They've dreamed of bringing Jews together over campus greening projects, providing community health services and hosting introspective Shabbat retreats at a summer shore house.
Now, they get to do more than just imagine. Over the next five months, the 11 innovators selected for the inaugural class of the Tribe 12 "Social Entrepreneur Fellowship" will learn how to turn their ideas into legitimate businesses. Or at least, how to try to do that.
The fellowship is the first new program started under Tribe 12, a nonprofit founded this fall to foster independent programs serving the needs of the Jewish community. A volunteer steering committee selected the winners from about 25 young professionals who applied in November and announced the projects on Dec. 20, said Tribe 12 Executive Director Ross Berkowitz.
The committee purposefully picked a diverse group to "really make them think about things that maybe they wouldn't have thought of if they were with people who were very much like themselves," Berkowitz said.
Among them, Randy Schulz, a 30-year-old political consultant, plans to create a business incubator for Israeli clean-technology companies hoping to tap into the American market. Schulz said he'd been thinking about shifting into business development for four years; with the fellowship "the stars just aligned" to formally pursue his idea.
"This is something that is needed and it's a real economic development opportunity for the city and the region," Schulz said.
Two of the projects are already in progress -- Davai, a social collaborative for Russian Jews, and Jews of ALL Hues, a support group for members of the tribe from interfaith or interracial backgrounds -- but their organizers want guidance on becoming more structured and sustainable, Berkowitz said.
Others, like Common Ground, a cross-cultural exchange for teenagers of different religions, existed in the past, but died out for lack of funding or other reasons.
Danielle Selber hopes the fellowship will help her continue a successful summer shore house program that she worked on as a fellow for Birthright NEXT, which shuttered its local office in October. Jacob Dallal, a spokesman for the national organization, said NEXT will continue to support programming in Philadelphia, but through partnerships with local groups such as Tribe 12 and Moishe House. Until it's clear what that means, Selber said at least she can build off the buzz the organization started and make the shore house even better.
"It's this idea of using the Jewish camp experience, but using it for people our age," said Selber, 25, who will be completing a masters in Jewish Studies at Gratz College in May. "A weekend with only Jews -- it sounds really simple but it's actually quite novel for a lot of people."
Starting the first week in January, the fellows will begin meeting with guest speakers, coaches and mentors to learn everything from writing a business plan to making fundraising pitches. A $50,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia coupled with a matching grant from a private donor will cover the cost of the curriculum and instructors from PresenTense, a nonprofit that recently began adapting its intensive summer business-training program in Jerusalem for "community entrepreneur partnerships" in six U.S. and Israeli cities.
Though the fellowship doesn't guarantee any seed money, Berkowitz said networking opportunities in the local business community could lead the fellows toward funding sources.
"We know not every venture will work, but hopefully they'll spark something," Berkowitz said.
Entrepreneurs in Training
Further details on the projects will be formally presented to the community, business leaders and possibly even potential investors at a "launch night" event in May. Until then, here are brief descriptions:
· Todd Baylson -- "Green Religious Campuses" aims to use tree planting and greening activities at Jewish institutions as a vehicle for engaging young people in contributing to their communities.
· Jonathan Dickens -- "Returning Home" would offer literature, seminars and personal counseling to help those who have become ba'al teshuvah, or more religiously observant, mend or maintain relationships with family and friends who are not as observant. The organization would also educate companies on how to work with religious clients and employees.
· Jared Jackson -- "Jews in ALL Hues," is a peer-led organization that provides workshops, panel discussions and social activities for interfaith individuals and families to explore their intersecting identities as mixed-heritage Jews.
· Laurel Klein -- "Mitzvah Bar" would be a progressive and pluralistic "Jew-ish" venue that integrates the arts, music and a menu of ethnically kosher food. The relaxed environment would be conducive to informal Jewish connections, community-led programming and social action for Jewish young adults.
· Sara Landman -- "Uniting Through Literacy" would enlist retired Jewish educators to serve as reading specialists for urban students and their parents. Using research-based strategies, the program would also create supplemental literacy projects for parents and children to work on together at home.
· Evan Levitt -- "Common Ground" would bring together teenagers from different cultural and religious backgrounds to explore their differences and commonalities through discussions and a group trip to Israel. By the end of the program, the teens would become "ambassadors of tolerance and acceptance."
· Dima Movergu -- "Davai! Philadelphia" provides social and educational activities to Philadelphia's Russian-speaking Jewish community. The goal is to build up the importance of Jewish identity and values by encouraging participants to volunteer, promote Israel, engage with the greater Jewish community and develop leadership skills.
· Randy Schulz -- "Israel/America Business Incubator" would provide assistance to Israeli clean-tech start-ups seeking to penetrate the U.S. market. The program would work to commercialize products, increase U.S. sales and identify partnership or funding opportunities.
· Danielle Selber -- "Summer Shore House" would provide young Jewish adults with the chance to have a meaningful "immersion" experience over a weekend at the Jersey shore. Building on a concept started by Birthright NEXT, the house would be a communal gathering spot for cultural and social programming as well as seaside Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdalah services.
· Kyle Spinrad -- "ReJewvenation" seeks to implement community-based health programs designed to prevent or alleviate risk factors and symptoms of Jewish genetic or culturally-associated diseases. Interactive group presentations would feature proper nutrition, exercise and making lifestyle changes.
· Michal Waldfogel -- "Deep Breath Baking" would weave yoga practice and philosophy with the Jewish tradition of preparing challah bread for Shabbat. During baking workshops, participants experience that "rest is in the recipe."