A year ago, I set out on a journey to understand how Jewish professionals are acting as network-weavers. I started by interviewing trailblazers who are activating their organizations’ constituencies towards common goals. I met community organizers advocating for causes from new educational models to environmental consciousness in the Jewish community. I encountered group facilitators sparking conversation on best practices in using technology in day schools and growing vibrant synagogues. I spoke with those engaging alumni, young Jews, and other target populations to become active, lifelong Jewish learners. Some of these interviews were featured here on eJewishPhilanthropy. These conversations led me to realize that Jewish professionals working with networks in a diversity of settings would benefit tremendously from resources on network-weaving within and beyond a Jewish context – including one another. I first wrote here about the idea of providing this through a training program for network-weavers.
In my role as Director of Communications for The AVI CHAI Foundation, I am creating a laboratory for experimentation around how network-weaving can be applied to improve the effectiveness of Jewish organizations in engaging their constituencies. From November 2012 to August 2013, in HaReshet (“The Network”), a pilot group of AVI CHAI grantees are learning together about network-weaving; developing and practicing skills in a guided and reflective way; and benefiting from sharing lessons with one another along the journey.
Grantees were selected for this pilot program based on two criteria. First, they see the value of their organizations as networks working toward a particular goal. Second, someone is currently on staff with time allocated to work with this network and help it achieve its potential. These criteria match the intention of HaReshet to help expedite the work of organizations who will regardless be exploring the frontier of building networks this year. I am truly excited to be working with the following participants:
- Frayda Goshor-Cohen and Luba Yusim from the Consortium of Applied Jewish Studies in Jewish Education, managed by Rosov Consulting: Connecting researchers, practitioners and philanthropists in the field of Jewish education;
- Gary Hartstein from DigitalJLearning, a project of the Jewish Education Project: Networking Jewish day schools which are implementing online and blended learning;
- Jane Cohen from Day School Leadership Training Institute of the Davidson Graduate School of Education at JTS: Activating the alumni network of graduates of the DSLTI professional development program, which trains and supports heads of Jewish day schools;
- Debbie Feinstein and Yael Bailey from the Jewish New Teacher’s Project (JNTP), a project of the New Teacher Center: Creating a network of alumni of its programs, which accelerate the effectiveness of beginning teachers in Jewish day schools;
- Rebecca Braverman of Reshet Ramah of the National Ramah Commission; Creating a network of Ramah alumni; and
- Miriam Cohen and Drorit Farkas of TaL AM: Creating a network of teachers using the TaL AM curriculum of Hebrew Language Arts and Jewish Studies.
HaReshet brings alive a vision of how network-weaving is not just new content to be learned. Rather, it is a mindset and approach, which the program itself embodies. Instead of top-down lectures, blended in-person and online webinars accommodating participants both within and beyond New York City enable the interactive discussion of network concepts. Instead of passive learning, participants are required to actively apply the material through exercises between the monthly webinars.
Also critical to network-weaving is the belief that learning is not unidirectional. As the Jewish chevruta model recognizes, there is tremendous value in learning – and in learning together. This concept is particularly relevant to the emerging field of network-weaving, where some may have more experience in working with networks, but we all stand to learn from one another. In HaReshet, each participant is paired with a chevruta partner experienced in network-weaving who will coach him or her to achieve specific personal and professional goals. Our esteemed chevruta partners are: Miriam Brosseau of The Jewish Education Project/ Darim Online (See3), Caren Levine of Etheoreal, Lisa Colton of Darim Online (See3), Liz Fisher of Birthright NEXT, Naava Frank of YU Institute for University-School Partnership, and Sara Shapiro-Plevan of Rimonim Consulting.
Ultimately, in a woven network, the discrete components add up to a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. The AVI CHAI Foundation in North America invests in a wide range of initiatives that further Jewish literacy, religious purposefulness, and peoplehood/Israel at Jewish day schools and summer camps. While grantees are united around these three core values, they each represent a different path toward making them come to life. Given that AVI CHAI is sunsetting in 2020, it is especially important to the foundation to leave a legacy of strong organizations that can consciously articulate and promote the values to future generations. Part of this work may be to bring together grantees who perceive themselves as operating in very different contexts and helping them understand the ways in which they are working toward similar goals. HaReshet hopes to enable the individual participating networks to grow and each network-weaver to achieve greater confidence and mastery in acting in this role. It also may be one place where grantees can benefit not only from the value of the program, but also the value of access to one another. In doing so, they may begin to think about how they are a part of and can enhance a bigger picture.
At the same time, I have realized the deep importance not just of network-weaving as a concept, but of the individual network-weavers themselves. Their skills, personalities, and dedication greatly influence the ways their networks develop, and are in many cases what enables their networks to take off. I am privileged to work with and learn from so many passionate and talented network-weavers, and look forward to what we can achieve together.
Deborah Fishman is Director of Communications at The AVI CHAI Foundation.