A collection of 152 of the Jewish world’s leading, young innovators from 30 countries and six continents convened in Jerusalem this week to reflect, ideate and collaborate at the 2019 ROI Summit. The summit, which took place from June 23-27, is the flagship program of ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a global organization that seeks to improve lives, strengthen communities and reduce inequality among people.

With the goal of mobilizing top Jewish leaders in diverse arenas, from high-tech and education to science and nonprofits, the five-day program of lectures, peer-led knowledge-sharing sessions, group brainstorming and deep self-reflection provided the platform for participants to challenge each other and develop their visions for positive social change.

“We are curating a network of thousands of change-makers so that they may impact millions of people and communities in positive ways,” said No’a Gorlin, ROI Community’s associate executive director.

“We feel a responsibility to the visionaries at the Schusterman Foundation who believe in the necessity of this network of activists, and who believe in the need to support Jewish change-makers in creating Jewish life in their own image,” she told JNS.

No’a Gorlin, ROI Community’s associate executive director. Credit: ROI via Facebook.

This year’s ROI Summit marked its 13th signature gathering, and inspired by the Jewish tradition of 13 representing a coming-of-age year, it drew on the theme of responsibility. Participants were encouraged to explore and grapple with their roles and responsibilities as leaders in their communities and in the world at large.

According to Gorlin, ROI feels a responsibility for the Jewish community and the broader world.

“We hope that ROI community members mobilize themselves and others—within and outside the ROI network—to create the world they want to live in. That might mean creating new models for Jewish communities that speak to younger generations. It might mean strengthening Israel’s democracy. It might mean working in international development. Ultimately, their areas of impact will vary, but as members of this global network of change agents, we hope they feel inspired—and that they have the necessary tools at their fingertips—to work together to make it happen.”

After the summit, this year’s cohort joined the ROI community of more than 1,500 international activists and innovators who are invited to year-round opportunities for leadership and engagement to make the world a better place and driven by Jewish values.

‘A disconnect in Jewish infrastructure’

David Yarus, one of this year’s participants and founder of JSwipe (the Jewish answer to the Tinder dating app) attended the summit, hoping to redefine Jewish engagement for a new generation of global citizens.

“There’s a disconnect that we see in Jewish infrastructure,” he told JNS. “The federations, foundations, organizations, donors and philanthropist agendas that are driven by our grandparents’ generations are not appealing to younger audiences, and membership is dwindling.”

Yarus, who grew up in Miami Beach, Fla., and now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., expressed that these institutions are mere “pep rallies and hurrahs,” lacking radical, critical discussions from various viewpoints and denominations that are needed to identify the greatest challenges facing the Jewish people.

Empowered co-creation and innovation, he said, could more effectively address millennial apathy.

Since creating JSwipe, which he said “brought the latest and greatest technology for community and connections to the Jewish world through a Jewish lens,” Yarus felt “cosmically called” to give himself more to that work.

He is now working on another project to invigorate the Jewish future—one that is “universal, textured, layered, integrated and collaborative.”  Called the Jewish Future Summit, it will be “a hybrid of a conference, Ted Talks and a hackathon to explore, collaborate and empower individuals to collectively design the Jewish future.”

Yarus, who’s in his early 30s, voiced his hope that taking part in the ROI summit and community will assist this very aim, calling the Schusterman Foundation “one of the most sophisticated, sharp, ‘on their game’ purveyor of events, community-building, meaningful interactions and actionable opportunities that exist in the Jewish world.”