COJECO (Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations)

COJECO is a central hub for Russian-speaking Jewish grassroots organizations and community of New York.

Location: New York , NY
Year founded: 2001

Description

COJECO was formed in 2001 as an umbrella organization for grassroots community organizations of Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants in New York to make their voices heard and respected. Today we represent over 30 such member organizations, including young adult leadership groups, Holocaust Survivors, professional associations, arts & culture organizations, and social justice groups. 

RSJ Symposium

About

For over 25 years,
and especially during the last 10 years, the Jewish community has been
piloting, developing, and fine-tuning a wide array of engagement programs for
Russian-speaking Jews. The COJECO RSJ Symposium brings together the invaluable
experience and knowledge found among Jewish professionals from different
metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada who have been working first
hand with the Russian-speaking Jewish community toward the goals of Jewish identity
development and community building.  


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What is the mission and purpose of this program?

The primary goal of
the RSJ Symposium is to explore, consolidate, and ultimately publicize targeted
resources and effective tools for current and future Jewish professionals
working with Russian-speaking Jews. Likewise, this is an opportunity for
professionals to network with peers, exchange program ideas and best practices,
and take stock in the incredible work being done in the field of RSJ community
engagement.


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Program Description

On July 16,
2015 the COJECO RSJ Symposium brought together over 50 professionals from
Jewish non-profit organizations throughout North America working with the
Russian-speaking Jewish (RSJ) community toward the goals of Jewish identity
development and community building. Over the course of this one-day conference
at UJA-Federation, participants had the opportunity to network with peers,
evaluate program strategies, address challenges, exchange program ideas and
best practices, and take stock in the incredible work being done in the field
of RSJ community engagement. The Symposium program included a presentation
of the data collected from the participants during registration, interactive
fun exercises designed for participants to get to know one another, live polling
aimed at exploring the goals, strategies, and obstacles in our work, a panel of
funders who support RSJ-specific Jewish engagement work, as well as rotating
group work designed to examine and help one another address the challenges
faced by professionals working with RSJ communities. The day concluded with
dinner and a social evening at a restaurant a few blocks away from the UJA
building.

Building on
our initial success this past year, we propose to host a two-day RSJ Symposium in
2016.  The expanded conference would
attract more participants and presenters traveling from outside the New York
metropolitan area, assuring diversity of communities represented and enhancing
the quality of the overall discourse. The extended format would likewise create
more opportunities for after-hours meetings and informal networking that are so
vital for creating genuine dialogue.

One
critical goal of the RSJ Symposium is to inspire the Jewish communal leadership
who are able to translate dialogue into strategic action and, ultimately,
affect change. By introducing a new track for senior Jewish professionals,
we aim to create a platform for executive perspective, planning and discussion
of global issues and challenges concerning Jewish people locally and globally.
The presence of nationally-respected leaders and decision-makers will raise
prestige, assure a high caliber of participants, and create more opportunities
for impactful networking for all participants.

Another added
component of the 2016 conference will include opportunities to visit local Jewish organizations in New Your City.
We will offer 7-10 sight visits for small groups, creating an opportunity for
dialogue and fostering networking among local and national RSJ programs, established
Jewish community organizations, professionals serving RSJs and funders. 

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Demonstrated Need

COJECO receives
numerous requests for advice about program strategies, program ideas and best
practices. In addition to the knowledge COJECO has obtained during the course
of our work with RSJs, we perceive a critical opportunity to facilitate an
expanded community-wide event to share innovative approaches to engaging the
RSJ community. In 2015, we witnessed how a one-day event moved the bar forward
with regard to Jewish identity development and community building in the RSJ
community. In the last decade, professionals working with RSJs have amassed new
expertise, refined strategies, and revised metrics of success. There is an
emergent need for sophisticated guidelines to working with RSJs, steeped in
informed, creative, and collaborative practices. To that effect, COJECO’s
RSJ Symposium
 launched a platform for knowledge
exchange for professionals working with RSJs in their communities. The
2015 one-day conference included a Funders Panel, which introduced
cutting-edge philanthropists to innovative programs and projects,
inspiring a full-spectrum dialogue on the most vital issues in our
community. 

