Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Jewish Community: What Are We For?

Ownership. Denominations. Lay leadership. Shuls. These were just some of the “idols” the table I hosted at yesterday’s Jewish Futures conference shouted out in a visceral reaction to what concepts the Jewish community “worships” – should be smashed. (Esther Kustanowitz reports on the idol smashing, sparked by keynote speaker Rabbi Laura Baum of OurJewishCommunity.org, here).

There is, of course, something liberating about smashing idols - or even just about voicing out loud (or on twitter) what is frustrating us or holding us back. Yet a different point stuck with me from another keynote speaker, Courtney Martin: “We’ve gotten really good at expressing what we are against on the internet, but we aren’t so good at articulating what we are for."

I believe this observation has important implications for "community and the cloud" (the theme of this year's conference) and the Jewish future. You can surely, for instance, rally people together, online and/or in person, around being against any of the proposed "idols," and there were indeed some popular ones. Doing so might create a network or even a community of those who develop relationships through discovering this commonality.

But what about the Jewish future? What are we "for" that is really worth not only preserving but also nurturing and growing for generations to come? Martin went on to say that what we need is more "imagining and utopian thinking," and I believe she's right. Here in the present, it's easier to say we should simply cast off whatever isn't working than it is to truly and honestly examine what is happening, what made it that way - and where there are tiny kernels of change that just may take off and lead us all forward. Are we prepared and do we have the courage to take those bold bets on which kernels, if nourished, will yield a better future?

Alongside the story of Abraham and the idols, I think we need to look at Abraham and his journey to Canaan. G-d tells Abraham not just to leave Haran, but to go to "the land I will show you" where he will be a great nation and a blessing.

Creating a vision of what the Jewish future could be takes perception to see trends; creativity, innovation, and imagination to dream up how those patterns could play out; and persistence to shape what is here now into what is coming next. This is not easy. It does not need to mean ignoring or condoning the "idols" of our community. But if you smash those idols without giving deep thought to what vision you want to rise up in their place, you miss out not only on opportunities to build from the values and lessons that informed the past, but also on the opportunity to really lead the Jewish community where our passion, creativity, and vision dream we should go.

Will you come along? What's your vision?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Shalom Berger

This interview is part of the Network-Weavers Series. More info & interviews here!

Shalom Berger is the Director of E-Communities at The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University. He founded and currently coordinates the Lookjed listserv, creating conversation amongst thousands of educators around the world about current issues in Jewish education.

What prompted you to start in the world of networks, and what did you do?

When I was a day school teacher in the US, one challenge was teachers’ difficulty in learning from one another. I found teachers were reluctant to share information, feeling either the person down the hall would take all their trade secrets, or that a limited number of people would appreciate their work.

Since 1999, the Lookjed list has been serving the needs of educators around the world. It currently has 3500 subscribers, 20% of which are active participants (posting at minimum one time per year). In addition to sharing brief ideas on the listserv, there is also the ability to upload materials on an associated website.

A network could be a lot of things, but in this particular setting, it allows people around the world to converse. It connects educators so that we’re no longer limited to asking the teacher down the hall, “Do you have ideas as to how to teach this?” What is especially fascinating is the way it allows Jews throughout the Diaspora to interact with each other. Someone in Australia can send a question, and they will get responses from throughout the world.

What are the benefits of being part of the Lookjed network?

In a time before everyone blogged and shared resources online, someone asked me, “Why would someone want to answer? What’s in it for them?” The beauty of the Internet is chesed shel emet: people do it without expecting a reward. One benefit is professional collegiality. Participants can find likeminded teachers, which is especially important for those sitting in Jewish communities that aren’t that large. It’s also an opportunity for teachers who consider themselves experts in particular areas to put their names up in lights.

What is your role in Lookjed as its network-weaver?

I’m not a network-weaver; I’m a party host, which came before anyone developed the term network-weaver. The role I play is one of weaving technology with content. It goes beyond tacking all these things onto a bulletin board; it’s also working to create online relationships. I act to introduce human experts to people looking for their expertise, as well as to allow people to more easily access online resources. Some of this happens due to the nature of the media. Once someone put ideas out there, people know them as someone with expertise in that area.

On a technical level, everything comes through my computer screen before goes out to subscribers. But I don’t only record the responses and put it into a format that makes it easy to read; I also play a behind-the-scenes role in making sure the questions are the kind that will be answered. For instance, I might tell someone that their question is too general, and that they need to dig down more specifically to get answers. I might also say: that’s a good question, and I know people who work in that area, so I will forward it to them directly.

In terms of the infrastructure, what functionality would you like to add in the future?

We try to distinguish between technologies that are just fads and don’t add value to work we’re doing and those that offer serious value added to share out the expertise, materials, and resources we have with people outside of Israel.

The power of social media tools is that if an individual finds something interesting, they have the opportunity to spread it to a large group of people. I would be interested in something that allows people to share interesting ideas with specific other individuals. I also would like faculty to work together and create material together. Technology makes this possible – the limit is only people’s time.

In running a listserv, how do you deal with today’s issue of information overload?

Information overload is a problem. But Lookjed offers something directed at a relatively specific population. So we’ve succeeded in cutting through some of that overload in the sense that when people in that population receive materials and suggestions from us, they know it’s more likely than not to be relevant to their classroom, more so than if they were to google Jewish education or chumash.

Did you have formal training as a network-weaver?

When I started doing this 13 years ago there was no training - it was a field that did not yet exist. Today, however, there are formal training programs. Together with my Lookstein Center colleague, Esther Feldman, I directed a two-year fellowship program funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation that trained 14 individuals in different areas of Jewish education (day school, camps, special needs, early childhood, etc.) to be network-weavers. The tools and methodologies that we offered were not limited to listservs, but also wikis, nings, and so forth that allowed the professionals to reach out to their peers and constituencies in a manner most appropriate for their venue. For instance, for special needs camping, they took counselors who usually only interacted during the summer, and on each Friday during the year they would have a call with their campers to say “Shabbat Shalom.” Ecstatic doesn’t cover the reaction of the participants. All the fellows have built communities that really impact the kind of Jewish education they are able to give their constituents and the kind of professional support they are able to offer people in their communities and one another.

It is a profession; it can be taught. Results such as these have reached the point that everyone recognizes its importance, even segments of the community that are reluctant to buy into online interaction. It’s not just the wave of the future; it’s here.

The Lookjed listserv archives appear here. To learn more or to subscribe, please contact Shalom at shalom -@- lookstein.org. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ira Wise

This interview is part of the Network-Weavers Series. More info and interviews here!

Ira Wise has been the Educational Director of Congregation B’nai Israel of Bridgeport, CT since 1995. Ira has served on the faculty of Eisner Camp, part of the Reform Movement's Northeast Camp Institute in Great Barrington, MA for fifteen seasons. In addition, Ira teaches at Merkaz, the Community High School for Jewish Studies, and leads workshops and seminars for teachers and educator around country. He serves as a member of the Task Force for Access to Lifelong Jewish Learning, part of the URJ Joint Commission for Lifelong Learning. He is also the President of the School Volunteer Association in the Bridgeport Public Schools.

What does the idea of a “network-weaver” mean to you?

I’ve used the metaphor of a weaver for myself for more than two decades. I was once described as a “juggler,” who can recover lots of balls without dropping any others. I was not happy with this characterization. Being a juggler implies that the balls are telling me where to go, and you can’t create something while you’re juggling. Jugglers are entertainers but they produce nothing.  The word I came up with instead was a weaver – long before anyone started talking about it online. Have you ever watched someone actually weave? Like the weavers in Jerusalem making tallitot. This pattern just sort of emerges; it changes colors so fast that you don’t even see it. It’s the ability to see something before it’s actually apparent. I think it was Michelangelo who said: I don’t turn the marble into something; I find the something that’s in the marble. Weavers can imagine something larger than the strings in front of them. That’s what I hope to be able to do.

What caused you to adopt a network-weaving approach in your synagogue?

When the economy tanked a few years ago, 90 kids didn’t re-register for Hebrew School, 82 of whom hadn’t yet become Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Many parents said they were “taking a year off” from their membership and religious school for financial reasons. We managed to get most of them to come back with some financial assistance from the temple. But when I thought more deeply about it, I realized that, for these parents to think that cutting out Hebrew School was a solution to the financial problem, it had to be about something more than the money. My mother would never have left the temple, even temporarily. Why did she have that value? My parent’s friends were mostly members of the temple, and if my parents had stopped their synagogue involvement, they would have to face their friends about it.

