by Smadar Bar-Akiva
JCC Global’s work to build a network of more than 1200 JCCs worldwide is a 40 years-old effort, which began with its founding in 1977. Over the years, we developed and nurtured the global network of JCCs through conferences, seminars, retreats and visits to Jewish communities around the world. In the past decade, with the support of UJA Federation of New York, we are focusing on cultivating partners at local JCCs, who serve as change agents for deepening their JCC’s involvement with Jewish Peoplehood and the global JCC network. These change agents are executive directors, senior staff and lay leaders, who understand and care about Jewish life around the world.
Currently, our flagship program, Amitim-Fellows – A Global Leadership Network program, involves senior professionals and lay leaders “who are developing the capacity to engage their institutions in new, meaningful, innovative and long lasting global partnerships, reaching their members and enlarging the scope of Jewish Peoplehood in their JCCs and communities.” There are 54 Amitim-Fellows from 25 JCCs in 11 countries working on 7 global partnership projects.
In this post, I would like to share with you the results of an evaluation study conducted by Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz that offers a conceptual paradigm that can enrich the tool kit of practitioners and lay leaders alike. I would then demonstrate this paradigm through a closer look at the Global MekoRock program as a best practice.
Dr. Kopelowitz identifies several rules of thumb that have been the basis of the work of JCC Global:
- Focusing on the local change agents; the decision makers in the local institution that need to adopt the Jewish Peoplehood agenda and then are likely to mobilize their staff members and resources.
- Programming; the need to anchor the interest in Jewish Peoplehood in actual programs that help translate the concept into practice.
- Program impact; realizing that the highest impact takes place when people meet face to face. Yet at the same time, virtual platforms and programs can be a great entry way to reach a wider audience.
After examining in depth surveys, interviews and meetings with the Fellows, Dr. Kopelowitz recommends a ladder of engagement with five steps:
Step One: Unaware – JCCs who are unaware of the benefits of participating in a global JCC network
Step Two: Curious – JCCs whose leadership’s curiosity is piqued and want to learn more
Step Three: Learning – JCCs who are actively pursuing a global agenda
Step Four: Engaged – JCCs who are engaged with Peoplehood programming, including nurturing a connection between their JCC and other JCCs worldwide
Step Five: LeadING – JCCs who have put Jewish Peoplehood agenda in their mission and engage in various Peoplehood programs. These JCCs are active and visible in the JCC Global Network. They advance the JCC Global network and promote a Global Jewish Peoplehood agenda by sharing knowledge, experience, programing and best practices.
As JCC Global seeks to ultimately engage all members of the global network, this ladder provides a constructive tool. In addition, Dr. Kopelowitz analyazed all 7 global projects in an attempt to define what makes some of them more successful than others. As such, the Global MekoRock program was chosen as a test case.
Global Mekorok connects teenagers from different Jewish communities around the world to the Bible and other Jewish cultural sources through music and art, while also forming connections between the participants and between their communities. The teens engage in a process of study and art creation guided by leading musicians and artists together with professional facilitators who specialize in Jewish culture. The result is an original and contemporary piece of art in their field of interest. The project culminates in a joint concert staged by the teenagers from all of the communities. Additional concerts also take place in each of the communities, which have been attended by thousands. The largest of the concerts, which occurred in Emek Hefer, had over 3000 people in the audience.
The project involves JCCs from Israel, Moldova, USA, and Venezuela as part of the Amitim-Fellows Program.
Global MekoRock is based on the MekoRock model initiated six years ago in Emek Hefer, Israel. The program is currently run in seven Israeli Community Centers. Emek Hefer brought its developed model to the partnership, where the collaboration enabled its adaptation to a global partnership, rather than single JCC model. The Emek Hefer MekoRock coordinator led the partnership process, dedicating significant amount of time to furthering communication and planning processes.
The Amitim-Fellows communicated in a responsive and frank fashion enabling a sense of continued progress and mutual-learning. Emek Hefer served as the communication hub. They initiated the calls, set the agenda and moved forward all communication. In addition, they encouraged the partners to be active members and did not expect them to adopt their model.
The forming of the Global MekoRock group took place at the Amitim-Fellows conference held in Budapest in June 2014. Following that conference, the group decided to hold an additional in-person seminar for Fellows and coordinators in Israel in order to develop the global model. The seminar took place in November 2014 and was instrumental in laying the basis for the on-going working relationship. This additional seminar made a substantial contribution to the overall development of the project.
The community concerts draw large audiences providing a highly visible and publicity generating event. The Global MekoRock process draws in families, the participants’ schools, friends and volunteers. A large number of people are involved implementing the final event. At the event itself the presence of global partners is felt by formal mention and their logos on stage.
As a result of the success of the project, the partner JCCs are now discussing their future work together and are working with JCC Global to offer Global MekoRock to other JCCs around the world.
While on the ground work of strengthening Jewish Peoplehood in JCCs provides us with a wide array of feedback and input, it is the conceptual paradigms described above that helps guide us in our practice.
Smadar Bar-Akiva can be reached at: Smadar@jccglobal.org. Funding for this program comes from JCC Global and from a grant from UJA Federation of New York. JDC and participating JCCs are also supporting the program. The Global MekoRock program in Hebraica, Caracas, Venezuela was recently awarded a Pincus Fund grant.