Showing posts with label Jewish Futures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jewish Futures. Show all posts

Monday, August 26, 2019

Flag Raising as a Jewish Act

“At Camp Interlaken (the Milwaukee JCC camp) we had flag raising and lowering every morning and every evening. The whole camp would assemble on the flag rectangle, with the youngest kids closest to the flag. Each unit would do some schtick for the whole camp, twice a day.”

It isn’t relevant why my wife and I were talking about this on the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the terminal at Newark Airport. She reminded me of a time when I was a counselor at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) long ago.

The Limud (educational) theme was Kedushah/holiness and my staff team was planning a session on rituals and their meaning. I forget which one of us keyed on morning flag raising (which we also had, but only in the morning), but I do recall that I and I think Deb Schreibman stopped the morning schtick, claiming that the whole thing was an empty meaningless ritual. We Pretty much accused our fellow counselors and the campers of using the flag that represented freedom and sacrifice for a useless and banal (we certainly did not use that word) activity. Then we lowered the flag, folded it properly into a triangle while everyone looked on, mouths open like trout, and said “let’s go to breakfast” as we stomped to the chadar ochel (dining hall).

The campers went bananas. Breakfast was followed by Nikayon (clean up in the bunks) and then I think Limud. Before it began, counselors came up to us and reported that their campers were irate and very upset with Deb and I for essentially profaning the morning ritual. We unpacked it with the campers and they learned that it was just a way to introduce the topic. We realized going in that talking about the relative importance of a ritual is not very interesting unless the learner has some skin in the game.

In our camps, the ritual of flag raising became essential to our camper’s day. It was Modeh Ani and the evening Shema. It was a profound moment of realizing and declaring that we are part of a community. And because the context of these camps were (and remain) completely Jewish, flag raising is a Jewish act.

In our congregation we are moving rapidly to change the way education happens for our students. We are examining pedagogy and focusing much more on the experiences they have while they are with us (and paying attention to the ones they have when they are not with us). We are adjusting the curriculum content to meet the needs of the families in our program now (a regular act, every 12-15 years or so). And we are changing our branding and the story we tell about who we are, what we do and how we do it. We hope this will renew interest by those who have chosen “none of the above” for their children.

Thinking about flag raising, I see it is clear that we also have to create, adapt or adopt new rituals in our program. We are testing the name Kehillah (Community) instead of “Religious School.” The tag line is “Find. Connect. Belong.” I think that will lead us to some interesting (and I hope humorous) rituals. I am open to ideas, so please share your ideas in the comments or send me an email (

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Online Brainstorming Marathon to Plan the Future of the Jewish People February 16 - 18

Another thing many of us would not know about if it were not for Dan Brown and! (Read on...)

Jewish communities from across the globe are invited to take part in a three-day online brainstorming marathon next week. The event will be open to all to help formulate strategies for strengthening both Jewish identity and Israel-Diaspora relations while ensuring the Jewish world continues to flourish well into the future.

The event is being organized by the Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative and is designed to expand the debate on the future of the Jewish people to every individual, community, or organization interested in taking part.

Groups and individuals from Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States have already confirmed their participation. The marathon will be run out of Jerusalem where some two dozen professionals will analyze participants’ insights and examine ways to integrate them into the recommendations set to be presented to the Israeli government in the near future.

Organizers say this process sets a new precedent. “We are catching up to global models of decision making and understand that we do not have all the solutions ourselves. This marathon aims to widen the decision making process and open the floor to the wisdom of the Jewish people’s masses,” they said.

The Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative is being spearheaded by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs in partnership with The Jewish Agency for Israel. It is a joint effort to identify the challenges facing the Jewish people today and subsequently formulate long-term plans to strengthen Jewish identity and ties between Israel and the Jewish world. It was initiated due to a growing sense that both Jewish identity and connections to Israel are becoming less certain, particularly amongst younger Jews. Funding will be split between the Government of Israel and Jewish communities, and the initiative is set to be brought for government approval this year and to kick off in 2015.

Participants in next week’s online marathon will be encouraged to take part in the debate surrounding seven key topics. To further expand the conversation and receive input from as broad a segment of the Jewish people as possible, the session will be “crowdsourced,” ensuring that the recommendations reflect a diversity of views and perspectives beyond those traditionally heard in Jewish communal forums. The marathon will begin on Sunday, February 16th and run through Tuesday, February 18th. To join the conversation, please register at

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pew 2.0: Moneyball Judaism

At this rate, I am not sure I will have new wisdom to add to the blogosphere about the Pew Report. Today I read two responses that I think are critical going forward. I will paraphrase the first from the Forward. They recognize the negatives in the report, but are emphasizing the datum that 94% responded that they are proud to be Jewish and are looking for stories about people in that demographic and their Jewish pride. Well done.

