Striving to Make Decent ‘Return on Investment’

Rebecca Karp's not your typical Jewish organizational employee.

During the day, she works as assistant director of the Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey regional office of the American Jewish Committee. As night falls, she returns to her current digs at Philadelphia's Moishe House, one of a network of residences that bring together young adults from different backgrounds to create their version of Jewish life.

Considering that mix, Karp appears to have her finger on a different pulse, as Philadelphia's younger set attempts to forge its own version of ethnic identity.

Reinforcing her unusual position in the city's communal world is the fact that the 28-year-old recently returned from the prestigious ROI Global Summit for Young Jewish Innovators, held outside of Tel Aviv.

As a digital-media major at the University of Pennsylvania, she had ambitions of doing special effects work for TV and movies. But in 2005, during her senior year of college, she went to California for some interviews and had a quick change of heart.

"It was a terrible experience," she said, saying that the people she knew who had gone down that path struggled for years to get anywhere.

So after graduating, she decided to got to Israel for a year in an attempt to "get some clarity and figure some things out."

Once back, Karp said, she began trying to find community spirit in Philadelphia that she'd experienced in Israel. She joined a number of e-mail listservs for young Jews in the city, and said that she was hooked by "a little two-liner that said, 'Do you want to create your ideal Jewish community? Would you want to program and organize events and live in Center City?' "

The answer was "yes," which led her to help form the Moishe House in 2007 here with two other women. It's one of about 20 such houses nationally.

This year's ROI gathering — short for "Return on Investment" — continued the group's mission of strengthening Jewish identity among young adults through education and creativity.

ROI was founded five years ago by Lynn Schusterman, who chairs the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which over the years has pumped hundreds of thousands into the summit and the projects that come out of it.

About 120 attendees world-wide took part in it this year.

Participants pay a $250 fee. The rest of the trip — including airfare, room and board — is covered by the foundation.

Home once again, Karp's goal will be to find ways to integrate what she learned at ROI into her work at AJC. Thanks to her contacts, she says that she's able to bring a wider range of programming to town, in part to reach folks who might not necessarily attend a "Jewish" event. This should fly well with Access, AJC's new young-leadership group.

The strategy, she said, is to let people see what the organization is about, without pushing it on them. "We're very much about the message — if they want to hear it," said Karp.

AJC's regional director, Ilana Krop Wilensik, confirmed that having someone like Karp in-house helps get the group's message across to younger leaders.

"It's less what you say than how you say it," said Wilensik. "It's one thing for a white-haired person to say, 'AJC is great for you, and this is what we can do for you.' It's another thing to hear it from a young person.' "



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