I realized I had to weave a different kind of network. I had to become the Chief Relations Officer – everyone in the school had to. We took what had been more of a room parent program and told the parents: we can take care of the shopping. We want room parents to try and make sure most if not all of the parents in class get together to do something – anything – once every five weeks. Go to Starbucks, have a play date, picnic in the park, or play at the gym. After two years, people were making real connections, and it really changed the face of what’s happening here. People stopped looking at religious school as just another activity they have to go to and started seeing it as part of their family’s life. (A report on this program by one of the co-chairs was published by the URJ in Torah at the Center on page 6.)

How do you apply the concept of network-weaving to Jewish organizational life?

There’s been a lot of writing about the death of the synagogue school, which is fascinating to me. A lot of that dates back to the ‘90s, with the report of the Commission on Jewish Education in North America’s A Time to Act, for which the Commission on Jewish Education in North America brought together a group of philanthropists and top-notch educators. One of my professors, Sara Lee, was a member of the commission. She described that they were focusing on six different avenues into Jewish identity formation: Israel, camping, synagogue schools, early childhood education, day schools and adult learning. If you read the whole book, you said, “Wow – a community that put together a menu of all these items could engage a lot of people.” What actually happened, though, was that different philanthropists chose different items off the menu to fund, and there became a virtual competition between the different modalities for helping young adults become Jews. But the reality is that there is not only one way. We lost a weaving movement in there.

Religious school may not work universally, and it’s not a magic bullet, but many religious schools are helping young adults become young Jewish leaders. The goal should be to use a combination and find lots of ways in. The questions we should be asking are: What can we do to help religious school teachers’ professional development? What can we do to improve and develop the model? What other models can we bring to reach more people, or to reach people we are already reaching more deeply?

What is your network-weaving background?

I’ve always been someone into the tech side of things, if only because, instead of reading the manual, I’ve always said: Let me figure this out. But I’m more a second adapter than a first adapter, because I like to get an idea of where things are going first. I started doing consulting for other educators, because I wanted to show that you can do this stuff even if you don’t look like Mark Zuckerberg, and that you shouldn’t say “no” before you even have your hands on it. I am digital oleh, not a sabra. We can all use these tools.

I’m a mentor at the Leadership Institute – a program of the HUC-JIR and JTS’s Davidson School and funded by the UJA-Federation of NY serving congregational school educators. In that role, I’ve been a network-weaver, developing a Google site for the group and a Google group with online conversations continuing beyond the 15 times the group meets over 2 ½ years, so that participants can build their personal networks. I was also part of the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows – Leading Educators Online program with the Lookstein Center, where we were all tasked to develop online communities of practice (CoPs). Mine was for NATE (National Associate of Temple Educators), the professional organization of Jewish educators of the Reform Movement, which is now facilitated by Peter Eckstein.

Ira blogs at Welcome to the Next Level and tweets as @IraJWise

Thursday, April 12, 2012

#12NTCJews Talk Networks and Nonprofits

This post is cross-posted on Darim's blog JewPoint0 here!

I must admit that I don’t go to very many conferences that aren’t “Jewish.” But last week I was excited to attend the Nonprofit Technology Conference of NTEN (#12NTC). I went to speak at a session in collaboration with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, Jim Joseph Foundation, and Darim Online, on networks, technology, and their application to non-profits – and yes, we were speaking about it particularly in a Jewish context. The truth is, with the attendance of over 70 non-profit professionals who are Jewish and/or working for Jewish nonprofits, this session and the social hour that followed had as much as or even more of the usual dose of Jewish geography, schmoozing/networking, and certainly the spirit of Jewish pride.

Why Jewish pride? The focus on how Jewish organizations are making an impact in this realm was impressive to many – especially those who don’t usually equate Jewish organizations as being at or even near the forefront of the technological cutting-edge. I give a lot of credit to the session sponsors, in particular Lisa Colton, the session facilitator, for recognizing the need to demonstrate how Jewish organizations are thinking about technology and networks, even fostering that energy beyond the session by using the hashtag #12ntcJews for the conference’s duration.

I don’t mean to say that the session insinuated that Jewish non-profits have all the answers when it comes to technology and networks. On the contrary, the timbre was very much expressing how we are all on a journey as we struggle with the issues 21st-century ways of communication pose to how we think and how we work. Actually, that was exactly what was so impressive – because in today’s interconnected, networked world, it’s not about the one-sided execution of perfection, but rather about engaging in a dialogue, asking the right questions, and reacting to that dialogue through constant experimentation. That sense of authenticity and candor about our work is so important to everything technology and networks represent.

The value placed on dialogue was evident in the diverse voices of the panel, featuring Josh Miller, Miriam Brosseau, David Cygielman, Lisa Colton and myself. The opportunity to learn from and share a podium with Jewish professionals making an impact in the realm of working in a networked way – as well as to hear comments and reactions from the audience members also engaging with these issues – was truly amazing. It sparked in me the sense that Jewish organizations have a lot to learn, not only from the scintillating conference attendees and presenters in nonprofit technology that surrounded us at NTC, but also specifically from each other. There are unique challenges and opportunities to working within the Jewish community, and we all are better positioned to take them on when we work together.

As part of my talk, I spoke about the need for a training program and community of practice for Jewish network-weavers, those in Jewish organizations working with networks to engage constituencies and foster connections and the sharing of resources and ideas between them. I believe this is very much needed in the Jewish world, especially as so many of us are already are on journeys to implement networked practice in our work.

Exemplifying these journeys, Miriam Brosseau and I spoke about our work with The Jewish Education Project and The AVI CHAI Foundation, respectively – both established organizations that are pivoting and really transforming themselves for the digital age. Miriam talked about how The Jewish Education Project is seeking not only to work with networks externally, but how they have realized that in order to do so they must also operate in a networked way internally, and they have created a community of practice to address this. She even brought in a Jewish concept – the idea of tocho k’varo, that just as the mishkan was required to be gold inside as well as outside, so too should we be the same internally and externally in order to be truly whole and authentic.

I spoke about AVI CHAI’s “communications revolution,” from top-down, one-way communication about our work to understanding that, in order for AVI CHAI to leave a legacy on the issues we care about, we must create dialogue and engage others in these issues. We are doing this through initiatives like ELI talks: Inspired Jewish Ideas ss well as grassroots brainstorms to generate creative ideas as to what would make day schools a more attractive option for parents not previously considering it.

In addition, Josh Miller from the Jim Joseph Foundation spoke about the foundation’s forays in working with networks, such as its investments in and lessons learned from the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund. David Cygielman from Moishe House exemplified an emerging organization that started from the beginning as a grassroots effort and continues to work in a networked way. Interestingly, being “native” to this mode of operation has not freed it entirely from network dilemmas. These have included how to incorporate technology as it scales and how to navigate the need to maintain a consistent level of Jewish educational content in its programming while remaining powered by grassroots needs and interests.

All of this, by the way, happened in my 12 hours in San Francisco. Why just 12 hours? It was actually a lot to spare on the day that my husband moved my family to a new apartment in a new city and two days before Pesach, over which we hosted two seders there. Why did I go at all? That’s just how passionate I am about this topic of networks, Jewish organizations, and technology. I am excited to be a part and witness the development of the emerging field of Jewish networks, and know it will lead us to be ever more effective and connected in the future.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Amihai Bannett

Amihai Bannett is Educational Director of Israel Connect (www.israelconnect.org), a Melitz program dedicated to developing and facilitating a two-way, long-term and interpersonal connection between Jewish youth from around the world and their peers in Israel in order to enhance their Jewish identity and commitment to the Jewish people. He is also a proud Wikipedian. He lives with his family in Beit Shemesh, Israel.

Tell me about your network.

We work to build a network of Jewish schools, educators and students around the world. I prefer using the word “connection” – we create direct connections between schools, resulting in many small networks of students and teachers in one school with students and teachers in their partner school. The big network is that of all the schools together. We’re currently working with 25 schools in Israel and 25 schools around the world – a quarter in the Former Soviet Union, half in North America, and the rest in South America, Australia and Europe.

