Steal this

Conference participants at JPRO19 had the opportunity to hear a dozen of the biggest ideas and boldest work coming from Jewish institutions and communities across North America, as presented on the “Steal This” stage. These ideas are too good to keep to ourselves, so we’ve made them available for you to “steal!” Please see below to learn more about this work and how you can implement it in your community.

Tema Smith
Director of Community Engagement, Holy Blossom Temple
Tema Smith is a diversity advocate, writer and Jewish community builder. She is currently the Director of Community Engagement at Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto’s oldest synagogue, and a freelance writer whose work has been published in the Forward, MyJewishLearning, the Globe and Mail, and the Canadian Jewish News. Tema is dedicated to building a meaningful and inclusive Jewish community through research, training, writing and relational engagement work.

Over the past ten years, Tema has worked to advance the conversation on racially diverse Judaism, working with organizations like Be’chol Lashon and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and conducting trainings for local Jewish organizations like the Downtown Jewish Community Council, housed at Toronto’s Miles Nadal JCC.
Advancing Equity and Diversity through Organizational Assessment

As the proportion of the Jewish community that is racially diverse increases, it is crucial that Jewish organizations have an understanding of issues unique to Jews of Color. To this end, I would like to share a model for reducing barriers to inclusion for Jews of Color in the organized Jewish community. My presentation would introduce practical strategies to assess your own organization and identify why Jews of Color are not engaging with you, and if they are, why they might leave. Using the words of Jews of Color themselves, this presentation will introduce key issues in diversity and implicit bias and identify challenges that Jews of Color often face in Jewish communal spaces with a focus on questions of authenticity, representation, and tokenization. Participants would leave with new strategies to ask hard questions about inclusion and constructive tools to move forward.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
It's still a work in progress! The model is a train-the-trainer, enabling Jewish professionals to take a lead on this work in their own communities. I've been implementing the idea in phases, including:
  • interviewing stakeholders
  • presenting an introduction to equity and diversity in Jewish community spaces, including the voices of Jews of Colour themselves
  • conducting learning needs assessments
  • developing customized training
  • launching training and resources
  • coaching colleagues on steps they can take

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  • Introduction to the language of implicit bias and equity.
  • How to conduct a quick and effective ""self-check"" for organizational best practices on diversity.
  • How to find resources to advance your work in diversity and inclusion.
Mark S. Young
Director, JResponse, JCC Association of North America
Mark S. Young is passionate about advancing leadership, strengthening talent, and providing meaningful service to others in Jewish life. Mark just began his role as Director of JResponse at the JCC Association of North America after serving the William Davidson School of JTS for 8 1/2 years, including most recently as managing director of its Leadership Commons. Mark regularly publishes on how to best retain and invest in our Jewish educators and professionals, including his $54,000 Strategy series and 2016 ELI Talk: Mah Tovu. Mark holds an MPA in Nonprofit Management and MA in Hebrew and Judaic Studies from NYU and a BSc in Psychology and Economics from McGill University.
Eliminate Meetings Now! Switching to a CoP Model

Traditional staff meetings in which we discuss technical issues or simply share about our projects become dull, uninspiring, and frontal rather than collaborative. Plus, most issues discussed could easily be communicated over email.
Instead, gather for communities of practice in which one staff member can take the lead each time presenting a programmatic issue they need help navigating. Then, facilitate a critical friends or project protocol for colleagues to provide critical peer feedback in a structured manner.
Or, the staff member could instead “try out” a new program session they are developing for their class or institute as a “dress rehearsal” with the team as their learners. Colleagues then provide feedback as peers so the staff member can continue to refine their session.
Switching from meetings to a CoP was a wild success for the staff of the Leadership Commons. It excited our team, strengthened the quality of our work and both brought us and our respective work projects closer together.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
  1. Call upon one staff member to be the volunteer to present an issue to the group (or try out a new program session).
  2. Communicate to the team in advance the plan for the CoP Gathering, including an agenda that details the critical friends or project protocol the group will use.
  3. Develop and introduce the protocol which can include the following:
    • 7 minutes for the staff member presenting to share their issue which should include specific requests for feedback and guidance they'd like from their peers
    • 6 minutes for colleagues to ask "clarifying questions" to better understand the information
    • 6 minutes for colleagues to ask "probing questions" to go deeper into what strategies have already been attempted to address the issue
    • 9 minutes for the presenter not to speak, rather to listen, while their colleagues discuss the issue among themselves - the presenter is invited to take notes during this time
    • 6 minutes for the presenter to come back into the conversation, address what's been discussed and share what they learned from this discussion and how they'll apply to their issue
    • 10 minutes - allow for a group reflection - how did this protocol go? should we make changes to the protocol (adjust timing, assign a facilitator to ensure everyone speaks, etc.) to improve for the future
  4. I'd recommend having food and refreshments at every CoP - make it feel a bit more social and relaxed to further the feel of community bonding and open sharing
  5. Ensure the room is in a comfortable environment and, if your team includes folks attending virtually (over zoom) be sure the appropriate technology is set up and the room is conducive to everyone seeing each other easily
  6. Be sure to follow up every CoP with an email expressing gratitude to everyone for their active participation and inviting other staff members to present in future sessions (assume you hold this monthly or once every six weeks over the course of the year)

