“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.” - author Jamais Cascio
Our entire world is six months deep. Deep in a pandemic.
Deep in economic and cultural strife.
Deep in a year that has transformed our individual and collective realities in a stark new way.
There comes a time in every organization’s lifecycle when a long-term discussion around sustainability is couched in a short-term conversation about resiliency. Are we set up to overcome the unexpected? Are we prepared to shift in order to survive? Are we resilient enough in order to thrive? Honeymoon Israel (HMI) is five years old, and like countless others, six months deep into managing the realities and unknown of the coronavirus pandemic.
Honeymoon Israel engages young couples from across North America through a community-building experience catalyzed by a group trip to Israel. While the trip serves as the catalyst, HMI was always created to be more than just the trip. The real power, impact, and long-term investment is in what happens when couples return home to their day-to-day life in their own communities.
Now, six months deep, HMI has an exciting and challenging opportunity to continue proving that truth. Without operating trips to Israel, we are overcoming the unexpected by leaning on the very foundation that contributed to our success to date: the trust built and the communities formed. With more than 230 virtual programs and 3,000+ registrations in the past six months, ranging from Jewish ritual experiences to caring for the mental spirit of our alumni, we have successfully reoriented from in-person to virtual community building on a local and national level. We are actively moving from crisis response mode to a new operational reality. We have moved from asking ourselves how do we survive to asking how do we thrive? To inform our programmatic efforts, this summer we launched a nationwide survey to learn directly from our participants about what’s working and what needs work. The survey yielded more than 1,200 responses, representing 50% of HMI households.
Here’s what we’ve (re)learned:
Family matters: It’s clear that what we have built in our five years of life is what is carrying us through our most difficult period of existence. The reason why couples are showing up virtually for our programs is because of the trust they feel toward our brand, and the loyalty they feel toward their “HMI Family.” Every organization and person is hyper-aware of ‘Zoom Fatigue’ these days, but nonetheless, people are logging on for HMI programs. Why? We’ve heard it’s because they know HMI’s programs are a source of inspiration and support when they need it most. Our programs are a platform for community-building, not just engagement. More than 80% of our survey respondents indicated that they see HMI as more than just a trip they went on in the past; they see it as a lifelong community. Trust is the secret sauce, and there’s no question it’s been hard-earned.
Don’t lose sight of what made you successful originally: Pivoting is necessary. Thinking differently is required. However, not losing sight of what has made HMI successful to date has paved the path for our reorientation. We are still living out our values, culture and collective purpose. HMI believes in taking smart risks to pilot creative and innovative ideas, and then seeing what sticks. We are constantly testing new ideas that could eventually become a part of our permanent applicant and trip experience. This approach is holistic in nature and requires us to continue finding the right people to have around the right tables. Partnering with experts, co-creating with our alumni and stakeholders and ensuring a high quality experience for all of our audiences. HMI is a lifestyle, meaning it has the power to support people in all aspects of their life and at different stages of their life. We’ve seen this to be true now more than ever. Our survey findings indicate that at least 60% of our community has participated in an HMI virtual program. People who had never ‘shown up’ at in-person programming before are now actively joining those who always have.
Save room for surprises: Don’t get too caught up in the process, and instead leave room for people and reactions to guide and maybe even surprise our actions. HMI is a listening organization. It’s in the ethos of who we are. We tend to have a healthy balance of reactivity and proactivity, as it allows us to save plenty of room to shift to our audiences’ desires and needs. It leaves space for nimbleness and responsiveness in a way our particular demographic deeply appreciates. To date, our virtual shabbat programming has drawn the most participants and our survey findings indicate that holidays and food are the programmatic areas in which our alumni are most interested. While this wasn’t particularly shocking data, what was surprising was that our alumni also indicated they want more physical “stuff” to accompany and support their virtual experiences. This critical insight is just one example of what’s guiding our programmatic strategy moving forward.
The new realities and unknown of the world we’re living in is a microcosm for ‘saving room for surprises.’ It’s pushing all of us to let go of plans, be a bit uncomfortable and ultimately be flexible for the greater good of who we serve and how we serve them. We can plan and process (and we certainly have!), but at the end of the day, HMI continues to gravitate most to the power of our listening skills that guide us where we need to go.
While being six months deep has forced us to our most active and necessary reorientation to date, we’re actually always reorienting in some way. That’s how we’re built, that’s how we’ll survive, and with the utmost gratitude to our supporters and partners, that’s how we’ll thrive.
Rachel Zieleniec is the Chief Program Officer at Honeymoon Israel.