How does utilizing this network help you in your work?

I do my job better because I do it with so many schools. I collect ideas from everyone, run ideas by everyone, and see what works and what doesn’t. Because of that, I can suggest what’s been successful, or say that I don’t think an idea is going to work because of the network experience I’ve had in other places. Some educators ask me: “Why couldn’t we just set up this connection ourselves?” The answer is that anyone can do it by themselves, but when you’re connected to a network, you get a better result.

How would you like to see Israel Connect grow in the future?

While technology allows us to carry the whole world in our pocket, the best kind of relationship is when it is done face to face. I want to seek resources to run a yearly conference where teachers can meet face to face – by bringing everyone to the same place and with portions open to participation online. Teachers would be able to see that they’re not alone. These teachers are engaged in this work because they’re passionate about it – and this way they would be able to connect and network with like-minded colleagues. Since there are differences in language and other points of reference between different areas of the world, we could even have mini-conferences so teachers could learn more from their direct peers. I would love to implement regional directors/network-weavers to foster mini-networks within the network. Finally, I’d like to build an Internet platform where everyone can connect and share ideas.

As a Wikipedian, I believe in open and free content. Everyone would share their lesson plans and ideas. I want to bring all of the people who are connecting Jews to each other to be under one roof.

How did you start out in building this network?

Six and a half years ago, I came back to Israel from being a day school Principal in Winnipeg. I taught in a Beit Shemesh school for a year. But from my time abroad, I was bitten by the idea of creating connections with Jews abroad. There was an ad in the newspaper looking for an Educator with knowledge in technology and familiar with schools around the world and in Israel, through AMIT, and I answered it. I then started running it on own, and in 2009 joined Melitz.

In terms of building the network, we did an initial tour in North America, but now schools around the world find us. We are active on social media (@israelconnect on Twitter and Facebook) and have a website.

Many schools in Israel are now in a Ministry of Education program to adapt the educational system for the 21st century. This program provides equipment for educational use, on the condition that the Israeli schools connect to a school outside of Israel. I also build a lot off of my personal network – through my personal connections, it becomes much easier to make new connections. So in some ways, you need a network to build a network.

What technology do you use for communication and collaboration in your network?

We use online collaboration and learning tools, such as Wikis, online forums and facebook groups. We’re also working on Moodle, an educational tool. For video conferences, we use Skype or high-end video conferencing equipment when we have more people involved.

How does your network promote Jewish peoplehood?

I see Jewish peoplehood as anything that connects Jews to Jews – that is its practical application for me. It could happen through schools and also through other platforms where Jews come together such as youth movements, March of the Living, Hillel, post-high school organizations, Jewish Federations, and so on. In fact, a lot of organizations share the same ideals we do, but it’s hard for them to do it all by themselves, so they come to us and hire us to help them achieve their goals.

One of the bigger challenges we’re facing is connecting the Jews in Israel with the Jewish people around the world. The Israelis don’t have the Jewish World in their frame of reference. The same can be said about Jews around the world’s connection with their peers in Israel. Everyone agrees that Jews everywhere should be connected to Israel, but I believe that the best kind of connection is a connection with the people and not only to the land of Israel. That’s one of the greater needs we’re filling: helping Jews around the world be in touch with Israelis and helping Israelis realize they should be in touch with Jews around the world.

Why is educational content necessary in the networking work you do?

A connection is more meaningful when it has content. If we’re friends on facebook but don’t talk about serious content, it won’t be as meaningful as if we do.

There are so many teachable moments when we have the kinds of global connections that Israel Connect creates. The by-product of these connections is in fact education. Of course we also talk about lighter things, because it gives a personal connection. But when we talk about – Why am I Jewish? What’s my connection to Israel? How do I celebrate Chanukah or Purim? – the connection becomes more meaningful.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ben Wiener

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Ben Wiener is the founder of Ten Partners (www.tenpartners.org), an innovative, community-driven, sustainable non-profit partnership that creates new and unique programs to enrich local Jewish life and community. Ben was a winner of the 2011 Jewish Futures Competition, where he presented the Ten Partners idea.

What is a network, and can you describe yours?

We’re creating opportunities and a platform for groups of new, preferably young lay leaders to come together in a local Jewish community and collaborate on local Jewish programming in that community. We’re basically creating mini-networks or collaborative groups. There is a fascination with the word “network” amongst institutional Jewish organizations that feel it is a term far away from them that only young people own. In reality, the Jewish people have been networking a very long time; it’s an extension of what we do. Ten Partners is trying to bring technology as a tool to facilitate new types of networking and collaboration within a local Jewish community.

What is the difference between a community and a network?

A network consists of the people you’re connected to, whether they share the same ideals and beliefs as you or not. A community implies something deeper, where there’s some sort of mutual commitment between the people constituting it. We’re trying to do a little of both. We’re bringing together people in a network where they may not share the exact same denomination, commitment, or worldview of their Judaism to create mini-communities. This will break down the barriers and fragmentation starting to happen in North American communities by finding the common denominators that unite us as the Jewish people rather than what divides us.

What does a Ten Partnership look like?

In our model, technology is a critical component, not because we feel we need to wrestle technology into our Jewish network, but rather because in our generation smartphones and laptops are how we communicate, and therefore how we network. Ten Partners is based on utilizing that type of tool to facilitate the collaboration, help run and get the word out about programs. It accommodates the convenience of people’s busy schedules, making it more accessible to today’s young potential Jewish leader. It’s what we call Jewish Communal Service 2.0

What are some of the best practices of your network-weaving?

What we’ve tried to do is take a business marketing approach: What’s in it for the person we’re pitching to? We’re trying to understand where they’re coming from and what their concerns are. We don’t take it for granted in our networking that people want what we have or are looking for it.

What’s your pitch to young Jews – why should they join the network?

Ten Partners hits a whole lot of hot buttons for today’s Jewish leaders not attracted by more traditional Jewish community organizations. First, it allows them to get involved with a very small amount of time and money – it’s not about money, it’s about action. Second, each person in a Ten Partnership has an equal say within the partnership – no one person has more of a say because s/he has given more money. Third, we’re non-denominational. Those 10 people are deciding what type of programming the community does without anyone telling them what to do or asking them to buy into a specific agenda or mandate. Forth, it’s financially sustainable. One concern of people who don’t have a lot of money is: How can my amount of money have an impact? Because it’s a financially sustainable model, the initial capital cycles and recycles through the Jewish community. Finally, there are no meetings; everything is online. You can be a Ten Partner and active member of the Jewish community from the comfort of your couch.

How do Ten Partners network themselves?

We need 10 Ten Partners to make a Ten Partnership. When the first 2 people sign up in a given town, how do they get to 10? Ten Partners international doesn’t go into the community – we give materials and guidance on what types of people to reach out to and tips about how to leverage networks. Networking is going to be a key part of our success. We’re not going to unite 10 people in one fell swoop; we’re going to ignite one or two or three, they’re going to have to bring the rest.

Who are you looking for to join the network?

There are two raw requirements to be a Ten Partner, first simply to meet the minimum commitment of time, to follow proposals and vote on them in a timely fashion and less occasionally take responsibility for running a program. Second, you need the ability to put in initial seed capital, which is a $1,000, one-time donation – we will never again ask for money. The nice-to-haves include being positive, upbeat, and creative, preferably with a sense of humor. I mean it – since people are consciously reaching beyond their social circles and by definition coming from different parts of the Jewish community, they have to be open-minded and friendly. Also, it’s preferably people not particularly engaged in lay leadership roles – the goal is to find 10 people not yet actively involved as leaders in the community.

Do you view network-weaving as a professional role at Ten Partners?

I think that whoever we have in what we’ll call the parent organization is going to be involved in some way in weaving networks, because at the end of the day the organization is one big network. Whether it’s one person wearing all the hats or multiple people, they’ll all be involved in some way in weaving the network.

Go to www.tenpartners.org to and sign up to be a Ten Partner today. Also, anyone in the world can submit a programming idea to Tenpartners.org – that idea will get disseminated to all active Ten Partnerships. If it’s run, it will be credited, and may inspire someone far away to run the program in their community. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Glenn Drew

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Glenn Drew is the Executive Director of the American Hebrew Academy.

