The first in a series showcasing young Jewish Detroiters making their mark on communities around the country.
Ally Berman is a West Bloomfield native with an infectious passion for Jewish life that she’s now transporting from Ann Arbor to Palo Alto, Calif. As a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan, she was on the executive council of TAMID Israel Investment Group. What started at U-M seven years ago as a college club to connect business-minded students to Israel has spread to 15 college campuses, including Harvard, UPenn and Cornell. Dozens of college students have spent a summer interning in Israel through the TAMID program.
Berman’s experiences with TAMID led her to engage with grassroots Jewish programs in Southern California. Within months of graduation, she’s been selected, along with three others, to be a resident at the Palo Alto Moishe House.
Moishe House Palo Alto planned a dozen events last month for the 20-something Jewish community near Stanford University, including a Jewish Director’s Film Series, a Shabbat in the Sukkah and a Yom Kippur break-fast. Berman’s Judaic studies background and passion for social entrepreneurship make her a perfect example of a young adult able to lead a professional career while also igniting creative solutions in the Jewish realm.
That’s why Berman is the first in this JN series of doers taking the passion they learned in Jewish Detroit to a national stage. Amidst changes in the Jewish world, these profiles will focus on the problem solvers, creators and doers that represent the best of the next generation.
How would you describe TAMID?
Berman: New-age Israel advocacy. A way for college students, not just Jews, to relate to Israel on a personal and professional level that gives them a connection to Israel l’tamid (forever).
What was your involvement with TAMID at U-M?
I started as a member of the bet class, then moved up to be the national executive director of programming and oversaw the organization’s growth to 15 campuses by 2013, and facilitated the partnership with the Israel on Campus Coalition and subsequent hiring of our first full-time executive director.
What are TAMID’s plans?
Big things are happening! Internally, the program structure on the 15 campuses is solidifying; new campuses have been added to launch in 2014. Investing and consulting are maturing, and the summer fellowship is growing. Brett Goldman, the executive director, is giving the organization a new professional element, while the current students continue to imbue TAMID with fresh ideas and directions in which to grow.
When did you start your residency at Moishe House Palo Alto?
What has your experience been like?
It’s been a blast. The Palo Alto community is eclectic, educated and kind. The combination of Stanford graduate students, young professionals and entrepreneurs makes for fascinating conversations and inspires out-of-the-box programs.
What makes Moishe House Palo Alto distinct from the typical Moishe House?
Palo Alto is part college town, part startup incubator and is close enough to San Francisco that many people here have a Peter Pan outlook on life. “Impossible” is not a word this community uses because something unknown just represents an opportunity not yet seized. The Palo Alto MoHo uses that kinetic energy to provide a wide range of events that welcome the breadth of interests in the area.
Why do you feel grassroots programs like Moishe House and TAMID fulfill a need in the Jewish community?
It’s amazing to me how similar Moishe House and TAMID are in the Jewish and Zionist worlds, respectively. Up until a few years ago, both spheres were dominated by bureaucratic, archaic and outdated organizations. Moishe House and TAMID are organizations that allow the end-user to create the very programs that they want. Each has a “chapter” model that gives the residents and students the ability to customize events to meet the needs of their community while still being true to the larger organization’s vision. As a result, hundreds of transient Jews have a home at Moishe Houses around the world, and college students across the country, not just Jews, have a way to interact with Israel on a meaningful, lasting level. They are young, dynamic organizations that speak to a young, dynamic generation.
In what ways did your upbringing influence your interest in Israel and the Jewish community?
My parents always encouraged me to be educated and pursue my passions. It just happened to be that my passion and subsequent education led me to Zionism and Jewish engagement. I was encouraged to question things that don’t make sense and to challenge the status-quo, which is why I believe I am continuously drawn to such innovative programs.
My family has been hugely supportive of my involvement with both TAMID and Moishe House. I was also taught that if I am going to do something, I should give it my all and “do it right,” which is why I have chosen to live my passions through TAMID and Moishe House for the past four years.
How do you maintain a connection to the Jewish Detroit community?
Many of my friends from college moved back to Detroit, and I am inspired and excited to follow their stories. Every chance that I get, I talk up Detroit and the comeback I know is on its horizon. Eventually I want to move back to Detroit and raise a family there.
Do you have any interest in working in the Jewish community on a full-time basis?
If the trend of innovation continues to work its way around the Jewish nonprofit world, I would love to be a catalyst for that change. In the interim, I am going to try my hand in other fields.
Where do you see your life 10 years from now?
Hopefully happy. I’ve accepted that any other details will change no matter how much I plan.
Based on your experiences at U-M and now in Palo Alto, what advice would you offer the Detroit Jewish community with regard to attracting and retaining young Jews?
Give us an opportunity to build something ourselves. There is so much work to be done in Detroit, and it is an unbelievable opportunity for the young Jewish community to help restore the area to its former glory. I have witnessed firsthand the power and imagination my generation possesses when involved with meaningful projects. There is little that is more meaningful than creating a safe, welcoming, thriving space for the Detroit Jewish community.
Provide opportunities for us to come back and make an impact. Our parents’ generation should be resources, not roadblocks. Encourage crazy ideas and share your passion for the cause — that is the most infectious way I’ve seen to inspire other to get things done.
(Palo Alto, Calif.)
Current Profession: Social Media Marketing (Media Analyst) at Ampush
High School/year: West Bloomfield High School, 2009
College/year: University of Michigan-Ross School of Business, 2013
Home synagogue: Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield
Parents: Julie and Allen Berman
Siblings: Stephanie, Michael, Robin Berman
By Adam Finkel, Special to the Jewish News