The second arrived via (are any of you still not reading that?) and I reprint it in its entirety below. As always, I urge you to make comments on the eJP site to be part of the larger conversation!

Moneyball Judaism: We’re Not Selling Jeans Here
If an organization wants to argue that it is effective, it must demonstrate that participating with their organization results in an increase of measurable Jewish behaviors that build positive momentum towards a lifetime of Jewish living once the participant is no longer involved with their organization.
by Rabbi Joshua Rabin

My favorite summer pastime is baseball. Every day, I watch baseball, read about baseball, and pray that my beloved Baltimore Orioles will eventually win the World Series (hey, a guy can dream). However, while it has been years since I gave up my dream of ever playing in the major leagues, I still try, every day, to find ways to follow baseball more intelligently so that I might better understand what it takes for a player or a team to be successful. Without question, the single thing that allows me to better understand pathways to baseball success is sabermetrics, unofficially known as Moneyball.”

Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, tells the story of the Oakland Athletics and their General Manager, Billy Beane, and the strategies Beane employs to position the A’s, with a relatively low payroll, to routinely make the playoffs over other teams with far deeper cash reserves. Beane’s strategies were taken from the sabermetric playbook, where objective data is used to measure baseball performance as a means of helping baseball professionals make their decisions based on evidence, rather than gut instincts. Sabermetrics currently impacts all major sports, Hollywood, and even politics, where Peter Orszag and John Bridgeland recently wrote an article in the The Atlantic Monthly asking, “Can the government play Moneyball?.”

I thought a great deal about Moneyball when I read the results and subsequent reactions to the Pew Forum’s recent report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans. On the one hand, I was not surprised to see so many bemoan the overall negative picture the survey paints about the current state of Judaism in America, articularly amongst liberal Judaism. At the same time, I find it ironic that, as a community, we pay far less attention to the data that helps tell us what works than we do the data that tells us what we are doing wrong.

Over the past several months, I read debates about the relative merits of day school versus congregational schools, in-reach versus outreach, whether denominations have a future in Judaism, and a myriad of other big questions that can affect our community’s strategy for taking ownership of our future. However, in most cases, when I read these debates, or even share my own opinion on a question, I see the opinions of myself and others justified by an over-abundance of personal perspective, and a dearth of objective data.

The consequence of this is that the majority of conventional wisdom and conversations in the Jewish community are driven by what we believe to be true, rather than what concrete evidence we can offer to support our claims, in spite of the fact that we do have data that paints a picture of what works in creating meaningful, lasting Jewish experiences. As a result, as I watched the baseball playoffs, and thought about the implications of the Pew Forum’s survey, I wondered what it would take for the Jewish Community to play “Moneyball Judaism.”

Of course, we have organizations in the Jewish Community promoting data-driven decision-making, such as Measuring Success and J-Data, and researchers who use qualitative and quantitative data to measure emerging trends, such as Professors Steven M. Cohen and Leonard Saxe. However, producing data is the easy piece of the puzzle; the hard part is listening to what the data tells us. The Jewish Community lacks a culture that collectively promotes the essential principle behind Moneyball, namely that it matters, “less how much money you have than how well you spend it.”

When you have limited money, finite resources, and a competitive marketplace, you will succeed only through a shrewd understanding of how the marketplace based on objective data, which, if used properly, will challenge conventional wisdom and results in leaner, meaner pathways to success.
By extension, if the Jewish Community is to transform our vicious cycles into virtuous cycles, we must understand how to judge the relative value of organizations and strategies, and recognize our own fallibility as human beings who always bring our assumptions to the big Jewish questions of the day. While I am not a statistician, nor a sabermatician, I would like to suggest three principles as a starting point of enacting a strategy of Moneyball Judaism, each of which apply a major principle of sabermetrics to our Jewish Community:
  1. What matters most is getting on-base: One of the statistics deemed critical by sabermetrics in baseball is On-Base Percentage, otherwise known as OBP. The basic assumption behind the OBP is that getting on-base is more valuable than making an out, one of the reasons why Billy Beane hates when baseball players are asked to bunt, as bunting generally involves a team voluntarily relinquishing one of three precious outs to the other team. In contrast, even if a player draws a walk instead of getting a base hit, each of these acts are of similar value, since drawing a walk also gets the player on base (as an aside, this is the reason why Jonah Hill’s character in the movie Moneyball states several times that current New York Yankee, Kevin Youkilis, is the “Greek god of walks”). Ultimately, moving a player across the diamond is a skill of paramount importance when judging a player’s effectiveness.