Tell me a little about your network.

The American Hebrew Academy is the only Jewish college prep boarding school in the world that is pluralistic in its philosophy and therefore inviting to students across the spectrum of Jewish life. Accordingly, that network is as wide as the Jewish people will permit, both within Israel and the Diaspora.

The Academy is unique in its design. It was created to expand upon what has been most successful in the Jewish world in terms of engaging Jewish youth and educating them. It has the very best formalized classroom one can find in Jewish day schools combined with residential bonding experiences and informal Jewish education that has been the centerpiece of success for Jewish camping. It provides experiential learning through a trimester program in Israel that not only continues secular education but also builds upon the experience of interacting with the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael to learn the history and the heritage of the Jewish people on site.

The goal of the Academy is to enroll students throughout the world. Its purpose in doing so is to create an international network of the next generation of Jewish leaders who will be spread throughout the world with one thing bonding them together: their experience as youth in not only attending a prominent educational institution but learning the basic skills of Jewish leadership.

Tell me more about your alumni network.

The Academy is 10 years old. It has approximately 3 years of graduates who have not only completed undergraduate studies but are now completing advanced degrees in graduate school and entering the marketplace, both within and outside of the Jewish community. What we hope for and what has already been evident is that, through their shared connection with the Academy, all of these young people share a common bond. It is clear that bond exists not only between students who attended school together, but between alumni and current students who had no personal relationship, but who share the common bond of the uniqueness of being a student or graduate of the Academy.

How do you manage this alumni network?

Our Director of Alumni Relations is retained to facilitate this network. With current trends, networking today is far easier than in years past because of electronic communities. Within the Academy, there is an alumni network, but beyond that, alumni are connecting through their own sub-networks, through facebook and other channels, in hopes of furthering their own personal aspirations as professionals as well as furthering common aspirations, having been graduates of the Academy.

How do you measure success?

The question remains: Has the mission been fulfilled through students ultimately graduating and taking leadership positions that further the Jewish people? Resoundingly we can say: yes. It is seen in alumni working for social justice and philanthropy – such as a program manager at the Schusterman Foundation and a chief of staff at Hazon – or taking leadership positions in Hillels throughout college campuses. It is seen in the fact that 82% of students have returned to Israel since their experience having gone to Israel through the Academy.

What challenges do you experience in your work with networks?

Within the professional community of Jewish educators and leaders, I find the greatest challenge is the competitive forces that some leadership believe exist, which I would argue present barriers for networks expanding even further. I believe it’s somewhat disingenuous for people working within the Jewish community to sustain those perceived barriers, whether there are differences by denomination or cause, because ultimately building a larger network will be beneficial to everyone. If one thinks about the old adage of “Jewish geography,” you would think that with today’s technology networking should be even easier. In many respects, it is, but as one seeks to further expand, “modern-day Jewish geography” is facing perceived barriers by these competitive forces.

How could these challenges be solved?

There has to be a change philosophically in how one’s organizational mission plays out for the greater good of the Jewish people as a whole and not only for an immediate constituency which the organization seeks to serve. Each organization, each individual who holds a leadership position, can do far greater good if they recognize that the sum of their individual parts will make for a far greater whole – in essence klal Yisrael – that will benefit the Jewish community more than just focusing alone on an individual purpose.

The Academy is seeking to overcome this dilemma by extending our hand in partnership with other schools across the US and around the world. We are attempting to share our knowledge, to open our facilities, and to be as welcoming as possible with the understanding that we share the common good of providing a unique opportunity at our institution as well as helping other institutions provide educational opportunities for teenagers. One example would be working with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Foundation for Jewish Camp in building the Six Points Sports Academy, a new model in Jewish camping. Also, through our partnership with a school in Mexico City, we create an experience for students there to travel to the US, visit our campus, and interact with students in sharing a Shabbaton together. Similar programs are presently being discussed with communities in Columbia, Budapest, and Atlanta.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Content is Not King (of Network-Weaving)

This advice may not help you succeed at digital marketing or building a website. But if you’re looking to build, weave, and sustain a network, you should know: It’s not about having the content; it’s about what you do with it.

We’re living in an age of information saturation. Why? First, everyone is a content creator. All you have to do is tweet, post an update to facebook, or even just check into a restaurant on Foursquare, and you’re part of the information explosion that’s becoming a part of our everyday lives. Second, we are all also content consumers. We have unprecedented access to information that exists, beyond the library walls, at our fingertips – or on our smartphones, iPads, or the other nearest 3G or Wifi-receiving device.

How does this affect network-weaving? First of all, as this article in Business2Community points out, “Relationships trump content as king” in social networks. I agree that relationships are more important than content because, as far as I can tell, you don’t get your information from people you don’t trust. Build those relationships, and then you can disseminate all the content you’d like – or that those in your network have an appetite for.

Indeed, many are inundated (and a bit overwhelmed) by tweets, articles, and even webinars that sit in their inboxes, facebook pages, and listservs. They need help figuring out what’s really relevant to them, and how to actually apply what they learn into their practices.

What they need, in essence, is curation. Paul Kedrosky has famously suggested that “curation is the new search.” Before there was Google, humans trolled the Internet looking for and aggregating useful content. Then, there was Google. Now, given the sheer quantity of information out there, humans once again are playing crucial roles in pointing the way to information catered to your interests and needs. Those people are your facebook friends and in your twitter feed. Those people are network-weavers.

But successful network-weavers don’t only curate information, contacts, and other resources. They also seek ways to apply the lessons learned from one part of the network to other parts of the network. While it has been argued that the trend of relying primarily on your own friends for your news and information is causing highly differentiated communities, truly excellent network-weavers have weak ties to people across silos, and they gain from those relationships the ability to seed unexpected ideas – leading to innovation.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Emerging Field of Network-Weavers

This post appears here on Darim's blog, JewPoint0. Thank you to Darim for being thought partners in the emerging field of network-weavers!

After in-depth conversations with around 30 network-weavers in the Jewish world as part of my Network-Weaver Series, I have seen that there are a lot of really passionate people building networks that are quite impressive – and the term “network-weaving” resonates with many of them quite deeply. It puts a descriptive word to what they do in connecting others toward a greater cause; and more importantly, it acknowledges that they are not alone in doing it.

On a parallel level, more and more organizations are becoming aware of the possibilities of working with networks that can drive forward causes and campaign, build and unite communities, and provide support and resources that bolster Jewish identity. Yet there is confusion and imprecision in terminology – most notably, the term “network” itself. Once a network is properly understood to be a system of interconnected individuals or groups who share some factor(s) in common, it is not always clear how to integrate work with networks into one’s day-to-day activities.

How do we support and strengthen the execution of this role in our organizations, and in the community as a whole? Based on my conversations, I believe three parallel tracks are necessary to make the Jewish world’s already invaluable efforts – in education, social services, community-building, social justice, and on – more effective and connected:

  • Training: Organizations, their leadership, and their professionals well-positioned to build and sustain networks should gain a greater understanding of how networks operate and how to work in a networked way. This training will be most effective if it includes a continuum of learning the theory and practicing it in action.
  • Connecting: Network-weavers across organizations need to be connected to support one another, share frustrations and best practices, find resources (including people, information, and funds), and collaborate;
  • Professionalizing: These steps and others will build toward the professionalization of the field of Jewish network-weaving – which will create a commonly accepted terminology of network-weaving, its challenges and benefits. With this understanding, it will become more standard for organizations to incorporate network-weaving into their job descriptions and their strategy.

The fact is that professionals across the spectrum of Jewish nonprofits are already weaving networks – that is, connecting people with resources and each other for greater goals. Communications and alumni relations professionals and those in outreach, education, and young adult engagement are just some examples.

In my interviews, I have observed many common themes amongst those who excel at network-weaving positions. These include a desire to get to know others due to an insatiable curiosity for and fundamental love of people; a knack for retaining knowledge about others so as to formulate helpful connections between disparate parties on the spot; and an ability to employ these talents and others for the sake of driving forward projects, and ultimately missions.

