50 Jewish professionals representing 41 diverse organizations throughout the Northeast convened earlier this week in Washington, DC to share new ideas and learn from experts about the most effective and creative ways to engage Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni and young Jewish adults. The Washington, DC convening, hosted by NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation, was designed to strengthen the NEXTwork – the only national network of engagement professionals and leaders who work directly with Birthrighters and young Jewish adults.
NEXT structured the convening to teach the skills that its found are crucial to engagement professionals’ – often called “engagers” – success in reaching young adults. Engagers from Central Virginia, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts delved into a range of topics, including a training session on how to facilitate conversations about Israel with young adults, led by Sheila Katz of Hillel International.
“Birthright Israel is a powerful experience of connection for so many people,” says Katz. “When participants return home, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to build on that experience and deepen the connection between participants, Israel, and the Jewish people. A key element of that is creating spaces where Birthright Israel alumni can reflect with each other, meaningfully and openly, on what Israel means to them – where they can understand their own stories and the stories of others, and where they can write the next chapters in those stories.”
In addition to Katz’s session, engagers also trained with Dan Held of UJA-Federation of Greater Toronto, who led a session on designing experiential educational programs that mirror the educational environment of a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. Participants also spent time with Patrick Germain of New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, who showed them how they can utilize data to inform how they design and structure programs, and even how to tell a story about the young adults they engage. To provide the context needed to understand this young audience, NEXT showcased sociological, attitudinal, and demographic trends of Birthrighters and Jewish young adults.
“Learning about the essential components of the Taglit-Birthright educational platform was very helpful,” says Tami Wolf, Director or EntryPointDC at the DCJCC. “The session really informed how I think about my program design, engagement strategy, and measurement and evaluation. We can build on the unique elements of the educational experience to help Birthrighters stay involved and connected to Jewish life after the trip.”
Toward the convening’s conclusion, engagers participated in a Community Lab to brainstorm ideas for new programming and events that will help them better reach the young adults in their home communities.
The Northeast Regional Convening is part of NEXT’s strategy to work with communities and leaders across the country to create more authentic, relevant, and compelling opportunities for Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni and young Jewish adults to engage in Jewish life. Throughout the year, NEXTwork convenings bring engagers from different organizations together to further advance the skills, strategies, tools and careers of the people who actually make Jewish journeys happen. This was NEXT’s second Northeast Convening of 2014.
“This was a great, strong meeting of professional minds; it was beyond a traditional conference experience,” adds Grant Silverstein of Jewish International Connection of New York. “I learned best practices, built my network, and had many opportunities for overall professional development.”