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  1. Eliminate technical and operational processes from meetings - keep these to email and be sure your gatherings stick to substantive discussion that allows individuals to address key issues and inviting fellow staff to help them navigate the issue.
  2. Don't call them meetings - language matters - titling as a "community of practice" makes a difference!
  3. Allow a different staff member to lead each time - promoting shared, collaborative, and distributive leadership
  4. Have a clear protocol (in this case a critical friends or project consultation protocol - see my suggestion above) so others can understand and clearly follow the plan
  5. See one's peers as fellow experts who can provide meaningful and helpful feedback
Allie Kanter
Director of Project Zug, Hadar Institute
Allie Conn Kanter is the Associate Director of Community Learning at the Hadar Institute, and the Director of Project Zug. She has worked in the Jewish Education field for her entire career and holds an MA in Experiential Jewish Education from the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Limmud NY. Originally from outside Philadelphia, she is a proud Penn State University alum and avid Philly sports fan. Allie lives in Manhattan with her husband, Josh, and daughter, Zoe.
Project Zug

We believe that havruta can change your life. When two Jews connect through our tradition, the relationship has the power to foster meaning, joy, and belonging. Project Zug’s unique combination of facilitation and flexibility empowers Jews to take ownership over their learning.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
  1. Consult with Project Zug to build a personalized program that works best for your community.
  2. Identify the individuals or group of people that you want to engage.
  3. Intentionally match pairs of people to learn together.
  4. Choose a course or let people choose what they want to learn.
  5. Discover the incredible journey of havruta learning.

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
People want something that fits into their busy schedules that brings meaning and joy to their life on a regular basis. Project Zug brings together several elements that combine to make the magic:
  • We match people to learn one-on-one. This fosters real and meaningful relationships, with maximum flexibility for scheduling.
  • The online platform allows individuals who live in different cities (or just too far to commute) to connect in meaningful ways.
  • The material is all pre-recorded and can be accessed anytime, from anywhere.
  • You choose what you want to learn! With more than 30 courses from expert teachers, Project Zug offers access to Judaism’s best texts, taught by expert teachers.
  • Project Zug can be used by organizations, congregations, schools, program alumni networks, and more! Project Zug’s unique combination of facilitation and flexibility empowers Jews to take ownership over their learning while building deep connections with their havruta and the larger community.

Additional Information
Project Zug has a special partnership with JPRO and our courses are FREE for JPRO affiliate organizations and individuals.
Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu
Director of the Division of Member and Unit Services, Hadassah
Rabbi Sirbu is the Director of the Division of Member and Unit Services at Hadassah, where she is brining Hadassah’s vision to a whole new generation of women. Selected as one of the “Most Inspirational Rabbis in America” by The Forward Newspaper, Rabbi Sirbu sits at the leading edge of American Jewish life. She comes to Hadassah after being the Director of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders, a pluralist network of rabbis dedicated to serving the needs of all people through creative use of Jewish wisdom. She is also the founder of, making it easier for rabbis and communities of all types to find each other. She has consulted for synagogues, organizations, and individuals on leadership development, building creative capacity, actualizing ideas, and how to work across religious and cultural borders. Her latest project is the Gender Equity in Hiring Project which seeks to bring the best practices in gender balanced hiring to lay and professional leaders.
Gender Equity in Hiring Project

