Tribe 12 Adapts to Changing Times

Photo by Yael Pachino Photography

When the coronavirus pandemic began in March, Ross Berkowitz, the executive director of Tribe 12, knew he and his team had some strategizing to do. Much of his organization’s work took place in physical spaces, where young adults could mix, mingle, network and engage with Jewish life.

But all that was about to change.

“We immediately took a step back and looked at the big picture,” Berkowitz said. “We didn’t want to just do what we normally did and put it online. We wanted to develop virtual programming that would actually provide for the needs of our constituents during a pandemic.”

Tribe 12 engages young adults in their 20s and 30s who have a Jewish connection in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. Its work is to enrich this cohort’s experience by building community and helping them to sustain a Jewish life long into the future. Run out of a WeWork office space, the group’s core mission is to adapt and change with the ever-evolving needs of our region’s young Jews.

As a staff of young adults themselves, Tribe 12 began its work by starting internally, identifying and addressing the needs of its own staff. Their team was used to forming an in-person daily huddle, where they could check in with one another and talk about what they were working on that day. Moving these meetups to Zoom was a helpful solution, but Berkowitz wasn’t interested in just doing all the programming in a basic Zoom format.

“We didn’t want to adjust to this new world simply by trying to create our normal environment,” he said. “We wanted to take advantage of the situation by trying to do things differently. So, we went back to the drawing board to determine how we can accomplish our same goals and our mission with a new and different tactic.”

Not only has Tribe 12 found that it could remain successful, but it has developed new strategies that will carry it into the future, even if or when the world gets back to normal life.

One experience that needed to be retooled was the matchmaking and dating programs, headed up by Tribe 12’s Assistant Director Danielle Selber. Her programs thrived on in-person meetups and get-togethers, but she restrategized by building a Facebook group and organizing blind virtual dates. The results of doing it this way surprised Selber.

“We are engaging completely new people in the suburbs, including Allentown and the Lehigh Valley,” she explained. “Our matchmaking flipped from being 70% city people to 70% suburban. We always wanted to explore more suburban programming, and we’ve found there’s room here to innovate virtually that can reach beyond our traditional community.”

Selber is also experimenting with matchmaking programs for a cause. The purpose will be to help a person “match with” organizations or actions which align with their personal values. That one-hour conversation will be followed by a personalized recommendation of a few specific ways the person can take action.

Another of Tribe 12’s key programs, the Jewish Entrepreneurial Fellowship, was in need of innovation. The fellowship is a leadership experience for individuals that are dedicated to personal growth, enriching their communities and making Judaism their own.

Fellows then apply the skills they learned to create a capstone project of their own design. In-person seminars were hosted every Tuesday night as the fellows built and launched their e-ventures, which have continued online. But Tribe 12 found that some key changes would do more to help the fellows in their future endeavors.

The launch night, when fellows formally shared their projects, was one example of how virtual programming is actually improving their work. On the night, 130 people joined for the full program, then each fellow had their own breakout session, which gave them an intimate experience to meet and talk about what they’re working on. Instead of doing live pitches, each fellow made a pitch video that they can now use to send to other people or potential investors.

The strategy has so far been a hit among the fellows.

“The last five months have been a roller coaster of emotions and transitions, but they’ve pushed me to places I never imagined possible,” said Michael Saks, a 2020 Tribe 12 fellow. “I’ve learned to think differently, be more flexible, try new things and take chances. I’m only at the beginning of my journey but I am eternally grateful for Tribe 12 and the Fellowship for helping me springboard to new adventures.”

Much of what Tribe 12 has learned is that virtual programming helps fulfill the core mission. When comparing April 2019 to April 2020, Tribe 12 found it ran triple the number of programs (all virtual) and also tripled the number of participants.

“We didn’t stagnate, we grew and expanded,” Berkowitz explained.

“We realized that so many people who want to get involved simply were not able to come to our physical events due to their busy schedules or the locations. We are excited about keeping that alive: the access has grown and we just don’t see that changing.”

June is Pride Month, and LGBTQIA+ programming is a major element of Tribe 12’s work. The Tribe 12 staffer who worked on these programs is leaving the job in October, and the organization wanted to ensure her work would continue.

“One of her goals was to transition the leadership of our LGBTQIA+ leadership directly to her constituents,” Selber said. “In a way, the coronavirus made it possible for her to actually do it. Since it started, she’s been giving away a lot of the direct programming and creativity to the people she’s used to engaging. She feels ready for the handoff.”

Tribe 12 has been forced to evolve due to the coronavirus, and what they’ve learned will make their work stronger and more effective.

Berkowitz attributed the success to the initial reaction as looking at the pandemic as an opportunity and not a challenge.

“We know we’re not going to go back to normal and go back to what we did before,” he said. “We are planning ahead to what’s the best way to create community for people in their 20s and 30s, bringing them in both in-person and online. We are painting the best parts together and building a long-term model that will engage more people than ever before.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here