Amy Holtz, newly named CEO of the Israel-Diaspora Initiative, will meet with Jewish organizations to see how they can all help encourage Jewish identity in the community’s younger generations.
Amy Holtz is all about collaboration.
As the newly named CEO of the newly formed Israel-Diaspora Initiative, Holtz will be spending the first few weeks of her new position in meetings with organizations and programs in the Jewish community of Philadelphia to see how they can all work together to promote and encourage Jewish identity in the community’s younger generations.
Ending her stint as president of Jerusalem U, Holtz is looking forward to starting her time with the new nonprofit — though Israel-Diaspora Initiative not its final name. The organization is so new that it has yet to complete the branding process, which includes creating a final name and a website. Even Holtz isn’t sure what the end result will be yet.
Holtz, who has lived in Lower Merion for the last 20 years and belongs to Aish HaTorah Philadelphia — though she said she goes to all of the synagogues — was “honored” when the search committee for the organization, which will be based in Philadelphia, approached her.
A self-proclaimed workaholic, she said she couldn’t be a part of a better project and she is excited to get started.
The Israel-Diaspora Initiative will mainly focus on the next generation of Jews forming their Jewish identities. To accomplish that mission, the organization will be investing in and expanding organizations that “are already doing great work,” she said. “Specifically, we are looking to build the Jewish identity of the next generation, strengthen their Jewish identity and intensify the connection between world Jewry and Israel.”
The organization wants to reach those Jews between 12 and 35 years old — an age range Holtz, with children of her own ranging in age from 15 to 20 yers old — is quite familiar with.
“We’re hoping that there will be programming at specific life junctures,” she said, adding that they are “looking at it like a continuum” and working in areas that connect with people at each stage of their life. “Right now, a lot of organizations deal specifically with one age,” she said. “We want them to have multiple experiences along their Jewish journey.”
To engage this disparate group, she will be looking at programs and organizations that have already done this kind of work effectively, such as summer camps, teen trips to Israel, college campus engagement and social impact organizations that do service projects to see where the Israel-Diaspora Initiative could invest in existing or potential new programs.
“The way I say it is, we are going to invest in good programs and expand them, and empower new ideas,” she said.
Making an impact with people in this age range is important because they may identify as Jewish but don’t really have any interest in being Jewish, Holtz said. This is something she was quite familiar with, having gone through a similar dilemma herself some years ago.
“I was not interested in my Jewish identity,” she recalled. Holtz’s friends had all been participating in a Torah class at Aish and encouraged Holtz to join. After one particularly stressful day at work, she decided to give it a try and went with her friends.
She remembered one lesson her teacher had said from her first class that has stuck with her ever since: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path is going to get you there.”
After that, she kept attending the classes and found her path, she said. “It hit me in a very deep way. I wanted to learn more,8uq and then I kept going.”
Since then, she has become more religious and dedicated her work to Judaism. She started learning Torah with Aish Philadelphia 12 years ago and getting more involved Jewishly.
“It taught me how to lead a purposeful life,” she said.
That is why she is hoping to collaborate with Jewish organizations as the Israel-Diaspora Initiative begins its mission to help young people form their own identities as Jews.
“Jewish identity is formed by everybody you touch and every interaction that you have,” Holtz said, “and I think it’s very important that we all work collaboratively. A kid’s Jewish identity doesn’t happen through one experience; it happens through many experiences throughout their life, so we want to work with everyone doing good work that’s effective.”
She is excited to begin working with organizations in the community. She has met with Naomi Adler, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, to talk about the work the Jewish Federation has been doing, for example. She is also looking forward to building the organization up — something she is quite used to in her career.
Prior to working with Jerusalem U, where she was president for six years and helped the nonprofit grow into an international organization, Holtz wore many hats.
She co-owned, operated and ultimately sold 25 Party City stores, a $50 million venture, and helped the business become the franchise success it is today. Her family owned Party Supermarket, an initial competitor to Party City that ultimately became its largest franchisee.
According to Holtz, her business background, as well as her financial and legal expertise from her time at Blank Rome, “will help me prepare for what I’m about to do.”
“To solve problems,” she said, “you need to have many organizations and groups working together, and I’m excited that’s what we’re going to be doing here.”
Building a new organization from the ground up is no easy feat and will not come without its challenges, she acknowledged, the biggest of which might be apathy.
“It’s not that the kids are not interested in being Jewish. It’s just that they’re so busy and we’re competing against so many things, we’re competing against the Kardashians,” she said with a laugh, using one example of a TV show her daughter — and many others her age — watches. “The biggest challenge in engaging young kids is going to be that they’re so busy.”
But as of right now, she is not too worried. Once the organization gets going and she starts seeing what does and doesn’t work, she will be able to better engage her audience.
The first 90 days for Holtz in her new role entails learning as much as she can, connecting with leaders in organizations and philanthropists — and getting business cards, she laughed.
She will be starting to work on strategic plans to invest the money the organization received — about $70 million from the Israeli government that will be matched 2-to-1 by American philanthropists for the programs, she said, giving the organization the opportunity to make a “$210 million impact” — which she hopes to start doing in the next six months.
She hopes that by next summer — when camp rolls around — she will see increased numbers and be able to learn what is or isn’t working.
The numbers, she said, are the simple part — measuring if there was an increased number of campers is easier than really seeing the success, she explained, such as whether these campers really formed their Jewish identities.
“The great thing about Judaism is, we have a great product,” she said. “I think people are looking for meaning in life, and Judaism is a great place to find it.”
After the organization starts to grow, there are many rewards she is anticipating for the community.
“I hope that we’ll deliver, expanding great programs that are working and empowering new ideas, all of which are making a difference with measurable impact,” she said.
“We’re looking to work with everybody — we’re one Jewish community, we’re one big family. I’m looking forward to making an impact.”
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