70% of all Jewish communal workers are women yet only 30% of top jobs are held by women. How do we balance this ratio? We can use Behavioral Design Theory to identify our own cognitive biases and change aspects of our hiring process for the better. Who do you imagine filling a job? How does this influence the words you use to write a job description? The questions you ask in an interview? How does all of this determine whom you ultimately hire. Small changes can make a big difference in this process. We want to share with you some key take aways and practical ideas to use.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
The Gender Equity in Hiring Project was founded in the spring of 2018 by Rabbi Rebecca W Sirbu and Sara Shaprio-Plevan in order to educate the Jewish community on best practices in running a search and hiring process in an equitable way. First we researched best practices in the field of hiring and gender equity. Then we ran several focus groups with Jewish professionals and volunteers to learn how they conduct searches currently and how they could implement some of these best practices. Integrating our learning, we created a seminar to educate both professionals and lay leaders on tools they can use to run more equitable searches. This spring we ran three seminars training 45 Gender Equity Advocates who can now run hiring processes in their own organizations. These Gender Equity Advocates are now networked together in an on going way to continue to learn from one another about what works (or not) to promote gender equity in hiring. We will be running more seminars in the fall. In addition, we have begun several individual consultations with other organizations and look forward to growing this work. Big picture, we are aiming to change the culture of hiring in the Jewish community. This will take time and can only be done as more and more people become a part of the process. Thank you for joining us! *This is an independent project. We are thankful for funding from SRE and The JTS Seeds of Innovation grant.

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  1. A check list for setting up a gender balanced hiring processes.
  2. Learning how recognizing our own implicit biases
  3. Specific suggestions for writing job advertisements and asking interview questions.
The program addresses questions of gender balance in hiring. The key audience is any professional who is part of a hiring process.
Naomi Adland
Director of Program Operations, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America
Naomi Adland is Director of Program Operations at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, where she oversees the design and execution of the SHI NA program calendar and works with faculty and staff in creating a strategic program picture for the Institute. Naomi received a BA in American Studies from Brandeis University and an MPA in Nonprofit Management and Policy from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. She is also an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and a Davidson Scholar. In her spare time, she serves on the board of Avodah and enjoys walking in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Excellence by Design: An Intentional Approach to Program Operations

Program and operations staff have a significant role to play in how content is shared throughout the Jewish nonprofit landscape, but often this function is under-explored and underappreciated. What does it look like to approach program operations – the catering order, the program materials, the registration form – with the same level of rigor and standards of excellence we apply to developing our research, Torah, and ideas?

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
At SHI NA we aspire to excellence in programming and are committed to fostering a culture of learning at all levels of the organization. Key elements of this approach include:
  • Empathy: When making choices about program operations we start by considering the needs of our participants. How will they feel when seated in the classroom? What materials might they need to be able to listen and focus on the learning? Have we set clear expectations for the learning experience?
  • Flexible Systems: Scaling and growth require tools and templates that free up professionals to make important programmatic design decisions without restricting them to cookie-cutter methods. Our SHI NA standards of excellence serve as a checklist for staff, making sure they hit the key components while leaving room for new ideas and innovation.
  • Onboarding New Staff: Bringing on new employees is an incredible learning opportunity. Every new member of our program team receives a crash course in SHI NA’s program design methodology. As we introduce them to our systems we bring them into our culture of learning and innovation by asking for their feedback and suggestions for improvements. This also has the added benefit of helping us check our own assumptions about what is and isn’t working!
  • Failing Forward: The best way to figure out if a program is going to succeed is to test it in the field. Pilot programs are always a success as long as staff take the time to learn from them – debrief what worked and what didn’t, implement changes, and try it again.

