Detroiters at Jewish Innovation Summit In Israel Bring Ideas Home

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The recent innovation summit in Jerusalem brought together young Jewish change-makers from around the world.

To see the future of the global Jewish community, you need to attend ROI (Return on Investment), an annual summit that gathers 150 of the Jewish world’s brightest young minds from every corner of the globe and every field of endeavor to “dream big, network intensely and learn a great deal from a cohort of talented peers.”

The most recent summit, now in its second decade, occurred June 26-30 in Jerusalem.

The ROI Community is an international network of activists and change-makers redefining Jewish engagement for a new generation of global citizens. The community, now exceeding 1,000 global members, is focused on “channeling a diversity of perspectives, skills and interests toward a shared passion for advancing ideas and partnerships that will strengthen Jewish communities and improve society.”

Funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, ROI empowers its members to take an active role in shaping the Jewish future. Today, ROI members are creating new and innovative ways to engage wider audiences in Jewish life globally — from Tunis and Melbourne and Tel Aviv, to grassroots projects closer to home in our greater Detroit community.

Adam Finkel

The ROI Summit includes presentations from people rethinking the Jewish community, such as Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR LA. Brous created IKAR (“essence” in Hebrew) in Los Angeles to be a bold laboratory for creative Jewish practice, and today it is one of the more successful models seeking to build Jewish life in America.

The ROI Summit also includes TED-style talks, workshops on creativity, lectures by individuals regarding Middle East policy, nonprofit experts on scaling organizational models globally and plenty of time for networking to share the best practices one-on-one between participants.

Passionate Participants

One of the most compelling aspects of the event is the diversity of backgrounds, careers and Jewish affiliations. Attendees range from the head of the European Union of Jewish Students on the front lines of fighting anti-Semitism in Brussels to the 30-something owner of one of the largest food and beverage companies in Israel who organizes initiatives around Holocaust remembrance and other Jewish causes.

Rafram Chaddad came from Tunis. He is an artist who crafts sculptures with Jewish themes; he also created a company that brings Tunisian food to life and wrote a book on his incarceration in a Libyan prison. He was arrested while in Libya to document the remnants of the Libyan Jewish community.

Rabbi Dan Horwitz

Liron Atia came from Ashkelon, Israel. A snowboarding accident at age 18 left Liron paralyzed from the waist down. The accident instantly forced Liron to reinvent himself; today he runs a business making commercials for many of Israel’s largest companies and created a nonprofit called Tachles, which makes viral videos around public service messages; one video educating viewers about physical disabilities had 35 million views in a single week.

Sarah Waxman came from San Francisco. Sarah pours her passion into programs that empower Jewish women to feel more spiritually connected. Her growing program, At the Well, “enables young women to gather monthly in peer-led groups to rediscover Jewish wisdom, modernize Jewish traditions and express Jewish values and spirituality.”

Menachem Bombach, who came from a town outside Jerusalem, has already founded a religious high school, a preparatory program for haredi students and leads a seminar for young people in a Hassidic community. He is executive director of an inspiring program called Torah Academy, which allows “students to combine their traditional education with an opportunity for educational and professional advancement as adults,” and he does this in a system that does not easily embrace change.

Rabbi Menachem Wolfe came from Australia. His extremely successful center, Spiritgrow, brings the teachings of Jewish spirituality and contemporary life sciences together in an applied manner (mindfulness classes, cuisine demonstrations, Kabbalah sessions, guest presenters in all areas of personal growth) to help people live better, more fulfilled lives.

Yuval Bdolah moved to Lod after the social protests that broke out in 2011. Located in one of Israel’s most challenging cities, he made use of innovative models of civic engagement to effect change in the city. The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit has supported Yuval’s efforts. One goal was to rebrand Lod as an ideal location for young people.

Kevin Lieberman

What began as a core of 30 students has grown to become a vibrant and active community of more than 300 young people. As founder and CEO of the project, Yuval was asked by the Israeli government to duplicate it in other cities. The project has expanded to five new locations (Kiryat Shemona, Tiberias, Rahat, Kiryat Gat and B’nei Barak).

