By Rosalie Boxt
As we approach launch night, there are so many things that have changed for me in the 6 short months since joining the ConnectGens Fellowship, powered by PresenTense. Not only has my venture, Kesher Shir, been transformed from a pet project that ran as a self-motivated 3 year stand-alone event into a possible large scale program, but I have become more connected to the Federation here in DC and the diverse people and programs which reside in our community.
We had the amazing gift and privilege to meet with Susie and Michael Gelman a few weeks ago to learn about them and their philanthropy, to hear about their dreams for our community and to share our ventures and journeys. One thing that Susie said resonated with me and relates to my work as a Cantor and with my venture Kesher Shir. She said the work that she and Michael are committed to stems from a desire to ensure a meaningful future for the Jewish community – here in DC and around the world. She and Michael are not afraid of the diverse forms this future may take, the complex tapestry of meaningful doorways through which many may pass to find their place in our community and then to nurture, grow and support it for the long term.
For each of the 10 ConnectGen Fellows, our path to this place and this fellowship were just a microcosm of what so many in our community experience. We each had a number of meaningful experiences in youth and young adult-hood, then our struggle to find a place and finally a desire to help bring each of our unique voices and experiences to the community in order to help OURSELVES feel a part of the fabric of Jewish life and also to reach many, like ourselves, who are looking for new ways to engage. Through my venture, which builds relationships among diverse Jewish musicians and clergy and through my fulltime work as a congregational cantor, I felt the power of Susie and Michael’s commitment to this community and their encouragement to us and many others like us, to strive for not just quick fixes but lasting, engaging and compelling experiences for Jews in our communities of all ages and backgrounds.
Launch night will not only be a culmination of the work of the Fellows in developing projects, creating visions and creating programs (with the extraordinary support and guidance of PresenTense and ConnectGens), but a recognition of the need to create and support many different pathways into Jewish life as well as the pride that the Greater Washington community can take in committing to young entrepreneurs, new visions and the future of the Jewish community.
By Stacy Miller
NOVA Tribe Series
It is surreal to think it has been almost a year since I first discovered the organization that helps social entrepreneurs turn their ideas into ventures that renew the Jewish community. I first learned about PresenTense when I attended the Birthright Alumni DC Leadership Mission last June. Once I heard their mission, I knew I would be researching their website when I returned home.
One component of my leadership trip was to start a project that would impact the DC Jewish community in some way. I was so inspired by the young adults I met in the city of Dimona who were able to bring about change and establish a vibrant, young community that I decided to create NOVA Tribe Series, an organization that provides Jewish young adults living and working in Northern Virginia with innovative programming and leadership activities that promote learning about and giving back to the Northern Virginia community.
When I heard that the ConnectGens PresenTense Fellowship would be starting in DC, it felt like the timing was perfect to apply as I was ready to move my project to the next phase.
This experience has been especially eye-opening for me as I, unlike many of the fellows in the program, started the fellowship beyond the idea phase. By the time I attended our first seminar, NOVA Tribe Series had already launched its kick-off event, started the branding stage, and formed a committee.
It has been great balancing act trying to plan events, update social media, stay in contact with community members, manage my committee of volunteers, and apply for grants all while going back to step 1 to identify my competitors and complements and assess my prototype. Yet, participating in the fellowship has allowed me the opportunity to pause and look at my venture in a big picture way. The seminars guided me in taking steps to re-pivot my original ideas and I was able to bounce these ideas off of those in my cohort group who were reaching a similar audience.
Even today, after completing more than half the program, I feel comfortable enough to remold my project. Going over my business model with my fellowship coach, we both decided that it would be a good idea to shift my focus from planning events for my organization to identifying those members that will become the future leaders of NOVA Tribe Series and who will carry out our mission and continue to participate in leadership activities.
Overall I am glad I jumped right in and got my feet wet before I started the process; I now have a better understanding of my target audiences' needs and have an amazing support network of peers and community members to hang out with in the pool....bring on the summer...I am ready for launch night!
The ConnectGens Fellowship has been an amazing experience! From the intimate coaching and mentorship to the group exercises, the Fellowship has enabled me to look beyond my initial goals. With over 3,000 subscribers and weekly users, Gather the Jews (GTJ) and has been growing exponentially within the DC community. Throughout the program, I have met with coaches, mentors, entrepreneurs and many other great leaders in the Jewish community. All of these interactions have been very helpful to learn the business models and marketing techniques that have helped launch successful projects.