The feedback
from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Here is what one
participant wrote:

“While the RSJ
Diaspora continues for the next let's say 40 years (and probably less as
assimilation to America continues), RSJ professionals have the very difficult
task of reconnecting RSJs to their Jewish identities in ways that are engaging
and interesting to RSJs. Although that challenge is significant, leveraging
connections and technology will assist RSJ professionals to develop and
introduce best practices that should theoretically work in let's say New York,
San Francisco, Boston, and Miami because the RSJ communities in each community
all share similar histories, culture, language, immigration paths, and more. If
I can offer any assistance to develop a best practices system, I would be happy
to do so. I very much appreciated the opportunity to attend the COJECO RSJ
Symposium. Yours truly, Jeremy E. Poock.”

A note from a
Symposium group facilitator summarizes the participants views thus: 

"The group
agreed that making community connections is essential for the success of RSJ
programs. We have to “meet them where they are” with tactics including speaking
with the community and bringing programs to them in a variety of settings -
schools, community organizations, families and senior centers, meeting with
people in different geographic locations addressing specific situations faced
by the working families...The general consensus was that there is a clear
necessity to learn more about the needs (and wants) of the RSJ community, with
attention to its great diversity" (GPG NORTH AMERICA REPORT on COJECO's
RSJ Symposium, 2015).

COJECO is
uniquely positioned to facilitate this exchange of ideas and expertise on
successful RSJ engagement. We believe that RSJ Symposium will serve a
broader purpose of expanding communal vision, strengthening cross-institutional
and cross-regional dialogue, building best practices and energizing the
philanthropic sector. 

Given the
program's success, we are planning to scale the RSJ Symposium to a two-day
conference. The expanded format will provide a richer, more immersive
experience to a greater number of participants from a wider geographic
radius.


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Program Accomplishments

The COJECO RSJ Symposium gave
Jewish professionals a sense of belonging to a larger network of leaders
committed to quality programming for the RSJ community. Following the
Symposium, we received many emails from participants with their comments and
thoughts. Below is an excerpt of one such email (a BJLI fellow):

“I really thought that the symposium was fantastic!
First, I was so impressed with the interactive and creative nature of each
activity. It was so thoughtful and fun to be able to reflect by drawing,
posting, and sharing. It was wonderful to not just attend lectures, but instead
of have interactive components to each part of the process. It was also
excellent that most activities used pairing off and then sharing with a smaller
group, and then the larger group. This allowed for people to really get in
depth, feel heard, and see that their experiences resonated within the larger
picture. I also thought there was ample time for people to get to know each other
and speak to new faces. Overall, I really thought it was fabulous. Even in a
short amount of time, since it was only one day, I think that I made important
professional connections with different agencies, and personally I loved the
experience and spending time in NYC. It was a very inspiring day and I have
talked about it every day so far. I loved the opportunity to reflect on my own
identity, how it relates to my professional experience, and to see the ways in
which the RSJ experience is also a shared one in so many ways despite
individual differences.”
 

We sent out an online feedback
survey (please see attached) to all of the COJECO RSJ Symposium participants, according
to which, 82% reported interest in
holding annual conferences
to continue addressing issues in the field of
RSJ engagement. Also, over 50% of
respondents requested “2 days instead of 1,” “more time,” “Longer! More!”

Our primary challenge with the
RSJ Symposium was creating a useful, interesting, and productive program with
very limited time. Nonetheless we feel the primary objectives of the Symposium
were certainly fulfilled. We hope to be able to continue this work as a
convener of RSJ community leaders, centralizing resources, and facilitating the
successful development of the RSJ community throughout North America.


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How do you measure the success of your program?

The 2015 survey was a useful
tool for measuring the immediate impact of the conference on the participants.
As a data-driven initiative, the 2016 Symposium program design is directly
informed by the feedback. We closely study the assessment of content and
speakers as well as recommendations for improvement.  For instance the word most commonly used in
response to  “What would you recommend be changed
or improved at such a gathering in the future?” is “More”—more time, more
speakers, more networking, more sharing best practices.

As the RSJ Symposium evolves,
we will continue to capture and analyze the various dimensions of its
programmatic impact, outcomes reached and challenges presented.


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