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A Collaborative Evolution

December 21, 2011 By:
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Ben Wachstein

Fourteen years ago, the late Annabel Lindy had a vision. She wanted to create some sort of platform to connect Jews in their 20s and 30s. It didn't matter what form it took; in fact, she reportedly believed, it should change with the times to meet that generation's needs.

Perhaps that concept more than Lindy's initial funding contributed to the growth and evolution of the Collaborative, today one of the largest Philadelphia-area young adult groups among at least nine serving every niche from frum to barely Bar Mitzvahed.
 
The Collaborative, which has no affiliation with any religious movement, operates a year-round calendar of events targeted at singles, couples, women, men, the gay community, arts enthusiasts, sports lovers and more.
 
In the past year and a half, the nonprofit has undergone noticeable transformation with reorganization under the Tribe 12 umbrella group, the re-branding of its LGBTQ outreach, a new partnership with Birthright Israel NEXT and, more recently, a complete turnover of the programming staff.
 
A constant behind the changes is Ross Berkowitz, who started out as the Collaborative's director in 2003 and helped the Lindys jumpstart another project: LimmudPhilly, a weekend education conference entering its fourth season this spring. Finding himself more removed from the social scene as a young father, Berkowitz turned most Collaborative programming duties over to other staff members and, in fall 2010, he formed Tribe 12 as an overarching cooperative for independent programs serving the Jewish community.
 
In addition to the Collaborative and Limmud, he added another project under the group's umbrella -- a "Social Entrepreneur Fellowship" to train and support local innovators with ideas that would benefit the Jewish community. A second class of fellows was just announced this month (for list click here).
 
Then this year came the addition of NEXT, a national outreach program designed to continue engaging the young adults who take advantage of Birthright's free trips to Israel after they return home.
 
Philadelphia was among the first cities to pilot NEXT, which opened offices here in fall 2007. At one time, the operation had a $300,000 budget and up to seven staff members who ran several programs per month, an active Facebook page and summer get-togethers at a rented home on the Jersey shore. But the agency quietly shut down in late October 2010 without public explanation. After a few months of negotiations, NEXT offered a $35,000 grant that would help fund a staff person to run NEXT programs through the Collaborative and the volunteer-run Moishe House.
 
Call it innovation or cost-efficiency, essentially both organizations continue to operate as before but now have the option to co-brand programs with the NEXT logo and access contact lists of more than 10,000 people connected to the Philadelphia area who have gone on Birthright trips over the past decade.
 
Like NEXT and so many other nonprofits, Tribe 12 has also weathered budget cuts in the past few years. But between funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the NEXT grant and endowments from the Lindys, the collective budget exceeds $400,000, Berkowitz said.
 
The Collaborative, which uses roughly half of that funding, last year reached an estimated 2,605 unique participants, according to the organization. Many of those young professionals attended more than one of the roughly 150 programs, accounting for a collective attendance of 6,722.
 
The new staff members are in the process of tracking how many Birthright alums have been showing up. We'll cut them a little slack -- they did just start the job.
 
Read above to find out who they are and why they decided to spend their days -- and nights -- rounding up young Jews.
 
Ben Wachstein
Director of LimmudPhilly and the Tribe 12 Social Entrepreneur Fellowship
 
Age: 39
 
Hometown: Collingswood, N.J., native now living in King of Prussia
 
Previous post: Director of Reform Outreach for Hillel at Rutgers-New Brunswick
 
Mission: Improve the marketing of his programs so more people learn what a great resource they are, and develop a structured way to continue assisting fellows after they finish the five-month training.
 
Biggest surprise about Philadelphia: How many smokers there are
 
Favorite Jewish camp song: "Summertime Forever" written by Matt Stamm, one of his former campers, as a Color War cheer
 
Favorite place to hang out with Jews: Beth Or in Maple Glen. "It's lively, the families are friendly and accessible, the rabbis are fantastic. I've always felt most comfortable walking into a synagogue."
 
No need to target the cool kids: "People often say to me, 'You've got to get that person; if you get that person, you'll get everybody,' but that's a fallacy. Not everybody is perfect for everything so I try not to worry about who the cool people are." Instead, he said, he uses volunteers and quality, face-to-face networking "to find the people who most need what we do. If you try and cast a wide net, most people slip through."
 
Too hot to handle: Don't offer him tea or coffee. Or even hot cocoa. "I've never in my life had a hot drink." That's not because he doesn't like them. "I couldn't tell you if I like it. I've never tried it. I have no desire."
 
Danielle Selber
Collaborative program director, Birthright NEXT coordinator and go-to girl for activities for suburbanites, couples and LGBTQ
 
Age: 26
 
Hometown: Roxborough
 
Previous post: Running programs for Birthright alumni as a NEXT fellow and attending Gratz College for a master's in Jewish studies
 
Mission: Come up with innovative ways to bring 20s and 30s together, add at least one Shabbat event every month and break down the stigma that the Collaborative is an "all-singles meat market." "You connect people with the Jewish community now so that they'll choose to connect Jewishly later. It's my dream job straight up."
 
Mama's Girl: Reaches out to her mom's friends and other Jewish mothers to see if their kids have heard about the Collaborative, and likewise talks it up to parents who email. Turns out young adults will often try something if they're nagged enough by their parents, she said, though sometimes it takes years for them to follow through.
 
Best on-the-job moment so far: Seeing more than 25 volunteers show up to serve food to the homeless during a Thanksgiving Day event in partnership with the African Daughters of Fine Lineage. "It's so amazing and gratifying to have social justice coming out in Philly."
 
Hidden talent: Creating a "less awkward" 30s singles event and then using Google tools to set up a matchmaking contact form for her "Cupid Quizzo" program.
 
Molly Wernick
Collaborative program director, specializing in sports, women's and arts events
 
Age: 23
 
Hometown: A Cheltenham native who recently moved to Center City
 
Previous post: Student at Ithaca College and co-director of Camp Galil, a Habonim Dror camp in Bucks County
 
Mission: Avoid the status quo by creating more no-pressure programs and reaching out to new people, all while combating the "Hillel syndrome," the idea that participating in Jewish social groups isn't "the coolest thing to do." On her list of potential start-up programs: an indoor kickball league, pick-up Ultimate Frisbee and an acappella group.
 
Don't rain on her parade: Half the people registered for a recent event canceled when the skies threatened rain. "It was unreal. It's like, why won't you go outside? We're not all Wicked Witches, we're not going to melt." Plus, she said, stores carry such cute rain boots. "What a great opportunity to accessorize."
 
Born to "bagel": In a few short months, Wernick has become adept at "bageling," or dropping conversational cues to sniff out whether someone is Jewish. Ex: "Oh, I love that shirt, it reminds me of one I bought in Israel last summer." An essential skill when it comes to finding men in their mid-20s, who tend to have the lowest turnout at events. Where are they going instead? "That is such a good question."
 
Best job perk: Planning events that she would want to attend anyway. "What we're doing is creating play for people, so it doesn't feel like work."
 

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