Detroit Presence

The 2016 ROI Summit included a significant presence for the greater Jewish Detroit community, including Rabbi Dan Horwitz, Shimon Gal Levy, Kevin Lieberman and me.

Lieberman is a robotics doctoral student at the University of Michigan and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow. He was formerly president of the Duke University Jewish Student Union.

“Whether I had questions about how to more efficiently cook Shabbat dinners for 30 young adults, how to write effective community newsletters or how to discuss ethical issues regarding robots in society, there were ROIers at the summit who were eager to provide help and cheer each other on in implementing our visions for improving our communities.

“ROI sends the message that we’re not alone in trying to create change,” Lieberman said. “ROI connects us with collaborators from around the world, and then we’re provided resources so we can take risks.”

He has already worked to further the ROI community well beyond the summit experience.

“I stayed in Israel for a week after ROI so I could see the Israeli ROIers in action,” he said. “I joined an ROIer at a Knesset committee meeting, visited an ROIer’s art studio in Jerusalem and saw my peers’ hometowns. Since I returned to Michigan, it has been fascinating to see how ROIers from around the world provide commentary on social media regarding local and global events and engage their communities with different issues.”

Shimon Gal Levy of Detroit, a returning member to the ROI Summit, said the conference outdid itself in creating an experience that social entrepreneurs could only fantasize about.

University of Michigan alumni and graduate students who participated: (standing) Aaron Miller, Rabbi Dan Horwitz, Kevin Lieberman, Nathan Gilson and Adam Finkel; (front) Erin Zaikis and Beth DeBeer.

“Imagining and then building a sterile environment, a petri dish, that takes a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural group of people and creates a common language in the span of five days through strategic, yet intensive programming, creative studios and brain dates [collaborating opportunities] allowed social entrepreneurs to more efficiently brainstorm and assess ways to scale their organizations.”

The Summit, Levy said, is so meticulously thought through that it allows you and your fellow social entrepreneurs to “pause, shift perspective, risk and re-vision” the work you are doing with a clear sense of purpose and drive soon after its conclusion.

“ROI both creates an environment that empowers entrepreneurs to fulfill their potential and pursue their aspirations as well as the fail-safe community that provides you the safety net to support your success through connecting with community members to an array of different grant-making opportunities and professional guidance to support our individual causes,” he said.

As a returning ROIer, Levy can attest firsthand that ROI has opened his door to explore a world he was previously not familiar with. The interaction with fellow participants led in later years to establishing some of his closest friends and fellow collaborators in an array of ventures — and 2016 was no different.

Horwitz, founder of The Well, a Detroit-based outreach initiative that plans programming for Jewish young adults, says it was an incredibly humbling experience to have been selected.

“The conference was planned and executed with a level of expertise and attention to detail simply unparalleled by any experience I’ve ever had in the Jewish world,” he said. Surrounded by passionate, articulate, intelligent change-makers, Horwitz says he was in awe of the talents and passions of his fellow participants.

“From creating socially conscious viral videos that have reached more than 100 million viewers, to creating an online toolkit to help provide comfort, guidance and support to those who have been raped, each participant had a unique story and project to share, demonstrated a willingness to be vulnerable, and exhibited a passion for building an inclusive and global Jewish community.”

The largest take-away from the Summit — no matter the geographic location — the future of the Jewish community must be as participatory and collaborative as possible to thrive in the 21st century.

By Adam Finkel, Contributing Writer. Adam lives in Bloomfield Hills and is a partner at Orfin Ventures, a venture capital firm. He helped raise funds to bring Moishe House to the city of Detroit and is a Detroit Jewish News contributing writer. He is also on several boards in the Jewish community and serves as outreach co-chair of the Detroit Homecoming, recruiting the 200 most successful Detroit expats back to Detroit for a yearly conference.

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