Making a Jewish connection

“I realized that there was a need for a Jewish ‘home away from home.’ The Jewish International Connection, better known as JIC, was born.

By ALAN ROSENBAUM
June 13, 2019 18:35
3 minute read.
Making a Jewish connection

THE JEWISH International Connection hosts over 10,000 people annually in New York, and operates 200 different programs throughout the year, including Shabbat dinners and social, cultural and networking events.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

‘My husband and I had been wandering Jews,” explains Jodi Samuels. By the fall of 2000, Samuels and her husband, both natives of South Africa, had lived in numerous countries and cities, and had recently moved to New York. Asked by friends to host a Rosh Hashanah meal for foreign MBA students, Samuels ended up hosting 36 guests from 30 different countries for their holiday meal. “I realized that there was a need for a Jewish ‘home away from home.’ The Jewish International Connection, better known as JIC, was born.

Today, this highly successful organization hosts over 10,000 people annually in New York, and operates 200 different programs throughout the year, including Shabbat dinners and social, cultural and networking events. JIC’s tagline on its web page is “Community, Continuity, Connectivity.” Samuels, by day, is a successful online marketing consultant who runs JIC on a volunteer basis. “We needed to create an environment that would give people an ‘on-ramp,’ to connect them to the community” she explains, “and give them a sense of connectivity to other Jews, so that ultimately they will marry Jews and lead an inspired Jewish life.”

Samuels notes that while most people will not go to a Torah class for their first program, “They will come to networking, cultural or social events. At networking events, we have successful international Jews who speak about their success. We want them to talk about their Jewish journey with a specific Jewish message.”

JIC is an independent organization, and while all dinners and events are strictly kosher and follow Orthodox standards, the audience is diverse. “You will feel comfortable whether it is your first time at a Shabbat meal, or if you are religious. No one is ‘put in a box’ at our events, so everyone feels comfortable regardless of where they are coming from,” says Samuels.

In addition to JIC’s events for 25 to 40-year-olds, the organization has launched programs for older singles in New York in their 40s and 50s, and has initiated a couples group for the 123 couples who met at JIC events and later married.

Jodi Samuels (Credit: Sam Ulrich)

Samuels explains that a great part of the appeal of the organization lies in its ability to create separate events for different nationalities and interests. “Shabbat dinners are very successful,” she says. “We frequently run them by country. We will have an Israeli Shabbat dinner for Israelis, a Shabbat dinner for French Jews, a separate dinner for Latino Jews, and occasionally a dinner for all internationals.” Sometimes, JIC runs specialty, “boutique” dinners for smaller groups, based on their specific interests. Samuels reports that large Shabbat dinners can number 150 guests, and the smallest boutique events host 25 people.

After moving with to Israel with her husband and children in 2014, Samuels decided to create a parallel version of JIC in Israel. Samuels, who lives in Jerusalem, continues to run JIC in New York, traveling to the US every five weeks, where she says the organization there is thriving, aided by a strong volunteer base.

The Israeli version of JIC operates in a similar fashion to that of the US-based group and connects immigrants and native-born Israelis. “In Israel,” says Samuels, “we don’t have to worry about Jews meeting Jews. Here we worry about olim [immigrants] meeting Israelis. Immigrants live in their bubble, and it is better for immigrants to meet Israelis for networking, and to feel a part of society.” 

Samuels reports that 30% of JIC attendees in Israel are native Israelis, and 70% are olim. Both the American and Israeli branches offer weekly Torah classes, which feature contemporary messaging to make the text relevant. JIC also offers educational trips to various sites around the world for singles and couples. Previous trips included Morocco, Poland, Alaska and Israel, and another heritage trip to Poland is planned for July.

Samuels is proud that her organization has been able to accomplish so much over the past 19 years as a volunteer-driven community. “I am passionate about the cause,” she says. “Until people have a Jewish home away from home, you can’t give them an inspired Jewish environment, and can’t get them to meet other Jews. You first need to start out with that and then reach your other goals.” ▲


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