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  • Tools and Templates: We have a basic project plan, registration forms, sample program materials, evaluations and more, all of which we continue to refine. For example: after a participant requested large-size print source materials because of a vision impairment, we added it as a requestable option to all of our registration forms.
  • SHI NA Standards of Excellence: This checklist (inspired by Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto) breaks out the work of program design into categories (space and place, materials, communication, execution, evaluation and learning) and offers guidance for success in each category.
  • Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities: In addition to clear educational goals, a budget, and a project plan, every project or program has a RASCI (Responsible/Accountable/Support/Consult/Inform) chart and a POP (Purpose, Outcomes, Process). These tools are simple to set up and help to prevent confusion and miscommunication about roles and responsibilities.
  • Ongoing Staff Learning: We read books and articles as a staff, like Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and David Hartman’s A Living Covenant, and are poised to start multiple new book clubs this fall. Taking time on a monthly basis to study together reinforces our overall culture of learning and gives us shared systems and vocabulary to apply to our work.
Todd Krieger
Senior Director of Planning and Agency Relations, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit
A graduate of the University of Michigan (B.A.), the Boston University College of Communications (M.S.) and the Boston University School of Law (J.D.), Todd spent most of his professional career in marketing implementing campaigns for organizations such as Microsoft, Quicken Loans and others in the technology, healthcare and automotive sectors. Todd joined the Jewish Federation in 2013 and currently serves as the Senior Director of Planning and Agency Relations. In this role, Todd manages Federation’s annual allocations process, its relationships with 17 constituent agencies, and all short and long-term planning projects.
We Need to Talk – Jewish Detroit’s Youth Mental Health Initiative

With rates of youth mental illness climbing to record levels, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit sought to combat the crisis by reducing stigma and providing vital supports. Through the We-Need-To-Talk website, - which includes resources and videos of youth telling their stories, a podcast, community-wide educational programs, in-home parlor meetings, school-based youth mental health programs, and more, Federation is fighting this crisis head-on and making an important impact in the community.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
The four keys steps that were critical to implement the We -Need-To-Talk Youth Mental Health Initiative included:
  1. Forming a broad workgroup,
  2. Developing a strategic community-wide plan,
  3. Deciding to take action before the program was fully funded, and
  4. Ensuring measurement was built into the program.
Jewish Detroit's first step was to form a broad workgroup that consisted of representatives from social service agencies, synagogues, camps, schools and other groups. It was vital that diverse groups from throughout the community were a part of forming the program, not just for their support but also because of their intellect and experience working with youth. Next, the group spent a year conducting research and speaking with experts in order to develop the right plan for the community. The process for developing the plan was thoughtful and strategic. The third step was making the decision to start the program, even before all of the money to fund it was raised. The workgroup knew that it was important to get started and that momentum would build leading to additional funding. The last key step was building a measurement strategy into the program so that leaders would know what was working and what was not. Additionally, measurement was important to be sure results and impact could be shared with funders and supporters.

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  • Local stories evince local need and urgency and prompt community conversations about youth mental health. In Detroit, the conversation about youth mental health is propelled, in part, by the We-Need-To-Talk website which features video testimonials of local youth, parents and professionals who share their struggles with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and suicide. Communities can easily borrow this program component by sharing videos of their own local youth telling their mental health stories.
  • Suicide prevention training participants learn how to identify someone in crisis and intervene when necessary. In Detroit, hundreds of trainees have completed safeTALK, Youth Mental Health First Aid and ASIST suicide prevention programs. These programs are available to professionals in communities across the globe.
  • Finally, adding mental health supports in schools and camps makes a huge difference for kids. When schools or camps lack the resources to invest in enough mental health professionals, social workers are pushed into a reactive posture and youth do not get the help they need. Adding staff has allowed school and camp social workers in Jewish Detroit to adopt more proactive measures, including mental wellness curricula, group supports, and preventative work with individuals. There are also more professionals available for kids in crisis who need immediate assistance.
Gabrielle Burger / Amalia Philips
Director,Jewish Educational Engagement, Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE) / Director, Israel and Overseas, Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE) /
Gabrielle is the director of Jewish Educational Engagement, and in that role she has the privilege of meeting and engaging with different members of the community across all age groups and Jewish identities. Gabrielle has her Masters in Jewish Professional Studies from the Spertus Institute.

Amalia is a long-time Jewish educator a Conflict Resolution Facilitator, a mediator, and a Compassionate Listening Facilitator. Currently she is the Director of Israel and Overseas Education at the Macks Center of Jewish Education where she brings the principles of Compassionate Listening to different settings and audiences.
Saba-ba! Programs for engaging and empowering our grandparents as Jewish stewards.

