Follow-Up from Our Taglit-Birthright Israel Trip Two Months Later

It’s now been two months since the Taglit-Birthright Israel I co-led returned, which is making me reflect on what’s gone on since then.   We’ve gotten an entire third of our trip together twice now and I’ve also met up with several of our participants on multiple occasions.

A third of our Taglit-Birthright Israel bus got together a month after the trip ended
A third of our Taglit-Birthright Israel bus got together a month after the trip ended

We are lucky in that many of the participants from our trip live in the greater Los Angeles-area, allowing for post-trip meet-ups.  Although we have tried to organize some get-togethers, it is tough to do, since it is the summer.

The first time I got together with trip participants was only three days following the trip, where we were all still somewhat jet-lagged and still processing the trip.  I’ve also met with smaller groups on a few occasions, such as to get shwarma, to chat over a beer, or to meet up with a couple over beer.  In addition to these meet-ups, we have had two nicely-attended get-togethers that attracted a third of our trip, each time that were planned, organized, and hosted by participants.

The first get-together was just participants from our trip and was held exactly one month following our return.  It was nice not only for the participants to re-connect with one another, but also for us to speak with them about their experience and Jewish identities post-trip.  Moreover, some of the participants had just returned in the preceding week and were still re-adjusting to their post-trip reality.

A third of our Taglit-Birthright Israel bus plus some friends two days ago
A third of our Taglit-Birthright Israel bus plus some friends two days ago

The second get-together – which was just the other day – however, was different.  Not only were there participants from our trip,  there were also a handful of people not from our trip.  While I had wanted that only people from our trip were to attend these gatherings, I soon realized two things: 1) I don’t have control over who attends them and 2) I would be looked-on as ridiculous in my trying to stop people from joining in on our gathering (also, I was not in charge of the planning of them).

However, I soon realized something else: the Birthright trip is not meant to only stick together as a group – just because they traveled for a week-and-a-half together does not mean that, when they are back Stateside, they should remain just amongst themselves. Moreover, isn’t a lovely goal to have them come together into a larger web of relationships and the larger Jewish community?

At the get-together yesterday, for instance, was a friend of the hostess, who had not only gone on a Birthright trip previously, but had also served as a trip co-leader for another one. It was great to see him and our participants connecting about their trips and their Jewish identity.

One other thought I wanted to add: with the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict going on recently, not only have they found it interesting that they had just been there before Hamas started shelling Israel, but that they have taken a greater sense of interest in what is going on in Israel.    Not only that, but they are able to connect personally with the soldiers who had been on the trip with them.

With the school year coming up in another month, it should be interesting to see how our trip participants who are currently enrolled in school will be involved Jewishly and with Israel matters.

Serving as a Judaic Educator at BBYO’s ILTC [Throwback Thursday]

In the summers of 2011 and 2012, I served for a few weeks at B’nai B’rith Youth Organization’s International Leadership Training Conference (BBYO ILTC) as one of two Judaic Educators.  While I had worked as a madrich for a few summers during college at BBYO summer programs at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp (BBPC), where ILTC (amongst other programs) was taking place (for more on my time at BBPC, see here), I had not had in mind to return.  So, when a friend’s Facebook status update popped up that BBYO was looking for Jewish educators a few years ago, I decided to re-connect with my BBYO roots.

Teaching at ILTC 2011
Teaching at ILTC 2011

That first summer, the focus of our teaching was Jewish Heroes (the topic (but not the curriculum) was given to us), which was interesting to do something to help broaden the Jewish knowledge of these Jewish youths that was a bit atypical of Jewish educational offerings elsewhere.  The second summer, the other Judaic Educator and I coordinated with another BBYO staff member to create the curriculum and core pieces to it, which was pretty neat, especially as we had all known each other previously (they had both been program participants when I was staffing in college). Two primary pieces I taught in the summer of 2012 were Israel and philanthropy.

Looking on while participants present at a session at ILTC 2012
Looking on while participants present at a session at ILTC 2012

Inasmuch as I had gone to serve as a Judaic educator, which went nicely, there were other aspects which were great.  The first was the ability to also share some of my wisdom/experience from my BBYO time (even just having been in BBYO as a teenager was somehow surprising to many of them), which was a primary reason for staffing whilst I was in college.

The second was connecting with other professionals there, such as the people working for BBYO year-round.  Although, it was also great connecting with the occasional guest speaker was a nice treat, as well.

With the music staff at ILTC 2011 (one of whom had been a participant when I had staffed his CLTC)
With the music staff at ILTC 2011
(one of whom had been a participant when I had staffed his CLTC)

The third – and perhaps the most significant – was connecting with these young up-and-coming leaders.  Now, when I went, I mainly meant to impart Jewish knowledge and BBYO wisdom to them to help them in their endeavors; however, I also realized that many (most? all?) of the participants had many things going for them, especially brains and talent.  While that helps them ascend in leadership positions within BBYO, think about where they will go and what they will do years down the road (5 years, 10 years, 15 years, etc.) – there is a lot of potential and they will do great things.  It’s not just a hypothetical proposition: I look around at peers who were in positions of leadership in BBYO as well as who attended BBYO summer leadership programs with me and I see the great things they are already doing.  Imagine not only where my peers will be in another 10-15 years, but also where these participants will be.  It was great to have connected with them at this level.

