February 21, 2020

Young L.A. Innovators Join Global ROI Summit in Jerusalem

Eight local innovators are among the 145 young Jewish activists from 30 countries currently taking part in ROI’s 13th global summit in Jerusalem.

The summit, which runs June 23 to 27, is the flagship program of ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. ROI Community consists of “over 1,300 Jewish activists, entrepreneurs and innovators in their 20s and 30s who are enhancing Jewish engagement and fostering positive social change globally,” according to ROI’s website.

“ROI means both a return on investment, in terms of the Jewish community investing in its young leaders and also a play on the Hebrew word ‘roi,’ for shepherd, in that ROI Community is preparing the young leaders of tomorrow,” ROI Community associate executive director No’a Gorlin told the Journal. 

For this year’s 13th gathering, ROI realized the number 13 signifies “the Jewish coming-of-age year,” Gorlin said. “At 13, we enter the age of responsibility.” Through the theme of responsibility, “the summit will push participants to examine their relationships with different realms of responsibility in their personal and communal lives,” Gorlin said.

Out of roughly 650 applicants, 153 participants were selected after undergoing “a rigorous review process,” Gorlin said. “We seek creative thinkers who are clearly motivated to generate positive change. But beyond that, we look for applicants who demonstrate a collaborative spirit — those who show that they are willing to not only take from the network, but to give back as well.”

The eight participants from Los Angeles are Laurel Hunt, Heather Wilk, Becky Tahel Bordo, Arya Marvazy, Ron Weinreich, Deanna Neil, Lauren Taus and Shani Rotkovitz. The Journal caught up with each of them ahead of the summit.

Laurel Hunt, 29
Hunt attends graduate school at UCLA. As the executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) at UCLA, her career path “highlights my ability to implement sustainability strategies through advocacy, coalition-building and policymaking … and I’ve learned how important it is to plan with people and not just for them,” Hunt told the Journal.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to connect and collaborate with Jewish activists, innovators and entrepreneurs across the globe,” she said. “I want to be a part of a group that runs with the vision and sets the agenda for the young-professional Jewish movement.”

Heather Wilk, 33
This is Wilk’s second summit, having attended in 2011. This year, she will be an alumni representative. “I’m hoping what I’ll do is be a great educator and simply a first form of contact for people who are coming for the first time,” she said.

Wilk runs the nonprofit Straight But Not Narrow, which provides refurbished laptops and cell phones to isolated or homeless LGBTQ youth. She said she hopes “to be able to share openly and honestly my experiences, successes and failures to help others.”

(left to right) Ron Weinreich, Becky Tahel Bordo, Lauren Taus, Laurel Hunt, Deanna Neil, Heather Wilk, Arya Marvazy and Shani Rotkovitz from Los Angeles at ROI Summit in Jerusalem. Photo by Snir Kazir

Becky Tahel Bordo, 32
The head writer and producer at advertising agency Icon Media, Bordo was born in Israel, grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago. Bordo said she is eager to grow as a writer, producer and person of impact.

“The only way I find myself doing that is with other people, especially people better than me, who have different wisdom than me,” she said. “We need each other for that reflection and growth, so I’m really excited to meet other people around the world who are doing incredible things …  Shared experiences are the currency that drive us all. There’s a lot of healing, shifting and elevating that needs to happen with the [Jewish community].”

Arya Marvazy, 33
Managing director of JQ International, a nonprofit that works to create community and advance greater inclusion of LGBTQ Jews and allies, Marvazy applied for the summit because of “the opportunity to meet Jewish individuals from around the world that are working on different big ideas, and to be able to essentially build up partnerships and collaborations that I know will expand the success of all of our work, but most importantly expand [and strengthen] Jewish identity, community and continuity,” he said.

Marvazy has friends who are attending the summit, but he hopes to emulate this year’s theme of responsibility by “[pushing] myself and [embracing] the responsibility to connect to all, and each person’s inherent value, at the conference without relying too heavily on that comfort zone.”

Ron Weinreich, 33
Born in Israel, Weinreich grew up on the East Coast, moved back to Israel to serve in the IDF, and has been living in Los Angeles for the past seven years. In the 2006 Lebanon War, Weinreich was paralyzed after a building collapsed on his tank during a Hezbollah strike.

He currently is working on establishing a rehabilitation center in Israel through the Healing Dove Children’s Fund, a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) that raises money to promote peace and healing so children can afford to travel to Israel to receive treatment.

He dreams of “giving people with chronic disabilities the access to live really extraordinary lives. I created that life for myself, by the grace of God … I don’t allow my disability to stop me in any way, and I really want to make that available to the millions and millions and millions of people who are suffering around the world.”

About attending the ROI summit, Weinreich said, “The way that I think I can emulate [responsibility] is to listen [to the] other people there and whatever they’re responsible for … . I’m excited to discover them. I’m excited to see what other people are up to.”

Deanna Neil, 38
Born in Chicago, Neil said she moved to Los Angeles in 2009 for “love and entertainment.” She is a writer, singer, Jewish spiritual leader and educator.
“I work a lot in Jewish education and I also do a lot of music and a lot of learning, and the way that I learn and work is through networking anyway,” she said. “I think that people always have something interesting they can offer.”

To succeed at the Summit, Neil believes in applying “the arts to your Jewish life and allowing yourself to have the freedom to make mistakes and [thinking] of rituals you build on your own or with your community … that you can explore and experiment with if the traditional setting isn’t satisfying.”

She added, “You don’t know what your role is ultimately in this world. Just try to plow forward, do your best, be a good person … . You don’t know who’s in that room and who’s going to take something that can then expand it and grow it outward.”

Lauren Taus, 37
A clinical therapist, yoga teacher, activist, podcast host and speaker, Taus said that at the summit, she “hopes to deepen my connections in the Jewish world and expand my global network to support my vision.”

Taus recently launched her podcast INbodied Life, which, she said, “widens the space for important, hard conversations with Israelis and Palestinians with the intention to inspire reflection, compassion and more inclusion everywhere.”

She added she will emulate the summit’s theme of responsibility by being “conscious of what is happening around me and [stepping] into leadership [throughout] the week. Judaism is a conscious practice of doing what is right in the world.”

Shani Rotkovitz, 39
Rotkovitz is the client finance associate director at Media Arts Lab, an advertising agency in Playa Vista.

“ROI is about community engagement at its very core,” she said. “This is about bringing personal experiences to the forefront in an effort to help innovate the world at large.”

She believes that at the summit, there will be “a large collective knowledge base to share with each other, and the more you engage, the more you can do. It’s about recognizing the box, believing there’s something outside the predefined edges you’re used to and figuring out, with the help of others, how to get there.”

Gorlin is just as excited as the summit participants. “We believe that the participants are the content,” she said. “Summit participants have a wealth of knowledge to convey to their fellow attendees. Change-making can be a lonely business and we hope that at the summit, participants feel reassured that they are not alone in their work. They have a global community supporting them, should they choose to tap into it. Together, their potential for impact is unparalleled.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.