Ex-Hadassah chief to become head of Birthright NEXT amid expansion

Birthright NEXT has announced new professional and lay leadership, among plans for expansion.

NEXT, the well-funded, but somewhat embattled follow up program to Birthright Israel announced today in Phoenix that Morlie Levin will become its next CEO and that Al Levitt will become its chairman on May 10.

Levin, who was previously the executive director of Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, will become the organization’s top professional as its current executive director, Rabbi Daniel Brenner, will become NEXT’s chief of education and programming. Levitt is the Chairman of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

NEXT also released the findings of a survey that found that its participants have found the program highly satisfying. The organization, which is currently run in seven cities will expand to 10-15, according to a release issued by the organization.

Here is the release with the full findings of the survey.

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PHOENIX, AZ – With preliminary results of an evaluation showing the highly positive reaction of young Jewish adults aged 24 – 30 to Birthright Israel NEXT, the organization today announced major plans for expansion throughout the country and new leadership.

NEXT reaches the critical demographic of young American Jews, helping them to build and maintain a Jewish life, connect with Jewish peers, and build a relationship with Israel, according to an evaluation presented today from SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization.  Rabbi Daniel Brenner, who has been NEXT’s executive director and soon will become chief of education and programming, reviewed the evaluation’s preliminary findings at the Jewish Funders Network conference, meeting this week in Phoenix. To reach even more young Jews, the organization will expand from its current seven cities with staff on the ground to 10 – 15 total cities.

The expansion will come under the new leadership of Morlie Levin, who will become CEO of NEXT May 10, and incoming chairman Al Levitt, who also serves on the board of Birthright Israel Foundation and is president of the Jim Joseph Foundation (JJF).

Preliminary data from the SRI evaluation demonstrate a very high response rate of positive association with NEXT activities, which include home-hosted Shabbat dinners, discussion groups on the Jewish perspective on environmental issues, and a myriad of other activities that allow young adults to add Jewish meaning and purpose to their lives on their own terms.

For example, the SRI evaluation found among the surveyed NEXT participants:

  • 90 percent are very satisfied (46%) or somewhat satisfied (44%) with NEXT activities

  • 97 percent feel that NEXT activities are warm and welcoming

  • 96 percent feel NEXT activities reflect the interests of young Jewish adults

  • 90 percent feel that NEXT activities are meaningful and enriching

  • 89 percent feel that NEXT activities do not require prior knowledge about Judaism or Israel for participation

  • 90 percent want to learn more about Judaism and Jewish life

  • 71 percent make new friends at NEXT events

The SRI evaluation also found that NEXT participants who had attended at least 3 NEXT activities, compared to NEXT participants who had attended only 1 or 2 activities, reported increases significantly more often in the following areas in the past 12 months:

  • The number of close friends they have who are Jewish (45% v. 29%)

  • The amount of time they spend socializing with other young Jewish adults (58 v. 33%)

  • Their confidence in Jewish knowledge and skills (49% v. 38%)

  • Their confidence in sharing Jewish knowledge with others (51% v. 42%)

  • Their confidence in planning and hosting activities for other young Jewish adults (41% v. 24%)

  • The evaluation’s final conclusions are expected in June of this year.

Levin, who previously was national executive director of Hadassah: the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, becomes CEO of an organization that has touched the lives of tens of thousands of young adults.  One of the few women to head an international Jewish organization, Levin will lead the expansion of NEXT into the additional cities, implement new programs, and grow the organization’s board.

"I’ve known and worked with Morlie for many years during her tenure at the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles,” said Bob Aronson, president of the Birthright Israel Foundation and an executive committee member of Birthright Israel NEXT. “I’m very pleased that someone of her creativity and caliber will be leading our organization."

Sandy Cardin, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Center for Leadership Initiatives and the Schusterman Foundation-Israel, added, “Daniel and Morlie will make a stellar team, combining creativity and educational excellence with experienced strategic leadership.”

NEXT’s most popular events have focused on Shabbat dinners, social gatherings, community service, environmental education, holiday celebrations, and the arts. More formal educational events, such as Hebrew ulpans, Israel seminars, and ongoing Jewish learning are beginning to emerge and should continue to develop under Levin’s guidance.

“Rabbi Brenner did a remarkable job in growing NEXT from its infancy to the dynamic organization it is today,” added Levitt. “He’ll now be able to deepen the educational work of NEXT and make it the premier training ground for the next generation of community leaders.  Morlie’s exceptional experience in leadership will surely expand on Daniel’s initial successes, and we look forward to the many new partnerships that will flourish under her guidance.”

As president of The Shimon Ben Joseph Foundation, commonly known as the Jim Joseph Foundation, Levitt oversaw the $17.5 million grant in 2008 – the largest ever by JJF – to the Birthright Israel Foundation.  That funding, which is being distributed over a five-year period, included $12.5 million designated as a matching grant for NEXT.

Understanding that outreach to young adults post-college is different than to undergraduate students, NEXT inspires Taglit-Birthright Israel participants to expand their connections to Israel, to deepen their personal commitments to Jewish life, and to find or form a community where Jewish responsibility, learning, and celebration thrive.

“NEXT has been able to connect with these young adults and capitalize on the enthusiasm they have for developing their own Jewish identities and lives,” said Gidi Mark, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel.  “Our trips are the first step for many of them in building a connection with Israel and identifying what adds meaning to their lives as Jews. We do everything we can in ten days, but NEXT provides a critical service of being there for the participants when they return to their daily lives.”

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