October 13, 2019

High Holy Days: What’s NEXT for Birthright

High Holiday map screenshot. Courtesy of NEXT.

On Aug. 5, the Birthright Israel alumni organization NEXT launched its 2013 High Holy Days initiative. It features an interactive, nationwide map of services and events — including learning opportunities, dinners and break-the-fasts — as well as a first-time offering of resources and small subsidies for people willing to host Rosh Hashanah meals and Yom Kippur break-the-fasts. 

“Taglit-Birthright participants have returned from their summer trips — joining the hundreds of thousands of alumni from past years — with a personal connection to Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people. Now is the time to build on that connection and help make Jewish opportunities and communities more accessible,” Morlie Levin, CEO of NEXT, said in a statement. 

“We’ve found that Birthright Israel alumni are particularly interested in celebrating holidays with their friends, and the High Holy Days initiative offers them the opportunity to both create these experiences themselves and connect to community events they find meaningful.”

Based around the idea that there are ways to keep participants of Taglit-Birthright’s free 10-day trips to Israel interested in Judaism and the Jewish state after they return home, NEXT helps connect alumni through events, subsidized Shabbat meals and other programs. The organization has an alumni community of more than 300,000 individuals, according to its Web site.

While the High Holy Days map is in its third year, it has some new features this time. For example, it now allows users to filter events based on their preferences, whether they are seeking services that are egalitarian; LGBT-friendly; interfaith-friendly; English-heavy; or Reform, Orthodox or Conservative. 

As of press time, several Los Angeles-area congregations — including Nashuva, Stephen S. Wise Temple, IKAR and Congregation Shir Chadash in Lakewood, Calif. — have listed their services on the map. More are expected to join during the two weeks leading up to the holidays.

The NEXT map was produced by San Francisco- and New York-based 10x Management, a talent agency that represents freelance programmers and other technology professionals. The map relies on GPS technology and enables users to tweet and share on Facebook which events they plan to attend.

As with the online map, NEXT also designed the meal subsidy program, the other part of the 2013 initiative, to encourage alumni and young professionals to participate in and engage with the most important holidays of the year.

Hosts will be reimbursed up to $10 per guest for up to 16 guests, and NEXT has made resource materials available on its Web site to help enrich the experience. These include recipes, dinner ideas, holiday videos and much more.

The program was inspired by the longstanding NEXT Shabbat program, which covers the cost of Shabbat meals — a host simply provides receipts and photos as proof that they hosted one.

“We understand one of the most effective ways toward a deeper understanding of Jewish learning is to have the opportunity to [sit around a dinner table] with a large circle of friends,” Levin said.

For more information on the High Holy Days initiative, including the interactive map and the subsidy program, visit birthrightisraelnext.org/highholidays.