From June 9 to June 13, I had the great privilege of participating for the third time in the annual ROI Summit, a gathering of 150 young Jewish innovators from around the world. The ROI Summit is the entry point into the ROI community, an ongoing resource for young Jewish innovators through regular gatherings, professional development opportunities and microgrants. The ROI Community includes nearly 1,000 members in 56 countries, and has already distributed over $400,000 in grants to its members.
Below is an excerpt of my diary from my week in Jerusalem with ROI.
DAY 1, SUNDAY
I hope I’m not the oldest person here. As one of 30 returning members, invited to help create bridges between this new group and the existing network, I’ve been grandfathered in, even though I think I’ve crossed the age cutoff. I hope I don’t seem like a grandfather to them!
Opening ceremonies. Justin Korda, director of the ROI Community, encourages us to find people to learn from who are different from us, and to make as many friends as we can. We’re here to build a strong, vibrant network for the Jewish people and for Israel.
After keynote Nancy Lublin (Do Something), they pass out small shots of peach schnapps to everyone for l’chaim. I’ve never seen peach schnapps being passed to hundreds of people! Against my better judgment, I drink it. Then totally stumble through an icebreaker in which I have to throw a pretend ball from person to person in a small circle of strangers.
DAY 2, MONDAY
Justin Korda explains that at ROI, there will be no “death by paneling.” We are the content of the conference. So this afternoon, in “open space,” we can invite others into any conversation. I want to talk about God, and am amazed to discover a planned conversation called “Let’s Talk about G-d, Baby.”
A half-dozen women gather to share our experiences and questions. I share about my recent engagements with Ayeka, the Center for Soulful Education. I hear about alternate views of God, and gain the insight that although one may feel disconnected from the Divine while one is sad, it doesn’t mean one is disconnected. Above all, I’m just so pleased to know I’m not the only one asking these questions.
We eat a barbecue dinner by the hotel pool.
DAY 3, TUESDAY
I begin the morning learning from Allison Josephs, creator and star of “Jew in the City.” Takeaway: how Allison personalizes her passion! To ponder: Why have I worked so hard to hide behind my organization and the rabbis/scientists who support it? Being personal helps people make a connection. Suddenly I see it’s been missing in my work.
Next, I participate in a storytelling workshop with David Chapman. I share a story of personal sadness that I would normally hide. I ask my buddy: Did I sound pathetic? She is stunned: No, of course not. I sounded real. Being real: something to work on.
Day 4, WEDNESDAY
Gala event at the Israel Museum. My small group tours the Shrine of the Dead Sea Scrolls, learning about the exhibit design as well as the scrolls. Others glance and move on, but I’m still staring. Tiny scraps of leather demonstrate how they used tefillin. Some of the texts look ripped, maybe burned. I envision people swaying over these texts, the screams as their world was conquered.
My group departs, leaving me alone with the scrolls for a few precious moments. Then a guard sternly asks for my name tag. I quickly exit.
We eat dinner on a rooftop deck overlooking Jerusalem. I meet a new friend, Sigalith from Mumbai, and we talk late into the evening about Judaism, Israel, and her community in India. She wants to know what it’s like to cover my hair.
Insight: I’m not just older, I’m more experienced. I have things to offer. It’s actually kind of cool.
Day 5, THURSDAY
Final morning. We’re taking pictures and handing out business cards. I give out my Jewcology magnets and Canfei Nesharim stickers. But I’m glad I didn’t come just to represent my organization. I’ve done what Justin Korda suggested: gotten to know interesting people, made as many friends as I can.
After attending two previous summits, also filled with extraordinary people, it’s amazing to meet so many more inspired young Jewish innovators. It gives you hope. Lynn Schusterman, in her final remarks, admits to being an optimist even though the world faces so many challenges. Why? Because of us, she says. Because of us.
Evonne Marzouk is the executive director of Canfei Nesharim: Sustainable Living Inspired by Torah, and leader of Jewcology, a social media project empowering Jewish environmental activists worldwide.