Grandparents are the legacy holders of our Jewish families, and their multi-faceted identities must be celebrated and fostered. Engaging and empowering grandparents as Jewish stewards as well as Jewish individuals is something that was happening across multiple departments in our agency. This past year we decided to turn engaging this generation into a full line of service that spans every department. Our programs include Grandparent Bootcamp, Grand/Parents as Listeners, Grandparent Connectors, and G2, for example.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
It's still a work in progress! The model is a train-the-trainer, enabling Jewish professionals to take a lead on this work in their own communities. I've been implementing the idea in phases, including:
  • We recognize this demographic as a critical aspect of the Jewish family dynamic. As such, we held and participated in formal and informal conversations with the local grandparent population. We found them through already existing programs and initiatives such as:
    • PJ Library
    • A convening of our Federation’s Boomer taskforce
    • A new national initiative called The Grandparent Network
  • We sought out collaborations with other like-minded local, national and international organizations such as JCCs, synagogues, JAFI, etc.
  • We adapted existing frameworks of engagement to fit this demographic and offer a variety of opportunities and experiences. The frameworks came from:
    • The Institute of Jewish Spirituality
    • Wise Aging
    • Compassionate Listening
    • PJ Library
    • Community Connectors
  • We offered a menu of programs based on input from grandparents and parents. We then revised and perfected them based on the evaluation of the participants. We now offer a robust menu of opportunities that support grandparents as Jewish educational stewards who engage and empower three generations. This programming serves to unify multiple agency departments in service delivery.

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  • Our A-Ha! moment of realizing the importance of engaging and empowering grandparents because they are the Jewish stewards and kin keepers in our families.
  • The variety of experiences and programs that we offer in order to engage and empower this generation in creative and exciting ways – not just as grandparents, but as parents and Jewish individuals.
  • Our swag items that we use as legacy conversation starters, such as our two Grandparent Gift Bags.
  • The fact that engaging and empowering the Baby Boomer generation has permeated every department and has become a full line of cross-collaborative service for our agency.

Additional Information
We would like to express appreciation to the funders and thought partners of our various grandparent initiatives including: The Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the Grandparent Network, PJ Library and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The Genesis Foundation, The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education, the Jewish Agency for Israel and our local Associated agency partners including the JCC of Greater Baltimore.
Lauren Schreiber
Downtown Jewish Life Coordinator, Miles Nadal JCC
Lauren is a Toronto-based arts and culture programmer who, despite having lived in Toronto for well over a decade, still defines herself primarily as a (6th generation) Jewish-Montrealer. Having worked in the music and theatre worlds for the last 15 years, she recently turned her attention to Jewish community work after genealogical website ‘23&me’ declared her to be 99.6% Ashkenazi Jew. She’s excited to be leaning in to her roots while investing in her community, and raising multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-faith kids with her partner in Canada’s largest urban center.
Jewish &

Jewish & is a new programming umbrella, launching in the fall of 2019 at the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto. These programs serve to explicitly gather people who identify as Jewish AND something else - multi-faith and cross-cultural individuals, couples and families - for Jewish exploration, education and celebration. By acknowledging a significant micro-community within downtown Toronto Jewry, we hope to build connections and empower the next generation through community building, resource sharing, and fostering Jewish identity.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
  • Identified that multifaith / multicultural families are an underserved segment of the community. In our city, there are only a few Jewish institutions doing interfaith work, meaning within a family/couple/individual, vs. faith community to faith community.
  • Researched and reflected on what community needs are not being met.
  • Developed a full year of inexpensive, small scale, intimate and low risk pilot programs intended to inspire trust and build connection while building a community from scratch.
  • Shared vision with colleagues and E.D. to endorse that this work aligns with current strategic plan.

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  • Importantly, this work is extremely relevant to me; It is highly recommended that this work is led by someone with lived experience.
  • This program should reflect the backgrounds of the participants. For example, it would not be as meaningful to hold an Indian-Shabbat dinner, if there were not Indian-Jewish people in the room. It should reflect the cultures of the actual members of that community, while simultaneously holding space for the infinite iterations of Jewish &.
  • The Jewish & families of one city may not be the same as those of another, and the program should adapt accordingly.
  • This program serves to create a space where discussions around identity grow organically, rather than trying to reach a specific end goal.
  • Given that many families are detached from institutional Jewish community, using word of mouth and social networking will be key for communication.
  • Making space for individuals (rather than families or couples) who hold multiple identities is important. We are well passed the first generation of intermarriage.
  • Another key component is the shift in language, from one that quantifies (half-Jewish, quarter-Jewish) and qualifies (patrilineal, matrilineal) identity to one that is radically inclusive and leaves room for multiple coexisting identities.

