Reflections on NetWORKS: Sparks of Connectivity

by Annie Lumerman

Growing up in St. Louis, it seemed like every Jew was either a doctor, a lawyer or a social worker. Kiddush was always a room full of doctors consulting lawyers consulting social workers. Even though I didn’t want an MD, JD or MSW, I liked that these professionals were able to make connections and help each other.

The synagogue served as an open space to bring separate communities to work together outside of work. Like many communities, that of doctors and lawyers and social workers are complex, but it was this spark of connectivity that got me interested in the power of networking.

Participating in the NetWORKS Gathering felt like a continuous series of sparks. The conference was boundless. I expected the conversation to be controlled, but it was fluid and open-ended. A non-facilitated facilitation-of-connections. At first, I was confused: I flew all the way to Boulder just to hang out and talk, with no clear set of goals? I then realized that of all people, I should not have been surprised with the NetWORKS agenda. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, where I work in DC, functions in the same way.

Sixth & I is a pluralist institution where people in their 20s and 30s can explore Judaism on their own terms through innovative programming and dialogue opportunities that speak to personal, spiritual and social interests. There are no prescribed paths or rules to follow.

Both Sixth & I and the Schusterman Foundation realize that good ideas happen not only through frontal presentations or strongly facilitated break-out sessions, but also through informal conversations at meals and open space. Jewish engagement cannot be forced. True community builders provide an open environment for conversations across the aisle to break down barriers and find common ground between different communities.

People often complain that the Jewish community is fragmented. From all of the denominations and organizations with different – and often incongruous – agendas, it is hard to imagine how individuals navigate the Jewish world, make connections and put down roots. Closer examination reveals that this diverse Jewish landscape is less of a complicated mess and more of a complex network.

But it isn’t enough to just have connections between organizations and the people who run them. Taking action and building meaningful relationships that benefit the community is essential to maximizing the potential impact Jews can have on ourselves and within the greater society.

While the conference may have ended, the spark between all of us in attendance can only continue to fuel our compelling programming, community-building, engagement and everything in between if we continue to network. We need to sustain connections through constant consultation and support. Through this new community that we have built, we need to always be professionals consulting funders consulting activists.

Annie Lumerman is the Director of Jewish Programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

Cross-posted from Networks