Teach Us to Build and Re-build Together

The 2011 ROI Summit kicked off Sunday in Jerusalem with a welcome address from the organization’s founder, Lynn Schusterman. A global community with participants and alumni from more than 40 countries, the ROI Community brings together young Jewish innovators and social entrepreneurs, in their twenties and thirties, who are creating innovative ways to connect their peers to Jewish life. The annual summit is the capstone event, a five-day collaborative conversation about the future of the Jewish people.

Lynn called on the more than 150 young people to rise up with pride in their Jewish heritage and help shape our community for the 21st century and beyond. Herewith, a transcript of her remarks.

Shalom y’all, and welcome to the sixth annual ROI Summit!

Take a look around you. Take note of the faces you see. Tonight we are embarking on a journey. It is one that will require a lot of energy, optimism and creativity. It will ask you to dream big, to take risks and to be open-minded. It will stretch the edges of your comfort zones and force you to find common ground with those who share different perspectives. It is a journey for which I believe you are ready and one I hope will last a lifetime.

Ideally this is a journey that we will travel together, as part of the ROI Community. We are an astoundingly diverse group of 600 young Jewish adults from 40 countries on six continents. But despite our differences, we are all bound by our love for Israel, by our commitment to the Jewish people, and by our willingness to listen, learn and share with each other. We are here because we believe we have something to contribute to the global Jewish community and, in turn, to the world at large.

It is fitting that we begin our work together in Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of the world and the beating heart of the Jewish people. But while we are here in a time of great promise and potential, it is also one of great peril. The challenges facing our beloved State of Israel are many and extremely complex. More than 60 years after achieving statehood, it seems Israel is no closer to being welcomed into our family of nations and that the rifts and divisions within her borders represent an existential threat as great as any other. Our global community too looks frighteningly and increasingly fragmented. I am deeply concerned.

I believe that what we need now is strong leadership that will ensure Israel remains true to its goals and aspirations – to be a Jewish homeland for all of the Jewish people. I believe that what we need now is the resolve to create a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every Jew seeking to lead an actively Jewish life as made in God’s image. I believe that what we need now is a Jewish Spring.

By that I don’t mean a revolution to take over countries, but rather a movement, a groundswell, of young Jews rising up with pride in their rich heritage and traditions and ready to shape and lead our global community in the 21 st century. If you ask me what that looks like, I will tell you the story of a young woman I recently met who had traveled to Israel on one of our Foundation’s programs. After a lifetime of not feeling Jewish enough, she was literally moved to tears upon discovering that she could indeed be welcomed as part of our global Jewish community and connected to our Jewish homeland. Can you imagine how powerful it would be if every young Jew across the world had the opportunity to experience that?

I am counting on everyone in this room to help us make this happen. You have to lead this movement. We need you. Israel needs you. The Jewish people need you. The world needs you. And I need you. I know you won’t let us down.

As you get started this week, I want you to keep in mind what I call the three C’s of the ROI Community: connecting, creating and celebrating. Talk to people you would normally not speak with. Invent solutions together. Offer each other strategic support and advice. These connections are the true gift of ROI: they will spark ideas that will become action plans that will impact and change the Jewish world and beyond.

But it only begins here. When you return home, you must continue connecting and creating with each other. You must continue turning your passion into action. You must continue expanding the horizons of our community so that more and more individuals experience Jewish life in infinite ways. You must continue to be the connective tissue that binds together the most exciting activities, experiences and networks that comprise Jewish life today.

In a time rife with conflict and divergence, the ROI Community has become a beacon of light, the place to be to get a glimpse of a positive Jewish future. By committing yourself to this network, you commit yourself to moving forward on your journeys to become leaders, activists and change agents within our community and across the world

But for the ROI Community to really effect change, you must not remain a group of individuals. The Jewish world desperately needs role models. You need to model for everyone out there how to dialogue. How to collaborate. How to talk with civility when you disagree. How to act on your values. How to be smart for our future. How to state your values aloud, with sensitivity and eloquence. We need you to mobilize about those things that bring out your passion. We need you to show others what it is to offer the benefit of the doubt. Teach us how to listen. Teach us how to end the day by dancing like crazy. Teach us to celebrate together. To mourn together. And to build and re-build together.

As I close tonight, I want to leave you with three quotes, each from very different sources: a legendary cartoonist, a pop culture icon and a great Jewish sage. The first is from Dr. Seuss, and it says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The second is from a very wise and funny woman, who recently gave an incredible closing address at Harvard. Her name is Amy Poehler, and she said, “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration … Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.

The final quote is from the great Jewish sage Hillel, who said in Pirkei Avot: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I care only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

My point is this: change has to start with you. The collective you. You must work as one in a community of many. You must work with a fierce determination of the mind and a fire in the belly. The time to get started is NOW.

To you ROIers, here and around the world, I stand before you 72 years old and blessed to be seeing these seeds we have planted emerging from rich soil. I am so excited and riveted by what you are doing. Even on hard days, it your belief in the potential of this community that moves me even more. I cannot wait to see what emerges for the global Jewish people from the seeds planted here this week.