    The value of OBP translates into the first principle of Moneyball Judaism, which is that an effective organization increases overall Jewish involvement. If an organization wants to argue that it is effective, it must demonstrate that participating with their organization results in an increase of measurable Jewish behaviors that build positive momentum towards a lifetime of Jewish living once the participant is no longer involved with their organization. If an organization brings participants together for an intensive experience, yet those participants do not or cannot independently engage in Jewish life once the program concludes, it would be difficult to argue that the organization’s program was effective at advancing that individual person’s Jewish involvement. By extension, if we want to compare organizations with one another, we should be able to compare how each succeeds, or fails, at getting Jewish people “on base.” We may not be able to judge the relative value of each act of Jewish living, but we can agree the more active your Jewish life, the more likely you are to be active your entire life.
  2. Measure Best and Worst-Case Scenarios: Before he became famous for predicting the results of political elections, Nate Silver was a baseball writer for Baseball Prospectus, a publication that uses sabermetric analysis to create statistical models to measure all aspects of a baseball player’s performance. Silver’s main contribution to this publication was a statistic called PECOTA, which stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test and was named for former journeyman infielder Bill Pecota. Essentially, PECOTA allows us to measure the best-case, worst-case, and most-likely scenarios of a player’s performance. While you cannot know how a player will perform before choosing to draft him or sign him to a multi-million dollar contract, you can measure the probability of a player being a tremendous success, or have a sense of that player’s value even if they never fulfill their maximum potential.

    The principle behind PECOTA provides a model for thinking about how to judge one Jewish decision versus another. Every Jewish organization showers us with their success stories, individuals for whom participating in their program changed the entire trajectory of their Jewish life. However, we need to ask whether or not those success stories are a typical result, or a statistical aberration. Many organizations provide data about the portrait of their program’s alumni, and how much those alumni engage in Jewish life years after their participation in the program. Based on the data, we can create composite pictures of the best-case, worst-case, and most likely scenarios for how a person’s Jewish life will be impacted by that organization. If a program or organization claims substantial impact, yet the most likely scenario is a mediocre impact, it would be reasonable to conclude that this organization is not a worthy investment.
  3. We’re not selling jeans here” (Or- Value impact over image): Famously, Michael Lewis writes in Moneyball that when scouts at the Oakland Athletics would ignore statistical performance and state that a prospect “has a great body,” Billy Beane would respond “We’re not selling jeans here,” implying that the goal of a successful baseball team is to find players who produce the needed impact, not project a desired image. We might want a certain conclusion to be true, but if the data does not back it up, we need to consider a change in strategy.

    Not surprisingly, this final principle is key for own understanding of what a “Moneyball Judaism” should mean. When we comment upon and promote individual organizations and modes of Jewish engagement, we need to ask ourselves whether or not we are searching for impact, or whether we are “selling jeans,” valuing image over impact. On paper, if one organization closes, and another one receives a $10 million donation, our typical reaction is to assume that the former organization is a failure, while the latter is a success. However, at the moment, we have limited knowledge as to whether or not the organization flush with cash is successful because they have the right members on their Advisory Board, the right marketing strategy, or simply the right aura.

    While Moneyball may be about the numbers, ultimately we reap the benefits of Moneyball when we use data to recognize what works, what doesn’t, and where our own biases hold us back from seeing the difference between the two. Sometimes, the data might confirm what our collective wisdom suggests, and while other items it might challenge a well-established belief. In either case, the more willing we are to use data to identify effective strategies, the more likely we are to pursue the strategies that lead to maximum success.
In his introduction to The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver writes that, “we must think differently about our ideas – and how to test them. We must think more carefully about the assumptions and beliefs that we bring to a problem.” At the present time, the Jewish Community faces a variety of challenges on a number of fronts, yet we cannot stem the tide of declines in almost every measure of Jewish participation unless we are willing to challenge the way we make decisions, analyze the assumptions behind our current strategies, and learn how to ask the right questions about judging talent, value, and performance. Moneyball sparked a movement of thinkers in sports, politics, and business who saw the importance of being smarter about how we determine what assets are valuable in a market with limited resources and fierce competition. If the Jewish Community wants to succeed in stemming the tide of declining involvement, then we must have the courage to embrace “Moneyball Judaism,” and do the same.

