish community has gone from dormant to reignited and who is eager to step up as a leader.

“I really felt empowered after that weekend,” Ofir said. “Everyone had such a great support system that it made me want to take it back to Vegas and start something with my friends. I really want to help build a community.”

David Rittberg is a Senior Program Officer at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. David Cygielman is the Founder and CEO of Moishe House.