Just as college graduates become alumni and retain ties to their school, graduates of Orthodox Union programs can now maintain an active relationship with the OU through the newly created Department of Alumni Relations. Alumni can be involved in spiritually enhancing events while supporting the current participants in their favorite OU programs.
It all started with the NCSY Alumni program, which was the brainchild of OU Alumni Relations Director, Rabbi Dave Felsenthal. Encouraged by the successes he saw, Rabbi Felsenthal expanded the department to become Alumni Relations, seeking to extend similar benefits to the many young adults who graduate from OU activities each year.
These programs include Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), which is found at 15 colleges and universities nationwide; NCSY birthright israel; and the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), which has a summer internship program.
According to OU National Director of Program Development, Rabbi Steven Burg, “Our alumni graduate and say they’ve grown to depend on us for inspiration. It is our obligation to continue that relationship.”
There are five aspects of the department’s plan to maintain alumni involvement in Jewish life:
• The formation of “Alumni Ambassadors” to enhance existing Jewish programming on campuses. OU President Stephen J. Savitsky explains that “There are approximately 30,000 alumni of OU programs on college campuses each year. This represents over eight percent of the entire Jewish college population. The impact this program can have on all Jewish life is just tremendous.” The Department of Alumni Relations has already attracted 160 students to promote Jewish programs on secular campuses.
While still in high school, Ambassadors are recruited and trained to initiate grass roots movements that will stimulate Jewish activity on their campuses. Ambassadors then participate in a leadership certification program and are trained to attract students to Jewish programming through a variety of activities including: distributing promotional material, giving talks around their communities, writing articles, and marketing events.
The initiative’s first project is to recruit for NCSY birthright israel (www.israelfreespirit.com) , which rewards Ambassadors with prizes and a chance to win a free ticket to Israel. Ambassadors are also contacted by JLIC and other collegial Jewish organizations to become leaders on campus. Alumni Relations has scheduled events at New York University, University of Maryland, University of Pennsylvania and UCLA—four of the JLIC campuses—for NCSY graduates to learn about all that JLIC has to offer.
• Singles events to encourage Jewish marriages. Singles programming will include networking opportunities on the website www.ncsyalum.org via an alumni database, singles Shabbatonim, and singles events which will be initiated over the next year. “We have some unique and innovative ideas that we will be implementing in partnership with Saw You At Sinai. We hope the effects of this program will be worldwide,” declared Rabbi Felsenthal.
• Reunions to reacquaint old friends and supply inspiration. Alumni Relations is planning several reunions for the near-future. A melava malka in Israel is set for the winter. A unique reunion for alumni to spend Shabbat with their old unaffiliated friends will take place December 21-23 at the DoubleTree in Tarrytown, NY. Alumni Shabbatonim, open to all alumni wanting to “reexperience and reconnect,” will be held in conjunction with both Canada NCSY’s Spring Regional May 16-18 at a Lake Erie, PA resort and New York NCSY’s Spring Regional May 23-25 at Camp Morasha in Pennsylvania. According to Rabbi Felsenthal, eventually there will be separate reunions for each OU program.
• Training alumni to become the future OU lay leaders. It is the goal of Alumni Relations to benefit from the graduates’ years of experience and to help facilitate the next stage in their development as leaders within the Jewish community. OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb declared, “The Orthodox Union has a substantial investment in alumni; they should be the future leaders of the OU.” In order to facilitate recent graduates’ professional growth, members of the OU’s Young Leadership Cabinet (YLC) will become mentors to alumni leaders who have recently graduated from college and are now employed. In addition, OU alumni conference calls and webcasts will feature NCSY Regional Directors, Shabbaton Scholars-in-Residence, successful Jewish professionals, prominent Jewish policy makers, and noted Jewish personalities offering career advice.
• Development is one of the key components of Alumni Relations. An Alumni Fund has been set up to provide alumni with the opportunity to support the new department’s services and programs, with donors to be recognized on an online donor “wall.” “Alumni naturally care a great deal about keeping their younger counterparts’ Jewish identities strong in their college environment, promoting Jewish marriages and developing future Jewish leadership.” Rabbi Felsenthal declared. “As a result, they are generously supporting the work we do. We are in the process of establishing an Alumni Commission to spearhead this effort.”
For more information about the Department of Alumni relations, contact Rabbi Felsenthal, 212-613-8153, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.ncsyalum.org.