A bartender, a basketball player and an LGBTQ advocate walk into a room.
Thus was the premise of the annual ROI Leadership Summit, which took place this past week in Jerusalem and featured 150 outstanding Jewish leaders from over 30 countries.
For participants, the event, which was in its ninth year following a year of sabbatical, stands out as being more influential and more productive than other similar conferences due to its creative approach to programming and its communal atmosphere.
“ROI has the reputation of not only being an incredible 5 day program in Israel, but an incredible community that you are part of for life,” wrote Manhattan-based participant Adina Remz in an email correspondence. “Most conferences you make a couple connections, write a few things in a notebook you misplace, and then move on to the next.”
Organizers from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation spent approximately seven months preparing for the five-day event, which included activities such 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 means such as body movement, painting and creative writing.
Additionally, this year, a successful new initiative was introduced entitled “Brain Dates” which allowed participants to schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with peers that were geared toward a specific goal or outcome.
Attendee Mordechai Levovitz, the first-ever student to come out of the closet at Yeshiva University and current president of JQY, a nonprofit for LGBTQ Jews from Orthodox communities, 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, who offered “Brain Date” sessions in assisting members of Orthodox communities who identify as LGBTQ and sought out 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.”
Ari Sprung, an Israeli mobile app developer and fellow event-goer agreed with this sentiment and enjoyed the variety of the “Brain Dates” offered.
“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,” said Sprung. “People have been meeting all day, networking, trying to help each other out. It’s a great vibe.”
However, the event wasn’t entirely educational. Between sessions, the young entrepreneurs and leaders indulged in a vast display of desserts, attended an exclusive concert featuring a DJ and performed warm-up exercises using trampolines.
The ROI Talent Show further highlighted this spirit of fun as well as the unexpected skills harbored by participants. The performance featured slam poetry, brain wave induced music and a drag show.
This diversity was mostly due to the range of participants involved in this year’s summit. Attendees varied from Ariel Leizgold, Israel’s most decorated bartender to American-born Tamir Goodman, once dubbed “The Jewish Jordan” to Lithuanian Liana Jagniatinskyte, founder of a local Jewish Women’s Organization.
Arguably, no one is as impressed with the participants as the ROI staff members themselves, who offer grants and other incentives for continued involvement within the community.
“Sometimes we think, wow these people are doing this and this and this,” said Associate Executive Director of ROI Community No'a Gorlin. “It would be enough to spread that over three people and instead it’s compound in one person.”