November 18, 2020

The “Big 5” of Global Connections: Part II

Amir Shacham Associate Executive Vice President, Global Connections

The main attraction of a safari is to watch the wild animals in their natural habitat. The local guides always set a highly ambitious goal on the first day: “If we are lucky enough,” they would dramatically state, “understanding the lay of the land and keeping an optimistic spirit, we will be able to see the Big 5.” (The “Big 5” are the five royal animals of Africa: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and cape buffalo.) And in a miraculous way, by the end of each safari trip, this ambitious goal is usually met.

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, through its Global Connections arm, has set similar ambitious goals. We developed our own “Big 5” Initiative at the onset of and in response to COVID-19. Like the safari guides say, “with some luck, understanding the lay of the land, and lots of optimistic spirit” we will be successful.

Our “Big 5” are:
1. Partnerships Network Model
2. Kehila
3. Rishonim Chai
4. Uniper
5. Leaders for Cohesive Society

Today I’ll focus on Kehila:
Ours is a very distinctive community in terms of its geographical borders – we are a highly dispersed, widespread suburban New Jersey area. Yet, thanks to our ability to maintain intimate relations with our many overseas partnership regions and alumni networks, we have developed over the years a kehila, community, which is almost physically borderless.

Even before the Covid era we had begun to plan how to take advantage of this unique positioning. How to turn what might be seen as a challenge into a unique opportunity. Our thinking was to create a virtual platform, a spiderweb, which connects our young adults wherever they might be geographically. Together with Hillel Israel and under the leadership of Keren Decastro (Rishonim 1), we have created Kehila – an on-line and “on-life” community of young adult GMW global members.

When Covid hit earlier this year, Kehila became the ultimate vehicle to maintain and enhance global connections. Within a short period of time, 200 young adults joined the platform and have been contributing to it. They include alumni of our youth programs like Diller and Gesher from both Israel and New Jersey; Cherkassy youngsters and madrichim who are either physically in Ukraine, Israel, or the U.S.; program participants and lone soldiers from New Jersey; graduates of our cohorts of shlichim and rishonim; and many more.

The rich content, the powerful networking, and the varied activities of Kehila keep growing. The members are supporting one another in so many ways, creating subgroups based on interests and skills, and are connecting to Federation in various ways. Only last weekend, ten different virtual Kehila events were held internationally as part of the “Global Shabbat.” Members are connecting with Holocaust survivors and other seniors through programs with the JCCS, former rishonim are providing educational activities for children in New Jersey, and so much more.

Indeed the in-person activities of Kehila are basically on hold for the time being, so we’ll just continue to focus on the on-line possibilities. However, by understanding the lay of the land and keeping our optimistic spirit, as the safari guides teach us, we are confident that on the other end of this pandemic the sky is the limit! We will take advantage of this unique Kehila we’ve built – the Peoplehood Corp of Greater MetroWest youth – to fulfill our vision of global connections, social action, and mutual responsibility. Kehila is our elite unit for it. Take pride.