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December 14, 2011 By:
Philly's Innovation Star is on the Rise
Can one person change the world? It's a popular theme in books and movies, but when it comes to real life, the work that leads to change is not done alone. Most often, one person is utilizing his or her network to affect change.
With that in mind, the Charles and Lynn Shusterman Foundation recently convened the first NetWORKS gathering. About 100 people from across the country and the world, who work in the Jewish community -- and utilize their networks to maximize this work -- were invited to learn from each other, build new relationships and begin a discussion about how networks must be used to affect positive change in the Jewish community.
Five of the attendees, including myself, now reside in Greater Philadelphia, while another half dozen have roots here. What looks like a pretty high percentage of local talent for an international program reflects the new Philadelphia Jewish community, which is on the verge of becoming a hub for innovation.
Why is Philly's star on the rise when for years it has taken a backseat to New York and Washington, not to mention the West Coast? Until not too long ago, Philadelphia was rarely seen or mentioned as a pioneer on the national Jewish scene. However, a number of factors are coming together to change that perception.
First, Philadelphia is a big, yet small city. It boasts one of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas, with one of the largest Jewish populations, yet there is a feeling that everyone knows everyone else.
Second, Philadelphians are loyal to their city. It may be most blatant in the world of sports, but most people from this area maintain a connection throughout life -- with many staying local to attend college, and many more returning to settle in the area after spending time away.
Although the connections and loyalty that define Philadelphia are not new, they provide an important backdrop to some newer developments: Philadelphia provides opportunities. From technology to higher education to the arts, Philadelphia has developed into a city that affords rich and diverse activities, a place open to new ideas and visions. It is also considered affordable compared to other large cities.
Many individuals in the Jewish community have taken note of this changing landscape, and are embracing it. They take note of the National Museum of American Jewish History; the myriad national and international Jewish organizations that maintain local offices; and locally founded projects, such as the Jewish Farm School, DAVAI and Tribe 12, which are gaining national attention.
This national recognition is good for Philadelphia. But the next step is maximizing our impressive networks. Too often, Jewish institutions and organizations limit themselves to narrow segments of our community. Whether this is for lack of access, perceived competition or ineffective publicity, it only serves to inhibit what we can accomplish as a network with effective communication.
This is not to say that there should be a single monolithic Philadelphia Jewish community. That paradigm is outdated. What we can aspire to is a network among communities -- where like-minded people can come together for common goals.
For example, Tribe 12 is an organization focused on engaging people in their 20s and 30s in a significant Jewish community or way of life. We pride ourselves on the networks we have pioneered and built. However, we realize that we have not effectively used these networks to also serve those who are in life stages before and after our focus area. By developing a plan to work with organizations -- such as Hillel to reach college students and Jewish Learning Ventures for young families -- we not only expand our own network, but strengthen the Jewish communal framework as a whole.
The challenge is for each individual, each organization, each community to mobilize our networks to help achieve the ideal for which we each strive. Individuals may not be able to change the world by themselves, but we each can be an agent for change if we connect, broaden and put trust in our networks.
Ross Berkowitz is founder and executive director of Tribe 12 www.tribe12.org.