Do you know Yitzy? In an old Jewish joke, he meets Monday nights with a group of
elderly Jewish men. Usually, they talk about world affairs, and the tone is
often negative. But one day Yitzy shocks his friends: “I’ve become an optimist,”
They are stunned, until Benny speaks up: “If you’re an
optimist, Yitzy, why do you look so worried.”
And Yitzy says: “You think
it’s easy being an optimist?” I SMILE because I know the feeling, especially
when I ponder where the Jewish community will find its next generation of
leaders. But the fact is, I am an optimist, and here’s why.
outside of Tel Aviv, 120 young, creative business and social entrepreneurs,
innovators, thinkers and artists will convene for the ROI 2010 Summit for Young
Jewish Innovators. They represent more than 500 members of the ROI Community, a
global network of young Jews, which we helped launch in 2006 in partnership with
the Center for Leadership Initiatives and Taglit-Birthright Israel.Together we
hoped ROI would energize and empower a generation of Jews who often feel cut off
from the Jewish world and help them take to scale the innovative projects they
believe can revitalize Jewish life.
We wanted to explore how to
strengthen Jewish communal life by combining all the new tools of digital
technology and the Internet with the powerful and high potential encounters
built into face-toface meetings.
The results have been heartening, and
we’ve learned some important lessons that might help others in their
the Jewish leaders and activists of tomorrow.
1. The network empowers:
When David Cygielman arrived at the ROI summit in 2006, he was seeking
for Moishe House, a network of community hubs for 20- something Jews. He
discovered a group of inventive, supportive, enthusiastic new friends
over the globe. These connections helped him launch seven new Moishe
around the world.
Today there are 29.
2. Unexpected partnerships
produce extraordinary results: To spotlight the plight of Jewish women
Jewish divorces by abusive husbands, ROI served as matchmaker.
psychologist in Israel teamed up with a cartoonist in New York to
narrate a very
personal and powerful drama. This spring, the cartoon was featured
at an exhibit in New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. A series on
technology and the plight of Darfur refugees followed. At our
will unveil their latest series on leadership.
3. Widening our circle of
discourse lends perspective: We’ve embraced the talmudic art of
disagreement and dissent by encouraging exploration and debate without
any one platform or party line. Our inclusiveness prompted one of our
left-wing participants to say: “This is the first and only place in the
world where I could bring my full world view and struggle as a Jew and
told that I was wrong or a detriment to the Jewish people.” He said this
standing next to his right-of-center ROI friend.
4. Virtual reality is
nice, but it pales beside the real thing. While many ROI initiatives
exist without social platforms that connect people and communities in
previously unimaginable, we have seen firsthand that face time beats
every time. That’s why we’ve chosen the somewhat costly and logistically
challenging but highly effective approach that brings participants
person for intellectual exchange, shared experiences, wrestling with
along with celebration and deliberation over the state of the Jewish
crafted gatherings promote resource sharing and transnational strategic
Jewcology.com, an international Web portal collaboration by
17 ROI environmental activists, grew out of contacts forged at previous
And, we meet in Israel, enveloped by the land, people and history, to
that we are working toward the same ultimate goal: the perpetuation of
global Jewish community.
5. Don’t just believe in young Jews – invest in
their ideas. It’s easy to say that young people are our future, and that
nurturing their Jewish identities is a priority. But talk is cheap and
a future isn’t.
ROI is making a significant dollar investment in our
members and their projects. I challenge my fellow philanthropists,
foundations and Jewish organizations to support excellent young
programs that enable and empower the next generation of Jewish
ROI’s biggest “return on investment” is the lesson that ROI
grantees continue to teach each other – and me: A dream to spread the
Jewish living, giving, and learning can become a reality, but only when
pursued as part of a community. For without each other, even I would
The writer, chair of the Charles and
Lynn Schusterman Family
Foundation, is the founder of ROI Community.