The following is a conversation with Gideon Vennor, Director, 248 Community Action Network
The 248 Community Action Network is a “Glocal” network of Jewish doers. Members use the worldwide network to replicate and adapt innovative ideas and practices globally. Members are Israeli and overseas Jewish Doers who have an interest in building community, in Jewish issues, and in the power of the Jewish collective.
Q: Why do we need to connect millennial Jews?
A: The short answer is Jewish continuity: ensuring that young Jews worldwide see value in belonging to the Jewish People, and that they act upon that value.
Q: So what’s new? Hasn’t this always been a concern for Jewish parents, leaders, and institutions?
A: The concern isn’t new, and the actions that help in sustaining an individual’s connection to Jewish community and to the Jewish People aren’t new either: joint experiences, taking care of one another, tikkun olam, and so on. The specific challenge of our day and age is that despite a wealth of opportunities to affiliate and to take part in Jewish activities, millennials are increasingly disinclined to sign up or participate in programs designed by someone else. They want to do their own thing (including Jewish expression) under their own terms, and in spaces that they are comfortable in.
248 Community Action Network is designed specifically in order to meet this challenge and to provide a space for millennial Jews to express their Judaism. We view the growing of the network as co-creation: led partly by 248 HQ, and partly by 248 network members.
Q: So what exactly is 248?
A: 248 is an inclusive, innovative network of Jewish Doers. We scale replicable initiatives that build community, locally and globally. 248 Minyanim │ page 9 A Mid-Year Report (September – December 2019)
Q: “Jewish Doers”? Do you mean social activists or social entrepreneurs?
A: We mean anyone who has a passion for connecting Jews and for building community, and who acts on that passion either as a Jewish professional or as a volunteer / activist. We prefer avoiding labels such as activists, entrepreneurs, and leaders. These labels tend to be overused, as well as misused. In addition, using them tends to drive away the very individuals that we are trying to engage. As Rabbi Mike Uram teaches us in “Next Generation Judaism,” Jewish millennials often feel intimidated by the expectations that words such as “leader” or “activist” carry with them. Hence “Jewish Doer”: a softer, less intimidating, more welcoming term.
Q: OK, so inclusive means that anyone can join. What happens when I join? What does participating in the 248 network require of me?
A: The 248 network is fed by an annual program, open to post-college Jewish Doers worldwide, who commit to developing and implementing a community initiative, and to taking part in monthly local hub meetings, educational webinars, and two summit gatherings: one in Israel and one overseas.
Q: What are the educational components? How do you help your participants develop their Jewish identity?
A: 248 has six educational pillars: Doing, Network, “Glocality,” Technology, Self-Development, and Jewish Peoplehood. Regarding identity, we believe that “Doing Jewish” is the best way to express and to deepen Jewish identity. This idea is well established in Jewish tradition: actions come first, and actions count more than intentions or beliefs.
In addition to developing our participants’ awareness of this idea, we also deepen their Jewish knowledge through webinars with prominent Jewish leaders and thinkers, such as Isaac Herzog, Gidi Grinstein (founder and president of the Reut Group), Meredith Dragon (executive director of the Jewish Federation of Rochester), Scott Simon (founder of Scare your Soul), and others.
Other educational components include “Doer Dvars,” blog posts compiled by our alumni and connecting their current Doings with the weekly Torah portion; an orientation of Jewish initiatives that have gone global in recent years; and a set of unique 248 mindsets, such as “Easy to Implement, Easy to Replicate,” that help guide and focus our participants in developing their initiatives.
Q: What are your successes so far, and what are your challenges?
A: The feedback we’re receiving so far from our annual program participants is encouraging. Our alumni are stepping up and assuming a variety of roles that are essential for developing the network: serving as buddy/mentors for current program participants, taking responsibility for significant parts of the Israeli summit, compiling Doer Dvars, and leading inspirational webinars.
Regarding challenges, the vision of a co-created network is easier said than done. So yes, we have some promising beginnings of network participation as described above, but there is still a long way to go. Also, we have yet to develop additional entry points into the network that do not require participation in the annual program. We’re currently exploring global summit participation as one of these alternative entry points.
Q: What lessons are you learning from establishing 248 hubs in Europe?
A: This is 248’s first year in Europe, made possible by the generous support of the Pincus Fund. The introduction of European voices into 248 opened up the existing dialogue between North American Jews and Israelis and made it a truly global conversation. European Jewish perspectives are refreshing, at times sobering, and at times inspiring. Young Central and Eastern European Jews want very much to be perceived beyond the stereotypes of post-Holocaust and post-communism, they want to be recognized for who they are and for their amazing efforts to nurture Jewish life and invigorate the Jewish communities to which they belong.
Q: Where do you hope to be five years from now?
A: In a place where a thriving global network of 500+ Jewish Doers is active in a way that requires limited maintenance from 248 HQ, and where 20,000 people are affected annually by community initiatives developed, implemented, and replicated by 248 network members.
Q: Good luck! Where can I find more info?
A: Thank You! You can check us out at www.248CAN.net and 248 Community Action Network on Facebook.