The SPARK Fellowship to Ignite Innovation is an 8-month learning and practical experience for Jewish institutions seeking to cultivate a culture of innovation and experimentation, with an eye towards building for the future.

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SPARK FELLOWSHIP CASE STUDY

Please listen to the following 30-minute audio case study featuring Ronit Jacobs, the director of the Israeli Cultural Connection (ICC) at the Palo Alto JCC, along with two lay leaders, Orli Rinat and Amnon Landan, who were involved from the very beginning of the ICC about a decade ago.

 

As with all the case studies, our intent in putting them together and asking you to listen to them is not to suggest that you go out and do the same thing — and certainly not within the short time of the SPARK program — but rather to hear how the most successful innovators in the Jewish organizational world think about what they are doing and what toolbox they used to go from a blank canvas to a successful program. 

 

The ICC at the Palo Alto JCC is the most successful program in the country catering to Israelis living in America. To be sure, the Palo Alto JCC had at least two advantages — an especially large population of Israelis in its geographical catchment area and also the spirit of risk-taking and experimentation that defines Silicon Valley, so there may have been less resistance than their might be elsewhere. But we believe that the approach they took can work anywhere, and you will hear that they used techniques quite similar to the other successful innovators we have heard from. As you listen to this case study, we encourage you to replace the word “Israelis” with whichever population you are hoping to engage, as we think that what the Palo Alto JCC did was less about Israelis per se and more about finding a specific unaffiliated population, understanding why it was not affiliated, determining its unmet needs, and meeting those needs. Listen closely as Ronit and Orli describe how they gained the trust of the people they sought to engage, and how they built leadership and a sense of responsibility part and parcel with their programmatic initiatives.

 

Just as with the Silverlake Independent JCC case study, we believe this case study is extremely relevant to synagogues. For one thing, the ICC runs a Yom Kippur program with over 500 attendees and a Shavuot program with more than 400 — the vast majority of whom a proudly irreligious. How did they do it? How could a synagogue do it? It’s also interesting to consider how, ten years later, the ICC’s programs, which had been solely for Israelis and seen as quite separate from the JCC’s core programming, are now inspiring English versions for non-Israelis and also are beginning to converge, such that what might have been seen as “dividing the community” turns out to be a path toward building a unified community that is bigger than it ever was before! But it needed a decade to do so. Can we give our “baby innovations" the time they need to grow up?

Israeli Cultural Connection at Palo Alto JCC - Ronit Jacobs
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