Sunday, July 28, 2013

Passion and Inspiration at the ROI Summit-Jerusalem 2013

Sigalith Isaac Kurulkar, GPM's Program Coordinator shares her reflections on her participation at the recent ROI Summit 2013 in Jerusalem:

Sigalith with her ROI Summit ID packet
Last month I had the privilege of participating in the ROI Summit in Jerusalem, the pinnacle event of the ROI Community, a group dedicated to supporting Jewish social justice activists from around the world. I was accepted because of my work with Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM), a local Jewish initiative providing nutrition and literacy support to vulnerable children in the slums of Mumbai.

The ROI Summit brought together 150 of the brightest stars in Jewish social justice causes and it was truly an honor to be counted among these talented and dedicated young Jewish personalities. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Connect and Create’, a very fitting tagline for this amazing social justice platform that fosters strong supportive professional relationships between conference participants.

My first hint to the fact that this was a really special event was the view of the lobby of the Crown Plaza Hotel filled with hundreds of people - participants, speakers and facilitators - hundreds of people from different nationalities. I had the opportunity of representing India and the Indian Jewish community during the 5 day summit. 

The ROI Summit cultivated a continuous flow of positive energy about being Jewish. It was fascinating to see Jews from such different places, Jews with distinct traditions, Jews with varying religious affiliations all gathered together for the main purpose - to make this world a better place. For me, the event demonstrated Judaism’s quintessential message of making the world a just place; a society that would make God proud.
The event’s Opening Ceremony featured Nancy Lublin, CEO of the inspirational social justice organization ‘Do Something’. This keynote speaker immediately made it clear that we all are on a momentous mission to help the disadvantaged in society.  With a mixture of humour and passion, she injected fervor and excitement to the idea that every person has the potential to change the world for the better. She made us feel special and motivated us to excel in our endeavors.
Sigalith at the ROI Summit opening ceremony

Without really understanding its scary implications, I volunteered to be one of the participants in the summits “You Pitch IT” program.  I was one of thirty individuals that spoke for two minutes about the work we do and the organizations that we work for. I didn’t really realize that I was about to speak in front of more than 250 ROI participants, staff and guests!  I spoke about the work we are doing for the children in the slums of India and it made be proud of the good work the Jewish community is doing for the vulnerable and underprivileged. Immediately after “You Pitch IT”, and throughout the conference, people came over to me interested to discuss our work and share ideas. 

One of the most innovative parts of ROI Summit was the ‘Open Space Technology’ - a platform where anyone can bring up a topic of interest, write it on a board and others can chose to join in a spontaneous discussion on the topic that interests them most. The “Law of two feet” gave us the freedom to change the discussions at our discretion. This was a a great opportunity to set our own agenda and to share ideas with the people who are passionate about the same subject matter. 

Group discussions after peer led skill sessions at ROI Summit 2013

A great feature of ROI was peer led skill sessions. Colleagues proficient in various fields conveyed their expertise to their fellow participants. Two of the peer led skill sessions that I attended were Jamie Suskind’s Fundamentals of Speech Making and Raphael Ouzan’s ‘How to Build a Killer Team’. I chose these two sessions as they benefited me professionally. These were practical organizational skills which I needed to perfect because this is what I was actually doing with volunteers, staff and speaking in front of audiences like the recent AIPAC delegation to India. I found this so helpful as the speakers were passionate and authority’s in their respective fields.  Actually, all the various lectures and workshops were helpful in my work and gave me tools to be more productive. More than anything else the program was motivational. Just seeing so many Jewish people doing so much gave me a boost for a lifetime. I learned that I can do more and that I am part of a greater whole. By the end of the ROI I was inspired and enthusiastic, and these feelings I will carry with me for years to come and hopefully throughout my professional life in social justice causes. 

My birthday fell on the second day of the conference and I didn’t tell anyone about it. During one of the sessions before lunch I was surprised (and a little embarrassed) when a cake was brought out and all the participants sang happy birthday TO ME! Special thanks to ROI’s Elissa for making me feel so welcome and giving me a home away from home on my 27th birthday.  And ice-cream cake is my favorite!

One evening was ROI Variety Showcase where some very talented ROI’ers showed off their entertaining and musical gift. There were comedians, rappers, and other musicians. Iin particular I was enthralled with Jay Stone’s vocal performance Guy Seeman’s amazing hip hop prowess – it was incredible how these talented individuals use comedy and music to express their Judaism!

It was so inspirational and moving to hear Joshua Prager’s speech on despair and hope and how the city of Jerusalem was the catalyst for his emotional recovery after a horrifying accident that took both of his legs. His is a story of inspiration and optimism in the face of great loss. 

Anyone who has visited the stunning Israel Museum is immediately faced with the incredible history of Israel and Jewish People. For me this was a great example of how our history effects our collective past, present and future.

The inspirational Lynn Schusterman stood up at the closing ceremony and publicly adopted us all. Jewish social justice is her life and she spoke about how important it was for us to be ‘change makers’ and how she and ROI will do everything to enable us to achieve our goals. Seeing this inspiring woman who has dedicated her energies to the Jewish people was rousing and motivating. She encouraged us to do more and she spoke with enthusiasm and we were encouraged and moved.

ROI is a great all-encompassing platform for Jewish social justice and I thoroughly enjoyed, connecting with other social justice minded talented Jewish people. I received organizational tools that will propel me in to a more professional career in service. The Summit was inspiring and motivational and I have made many amazing contacts with Jewish peers from around the world. I am looking forward to consulting and receiving guidance from these accomplished individuals. In particular, I enjoyed the summit’s camaraderie, mutual respect, supportive and positive energy.   

For me, ROI Summit 2013 was not just a 5 day event, it is much much more – a powerful force of good and a community of supportive relationships that will change my life forever and encourage me to follow a career of social justice, chesed and care.

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