A fourth aspect which was great was also connecting with the madrichim, who were in college and working at BBPC for the whole summer.  Similar to the high school participants, it was nice to meet these young adults and hopefully have a positive impact on them (while much different than than the high school participants).

I was certainly glad I was able to spend the time and energy connecting with all these folks in such a program and in such a setting 🙂

“Conversation & Cocktails” Takes Place in Orange County

Conversation last night had over a dozen young adults
Conversation last night had over a dozen young adults

Last night, I led a discussion with over a dozen young adults (20s-30s) in Costa Mesa to hear their ideas about what they are interested in doing for Jewish learning opportunities. Suggestions from participants included topics, locations, and events to do. It was a nice opportunity for them to have their voices heard as well as to meet other young Jews in the area.

Cocktails were enjoyed
Cocktails were enjoyed

The event, “Cocktails & Conversation” was the second such event of its kind; the first one took place in Long Beach in February, while this one took place in central Orange County. Cocktails were also offered, largely using the leftover spirits from the “Texts & Tasting” series over the past two years.

In addition to this event helping to provide fodder for re-booting my young adult efforts this fall, I am also seeking to re-brand them.

Re-Branding SoCal Jewish Young Adult Enrichment

A year-and-a-half ago when I was creating a new brand for reaching out to young Jews in their 20s-30s in the greater Orange County and Long Beach area, I realized that my focus was getting something out quickly. I needed an additional brand to Southern California Jewish Student Services (SoCalJSS), which focussed on university and high school students. This emerged from talking to young adults who had said distinctly that they were not students when I told them the organization for which I worked. So, I needed a new brand.
When I created Southern California Jewish Young Adult Enrichment a year-and-a-half ago, my intention was to create a brand that communicated what it was, but essentially using it as a working title. Well, the working title has clearly been still in use and a transition needs to occur. Yes, the name says what it is, but it’s too much: it’s too unwieldy.

So, I’m on the search for a new name for my young adult initiative. Hopefully, by September, a new name and logo will be forthcoming. Stay tuned!

How Am I Spending My Summer?, part 1: June 2014

With 1/3 of the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip from this past Sunday - Birthright Follow-Up is a focus for me this summer
With 1/3 of the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip from this past Sunday – Birthright Follow-Up is a focus for me this summer

A question I frequently receive is “What are you up to for the summer?” As it turns out, it is not time off.

Yes, school is out, so there is no programming, per se, with university (or high school) students.  However, there are occasional Shabbat dinners with Beach Hillel, meetings with young adults and college students, and other communications with them (Facebook, email, etc.).

The biggest chunk of my time last month was spent working on Beach Hillel matters
The biggest chunk of my time last month was spent working on Beach Hillel matters

While Beach Hillel consumed the biggest chunk of my time in June, I was able to catch up on email and other communications (especially having come off of being away from email while leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip), as well as spend some time on professional development, by attending a seminar on post-Birthright engagement.

Of course, the summer is also a great time for taking meetings with other professionals and setting things in-motion for the future.

Let’s see what July brings!

Profiled in this Month’s Issue of “Long Beach Jewish Life”

Community Profile in LBJL - July 2014It’s been a while since I’ve been profiled in a Jewish news medium, which is why I’m glad to share that I was profiled in this month’s issue of Long Beach Jewish Life (pages 6-9).

The writer, Jon Strum, kicks off his article “To date, our Meet the Rabbi series has introduced Long Beach Jewish Life readers to several of our local pulpit rabbis.” Strum continues, “This month, we are talking with Rabbi Drew Kaplan, and our profile of Rabbi Drew represents a departure from past practice – in a number of interesting ways.”Community Profile in LBJL - July 2014 - full page 8

In enumerating these ways, he points out two distinctions:

First, Rabbi Drew has no pulpit. He serves as the current rabbi and director for Southern California Jewish Student Services and Southern California Jewish Young Adult Enrichment, both initiatives of Beth El Synagogue. Through Southern California Jewish Student Services, Rabbi Drew also serves as the resident rabbi for Beach Hillel.

The second point of departure in profiling Rabbi Drew is that he was the first rabbi that I’ve met with that, following our conversation, sent me an email with links to his several blogs, along with his Instagram account, Facebook page and Twitter account.

He concludes that section with “In other words, among all of our local rabbis, Rabbi Drew is clearly the most savvy when it comes to social media, and the most connected in how he uses it. And, given the youthful demographic that he represents, that makes perfect sense.”

For more of the profile, you can click here.