• Looking Onward: Let the Winter Games Begin! - 12/05/2018

    The Festival of Lights, even with the extra calories that come with it, is a festive time and a ripe opportunity to think about the Jewish story over the ages. Hanukah’s unique message, combining the establishment of national independence with the challenge of preserving our heritage and identity in the wider society is of particular relevance for us today- an inspiring frame for the work we all do in the context of Onward Israel.

    1. Winter Wonderland
    For Onward Israel, 2019 has come early: our first winter program began this year in mid-November. Our partnership in the Barak program facilitates the arrival in Israel of Jewish young adults who plan to volunteer in the future for Israeli army service. This unique global group of young people, from more than 15 countries, occupies a unique space in the Onward Israel landscape: for them the Onward Israel program allows them to develop personally, acquire needed skills, immerse in Israel and build their Jewish identity before they begin their army service. Starting next week and continuing through early March we will dive into the heart of the Winter season through internship programs programs with JInternship, Hillel Latin America program and the Tel Aviv Winter Internship experience, as well as the TavTech coding program, a professional preparatory program for participants from the FSU and additional opportunities for participants to engage in sustainable agriculture and ecological living in two different venues in Israel. The winter season is eclectic, with a great deal of variance between programs in terms of content, timing, geographical source and program length. This creates challenges in bringing participants together beyond their specific program and in creating an overall brand identification with Onward Israel. On the positive side however, we have found creative ways, in line with our Board’s encouragement, to grow participation in the winter and expect to bring more than 400 participants this winter, up from 308 who took part last year, a growth rate of over 30%. We continue to explore new ideas for winter partnerships and programs for the future.

    2. Quickly out of the Gate
    On November 15 we officially opened registration for Onward Israel Summer 2019. It is true, that a few of the earlier programs with a May start, principally Toronto, Montreal and Camp Counselors, started registration already in October, but the vast bulk of programs were officially opened in mid-November. We were encouraged by our pre-registration data going into the November 15 launch. The popular Share Some Friends app, through which Onward Alumni can refer their friends to Onward Israel programs generated over 9400 referrals and more than 2000 potential applicants pre-registered and were sent an email inviting them to register with the opening or registration. As of this writing (December 3), overall registration for the summer is up by 28% over last year at the same time (1121 applicants). At this pace we are excited about the prospect of reaching some 2600 participants this summer and more than 3000 for 2019 as a whole. Some programs in particular are off to very strong launches, in particular Toronto, Cincinnati, Boston Tel Aviv, North Jersey, Miami, Columbus, South Palm Beach, University of Florida, ALT Jerusalem Women and Ignite 2 of JInternship, the Camp Counselor program and Finance and Economics. In all of these cases, more than 40% of last year’s overall applicant total has already been reached. We are also very pleased about the continued growth in the partnership with Masa and look forward to passing the 60% mark this year of Masa eligible participants among the overall Onward Israel participant pool.

    3. Setting the Content Table
    After the improvements in last year’s educational quality, we are continuing to develop our educational platform. Our plans for this summer include some of the following highlights:

    • Evolution of the weekender module into the Chug Activity module. Each program will have a designated evening during the summer, together with other programs in their city, and participants will choose between workshop (chug) options. Through this change we will preserve the high educational level, maintain participant choice and simplify the logistical arrangements.
    • Offering Hebrew before and during the Onward Israel program.
    • Introducing “Onward Shishi Tours”- options for participants who want to see more of the country through Onward Israel organized Friday trips.
    • Further integration of peer led Shabbat dinners into every program
    • Expansion of the participant initiative fund to encourage new peer organized ideas
    • Possible expansion of Connections model into a job and opportunity fair
    • An upgraded (aesthetically and functionally) Onward Israel app

    In addition, all of our partners and organizers will work collaboratively over the next few months to approve their core educational programming, now called Israel Now- interactive and experiential days designed to engage participants in the key issues and dilemmas in Israeli society today.

    4. Eyes on the Future
    One of the keys to Onward Israel’s future growth is our ability to generate the financial resources needed to continue to add 500 participants a year and reach our multi-year goal of 5000 participants a year. As we work closely with our current funders to deepen existing partnerships and collaboration, we also seek ways to engage new donors and to bolster our board membership as well. Our new VP for Development, Elliot Karp, began his tenure last month and has already begun to build critical relationships for our future. We are also working to enhance our capacity in Israel- helping organizers expand their internship placement options, learning from our first ever study of employers, creating a new system for housing approvals and creating a new theme based program in law, based on the partnership model with key industry figures from Israel that we initiated last year in the finance program. I hope to continue to report throughout the year, both about our progress towards our 2019 benchmarks and about the ways in which we address the future right around the corner. In the meantime I invite all of you who will be attending Hillel’s International Global Assembly (HIGA) next week in Denver to come spend some time with Onward Israel staff at the Onward Israel Longue. We are proud to be involved in this exciting event!

    Chag Urim Sameach (Happy Hanukah)
    Ilan Wagner