By Laura Porter
WORCESTER – By most accounts, the Birthright experience is a compelling one, bringing young American Jews together and introducing them to the wonders of Israel.
Too often, though, the ten-day trip is only a brief interlude of connection in the lives of young Jewish adults. After graduation from college, they can find themselves in new jobs in new places, removed from the Jewish community and isolated from Jewish activities. The recent Pew study on Jewish Americans tells us that few in their age cohort choose to affiliate with synagogues.
The NEXT program, a division of Birthright Israel Foundation, is working hard to engage them in the areas where they are living. By reaching out to Birthright alumni, NEXT offers “plenty of ways to continue living out your Birthright Israel trip right here at home,” says the Foundation’s website.
Through its City Directory and Shabbat NEXT on the web page, as well as the NEXT Facebook page, the program posts specific events in individual cities, gives young adults a chance to host or attend Shabbat dinners, and highlights exciting things going on across the country.
Virtual connection made actual: it’s the magic of using social media to create real-world relationships.
Now, on the eve of the High Holidays, NEXT has gone a step further by creating an interactive events map. A link on its website sets up people in the same area who want to share the same type of holiday experience – either by signing up to attend an event or by advertising their own event for potential guests.
Options include services, learning opportunities, dinners, break-the-fasts, pre-fast meals, and retreats. Moreover, it’s even possible to narrow down the search, looking for very specific types of get-togethers or celebrations.
Events can be tagged with one (or several) of the following descriptors: Egalitarian participation for men and women; prayers in English; prayers in Hebrew; different denominations (Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal); Secular/Humanist; Just Jewish (non-denominational); Spiritual; LGBTQ; Interfaith families or individuals from interfaith homes.
Former Birthright participants who choose to host a meal can even receive a subsidy from NEXT. The program covers the cost of the food, offering $10 per person for up to 16 guests.
This is the second year that a member of the YAD Council who lives in Shrewsbury has hosted a dinner on Rosh Hashanah and invited others to come. This time, there will be two such dinners, one held on each night of the holiday.
The event was posted on the NEXT map on September 4th, the day the site went live.
“The invitation is outreach for any young adult in the area who would like a place to go for the holidays,” says Mindy Hall, JFCM’s Outreach Director. “A lot of them are from other parts of the United States, or they are back in the area after time away and need to make new connections.”
The host of the dinners will provide the main dish and soup; guests are asked to bring a side dish, dessert or wine. The dinners are free for YAD members or Birthright alumni. Further information is available upon signing up.
Posting on the NEXT map allows YAD to identify and reach out to those in Central Massachusetts who may want a connection with other young Jews but don’t know how to find them.
Although Clark Hillel now has an Israel Outreach Coordinator on staff and coordinates its own Birthright trips, it remains difficult for Mindy Hall and the YAD Council to identify area residents, either long-term or recent arrivals, who have gone on different Birthright trips.
Clearly, the concept of an interactive map has considerable potential beyond the High Holidays. Hall, for one, would love to be able to include all YAD activities on such a map.
“It would be another way for us to reach out to people here and let them know about YAD,” she says. “They could then take advantage of whatever there is to offer.”
For further information, please visit the event map on the NEXT website: http://www.birthrightisrael.com/AfterTheTrip/programs/Pages/HighHolidayMap.aspx.
Mindy Hall can be reached at
(508) 756-1543 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.