Additional Information
The initial year of programming includes the following events:

Challah Hangs
A Thursday night program to bring the adults (parents/individuals/couples) together to bake and schmooze, share recipes and challah tips and tricks, and share what Shabbat looks like in their homes: the homes they grew up in, their current and future homes.

Saturday Holiday Crafternoons (Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Tu B’Shvat)
A Saturday 1-2 hour relaxed gathering that sees parents mingling while their kids are led in a simple holiday related craft. Could also lead into a short Havdalah service.

Family Portraits (Winter Holidays)
A sell-out success when piloted in the Nov 2018, family photos return under the Jewish & umbrella, so as to be even more intentional about creating opportunities for family photos with a neutral inclusive background heading into a time of year that is notoriously triggering.

Last Sabbath
Held on the last Friday of the month and inspired by the series of the same name began at the JICC in Los Angeles, Last Sabbath is an opportunity to get out of the J and into some of Toronto’s great restaurants to spend Shabbat together. This series will take place in ethnically diverse restaurants, and would be “hosted” by couples/individuals/families who possess both the background of the restaurant and a Jewish background.

As well as two larger scale events:

Chrismukkah Dinner
As Christmas and Chanukah overlap in 2019, we will seize the opportunity for a cheeky celebration with a Chinese food & a movie dinner.

Eastover Brunch
As Passover and Easter overlap in 2020, we will host a Sunday brunch with a treasure hunt element (chocolate eggs, matzah…)
Manashe Khaimov
Director of Community Engagement and Development , Queens College Hillel
Manashe was born in a city along the Silk Road, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where his ancestors lived for over 2000 years, which makes Manashe’s Jewish identity simultaneously Bukharian, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Russian speaking. Manashe Khaimov is the Director of Community Engagement and Development at Queens College Hillel where he focuses on building a diverse Jewish community, creating Sepharadi and Mizrahi Leadership pipeline. He is an adjunct professor teaching Bukharian Jewish History at Queens College. Manashe is a recipient of the NY Jewish Week “36 Under 36”, TimesLedger Newspapers “Queens Impact Award”. Manashe is a member of the 3rd cohort of UJA-Federation of NY Ruskay Fellows.
You thought you knew what Jewish college students look like - Think again!

Diversity and inclusion are indispensable elements of Hillel work. At Queens College Hillel, we often engage with students who feel isolated because of their heritage, language, background, customs, and rituals. QC Hillel is among the first in the movement who is beginning to think strategically about transforming student life to meet the needs and wants of Sephardi/Mizrahi students.

At QC Hillel, we use innovative approaches to engage Mizrahi/Sephardic students that can serve as a model for many communities. Learning this model will help you to not only engage the Mizrahi/Sephardic community, but also, Emigrant community, LGBTQ, Jews of Color, Russian Speaking Jewish community, and more.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
  • Six years ago, Queens College Hillel began to engage Sephardic/Mizrahi students in purposeful and strategic ways. We started with a listening tour, meeting as many students as possible in an attempt to understand the needs of the community.
  • Forget everything you think you know about engagement
  • Listen, listen, and listen
  • Include students in your process of creating an action plan

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  1. Organizational Values and structure: Think about, why would you like to engage this population? Are you ready to change the values of your organization? Start with yourself and think about how you can engage Mizrahi student’s and add that as a value of your organization rather than a check mark.
  2. Representation: You must have people represented at the table from the community you are trying to engage so that you can be more connected to your target audience. We recognized a serious and urgent need. Using what we know about campus engagement, we knew the first step was hiring a Sephardic/Mizrahi staff person.
  3. Identify your Ashkenormativity: Next, we identified areas of our work that were (unintentionally) Ashkenormative. For students to feel at home in the community, the community cannot feel and be foreign to them. One example is at Shabbat dinners. Though they were already lively and meaningful, Sephardi/Mizrahi students often noted how different the room smells from home, how confused they were by the food choices (“what exactly is kugel?”) and how different Birkat HaMazon sounded to them (“what’s a bencher?”). We adjusted. We examined everything we do and identified areas where we could be more inclusive of more backgrounds and experiences. Now, next to our Ashkenazi “benchers” on Shabbat tables, we also have Sephardi “Birkonim.”
  4. Learn New Language: We encourage our staff and interns to say “Shabbat Shalom” and not only saying “Good Shabbos”, Bet Midrash and not only Bais Midrash. This allows you to gather credibility and build trust with the community you are trying to engage.
  5. Learn about the culture: You need to understand the politics and structure of the community. Learning about the community leaders who are the decision-makers in their structure, community, and families would be a great way to become accepted and trusted. Kippas - let's take wearing a Kippah as an example. It is a normal phenomenon to have a Mizrahi/Sephardic Jew who is observant and keeps Shabbat and kashrut and when he runs into synagogue he reaches out for the kippah since he does not wear one. As an organization, you need to be aware that such a thing exists in a nonjudgmental way. Siddurs - Offer Sephardic and Mizrahi prayer books...and place them in the same place as the Ashkenazi ones. Knowledge of Philanthropy: Mizrahi and Sephardic communities fundraise on a daily basis - they give to synagogues, not centers.
  6. Close the umbrella thinking - individualize the approach: It is important to understand that not all Mizrahi & Sephardic students have the same needs. Organizations should be purposeful in creating separate programs for each part of their community - Persian programs, Bukharian programs, Moroccan programs, etc.)

