ROI Summit to return in September after gathering planned for December canceled due to war

Schusterman Family Philanthropies' initiative will again accept new candidates; upcoming gathering will focus on post-Oct. 7 relief and recovery

When the ROI Impact Summit that was scheduled for December — only the second such gathering since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — was canceled because of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, Lena Bakman, a member of the ROI Community, was not surprised.

“It was obvious it would be canceled,” Bakman, a former parliamentary assistant in Israel’s Knesset, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “A lot of people have waited for the summit… but everyone understood.”

Even though Bakman said it was a disappointment, especially since she has new candidates to recommend to join the community, she was proud of how the existing members came together, supporting each other’s initiatives during such a difficult time. “After Oct. 7, we’re a family, and wherever, whoever, needs help, we are there to support,” she said.

But now planning is underway for a new summit that will be held in September with a focus on war relief and recovery. Existing ROI members, like Bakman, will also be able to recommend new candidates to attend and join the community.

“Since the start of the Iron Swords War, our community has stepped up to tackle the unprecedented challenges emerging in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world,” Beri Rozenberg, co-director of ROI Community, told eJP via email. “Some members have been on the front lines of the Israel advocacy battle, fighting misinformation and anti-Israel content online and in person. Others have been prioritizing the plight of the hostages, creating awareness campaigns and events to keep this issue at the forefront of the global agenda. Yet others have dedicated themselves to supporting Israel’s evacuees through relief activities, logistical support and more.”

A project of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the ROI Community — ROI standing for Return on Investment — is a network of 1,700 Jewish activists and social entrepreneurs from more than 60 countries who often partner together for initiatives. One of the core aspects of the program is the yearly five-day summit held in Jerusalem, which normally welcomes between 120 to 150 new members ages 25 to 40 from around the globe. Since the pandemic hit in 2020, only one summit has been held.

ROI Community members often go on to play leading roles within the Jewish community, including nonprofit executives, politicians and civil servants, journalists, artists and rabbis — or as the organization describes them: “Purpose-driven Jewish changemakers.”

Now living in Germany, Bakman has watched her local ROI group flourish over the past year. They held an event two weeks ago, and more members showed up than ever. “It was a safe space for us to just talk about what we’re feeling. We’re very much confused and some of us are scared.” A therapist who helped members express their feelings with and for one another was in attendance.

Bakman also supported a nearby art exhibit held in Berlin planned by another ROI member recognizing the first birthday of Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage kidnapped by Hamas, as a way to advocate for him and the other hostages.

Another ROIer Diego Goldman, the director of LAZOS, an organization that connects young Latin American Jews that is funded by Schusterman Family Philanthropies, also organized an event  in Buenos Aires, Argentina to mark the birthday of Kfir Bibas, who also has Argentinian citizenship. “Everything that we do is because of [the Schustermans’]support,” Goldman told eJP.

This year, LAZOS marked its 10th birthday — the group now has over 1,000 members in 70 cities and more than 20 countries. Since Oct. 7, they also have been advocating and providing emotional support for community members — holding meetings and smaller summits.

Even without the summit being held, being connected to the ROI Community continues to help Goldman’s organization grow because it offers him connections across borders that he never would have had. “People want to do business with New Yorkers, not with people in Bogota, Colombia,” he said. But ROI linked him to leaders across the world, who often share their expertise with him and support his work.

“Especially in this time, ROI plays an important role in connecting and empowering Jewish and Israeli leaders globally, which is especially crucial given the growing challenges in Israel in the diaspora,” Elad Caplan, another ROI member who runs initiatives funded by Schusterman Family Philanthropies, told eJP. “With rising antisemitism and threats to Jewish communities and Israel’s security, a strong network of Jewish leaders who learn and support each other is essential.”

Although he will not attend the entire summit in September, Caplan hopes to at least stop by the conference. “It’s important to have a mix between bringing on new people and then strengthening the existing community,” he said. “That’s a tricky balance, especially in times of uncertainty.”