Yet while many of the network-weavers I interviewed spoke of the innate and intuitive “people skills” their work entails, there are tools, technologies, as well as theory and strategy behind building networks, which have a firm academic foundation that can be learned and applied. Furthermore, I believe that network-weaving throughout the Jewish world will become increasingly effective as network-weavers learn to practice a greater degree of intentionality – a consciousness first and foremost of the larger vision they are seeking to achieve, and then an understanding of how networks operate and how they can be strategically leveraged toward those goals.

The process of training, connecting, and professionalizing that I have laid out will help those who are currently in network-weaving roles to become more effective – as well as those who are naturally adept at network-weaving characteristics (such as relationship-building) and would like to fill professional network-weaving roles to grow into them. This, therefore, would also tremendously benefit the organizations network-weaving positions are housed in, and the Jewish world as a whole.

Considering that so many organizations and individuals are currently exploring the path of building networks, I believe it only makes sense to find ways to weave our efforts together. Network-weaving sounds highly theoretical until you try to put it into practice. At the point when talk begins to translate into action, everyone will need to support one another through the challenges and combine our energies and resources toward the solutions.

What do you think needs to happen in order for this field to be professionalized? What do you need in your organization and/or as a network-weaver? How have you created organizational change, and what do you dream of for the future?

If you would like to be a part of these efforts, please contact me!

Becky Voorwinde

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Becky Voorwinde is the Co-Director, Director of Strategy & Community Engagement for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI). She is currently on maternity leave following the recent birth of her daughter, Miriam Zahavah.

What is a network? 

A network is a group of people who are connected based on some level of shared experience, interest, or demographic – sometimes more than one characteristic. What’s interesting about networks is the way they can be multi-layered. BYFI is multi-generational – we’ve been around for 25 years – and we have people from various religious backgrounds, geographic locations, professional backgrounds, and life experiences. There are some shared interests but also distinct differences, and that’s what can make it really enriching.

Tell me more about the BYFI network.

We’re pushing 1000 community members – over 600 alumni in North America and 260 in Israel (our program also includes Israelis). Because the fellowship is selective, the members share internal personal characteristics. We’re looking for people with intense intellectual curiosity, a sense of responsibility for the world, who are looking to do something with their talent, and who are articulate and looking to grow and learn from others. Those core characteristics set us up for a network that can be really generative.

One strain for how the network connects is discussion – sharing ideas and progressing thinking around issues. We have a very active alumni listserv which is topically based. We also have an annual alumni magazine and events and programs that seed conversation and keep the network thinking about the big issues. While staff help think about issues, it’s very much user-generated; there’s no parameter as to what fits.

The other stream is creating personal and professional connections. We send regular emails to the community with job opportunities; we encourage alumni to share opportunities they know about, come across, or are recruiting for. There’s also personal networking. Last year, we had an alumna who was a junior in college and spending a month in Los Angeles to explore her interest in standup comedy. Several alumni working in the professional writing space in Los Angeles were willing to meet up with her. One of them sponsored her for an open mic night – all because of this one link of being a BYFI alumna. They knew the quality of the individual would be worth their time.

To what extent and how do you and other BYFI staff weave this network?

A lot of it begins through our efforts. Naamah Paley, a BYFI alumna, recently joined our staff. At an event we were hosting while I was on maternity leave, the group was asked, “What brought you here?” Five out of eight answered that it was because Naamah or I had connected to them, not specifically about that event, but just to go out to coffee or talk. When we do that kind of outreach, it’s very clear that we’re not just looking to get them back into the fold for the sake of our program; we’re very interested in them and their development. We’re looking to hear what’s happening in their lives.

During these one-on-one catch-ups, inevitably lots of connections come to mind for me – I can pull up suggestions of who they should be talking to within the community. Access to these connections prompts those individuals who are assisted to get others excited about the network. If a door was opened to you because of a network, you become receptive to opening a door to others.

We in particular utilize our Alumni Advisory Board as contacts and ambassadors of the program. We have an Alumni Venture Fund which hosts a fundraising campaign and then alumni can apply for grants. Our board as well as other alumni serve as fundraisers, and instead of doing a phone-a-thon, they each send emails to 10 people and ask them to set up a time to chat. We don’t want the intensity of a traditional phone-a-thon where you move as quickly as you can to the next call. Each year we also email our community and ask what specific skills they have that they could offer to potential grantees and other alumni more generally. 15-20% of the community responds with what they’re able to offer and what they’re interested in being engaged in.

The key is being specific. It’s hard for people to be of service at times because they don’t realize how they can be utilizing a network. When you give examples through stories, it becomes concrete.

How do you manage all of this information about the alumni?

We have a very robust database through SalesForce. Right now it’s only used internally; it’s very useful for us to sort, track, and keep conscious of what’s happening in people’s lives. Even something as simple as where people studied abroad can help others who go abroad, whether they want to hold a seder or a recommendation of a good coffees shop.

Also, in our annual magazine, we solicit updates from all alumni, and the response rate is exceptionally high. Sometimes people read what’s written and say they want to connect to people they’ve read about. It also helps us understand in the aggregate some themes running amongst alumni, to put together cohorts we hadn’t thought about before.

What challenges are you currently facing?

One frontier we’re trying to figure out is in the area of connecting Israeli and American alumni. Right now we don’t have a shared virtual space; the conversations happening on our listserv are for the American community, and the Israelis have a facebook group. Therefore, we have less interconnection when it comes to sharing resources and networking suggestions. We haven’t yet entirely found how to make connections where there’s some interesting global crossover, or even how much demand there is for that.

What are some best practices of network-weaving?

You have to have a genuine passion for and interest in other people. It can’t be self-serving – that you want to check names off a list or ask people for money or volunteer time. The desire to really know each person and see them succeed has to be the core of the connection; it’s authentic and can’t be faked. That’s why I use “community” interchangeably with “network” in describing BYFI. It goes beyond the utilitarian “networking” (though I think the term networking gets a bad rap) – it’s about that community connection.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kathy Elias

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Kathy Elias is the Chief Kehillah Officer at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Tell me a little about your network.

United Synagogue is an umbrella organization almost 100 years old which first and foremost connects Conservative congregations to each other even as there’s been evolution in United Synagogue itself. We have now moved toward the word kehillah, because we have gotten to the point where we need to look beyond the walls and buildings of our synagogues and recognize that it’s really all about our sacred communities and the people in them.

Can you tell me a bit about how network-weaving has been practiced over the United Synagogue’s 100-year history? 

Let’s go back about 50 years, when there was no internet. United Synagogue brought people together through regional and national conventions and in-person meetings. We have always sought to convey the idea of the shared identity inherent in the concept of being a Conservative shul, and to weave knowledge through identifying best practices and sharing them among the congregations. One mechanism, for example, was our Solomon Schechter Awards that recognized excellence. Another was the knowledge community created by our regional staff and volunteers who were essentially networkers. They were assigned to synagogues and visited them regularly, and they would connect you with others going through the same issues.

Even today, the concept of network-weaving is the trick: the creation of the technology or experiences that would allow people to meet each other is just the first step. For instance, we have had a training program called SULAM, where presidents of congregations meet and learn with each other. We jumpstarted the program with a Shabbaton experience, and the presidents themselves continued to network to support one another throughout their presidencies.

Tell me more about the shift to shaping the United Synagogue as a kehillah. 

We’re now in a time period where identification with a denomination is not the most compelling factor in the identity of many. It may not have the pull it had for pervious generations. Faced with the question of how to sustain an umbrella organization, in 2009, with the appointment of our new CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick, we began a strategic planning process.

The first step of the strategic plan was to change the language from “synagogue” to “kehillah.” As we go beyond the brick and mortar, the idea that the kehillah is created by likeminded people who share Jewish values and practice opens doors for connecting to people who may not identity themselves as “members” – for building relationships and for weaving a network. How do we recreate United Synagogue as dynamic, with dynamic leaders, and how do we weave a network of program, service, and connections that empowers our kehillot to do the same in creating Conservative Jewish life?

What are some of your goals in network-weaving this kehillah?

We’re focusing on four core areas: kehillah strengthening and transformation, integrated education, outreach to young adults, and nurturing emerging kehillot. We are looking to train and connect 5,000 new Jewish leaders in the next five years. We’re seeking to create an integrated educational model. Right now, two groups are meeting – one group convening the network of Conservative sister organizations (Rabbinical Assembly, Ramah, Solomon Schechter day schools, seminaries, and United Synagogue) to pursue an integrated approach to education, breaking down boundaries and weaving networks among us. The second group is comprised of practitioners, who created recommendations about an integrated learning model which is being presented to the group of sister organizations.

