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.