Contact: Jason Edelstein, (510) 239 - 1102
NEW YORK, NY – Launching what has become one of its most anticipated and successful initiatives, NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation today unveiled its 2014 High Holidays Initiative designed to connect Birthright Israel alumni and young Jewish adults to High Holiday events, to their peers, and to Jewish community organizations.
“The High Holidays Initiative is really about building community and making the many dynamic High Holidays events and celebrations more accessible to young Jewish adults,” says Morlie Levin, CEO of NEXT. “Birthrighters—particularly those who traveled to Israel this summer—are telling us they need spaces to reflect, learn more, and take action. The High Holidays are our community’s moment to help these young adults find these spaces, and engage in Jewish life with their friends in personally meaningful ways.”
This year, NEXT’s popular interactive map of High Holidays events and services has improved social functionality and enables Birthrighters and young adults to more easily connect to those organizing events.
As part of the initiative, Birthright Israel alumni can also register to receive resources and small stipends to help host Rosh Hashanah meals, Yom Kippur pre-fast dinners, and break-the-fasts. NEXT anticipates that the initiative will empower thousands of young Jewish adults to celebrate the High Holidays through authentic experiences with their friends.
This year’s interactive map already is populated with hundreds of services and events, and NEXT expects the listings to increase significantly in the weeks leading up to the holidays. When users visit the map, they can filter their search for opportunities in their city with a range of preferences—from musical services to LGBT-focused events, among numerous other options. NEXT’s relationships with communities and “engagers”—the professionals who interact directly young Jewish adults year-round—have been instrumental in evolving this online tool that is more expansive and more responsive to what young adults want during the High Holidays.
“We’re working very closely with engagers this year to help them list events in the map, and to leverage the opportunity that the High Holidays Initiative presents for year-round, deeper engagement with young Jewish adults,” adds Marci Soifer, Director of Operations and Planning, who is overseeing the initiative for NEXT. “We really focused on building a tool that can capitalize on the momentum created each year by the High Holidays.”
Many of the interactive map’s improvements are based on direct feedback received from young Jewish adults last year. NEXT frequently heard that young adults wanted to connect with each other before attending an event or service. Now, users can share the specific events they find on the map via social media so that they can recruit their friends to join. They also can connect directly to the engagement professionals organizing the event they’re considering attending. If users indicate their interest in an event, engagers will be able to proactively reach out to these young adults in order to start building a relationship, seeding the potential for year-round engagement.
“We’ve really learned that this initiative presents opportunities—both for the Birthright Israel Generation and for the organizations and engagers who work with this demographic,” Levin adds. “We can utilize our experience with all of these groups to help create more opportunities that attract young adults to Jewish life.”
Along with the interactive map, NEXT expects hundreds of Birthright Israel alumni to register for High Holiday meals that thousands of their friends will attend. As with NEXT’s Passover initiative and its ongoing Shabbat initiative, these meals showcase the creativity, passion, and desire of young adults to create truly unique experiences that build communities of peers.
One of last year’s High Holidays hosts in Colorado commented, “We wanted to host a meal and a ‘service’ in our home with friends who did not have tickets to synagogue. We began our time together with an hour of yoga in the yard to welcome the day. Then, we gathered and said prayers over the food and ate together. One of our guests brought a Torah and we read from it. We sat around for hours eating and talking about the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and what part of our lives we want to elevate for the coming year.”
Another host from last year adds, “[I hosted my meal] to build a Jewish community in DC. Having friends from different circles meet each other and form a community for the night was very heart-warming. I think several friendships came out of the dinner and hopefully future chavurah-like events are in the works.”
“I’m no longer surprised by the incredibly authentic and engaging Jewish experiences that Birthrighters create,” Levin adds. “It seems that each holiday initiative continues to resonate with young adults in new and exciting ways. And there is something special about the High Holidays that bring out this desire to connect with each other and explore their Jewish identity.”
As part of the initiative, NEXT’s website will offer alumni access to traditional and modern insights on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tools that will help them host High Holiday meals—including Pinterest boards featuring recipes, table setting ideas, and fun High Holiday themes—will also be available. NEXT will additionally offer small subsidies to help cover the cost of food for these meals.
The High Holidays Initiative is part of NEXT’s year-round efforts to create opportunities for Birthright Israel alumni and their peers to engage in experiences that deepen their connection to Judaism, Jewish communities, the Jewish people, and Israel. Through its NEXTWork, NEXT trains local communities and professionals on the most effective strategies for young Jewish adult engagement.
“A key to this initiative’s evolution is the strong relationships we now have with communities across the country,” says Levin. “At the end of the day, they are the reason the map is populated with such an impressive range of offerings. We recognize that every Birthrighter is different—the more opportunities they have for Jewish engagement, the better. This is about empowering young adults to shape their own Jewish journeys.”