Additional Information
Investing in Sephardi and Mizrahi communities now ensures a diverse and inclusive leadership pipeline for the future of the Jewish community. Together, we can help transform the Jewish community across the US to be Real diverse. Let's close the UMBRELLA thinking and start individualizing the approach.

Are you ready to steal this idea?
Rabbi Dan Horwitz
Founding Director, The Well
Rabbi Dan Horwitz is the founding director of The Well, a nationally recognized (Slingshot ‘17, ‘18) Jewish community-building, education, and spirituality initiative in Metro Detroit geared to the needs of young adults and young families. Dan holds a BA, 3 MAs and a JD in addition to rabbinic ordination. He has been designated one of America's Most Inspiring Rabbis, completed the Clergy Leadership Incubator housed at Hazon, and is 1/4 of The Open Dor Project's inaugural cohort of spiritual entrepreneurs. He is a lover of basketball, Jewish jam sessions and hummus.
Escaping Egypt: A Passover Seder Themed Escape Room

Too often in the Jewish community we design great content-rich experiences but are shy about charging fair-market-value to people who we hope will participate in them, concerned that the cost will make people shy away. But what if we invest in utilizing models we know people are willing to pay for, design them with replicability in mind, and then execute them at a professional level? Can we imagine "programming" that actually makes money for our organizations and enhances our bottom lines?

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
  • Hired a professional game designer
  • Infused robust Passover content into the game design
  • Rented an apartment in the cool part of town for two weeks to "pop up"
  • Intentionally composed an "Idiot's Guide" as we built
  • Piloted the experience
  • Packaged and sold it to other communities the next year

What defining components might partners steal from your approach?
  • Inspired by secular activities that we know people are willing to pay for
  • Executed at a professional (not subpar) level
  • Not being afraid to charge fair market value for the experience
  • Not shying away from substantive content
  • Designed from the outset with the intention of licensing to other communities
Yoshi Silverstein
Director of JOFEE Fellowship (Hazon); Founder (Mitsui Collective)
Yoshi is Director of the JOFEE Fellowship at Hazon; and founder of Mitsui Collective, which builds individual and communal resiliency through movement, wellness, and nature connection practices through a Jewish lens. He holds close to two decades of experience in both Jewish and secular outdoor, food, farming, and environmental education. Yoshi is also a CrossFit coach and movement teacher, 2nd degree blackbelt, aficionado of Chinese Roast Duck, and proud father, having written prolifically in his blog on impending Jewish Fatherhood right up until the time his daughter was born when suddenly for some reason he had no more free time. He has just relocated to Cleveland with his wife and daughter where they are excited to be close to family and strengthen and deepen their community roots.
Hineni: Life Coaching for the Modern Jewish Dad

When it comes to Jewish fatherhood, we don’t have a lot of great role models. After all, we start with Abraham trying to kill his own son! While gender equity has certainly improved since the days of our forefathers, we still have a ways to go. What if we utilized the American Jewish institutional backbone to create platforms for male mentorship, community building, and coaching to both strengthen the resilience of Jewish American men and the health of their families and communities?

