Maven: a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others. The word maven comes from the Hebrew, via Yiddish, and means one who understands, based on an accumulation of knowledge.
This venture is an expansion of our current pilot program which features a solo ‘Maven’ Intern working on three campuses. The project aims to place informal Jewish peer educators on university campuses with Jewish populations comprised largely of Toronto natives. Each Maven will be hired to work on the campus where he or she currently studies with the primary objectives of lending accessible Jewish content and depth to initiatives already existing on campus (such as Shabbat dinners, Birthright reunions, or tzedek projects), building relationships with unengaged Jewish students, and creating both formal and informal learning opportunities. Qualities we are seeking in interns are: a strong Jewish background, past participation in Jewish youth programming, gap year, yeshiva or as a camp counselor, ability to have in-depth conversations, emotional maturity, without a prior formal leadership role within the Jewish campus community, and able to attend a national training. When students complete their internship they will have gained and honed new skills in many areas, including teaching, communication, working with peers, strategy, marketing, and networking. They will also be well-trained informal Jewish educators.
Combining the need for both breadth and depth to create Meaningful Jewish Experiences, the Maven brings both an engaging personality and knowledge to the table. In recent years, Hillels and JSAs in Southern Ontario have seen a tremendous growth in Jewish campus life, particularly as students from Toronto enroll in universities outside of the city. We estimate the Jewish university student population in Toronto to be between 10,000 and 12,000 students, and the Jewish student population in Southern Ontario to be roughly 9,000 students, comprised mainly of Torontonians. A subsequent challenge with which we struggle is engaging those students as they move between home and campus communities and, post graduation, returning to the Greater Toronto Area as young adults responsible for their own Jewish growth. With fewer Jewish young adults feeling compelled to hold membership within a Jewish organization, the tools used to foster an enduring commitment to Jewish life must shift in order to continuously engage our students. We look to engage as many students as possible through an initiative that offers positive Jewish memories, Jewish community, and Jewish knowledge in an affordable peer educational model that does not yet exist within the Jewish campus community.
This project addresses two separate demographics: undergraduates with Jewish backgrounds and knowledge who have not yet connected with the formal campus Jewish community and students without a strong Jewish background who are not actively engaged in the Jewish community because it does not intersect with their social circles or current interests.
The ultimate goal of this internship is to increase the number of students having meaningful Jewish experiences and engaging in Jewish learning, whether informally or formally, to a point that piques their interest and inspires them to continue to learn and explore their own relationship with Judaism. Specifically, our goals are to double the number of students on university campuses in Southern Ontario participating in Jewish learning opportunities, engaging 30% more of the Jewish population on each campus, and developing student leaders. We will see an increase in learning on each campus as well as added depth to pre-existing Jewish programming as the interns will also be a resource to Hillel staff and student Executive boards that may not have other Jewish educators to whom they can reach out.
Our goals will be measured through interaction/relationship-tracking software used by Hillel Canada, CIE and UIA that will allow for easy transference of information as students move from university campuses back to Toronto. We will know we are successful through by the number of students attending ongoing group learning or chevruta programs, the number of students who reach out to the intern as a resource, the number of 1:1 meetings between the interns and other students, and through a survey collected from each intern at the end of the year.
In addition to financial support from SixPoints Fund members we would like to ask that they consider participating in our national training as speakers or to serve as professional mentors to the interns, a time commitment of approximately one hour per month.
January/February 2012 – begin marketing the internship
March/April 2012 – Accepting applications
May 2012 – Interviews take place in Toronto
June 2012 – Announce Interns
August 2012 – National training and initiative launch on campuses
December 2012 – Mid-year evaluation
February 2013 – June 2013 – Recruit and hire the next generation of interns
August 2013 – National training
We expect the funding from SixPoints JVPF to carry us through the first year of the program, which will allow us time throughout the year to apply to new grants after demonstrating the success of this program during the pilot year of 2011-2012 and during the second year of 2012-2013.
Project Maven was devised by Sarena Koschitzky and Alexandra Lulka. It will operate within Hillel Canada and progress of the initiative will be supervised by Orly Halpern, the Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Engagement. Orly supervises the current Maven Intern during the initiative’s pilot year. Prior to Joining Hillel Canada, Orly was the Director of Engagement at Cornell Hillel in Ithaca, NY, where she oversaw the Peer Network Engagement Internship, coordinated the Alternative Breaks, Taglit-Birthright, and immersion experience follow-through. Orly was chosen as one of 20 Hillel professionals from around the world to participate in the prestigious LAPID initiative, a program that trains talented Hillel staffers to help their Hillels provide engagement, leadership, and professional skills for students. After living for many years in the States, Orly was thrilled to have the opportunity to return to her hometown of Toronto and to work with Jewish students in Canada.
While working on campus, Mavens will report directly to their campus Hillel Director (excepting campuses without Hillel staff). This will allow internships to be tailored to the specific needs of individual campuses. Where there is no Hillel staff, interns will be supervised by Orly Halpern, who has previously supervised two cohorts of Peer Network Interns.
In addition to regular local supervision, we aim to create a community of practice through a monthly conference call or webinar during which practical skills and Jewish learning opportunities will be discussed. These calls will be facilitated by Orly Halpern and will feature guest facilitators who are mavens of their own fields.
New and/or innovative idea:
Jewish students today are highly social, collaborative, and very diverse. Although most don’t feel the need to belong to a JCC, synagogue, or other Jewish institution they tend to be very proud of being Jewish. In this landscape, Hillel embraced two models to move beyond ‘the institution’ and ‘the program’: Peer Network Engagement Interns and Senior Jewish Educators. Peer Network Engagement Interns utilize their own social networks to create micro communities of interest within the Jewish community and build ongoing initiatives to continue to engage new students in the community. Senior Jewish educators were hired to lend Jewish knowledge and content to those same initiatives and to be a resource to the community. This model, while extremely effective, is very costly. The majority of campuses cannot afford an educator, often a rabbi, in addition to 10interns. For this reason we have combined those two incredibly successful models into a single individual who can both leverage his/her social network and act as an approachable resource to give accessible Jewish content to both his/her own initiatives but also to those of the Student Executive.
Each year new students return from Gap years, yeshiva programs, or summer camps looking for ways to continue their Jewish connection – this will keep the intern ‘pool’ fresh each year and with minimal funding this project can continue each year with new interns and an ever-changing student body to engage. Through we will have to rely on grants there are many opportunities available.
This project can easily be grown by hiring multiple interns per campus (creating a cohort) or by placing interns on more campuses.
This project could easily be replicated on other Canadian campuses or in communities by sharing educational resources, training materials, and best practices. A national conference would allow for an environment of collaboration and would ensure a single mission.
In addition to the SixPoints JVFP’s financial investment, we will also look to organizations such as the AVI CHAI Foundation, Natan’s Grants – Emerging Models of Jewish Connection, and the Max and Anna Levinson Foundation. These organizations are all more likely to invest once a running model has been developed. Hillel International has also expressed an interest in helping us to create the best model possible by allowing us the opportunity to work with consultants on this project at this years’ international staff conference. With their buy-in, a successful program piloted for students in the Greater Toronto Area could find itself well-funded and replicated not only throughout Canada but also the States, Latin America, and the Former Soviet Union.