We’re working on how to identify and weave networks to support Jewish life among young adults. We’re finding people in emerging kehillot, who are finding each other and creating a new type of Judaism and Jewish community. How do we empower emerging groups and nurture and nourish Jewish life?

Where do you start in this work?

The first phase in kehillah strengthening and transformation is leadership development. We have expanded our Sulam program to extend across the lives of members of kehillot, and we’re asking kehillah leaders to be our partners to try out, improve, and share materials. We have a program to train current leaders (board and committee members), with nearly 100 of our kehillot learning to use materials that we’re asking them to test. We’re also currently testing a new curriculum – SULAM for emerging leaders – in 18 shuls, and soon we’ll be bringing it to the next group of 20-30 shuls. This is not about learning about how to run committees; there’s nothing about governance. It’s about: How do I live a Jewish life? How do I navigate how to prioritize sacred time; how do I create home if it’s different than the one I grew up in; how do I deal with relationships and conflict? What am I as a connector and as a network-weaver? It’s creating conversations and the ability to do strategic thinking.

What have you learned about network-weaving, and what are some challenges for the future?

Network-weaving isn’t done to you. It’s something you have to participate in, and you have to be ready to practice it. Change needs to come from a feeling of a need and a readiness for it, and you also have to have the ability to achieve it. We are thrilled that 20% of our shuls are participating in our SULAM training. But you can’t grow a structure on the ground without volunteers. We need to grow our volunteer network even more formally, and to create a cadre of expert volunteers – to have people in relationships with kehillot on the ground constantly connecting and being present.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Adina Frydman

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Adina Frydman is the Director of Regions for SYNERGY at UJA-Federation of New York and Synagogues Together, which builds a network of synagogues as vital centers of caring, learning, and spiritual renewal. Prior to three and a half years at Federation in New York, she worked at the St. Louis Jewish Federation.

Tell me a little about the SYNERGY network.

SYNERGY is a department at UJA-Federation of New York with the aim of strengthening the tapestry of NY synagogues and making them vibrant institutions. We connect them to resources ranging from board development and synagogue fundraising to social media help. While UJA-Federation has always woven community networks, the work of SYNERGY is evidence of some of the new ways in which networks are being animated at a local level. We have a regional structure, operating in Westchester and on Long Island, allowing best practices for addressing common challenges to be spread across the network. In Westchester, I meet individually with synagogue leaders and in small groups, bringing people together across denominational and size spectrums. We talk about the pressing issues the synagogues are facing, what success stories there are, and how we can spread success.

How do you measure success in your network? 

We track to what extent synagogue leaders take advantage of resources and opportunities we offer for growth, such as workshops, consultations, and webinars. Each program is evaluated in our tracking of participation as well as through feedback loops, such as online surveys, which we develop in order to tailor our resources. The ultimate network need not run exclusively through a hub. Therefore, we also measure the extent to which synagogue leaders participate in different aspects of the network and how they are networking with each other through in-person gatherings and on online platforms, such as LinkedIn and Google groups.

What are the challenges in working in a networked way?

For synagogues, there’s both a fear and a lack of familiarity with operating in a network mindset. What does it really mean to open something up to a general discussion and input? What do we do with the feedback once we have it? In our work, we try to demonstrate the actual value of the network so that people want to open up. Once they benefit from the network, they realize they have a lot to gain and to bring, as well as experiencing the value of being part of something bigger, broader, and more open.

Also, there’s a general misunderstanding of what it means to operate as a network: people sometimes narrow their understanding to a purely social media context. They think that, if they don’t have social media knowledge, the network is closed to them. In reality, social media is a tool, but we have functioned as a network since the beginning of time – now we’re just using these tools to build social capital and strengthen network ties faster and beyond our immediate networks.

What vision for the future do you believe network-weaving can accomplish?

Part of what UJA-Federation is facilitating is working across silos. It’s not just about synagogues – it’s about strengthening synagogues as key network hubs in the community as a whole. I dream of a networked community that is open while cultivating a sense of belonging, porous but with integrity and value, relevant, purpose-driven, and dynamic with multiple gates of entry so people can access and connect wherever they are in their lifecycle and Jewish journey. Rather than a model where you’re in (a member) or out (not a member), how can we broaden our concept of community so that we create an open tent where everyone can simultaneously participate (be a consumer) and co-create (be a prosumer) of the community?

Federations, synagogues, JCC’s, camps, day schools, social service agencies and other organizations within our community each have a critical place and role. We will individually and collectively benefit by shifting our mindset to being shaped by what the community wants, through considering our niche and unique value propositions. This shift will also allow for new entities to emerge as needed.  This networked community would be vibrant, caring, inspired and interconnected – and wouldn’t we all want to be part of that community?

Do you have some pointers as to how to engage in a network of purpose?

One of the keys is to simultaneously feel value in the assets you’re going to bring to the table and to be open about what you’re going to receive. There should be real honesty in the discussions, including about the overarching value of what we’re trying to accomplish as a collective. There’s this collective vision out there that’s bigger than the missions of each organization. When you’re sitting in a virtual or in-person conversation, you feel this door of possibility open when people realize that together we’re something more than the sum of our individual parts. Then, of course, you have to work out the individual roles and what each entity brings to raising up the whole. But until you understand that it’s about a bigger value proposition, it’s hard to move into the networked mindset.

Working in a networked way is also iterative – something that’s worked on all the time. It’s about constantly coming together for a purpose. At the same time as having a clear agenda and purpose, within the context of each gathering there has to be room for something not on the agenda, whether you call it an open space session or a brainstorm, as this will allow for innovation to take place. It takes time, repetition, familiarity, and trust to build relationships – yet relationships are the fabric of the weave. Humility is also very important. Lack of humility is our biggest barrier to trying new things and taking risks, because when we lack humility, we fear personal failure. Working in a network, you have to understand: I’m part of a vast web and I’m the center of my own universe, all at once. To paraphrase Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peschischa, everyone must have two pockets. When feeling lowly, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: "For my sake was the world created."  But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: "I am but dust and ashes."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Smadar Bar-Akiva

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Smadar Bar-Akiva is the Executive Director of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers (WCJCC).

Tell me about your network.

I direct an umbrella organization that represents more than 1,100 Jewish Community Centers around the world – we’re a network of networks. We have a 70-member board with representation from all the JCC networks from around the world and sponsor organizations. The purpose of our organization is to enrich Jewish lives and strengthen Jewish communities by connecting JCCs as institutions that open their doors to large number of Jews on a regular basis.

What role does network-weaving play in your work?

Though I sit in Jerusalem, my whole day revolves around connecting with JCC leadership worldwide. I have two functions: one is a networking function, as a facilitator between JCC leaders- finding out JCC leaders’ needs and interests and connecting them to others worldwide through conferences, Think Tanks, study visits, regional conferences, and more. The other part of the work is implementing specific projects that connect specific JCCs. For instance, several years ago we initiated a Tri Center program that connects communities in Israel and North America to those in a third country, involving some 30 JCCs worldwide. We recently launched a Global Jewish Fellows program, co-sponsored with UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and PresenTense. It trains lay leaders from partnered JCCs to become leaders with a global Jewish perspective and to initiate projects in their local JCCs. It involved webinars, working with mentors, and seminars in Israel and Budapest. During the last couple of years, I feel that leaders from the JCCs and the JCC networks who are involved in these partnerships have become a global leadership group. We hope in the future to develop this phenomenon into a more formalized global forum.

What lessons in network-weaving have you learned from your work?

I’ve been working with JCCs since 1987, and I’ve found out that it’s first and foremost about the personal connections I’ve developed over the years and continue to develop as the network expands. Technology helps a lot, but it’s about sensitivity to every person; it’s not a template. Once a year, we take a study visit to a different part of the world to understand the needs and see how we could better connect them.

What challenges have you experienced in network-weaving?

