Seeing the need
Every year, over 1,800 new young immigrants arrive in Jerusalem to pursue Hebrew learning, higher education, and professional work, while hundreds of thousands of young adults visit Jerusalem on long or short-term programs.
We asked some of them what they think of Jerusalem:
- “It’s an ultra-orthodox city, way too religious for me.”
- “I’m in Jerusalem for ulpan, but all of my friends are in Tel Aviv, so I go straight there every Shabbat. There is nothing to do in Jerusalem.”
- “The Tel Aviv nightlife is just so amazing, and I heard there are only two bars in Jerusalem.”
- “We didn’t know what to do for the evening, so we just got Falafel on Ben Yehuda Street.”
- “There are too many Anglos! I came to Israel to meet Israelis, so I moved to Tel Aviv.”
- “I don’t like programs, they don’t feel natural. I prefer to sit in a coffee shop or bar and meet people there. The experience feels much more authentic.”
- “I lived in the city for two months and not once did I get a chance to sit with Israelis my age and speak Hebrew.”
Such reactions deeply concerned us. In the past 5 years young Jerusalem residents have entered a new era of civil involvement inspiring talented and energetic young activists and entrepreneurs to work hard at washing the city with fresh waves of innovation.
We want young travellers to meet their Israeli counterparts, experience Jerusalem sparks of differences and community cohesion, and make the intimate social connections so desired in today’s world of uber social media.
Jerusalem has way more to offer than falafel on Ben Yehuda!
Why don’t young internationals connect?
We identified several elements that inhibit the development of strong connections to Jerusalem. Through experiences that serve up lasting connections, we aim to do our part in tackling dynamic problems facing young adults in Israel, travellers, and Jerusalem the city, including:
ISOLATION + DISCONNECTION
The increasing, and often paralysing isolation and disconnection felt across the globe especially in today’s world of social media overload
RITUAL + RETURN
The struggle to find open invitations (especially for Shabbat) and translate experiences into meaningful practice for travellers after they return home and look to incorporate new rituals into their lives
SEPARATION + RETENTION
The pervasive separation between different groups of young Israelis and retention of young newcomers in Israel
DEMOGRAPHICS + DIVERSITY
The lack of social cohesion in Jerusalem and its impact on the city’s brand domestically and abroad
How we started
2010 – 2011 | Crafting Connections: The big dinner experiment
In 2010 we started with what seemed like (and was) a program to answer a direct need – a Jerusalem Shabbat experience for young adults. The dinners became massive and began to sell out with over 250 people attending each time. Other pilot projects were soon added. We learned so much and garnered support and friends along the way. In parallel the city’s young adult community was seeing a new wave of grassroots activism. It was exciting times for Jerusalem – a city that until then was known solely for its religious and historical persona.
2012 – 2013 | Building Community: Turning big into small
Even as we realized our Shabbat strategy was working, we still wanted to test out new tactics that would fulfill the needs of our community. Seeking to reach more native Israelis and to create deeper connections, Jerusalem Village launched a series of pilot programs with participant maximums of twenty people, including Shalom Al Lechem, which was so well received that it became our flagship and signature initiative.
Literally, “greetings over bread,” Shalom al Lechem provides an opportunity to experience a Shabbat dinner that brings together a small, diverse group of young Israelis and internationals in a private Jerusalem home for amazing food and conversation. With our young adult foodie chef and portable kosher kitchen, the hosts are able to tailor the theme, menu, and atmosphere to reflect the traditions, tastes, and ideas they wish to share with their guests. This structure makes it “easy” for diverse groups to come together to enjoy Shabbat on their own terms, and to become co-creators – not just participants.
2014- Present | Creating Conversation: People. Tables. Experiences
In 2014, we became a registered Israeli non-profit. While still continuing to grow proven programs like Shalom Al Lechem, we began a new round of prototypes in an effort to provide even more meaningful content. Even though we began marketing in Hebrew and hired an Israeli staffer, we still struggled with building a brand that extended beyond our “by olim, for olim” roots. After years of engagement and a targeted campaign, in 2016, we saw Shalom Al Lechem become a huge draw for native Israelis, who made up 93% of all website sign-ups.
Inspired by this data and the advice of one of Jerusalem’s leading entrepreneurs, who told us to “choose one thing and do it well,” in 2017 we narrowed our focus to where the demand has outpaced our ability to keep up: the Shalom al Lechem Program is our flagship program bringing together different types of people for a shared meal experience.
In 2018 we were approached by a Haredi student initiative similar to Shalom al lechem as there are over 5,000 Haredi students studying in institutions of higher learning in the city. They were in search of the people to people interactions so central to our mission. Today our meals include Haredi students bringing a new level of social engagement to the Jerusalem young adult community.
Jerusalem Village today
Results and Reflections: Creating the JV Way
Since our founding, our experiences have engaged thousands of young people and dozens of partners, created countless friendships, and inspired young people to make aliyah. Together with our staff and partners, Jerusalem Village has built:
- A reputation. Jerusalem Village is known as the place to go to receive a warm welcome . In addition to our programs, we meet with visitors and native Israelis, serving a critical function as connectors.
- A community. We are dynamic with a forever changing diverse group of people who come together regularly in small groups, and who can be mobilized at large in the hundreds.
- A network of partners. We work collaboratively with organizations in Jerusalem and abroad to deliver high-quality programming to different constituencies. Long a part of our base, organizations and the visitors they bring mean that our work – and our network – have global reach.
- A way that works. “The JV Way,” our philosophy for experience design, is the result of years worth of research and feedback. Our formula is simple and scalable – but it’s also powerful. It’s why our programs continue to attract new and diverse participants year after year. The JV Way creates connection by building experiences that that are: stand-alone, small, open Israeli (meaning “easy” Hebrew or half-Hebrew half-English), strictly social, emotional, a little bit boozy, and easy to commit to. These factors reflect the explicit and implicit desires of our audience, while still catering to their highest wants: meaning and conversation.