Our Vision for PresenTense

by Naomi Korb Weiss and Shelby Zitelman

As newly appointed co-Directors, we have been asked this question many times over the past month. And when discussing the opportunity to publish with Dan Brown, he suggested that we share our vision as the basis of this article.

But when we sat down to write, we realized that we wouldn’t be sharing any break-through concepts that Ariel Beery and Aharon Horwitz have not already articulated. We subscribe to Ariel and Aharon’s vision for PresenTense, and our organization’s impact in the community.

So instead of focusing on our vision for PresenTense and how the values of entrepreneurship and innovation and investing in inspired, passionate creators can transform Jewish communal engagement, we would like to provide some transparency regarding our organizational strategy for leading PresenTense into the future, along with our Israeli counterparts.

We enter our roles at a time often referred to in organizational life as “second-stage”, as PresenTense progresses from its startup phase. Fortunately, leadership transition and second-stage organizational growth are not unique to us. And as innovative thinkers recognize, a good solution often already exists in a different market context. Thus we look to the recent Bikkurim study and apply their framework to outline our goals.

Moving forward we will maintain:

Strong leadership: As Ariel and Aharon phase out as co-Directors, they join our Board of Directors together with other highly respected leaders in the Jewish community and various industries. Our U.S. staff leadership works closely with our Israel staff leadership – Brachie Sprung, Associate Director and the incoming CEO (to be determined soon) – and together we are committed to a common vision and set of values.

Staff growth and differentiation of roles: We have recently hired new staff members who bring many areas of expertise as well as deep passions for innovation and the Jewish community. In New York we hired Justin Rosen Smolen as Program Director and Sara Weinreb as Associate Program Director. In Israel we welcome Daniel Friedlin, Gili Finkelstein and Alina Shkolnikov who will be assuming responsibilities for the Jerusalem Hub and Fellowship, PR and Communications, and Russia programs, respectively.

As leadership we are focusing our efforts on building cross-functional teams between our U.S. and Israel offices. Our board continues to provide oversight on global integration and sustainability.

Demand for service, program expansion and strategic partnerships: As PresenTense has completed 24 cycles of our Community Entrepreneur Partnership (CEP) and countless PTSchool engagements [seminars and training programs], we receive frequent requests for new programs and partnerships. PresenTense is in conversations with many organizations about teaching our “Activist’s Toolkit” [entrepreneurial skills and tools for the individual], facilitating “IdeaSlams” [communal brainstorms] or launching CEPs in new cities.

Visibility: PresenTense and our partners, fellows and volunteers are regularly in the news, making the rounds at the community conferences, receiving awards and participating in major network events. Our social media presence too is alive and growing, and we are exploring how to better engage the broader community in our programs and educational platforms.

Just as importantly, the Bikkurim study notes that there are many challenges commonly faced by second-stage organizations. We are committed to pay special attention to:

Executive Director Transition: We recognize that we are not Ariel and Aharon and that we must differentiate our approaches and ourselves accordingly. We bring diverse backgrounds, personal passions and unique perspectives that inspire our work. While the founders started the program from scratch, we understand the power of PresenTense first-hand as participants – a former coach and fellow, respectively – and are committed to scaling our communal impact.

Infrastructure: We have built a solid foundation for internal administration and operations, but we have much room for improvement. PresenTense appreciates the support from the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation and their WOW training in HR and hiring processes, the accounting support from Your Part Time Controller and the performance review process adopted by Ariel and Aharon.

Funding: PresenTense has never been supported only by one major donor. We have benefitted from the generous support of the Schusterman Foundation, AVI CHAI Founderation, Natan, Morningstar Foundation, Diane and Howard Wohl and Virginia Bayer and Rabbi Robert Hirt, among other independent donors and family foundations. In order to diversify revenue streams and increase sustainability PresenTense has successfully implemented a fee-for-service model, generating earned revenue that accounts for over 50% of our income. We also look forward to broadening and deepening our support base and client list as we continue to grow – while also recognizing the challenges.

We will continue to serve with the passion with which our movement was established and pay close attention to the anticipated obstacles to minimize the growing pains. We are focused on building our infrastructure, investing in our staff and developing a more strategic development effort so our community can continue to inspire and be inspired.

We thank you for the continued dedication, interest and support for PresenTense and want to hear from our supporters and skeptics alike. Please email us – naomikweiss@presentense.org and shelbyzitelman@presentense.org with your thoughts, feedback, critique and suggestions.

And if you are interested to read more about our programmatic and community impact goals, you can reference our Year in Preview on the PT Blog.

We look forward to building a more vibrant Jewish future together.

Naomi Korb Weiss and Shelby Zitelman are co-Directors of PresenTense Group.