First, there are cultural gaps, time differences, and mentality differences. These professionals and lay leaders work in different settings, and they need to come to the process with an open mind. People have to learn to take off their own lenses and understand the different context. Second, there are so many pressing needs in local life that it’s hard to find extra resources to connect with people far away. The challenging part is really the first meeting, the first encounter, to put global Jewry on their radar – but it’s very encouraging that people who do get involved are really drawn into it. Finally, the network needs constant cultivation; it doesn’t happen on its own. It needs facilitation, staff time and resources. We have a new part-time professional working on our global Jewish year-long project, and I already see that we’ve created additional momentum and energy in our network.

How do participants benefit from your network?

More and more, JCCs understand the power of these global connections. Through anecdotal evidence and some research, we found that those involved with the global Jewish partnerships feel their personal Jewish identity and connection to the global Jewish community strengthened. We give a lot of attention to communities outside of Israel and North America. For instance, Latin America has rich and powerful communities, but they feel off of the radar screen; it’s important to them to be acknowledged, to learn from each other, and to see what others are doing in the Jewish world. Many from the larger communities feel this encounter invigorates their work as well. Very often, leaders from North America come back home from places like the JCCs in the Former Soviet Union and say, “Now I remember why I got into this field in the first place!” After going all the way to a different part of the world, they understand themselves better. They become leaders who understand global Jewish issues better, and can be our advocates to initiate more partnerships.

How would you like to see the network grow in the future?

I would like to see it more professionalized and formalized, with the interactions taking place at closer intervals and impacting more people. I would like a greater use of technology for participants to connect more with one another, to share more, and to invest more of their time in the network. We are welcoming to everyone, but there is a limit to the number of people you can reach with limited resources. At the same time, as we expand, we have to find ways to still keep the feeling of personal, family-like intimacy.

I really like the term network-weaving. Our network is something really tangible. When I connect people, it really feels like weaving – it grows across different levels, like a tapestry.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tomer Marshall

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Tomer Marshall is Curator at Leadel: A Jewish Media Hub, showcasing the rich variety of contemporary Jewish voices and expressions. Following completion of a master’s thesis in comparative media exploring the evolution of formats in new media, he gained experience in web development and writing and directing for television in Israel.

Tell me about your network.

The underlying principle behind Leadel is to figure out how to get people from different backgrounds, life skills, and areas of value-based work to connect with one another. How can those in the environmental movement connect with the Jewish Anglo scene in Jerusalem? How could my friends in the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) movement connect with the people I know in the Tel Aviv art/design scene? These people had never met and while it might seem that they have little in common, they actually have a lot in common: At the end of the day, they are all engaged in activities for the benefit of society.

We do this through creating a central campfire for the tribe – somewhere people can come and don’t have to talk to one other, but they can see and be exposed to each other. There’s no broadcaster doing this, as they are all focused on the niche audience. By doing a Jewish public TV series featuring extended profiles, we could all be more aware of each other on a personal story level, not only on a political level. We’ve also done a lot of experiments in new media showing what is interesting in the Jewish web, such as a crowd-sourced video asking people for questions about Chanukah.

How do you measure the impact of your network?

Measuring is the old way of thinking. I’m not sure I can say up front what the results will be. No one would have said the outcomes of the Internet would be facebook or email –money went into it because it was touted as a missile defense program. But would you say it wasn’t worth it? In putting money into smaller organizations whose goals are more open and experimental, you have to know that the ROI is going to be very different. The question should be: Is what I’m doing enabling the creation of more connections, or not? Then, it’s feeling the pulse and what the connections are doing. Are they growing and strengthening? Are people I’m funding helping other people? If you fund five organizations which aren’t only thinking about themselves but each are trying to help five others, you’re going to make an impact.

What do you think the impact of networks will be on the Jewish world?

Networks are going to change the Jewish people because we’re the people of the media: we change as the dominant media change. We’re going into an era of networks; right now it’s still at an early stage. It’s too early to tell what the hubs of the Jewish people will be in this new era. Networks aren’t a command and control system. They’re more of an enabling system. Will the hubs be big organizations, or will they not hop onto the train before others do? The question is whether we will change happily and in a way that flows, or if it will be bumpier.

Our job as part of the Jewish organizational world is to make it as flowing and pleasant as possible. For starters, everyone should read Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s Linked – it’s good to understand the basic terminology. Also, if we learn the new “Web literacy” skills and ideas – such as content management, nodes, and organizing information – the networked effect might soak better into Jewish society.

What is the role of technology in a networked world?

Technology is a distraction – networks entail a change of mindset. For instance, when we launched Leadel, we had a web server for our videos. It was very expensive, and it was also a closed environment. We decided to transfer our videos to YouTube. It was less “ours,” but it was contributing to a bigger network, making videos open and free to the world. The idea of a network is that, once someone makes something everyone else can use, they’re creating value, and that value will flow. So you can see that technology is the last decision once you have the mindset that is aimed at being part of and contributing to something bigger -- a network.

How do you envision the Jewish world operating under a network mindset?

If you see one TED Talk, you say “Wow, I learned something new.” If you see a few, you say “Wow, there’s still so much I don’t know.” We need to bring that perspective into the Jewish world. We don’t want to just cater to people’s specific needs in directing them to one isolated Jewish experience; it’s about getting people to understand that there’s so much more they don’t know and excite them about learning. There needs to be something that brings together people from different places and disciplines that have nothing to do with each other – but they find a way to learn from each other.

People are connecting, learning, and starting to care about being part of a bigger organism. Instead of politics, which say, “I’m right and you’re wrong” and imply a fight over limited resources, we need to understand anti-politics, to be all on the same side and to see good in others.

What has Leadel done to contribute to this new mindset?

Last February, Leadel organized a digital Jewish education forum bringing together Jewish educators and pioneering education technology for a day of learning. We thought it important to enable organizations to have better digital presence, because if they understand how to use the web, they will make it better for the Jewish people through economy of scale. It’s critical for organizations to understand that the main point is to create value for others.

And we’re planning to take this to the next level with even a bigger Jewish TEDlike conference. Stay tuned, join our mailing list, and we’ll keep you updated.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ayelet Lichtash

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Ayelet Lichtash founded the Alef Bet Montessori School in North Bethesda, Maryland after experiencing a need in the community as a mother and leading a community-wide, transdenominational effort to bring the school into existence. She is now in the process of revolutionizing Israeli education through creating a Montessori training center in Israel. She is a member of the International Board of Montessori Administrators. She holds a master’s from Tel Aviv University and a law degree from Georgetown Law School and is also Director of Legal Affairs for Aish HaTorah of Washington, DC.

What is network-weaving?

Compared to academic intelligence, networked thinking is the social/emotional intelligence involved in leadership. It’s understanding people and being empathetic. It’s incredible and very powerful; it can get you to places you’ve never been before. But it’s not something that can happen all of a sudden when you arrive at a conference. It’s something you need to work on ahead of time to be prepared. This preparation involves contemplation time – time you have to take away from daily chores to make a plan, work on it, and brainstorm with others.

What challenges do you currently face in your network-weaving work?

My challenges are on two levels. First, on a local level, I’m working on creating a first-of-a-kind Montessori school with the most stringent accreditation. That’s something that requires a lot of networking, because wisdom from experienced people will help me choose the right path. I have to meet with business people to understand the business world; heads of school to learn how to structure schools; and board members, both on my own board and on others, to learn what we can bring to our own practice. Leadership and vision are crucial to plan room to grow and so that everyone can participate.

My second challenge is international: I’ve started a Montessori network in Israel. I’m establishing a Montessori training center, which will be a third of the cost to match current prices for Israeli education but provide the same high caliber of training we have here in the US. The challenge is working with stakeholders like the local community, education gurus in Israel, the department of education, the council of higher education, and more to create support from here to bring Montessori over there.

Where have you experienced successful network-weaving practices?

At the recent North American Jewish Day School Conference, Daniel Petter-Lipstein understood my needs to connect with others. He introduced me to Dr. Bruce Powell, and I had 3 hours of intense conversation with him about things I really needed to know to move my school to the next level. Those kinds of introductions happened over and over again throughout the conference.

The session at the conference on networks by Seth Cohen from the Schusterman Foundation and Leah Meir from The AVI CHAI Foundation with Bill Robinson from the Jewish Education Project was so good – I still have the network effectiveness diagnostic workbook on my desk. I learned that it takes homework to weave a network – it’s a thoughtful, engaging process, and you have to know what questions to ask and put principles and best practices onto paper to share with the rest of your network.

