By Dan Brotman
This past February, one of the world’s wealthiest Jewish philanthropists, American oil magnate and Birthright Israel co-founder Lynn Schusterman, pictured, launched the first South African Young Jewish Innovators Gathering in Johannesburg. She convened this group of 50 to create a network of highly intelligent and forward-thinking young Jewish adults who are changing Jewish and non-Jewish South Africa.
Some are unaffiliated with the organised Jewish community, while others (like me) are “intrepreneurs”, launching new projects from within the Jewish establishment.
I was fortunate to have been one of three selected to represent South Africa at this year’s ROI Summit in Jerusalem. Founded in 2005, ROI is Lynn Schusterman’s community of young Jewish innovators from over 50 countries, who meet once a year to connect and create. Every year, Schusterman flies the vast majority of the participants to Israel for a four day summit, with roughly one-third hailing from North America, one-third from Israel, and one-third from the rest of the Jewish world.
By 2015, ROI aims to have built a network of 1,000 young social entrepreneurs reaching 1 million Jews.
What became clear to me during the ROI Summit is that the South African Jewish community offers few options for young Jewish adults, as well as social entrepreneurs. In many Diaspora communities, donors heavily invest in grooming young leaders by funding new and innovative projects initiated by the under-35s. For example, the Washington D.C.-based Slingshot Fund (www.slingshotfund.org) was established in 2003 to bring together children of top Jewish philanthropists to create a network of next generation funders.
These well-heeled individuals pool their money together and decide as a group to fund certain Jewish projects. The Slingshot Fund also publishes “A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation”, which is a guide to the latest innovative projects in the Jewish world. This model engages next generation donors with the Jewish community, and allows them early on to make the type of funding decisions that their parents and grandparents make on a much larger scale.
As a young person who works within the Jewish establishment, I believe that we are facing a crisis of Jewish leadership continuity. Although we have a strong Jewish day school network, youth movements and Union of Jewish Students, there exist very few structures to engage young Jewish adults after they graduate university. We often assume here that young adults will “drop out” of the Jewish community after university and return to take up leadership positions once they have children.
While the South African Jewish community is truly unique for providing services to its members from “cradle to grave”, the focus in our community has been on preservation rather than innovation – a mentality which may not sustain this community in the long-term. Instead of asking young people to donate money to the Jewish community, can you imagine if we asked them how they would like the community’s money to be spent?
Lynn Schusterman taught me to think big, and thus my vision for the South African Jewish community is that we one day spend as many resources on promoting innovation and young leadership as we do on maintaining our welfare organisations. Similar to JHub (www.jhub.org.uk) in the UK, I envision us providing free office space to promising Jewish start-ups, as well as establishing a fund that awards seed money to new and innovative Jewish projects.
I want see our Jewish organisations programming more with the community rather than at the community, which will ultimately engage the growing number of affiliated members. I would like to see one comprehensive weekly e-newsletter sent to every member of the Jewish community, which is more likely to be read than the dozens of e-mails we receive from individual organisations.Read all about the SCHUSTERMAN FOUNDATION, their involvement
in SA and their “Young Jewish Innovators Gathering” on MyShtetl.
I envision a community where we have a number of local facilitators trained by organisations like Encounter (www.encounterprograms.org
), which transforms conflict through face-to-face understanding. These facilitators would create safe spaces for us to talk about schisms within our community, such as Israel/Palestine and Orthodox/Reform.
These conversations would allow us to find out what our community really thinks, rather than relying on the opinions of the super affiliated or infrequent surveys.
Most importantly, I would like to see our community empower young Jews to lobby government and become more involved in the political process. One such organisation that does this on a global scale is the Jewish Diplomatic Corps (www.jewishdiplomats.org). While we need official bodies like the Board of Deputies and Zionist Federation to lobby on behalf of the community, we must foster a new generation of young Jews who can become an additional link between the organised Jewish community and the government.
Empowering young Jewish adults with the tools to engage with their elected leaders will not only serve the interests of the Jewish community, but will also make our young adult members more invested in building a democratic South Africa.
The greatest challenge facing the Jewish world today is continuity. While the existence of Jewish schools and welfare organisations are important, their existence alone will not generate innovation within the Cape Town Jewish community. In a globalised era, young people are presented with a plethora of choices, such as whether or not to be communally involved, or whether to remain in Cape Town or leave for greener pastures.
I want to see the Cape Town Jewish community become a place where new ideas are funded, supported and realised, and where young people are encouraged to take up leadership positions within our existing organisations, as well as to create new ones.
Dan Brotman is the Media & Diplomatic Liaison at the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies (www.capebod.org.za), and a new member of Lynn Schusterman’s ROI Community (http://www.roicommunity.org). You can follow him on Twitter at @DGBrotman.
Shusterman - SA delegation at 2012 ROI Summit FROM LEFT Gur Geva, Cape Town, Ephraim Moss, Joburg and Dan Brotman, Cape Town - PIC Studio Adigital.jpg