A bartender, a basketball player and an LGBTQ advocate walk into a room.
No joke – they were participants in a leadership training seminar in Jerusalem last week. Some 150 young Jews from 30 countries, among them entrepreneurs and political activists, took part in the annual ROI Leadership Summit, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
The five-day event included such activities as focus group-style case studies, where small groups of participants worked together to solve a specific problem; “flip panels,” where speakers posed a problem and audience members offered advice; and creativity studios, where participants examined personal work through body movement, painting and creative writing.
As a followup, ROI offers grants and other incentives for continued involvement within the community.
However, the event wasn’t entirely educational. Between sessions, the young future leaders indulged in a vast display of desserts, attended an exclusive concert featuring a DJ and performed warm-up exercises using trampolines. A ROI Talent Show brought out participants’ unexpected skills like slam poetry, brain wave induced music and a drag show.
“ROI has the reputation of not only being an incredible five-day program in Israel, but an incredible community that you are part of for life,” Adina Remz, a Manhattan resident, said in an email interview. “Most conferences you make a couple connections, write a few things in a notebook you misplace, and then move on to the next.”
Mordechai Levovitz, who calls himself the first-ever Yeshiva University student to openly identify himself as homosexual, said he particularly enjoyed ROI’s emphasis on participant involvement.
“It seems that the focus of this particular conference really is the new kinds of connections that we can make among each other,” said Levovitz, president of JQY, a nonprofit for LGBTQ Jews from Orthodox backgrounds. During the seminar, he led “Brain Date” sessions that assisted Orthodox LGBTQ participants [assisted them in what?] and offered advice in community organizing. “It’s not something that someone on the stage is teaching us, we’re not learning necessarily a skill from an expert.”
Seminar attendees included Ariel Leizgold, Israel’s most decorated bartender; to retiredAmerican-born basketball star Tamir Goodman, once dubbed “The Jewish Jordan;” and Liana Jagniatinskyte, who founded a local Jewish Women’s Organization in Lithuenia.
Other participants said ROI, now in its ninth year after a sabbatical year, has earned the reputation as being more influential and more productive than similar conferences because it emphasis on creating a network of young Jewish leaders through creative approaches to programming and a communal atmosphere.
Ari Sprung, an Israeli mobile app developer, said he enjoyed the variety of the one-on-one, peer-oriented “Brain Dates.”
“There’s all kinds of subjects, like there’s a guy who’s interested in tattoos so there was a tattoo session. Anything you can think of,” he said. “People have been meeting all day, networking, trying to help each other out. It’s a great vibe.”
ROI leaders seconded the participants’ reactions.
“Sometimes we think [about each participant], ‘Wow these people are doing this and this and this,’” said No’a Gorlin, ROI associate executive director. “It would be enough to spread that over three people and instead it’s compound in one person.”