Jewish Innovators Gather

120 international Jewish innovators, entrepreneurs, and artists gather in Israel for community-building, professional development, and more.

Tags: ROI
Hillel Fendel , | updated: 8:38 PM

ROI logo
ROI logo

120 young Jewish innovators, entrepreneurs, and artists  from around the world will gather in Jerusalem and Ramat Gan next week for network-strengthening, best practices-sharing, community-building and professional development.

They will be taking part in the Fifth Anniversary ROI Summit, arriving from San Salvador, Beijing, Los Angeles, Copenhagen and elsewhere.

ROI is an international community of young Jewish leaders, innovators and professionals who collaborate across the globe on projects that strengthen their local and global Jewish communities. The purpose of the summit is to strengthen ROI’s expanding global network and its dedication to Jewish education and identity, Jewish arts and culture, environmental responsibility, and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

“I invite all those who fear for the next generation of Jewish leadership to come see the Jewish future and hear its many voices at ROI,” says Lynn Schusterman, the American Jewish philanthropist who created ROI as a partnership between the Center for Leadership Initiatives and Taglit-Birthright Israel.

Over the last five years, ROI has played the key role in seeding and supporting such cutting-edge Jewish start-ups as G-dcast, PresenTense, Moishe House, Challah for Hunger, and Oleh! Records. 

G-dcast, for example, which has just received an ROI grant for a Jewish holidays series, is a weekly cartoon on the weekly Torah portion - an animated version of Torah thoughts.

Since ROI’s inception in 2006, Schusterman has invested $600,000 in more than 60 projects, together comprising what she regards as her signature philanthropic program. “I am deeply inspired by these 20- and 30-somethings, whose Judaism moves them to build networks of purpose - and to repair the world.” 

This year, to mark its fifth anniversary, ROI awarded $500,000 in grants to 35 initiatives led by members in 11 countries, including the following:

  • El Toratron, a Jewish educational theatre ensemble in Buenos Aires that brings to life the characters and wisdom from the Torah.
  • Bible Raps, which uses rap music to promote core Jewish texts as rich sources of meaning, drama, and inspiration for today’s youth.
  • Jewcology, a web portal for Jewish environmentalists created through an international collaboration by 17 ROI members. 
  • Jewish Salons, an international network addressing Jewish identity through culture and arts.
“After five years of expanding this global network, we’re embarking on a new direction,” said ROI Director Justin Korda. “We will hold a global brainstorm - face-to-face for the members at the Summit, and tweet-to-tweet for the hundreds scattered in 40 countries - to determine our future course.”

Among the participants are Marcus Freed, an actor who writes and performs plays about Biblical heroes, and has developed something called Bibliyoga. There is also Evelyn Goldfinger from Argentina, whose theater troupe El Toratron performs all over the country for Jewish communities of all ages; she had planned to give it up, but her ROI grant was "min hashamayim" – literally, a G-d-send - and she has persisted.

Others are Matt Bar, who performs Bible raps teaching Torah stories and Jewish holidays, and Lisa Appel, who teaches Torah through acrobatics.

In answer to a FAQ on its website, the organization explains that ROI stands for “return on investment,” a common business term which refers to achieving a desirable outcome through wise investment. Furthermore, ro’eh in Hebrew means shepherd, “which in our tradition has always symbolized a position of leadership.”

ROI provides professional development and financial support to its 500-strong network of innovators and activists, who have launched hundreds of projects in more than 100 communities over the past five years.