Many of you have requested I blog about the 2011 ROI Summit I recently returned from in Jerusalem-a truly remarkable trip to be sure. It was an honor and absolute privilege to have been invited to attend this very unusual gathering- one that was so difficult to get my head around when I first heard about it that I actually reconsidered going. I wondered if it would be worth my time, if disrupting another re-acclimation back to gangster’s paradise (aka Johannesburg) was a good idea- and now into the fieldwork component of my thesis- a compelling reason to stay put and pass the opportunity by.
Sometimes- it’s exactly what you don’t know- that is exactly what you need…
I learned this during my experience with the ROI community. It is hard to describe what the 2011 Summit looked like-but I will try- and share about the impact it has had on me since returning to my South African abode.
Imagine being in an incubator for 5 days with an international cadre of fellow Jewish thinkers, doers, movers and shakers. You are given an opportunity to hone your skills, share your best practices and network with some of the best and brightest in the Jewish world. Your schedule is packed with workshops, panel discussions, open space dialogues, skill sessions, master classes, meetings and nightly celebrations. In the sacred and buzzing space that is created, new ideas are born, new connections are made and creation ‘ex-nihilo’ occurs at a magical velocity.
A trend of Jewish philanthropy in the past decade has been “investing in leaders”. When consulting with people who have big ideas and are in process setting up new initiatives and looking for funding I tell them that funders are really looking to invest in the individual behind the project. Lynn Schusterman (of the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Foundation), aka the Wizard of Oz behind ROI- took the idea one step further- by investing en masse in an entire network of individuals working on innovative initiatives. The vision of the ROI community is to increase the impact of these world-changing individuals by fostering lasting friendships within a fertile environment of idealism, communication and collaboration.
Why, might you be ask, is it important to invest in Jewish innovators? The bottom line is that Judaism in the 21st century lies at a crossroads. In both the diaspora and in Israel, many of the old structures are not meeting the needs of the community. New forms of expression have emerged that often fall on the deaf ears of mainstream establishment. There is a whole new generation of boundary pushers and explorers who are manifesting new ways to engage and searching for creative ways of connecting to their Judaism. And often these Jewish innovators are leading alone-or in serious isolation from the mainstream. The investment in the creation of a supportive and empowering network is what the ROI summit was all about.
This network was what I didn’t know I needed- a team.
I have thus returned from the 2011 ROI Summit inspired to continue the conversation of the role of Jewish innovation in South Africa. As an open minded liberal California gal- the conservatism (with a capitol C) of the kehillah, I must admit, has been more than frustrating. I’ve held back at many shabbat tables in this town from speaking up when certain ideas were questioned and certain communities of Jews were put down. As a ‘newcomer’, I had lacked the courage to go there.
What I wanted to ask at those shabbat tables was: what role do you think we can play in contributing to the larger arena of Tikkun Olam both in and outside of the Jewish community? It is a question that requires reaching out to ‘the other’ and into the deep recesses of our sacred selves towards a more compassionate and inclusive whole. And I think we all want that- just don’t know how to get there- and this is where Jewish innovation comes in.
Like in every Jewish community, the divisions run deep. Like in every century, the challenges facing the people of the book are many. I am by no means advocating to throw the baby (Torah) out with the bathwater- rather, I am driven by the belief that unless we can create an open and safe space to explore the periphery that lies just outside- we will atrophy. I know this is a much larger debate- but as it is written, “there is nothing new under the sun”. Perhaps this conversation has been here all along- we just needed to find the collective courage to go there. I hope one day the establishment of Jewish Johannesburg (JJ) will find that courage as well.
Thank you to the ROI community and to Lynn Schusterman for allowing me to reclaim mine.