What are 4-6 key steps necessary to implement your idea?
Recent studies suggest gender equity has stalled out in the past several decades. Simultaneously, cis-gender men as a whole today face worrisome declines in mental health, lifespan, friendships, and even sperm count and testosterone levels -- arguably symptoms of toxic masculinity on the one- hand and lack of support for healthy, alternative models of masculinity on the other. We might assume that these trends are largely true within the Jewish community as well. To heal our men and our communities, we need to be able to show what the alternative looks like: Jewish men -- fathers in particular, but anyone in the Jewish community who identifies as male -- with the learning and support to lead healthy, resilient lives in partnership with their families and communities. To catalyze this, Jewish institutions should consider adapting life coaching models for Jewish men in Jewish communities in ways that leverage community connections and institutional infrastructure. Areas for targeted coaching include:
  • strategies for building healthy and equitable relationships with partners, spouses, and kids
  • building healthy friendships with other men as well as with those of other gender identities
  • strategies for self-care (health, fitness, nutrition, nature connection, social connection)
  • how to be a dad in the workplace -- bringing your own fatherhood into the office, advocating for yourself and other parents, balancing work-life and home-life
In parallel, institutions should both conduct internal audits and assist with external audits for partner organizations to assess how "dad-friendly" their workplaces are. Gender equity needs to progress from a place where the obligations of parenthood are not assumed exclusively for mothers, and we need workplaces to create and uphold policies and practices for working parents of all genders.
Roey Kruvi
Senior Director of Immersive Experiences, Moishe House
Roey was born in Haifa and moved to California at the age of ten where he's been living since then. Since relocating to Encinitas five years ago, he has taken on several new hobbies, using his free time to surf, horseback ride, learn the piano, practice yoga, and spend time with his family. He graduated from UC Berkeley dual B.A.s in Geography and Interdisciplinary Studies. Roey appreciates opportunities to live communally, skill share, laugh at himself, laugh with others, go to potlucks, breathe (thanks, lungs!), read books, negotiate bus fares, and eat lunch by gorging on farmers markets’ samples. Roey’s passion and dedication are in informal education of youth, especially in wilderness and/or outdoor settings, and he has several years’ experience designing and implementing experiential education curriculum, both in and outside of the Jewish world. Also, he’s a big fan of being alive and not taking himself too seriously. Roey is a cancer survivor and doesn't sweat the small stuff. At work, Roey is the Sr. Director of Immersive Experiences at Moishe House and has created several programs there, including Peer-Led Retreats and Camp Nai Nai Nai. Roey is also the founder of Beacons Tech Consulting, a business that provides affordable tech solutions to small and medium-sized nonprofits. Roey is the winner of the 2017 JPRO Young Professional of the Year Award and 2016 ROI Fellowship member.
How to Build an Innovation Engine in 180 Days

Many of us want our organizations to be on the cutting edge. We wish to be responsive to shifting trends in society and our constituency. But, how do we actually do this? And further, how do we ensure the efforts result in meaningful and lasting change? At Moishe House we are sensing a moment of possibility to create a staff-driven Innovation Engine where new ideas can be surfaced, explored, and experimented.

What were the 4-6 key steps you took to implement your idea?
  1. Literature Review - An easy and important way to engage the entire staff right from the start. Offer an invitation for a specific team or the whole organization to research the area you want to focus on. Ask those that participate to share an analysis of what they read, watched, or listened to and the potential application or impact for the organization.
  2. Learn From Your Ex - Based on the 'Jobs to Be Done' interview methodology, conduct a significant number of user interviews. Specifically, focus on constituents who have 'rejected' your programs in one way or another. There are endless opinions and methods to survey and evaluate those who attend programs. It is more difficult and rare to speak with those who are choosing to do something else.
  3. Don't Defer the Dream - Meet regularly and often with the project team. Involve other staff members in your ideation and design conversations. Interview staff from different levels of seniority, departments, and working locations. (For the Moishe House project - we purposefully did not interview C-Suite staff.)
  4. Ideation - We changed the HOW as well as the WHAT. If we believe that 'What got us here, won't take us there,' then change is required at the most micro of levels. For our ideation meetings and staff interviews we wrote and used a covenant to outline our expectations of one another. We also began our meetings with poetry as a way to stimulate our imagination.

Our thanks to UpStart for helping support the “Steal This” stage at JPRO19.

The Steal This concept was "stolen" from 100Kin10, a network preparing 100,000 excellent science, tech, engineering, and math teachers in the US by 2021 and addressing the underlying reasons for the STEM teacher shortage.