Also, PEJE did speed-dating networking exercise where we met 25 people – 5 minutes per person. It took off the embarrassment and emotional barriers of introducing yourself for the first time, and gave confidence that others will talk to you even if they don’t know you.

What are your next steps in network-weaving?

I am a startup, starting something new. I would love to meet people who work with other entrepreneurial startups to help set my expectations as to how I can expect to grow within the current economic conditions and demographics. I would also love to meet more local people in DC who have made an impact. At the same time, I’m working on sharing the wealth of knowledge I have with people in Israel.

I’ve learned that the best network works through referral. The element of weaving is fascinating to me: How do you expand your network to reach more resources who can share information with you? The more people who call me to say they can help me with one angle or that they have someone I can talk to – that’s how it works. I’m weaving my way through it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nicky Newfield

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Nicky Newfield is the Director of Jewish Interactive, which provides interactive digital resources, an informative curriculum, and online collaborative learning to bring children a touch closer to engaging and innovative Jewish learning around their rich Jewish heritage. She is based in South Africa.

What is a network? What is a network-weaver?

A network is a space where people who are likeminded can meet. To be able to network people is a skill similar to making a shidduch. Not everyone has that skill, to put people together, to connect, and to weave them.

How have you applied network-weaving to your work? 

As a new, innovative technology company, networking can help us find out what schools need – which schools feel passionately about having technology and which schools feel passionately that they need technology. It’s also about networking with the students – instead of giving them what we want, finding out what they want. When kids use the program, they can also network between each other. Our vision is that a student in South Africa can blog their homework about recording their version of L’cha Dodi, UK- and US-based users of the same program can do the same, and they can compare it. Then they can start talking. They network themselves through a basis of understanding, around a topic, rather than randomly. It’s very powerful – there’s a lot of learning in it.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities in South Africa around networking?

The community in South Africa is very small; most people know each other. The challenge is going beyond your comfort zone to say: It’s OK to step outside my community and engage with other communities as well. More than connecting internally, the challenge is connecting externally, bringing in fresh new ideas and new energies, and perhaps sharing what innovators in South Africa have to bring to the world.

How can networked approaches be applied to education?

The field of education is changing radically. From a child’s perspective, the classroom is no longer the only place to get information. Children can access all kinds of educational programs on iPads, computers, etc. From an educator’s perspective, the challenge is choosing the material for the children that’s appropriate for their ages and reaches the elements you want to reach. It is great to “let the child be the innovator,” but we strongly believe it needs to be within a content frame. Within a constructivist theory, everything they do is with an educational aim – but by all means give them digital homework: make a powerpoint, blog it, share it, pretend it’s a facebook page, and tweet it to your teacher. The content can be digital, interactive, and fun, and networking can be a powerful tool to share and to grow. Children like to be part of a group, to connect to each other. There are natural human forces at work: the need to be heard, to be understood, to be part of something larger, to compete to be the best, to be acknowledged. As a Jewish network, it is particularly powerful to have a network with Israel and with South Africa, as children are used to living in a global world.

What networks would you like to see exist that don’t exist already?

There are so many it’s difficult to choose – we’re a little bombarded. My particular challenge is knowing which networks are out there and when and how to use them correctly. We just started a new website a week ago, and I would like to know how to network efficiently to increase the audience of the site. I’d also like to know how to reach more schools to ask: We have this program; how could we adapt it to your needs? What do you need next? Having a global network of educators in dialogue that everyone is a part of would be amazing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Network-Weaver Interview: David Brown

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

David with some Fairtrade kippot.
David Brown is Social Action Coordinator at JHub in London, working on the Jewish Social Action Forum’s Big Green Jewish and Fairtrade campaigns. He is also the European coordinator of SIACH: A Global Environment and Social Justice network, and was on the core volunteer team recently for Limmud Conference in the UK.

What is a network?

I think of connections between people, projects, and organizations. It can be a group of people who happen to find themselves in the same space, organizationally or physically. Either a given area of content can attract people (I think about SIACH), or it can be getting people together and letting them define the content (like the ROI Community).

I come to the world of networks with a lot of stereotypes in mind. I always thought of it as very utilitarian and transactional – it’s schmooze, booze, and people talking while looking over their shoulders to see if they see someone more interesting to talk to.

For me, the antidote was a session led by Seth Cohen which I attended at ROI about purposefulness in connections: finding ways to connect that are meaningful and values-based. Seth asked participants to write down people they had been introduced to that they found interesting and have gone on to build worthwhile connections with, the people they had introduced to others, and who had introduced others to them (who were their ‘connectors/weavers’). I realized I had really benefited from being introduced to others, and decided that now it was time to more consciously start doing the introducing.

What was it like to start being a connector?

At the start, it felt uneasy. It still felt a bit transactional: I felt like I was using people for their particular expertise rather than thinking about them as whole people. But I found that if I consciously thought that every time I met someone I had to try to connect them to someone else, whether or not I stood to gain from it personally, then when I was doing it for my own initiatives I could feel more comfortable with that.

I started introducing people doing interesting stuff, and I saw how grateful those people were.

Do you think there are natural network-weavers? 

I happen to be involved in situations where I’m meeting lots of people, and I feel that not to introduce them to each other would be wasteful. But people who are not in contact with lots of people don’t necessarily need to do it.

What for you has been the added value in being part of networks?

What I’ve found great about humanity is how diverse we are. Being part of networks connects me with that diversity – not only because of the range of people you meet, but in the way you get to know people as holistic and appreciate how different areas of their personality or passion overlap in the web of purposeful connections that they are a part of. You also get to understand the great stuff going on out there, which is very motivational.

My Jewish identity really comes from the opportunities I’ve had to connect with people around the world, which allowed me to hear different ways of being Jewish in the world, beyond my narrow one in Britain. I’ve also learned all kinds of skills – such as to be a better public speaker – and made some great friends out of it too.

Is there a goal to your network-weaving work?

Most of the time, it’s definitely connecting people around Jewish social justice. There’s an explosion of it globally, some examples being the growth of JHub resident organisations,  AJWS’s growth over the past decade, as well as Orthodox groups getting involved such as Uri L’tzedek and B’maaglei Tzedek. Yet we’re a small people, with limited time and resources – if we’re able to connect people trying to achieve similar things, we will have a much greater impact.

More importantly, I want to see a vibrant Jewish people around the world. If we can showcase the diversity of Jewish expression within our web of networks, more people will be interested in being Jewish in exciting ways and have people with whom to develop these ways of being Jewish with.

How do you use network-weaving in your work at the Jewish Social Action Forum?

The Jewish Social Action Forum is a network which is focused on campaigns around issues such as poverty, race, asylum, and the environment. The goal is to get more people doing Jewishly-inspired social action. When it first started doing this work, JSAF found it needed to make stuff happen but hadn’t necessarily brought all members along with it. So we did a consultation with the members. We applied community organizing tools by investing in personal relationships first.

What challenges does network-weaving pose for you?

It’s important to spend time investing in strong relationships, yet I worry to what extent that keeps you from opening yourself up to new people – managing the balance of maintaining existing connections whilst being open to fresh ones is a challenge.

There are also challenges from the Jewish peoplehood aspect given the global nature of networks. I coordinate the European cohort within SIACH, and there are issues with a common language – not just a language to speak, but also literacy in terms of social media, Jewish text, and approaches to networks. Sometimes even when you think you’re speaking the same language, you’re not.

Finally, to sustain relationships, you need face time. It can’t all be virtual. Yet I think about the carbon footprint of the whole network crossing the world and the expense being prohibitive for some people and communities. Through ROI and Limmud, I recently traveled to Limmud OzFest in Melbourne; even though one of our current campaigns is Big Green Jewish, I flew to Australia. There’s a cost, economically and ecologically. It’s the same issue in Israel engagement: How do you sustain that connection to Israel without people flying back and forth?

How do you hope your networks will develop in the future?

Some networks are driven top-down, with key people in them driving them because they think they’re important. But if people really reflected on them, they would see the value. How do you shift them so everyone has access and is contributing? How do they become truly driven by the grassroots? I also think about creating webs of networks. What’s the art involved in integrating networks – and how can shared values be a part of that art?