Morlie Levin, formerly the national executive director of Hadassah, is slated next month to take on the new post of CEO at Birthright Israel NEXT. She is expected to lead a nationwide expansion of the Birthright alumni organization, currently in seven cities, so that it has a presence in 10-15 cities. Prior to her position at Hadassah, Levin was the vice president of strategic planning at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, where she sought new ways to engage young donors.
Q: What are your thoughts as you join the Birthright Israel NEXT team?
A:I’m thrilled and humbled to have this opportunity. You may know about the NEXT Shabbat activities — NEXT is on track to host its 100,000th Shabbat meal. We’re getting to the point, what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as “the tipping point,” where you begin to get enough of a critical mass so you really can build communities of people with an interest in learning more, with an interest in practicing more, with an interest in looking at the world through a Jewish lens, with an interest in taking an active, informed stance vis-à-vis the State of Israel and Jewish people worldwide. Many people are worried about the Jewish future — yes, there’s a lot to worry about, but there’s a lot to be pleased and excited about.
Though you first visited Israel in 1991, when your children were already grown, how did your trip compare to the Birthright experience?
Although I don’t fit the demographic profile, I’m a classic Birthrighter: my Jewish identity and connection was dramatically enhanced by an adult trip to the land, and interaction with the people of Israel. So I viscerally understand this really from my own experience how profound the Birthright experience is in many cases and the kind of effect it can have.
What do you intend to bring to NEXT from your leadership role at Hadassah?
One of the things that Hadassah really embodies is the power of building communities. And likewise, NEXT is built on the very fundamental idea of building what are called micro-communities — small communities of Birthrighters and their peers, some who have not gone on the trip. Both Hadassah and NEXT understand the power of the collective — of people coming together with shared interests and like-orientation, and the multiplication power of the collective.
How will the NEXT expansion unfold in the coming months?
The intent is, over time, to make sure that NEXT becomes a national organization with national reach and national partners. NEXT is both about creating programmatic ideas and activities but also about establishing partnerships with those in the local community who, as well, are very effective at delivering the kinds of programs that work in the local community.
Has NEXT received additional funds for expansion?
Currently, NEXT is supported by a very generous group of philanthropists. We are interested in expanding the board and expanding the financial partnership arrangements, and there’s much discussion about that now. We’ll put a plan in place, and that will roll out over a period of time.
How do you plan to handle NEXT’s contentious relationship with the Orthodox-oriented Jewish Enrichment Center as well as controversial past decisions to invite disputed speakers like leading Evangelical Gordon Robertson?
I’m familiar with the media coverage of JEC but not with their specific programming. But I certainly will be looking carefully at all of the activities that are done under the NEXT banner to make sure they reflect NEXT’s mission and values.
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