Although GTJ has over two years experience, we have had the pleasure to learn from all the other group projects and ventures. Most recently GTJ just held a Happy Hour with over 200 people who attended, many of whom have been leaders that have been publically recognized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the DC Jewish community. (click here to see pics) It is this support and encouragement that has helped GTJ continue to move forward.
As GTJ continues forward with its mission to Gather the Jews and provide the most comprehensive news and information for all young adult Jewish life, we look forward to enhancing Jewish life in dozens of other communities throughout the US.
ConnectGens has not only helped me connect better with my own ideas, but also with the leaders of the community, so that I may better serve the Jewish community in DC and nationally!
~ Aaron Wolff, Gather the Jews
It is striking how often similar conversations arise among Jews. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Jews talk – a lot – and can’t remember what they’ve said to whom. Or maybe as a Jewish young professional, my generation and I are starting to realize our responsibility in defining the future of Judaism. How do we find meaningful involvement in our community? How do we grapple with the ever-present social and political issues while maintaining our love for and commitment to sustaining the Jewish state of Israel? These questions pose a fundamental shift from those asked by our grandparents’ and parents’ generations, a shift from how do we form a Jewish state to how do we keep it flourishing as a democratic society within the confines of the Jewish religion (this could take a blog post of its own).
Politics aside, I want to delve into this concept of identity and how it continues to reappear in my own life. If you scroll up to my third sentence, you’ll see that I defined myself as a Jewish young professional. The order of these three words is intentional. In the second NeXus seminar, we explored with Dr. Erica Brown how we each define our identity. As the Jewish people – based on a relatively homogeneous sample of 40 young professionals in DC, so not your ideal test group – we tend to attribute our identities to two things: parents and religion. What is it about these two significant factors – albeit one more obvious than the other – that influence our upbringing and the ways we continue to self-identify once we enter the ‘real world’?
For me, all directions point to the notion of tikkun olam. My parents have led by example, ultimately inspiring me to find my own path of repairing the world at each stage of my life thus far. My sister and I have chosen professional paths that on the surface level seem quite different, though we ultimately each identified a population for which we want to dedicate our lives and efforts to impact in a positive way. See, it really does come back to tikkun olam as it passes along the generations.
As a fellow in the ConnectGens Fellowship Program powered by PresenTense, I am privileged to meet with like-minded individuals who are driven to create change. Each fellow has been accepted to the program in order to develop a venture into a reality, utilizing assets of the community – and most of all each other – to work through the challenges involved with social entrepreneurship. The ventures range from activities to spur thought-provoking conversations in DC to providing an innovative lens through which the world can view the story of Israel today, capturing stories of anyone who is willing to share (keep reading for a personal plug below…). Though we don’t have all the answers, we are taking the opportunity to collaborate with one another and more importantly to challenge each other to think in different ways and ask difficult questions.
Though fellows and ventures vary across age, geographic location, and target audience, they all stem from the same foundation of closing a gap that exists in the broad Jewish community, in turn repairing the world in our own way. Would it be fair to say that the desire to create positive change is part of our identities, of who we are as social entrepreneur fellows and as Jews, and from where we come? I am confident to say yes, as some of this year’s fellows have their own children and are rightfully setting the example of creating the change they long to see in the communities around them.
So yes, Jews talk – but we also listen. We listen to the needs of our community and the actions of those who came before us, and make the conscious decision to act in a way that will help others. It is my hope that this is the example my generation continues to follow, and that we continue to talk - as we are already leading the path for others.
As promised, a few words about my venture. I am working with two friends – both participants of the 2011 Alumni Leadership Mission – to create the infrastructure to have agencies and organizations send packages to Lone Soldiers who serve in the Israeli army. About 2,800 Lone Soldiers leave their homes and families all over the world to serve in the Israeli army each year. Some of them have relatives on the ground in Israel, but most do not. Our venture also includes a community building aspect to foster relationships between local Jewish communities and the Lone Soldiers in Israel. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or @lonesoldierproj if you are interested in learning more about the project!