Rabbi Joshua Rabin is the Rabbi-in-Residence of the Schechter School of Long Island. You can read more of his writings at

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Back to the (Jewish) Future (From eJewish Philanthropy)

My Shabbat afternoon reading today. VERY intriguing. Thinking of ways to use his principles within the synagogue. Not his point, I know, but it is my milieu. Good learning here. Discuss... Thanks to eJewishPhilanthropy for posting it! - Ira

November 11, 2011 by eJP
Back to the (Jewish) Future:
The Six Demands of the Next Generation of Lay Leadership
by Ben Wiener

[Earlier this month, I was named one of the two winners of the 2011 Jewish Futures Competition, sponsored by the Jewish Education Project and JESNA's Lippman Kanfer Institute. As part of the competition, my winning video was shown at the Jewish Futures Conference held at the GA in Denver this past week, and I also presented my venture ( and my view of the Jewish Future. Here are my remarks.]

I’ve been asked to give my view of the Jewish Future. Now I’m not a prophet but it seems to me that at least with regard to young lay leadership the Jewish Future does not look good.

You know as well as I do that the numbers are headed in the wrong direction. The Federation had a donor base in North America of 1 million people a few decades ago and it’s less than half that today. This summer, while I was a PresenTense Global Fellow we heard first-hand from Natan Sharansky, that over 500 more young Jews per day no longer consider themselves affiliated with Judaism.

Young lay leadership in the Jewish Future is broken and headed for disaster.

Now, lots of people are talking about “engaging” the next generation. People in Federations are signing up to learn how to speak Twitter. But seriously – how do you do this engagement thing, practically?

We need something revolutionary. And like every good revolution, our revolution begins with a list of demands. That’s right, my generation and those younger than me have a list of demands. If you, the organized Jewish Communities want us to get involved, you need to meet our needs and demands.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Demands? Who the heck do you think you are? Well, look in the mirror. Jewish communities aren’t getting any younger. At some point in the Jewish Future you will need to bring us, the next generation, into the family business. You will need us to be engaged, and involved as the next generation of leadership minding the store. And to do that you’ll need to get us into the store. So here are our six demands:

  1. We actually want to work with you. We come in peace. Hey, we’re a great revolution because we’re nonviolent. We’re not trying to overthrow anyone. We want to work with existing communal institutions – just find a way to get us involved, and nobody gets hurt.
  2. No Meetings: We cannot do meetings. Our schedules are too crazy. We are a generation of sound bytes. We communicate in 140 characters for G-d’s sake, not in agendas. We don’t meet, we tweet.
  3. Non-denomination. Plurality. We need to have our own voice and make an impact our way. We want to be invested in our own creative ideas, not advance someone else’s mandates or agenda.
  4. We’re going to need to be able to make an impact regardless of the amount of money we individually contribute. We modern-day Montefiore’s are high on creativity, but sometimes low on capital.
  5. We need to be involved in things that are financially sustainable. Our generation embraces sustainability as a philosophy, as a core value, not just as some kind of marketing gimmick. And finally …
  6. Our involvement depends on technology. You need to weave Jewish communal service into our technology, not wrestle our technology into your Jewish communal service.

So how do we fix the lay leadership problem in the Jewish Future before it happens? As one of my colleagues, Ana Fuchs said this summer at PresenTense, “it’s time for an upgrade.” We need to upgrade to Jewish Communal Service 2.0.

What is Jewish Communal Service 2.0? Well, like any program, there are different versions. I’ll give you a quick example of the tenpartners version of Jewish Communal Service 2.0.

Let’s say Matt, Pat and Jane get together to form a tenpartnership in their local Jewish community. They reach out through their friends and get others to join, hopefully representing a cross-denominational group. When they get ten people to commit, each of them seeds a local bank account that they control, with an equal and reasonable amount of money, for example $1,000 each. (Ten is based on the concept of a minyan, and also on the Hebrew word “ten,” to give.)

Then the ten partners start to evaluate and discuss programs for their local Jewish community using tenpartners’ custom-designed technology platform. Projects or events must do two things: 1) educate through experience, promoting Jewish experiences and values via events like lectures, concerts, Jewish internet cafe? night, etc., and 2) each project must have a revenue model. The participants from the community must pay to participate. Communal programs don’t have to be free. So in our model, the partnership’s money underwrites a program, and then comes back to the partnership through the revenue collected, and then cycles back in to the community via another program, and back, and so on, and so on.

What’s awesome is that this model meets all of our demands.

  1. Partnerships – the ten partners need to reach out and work with existing communal institutions to run successful programs.
  2. No meetings. All tenpartners activity runs off your iPhone or email. No meetings. You can be a tenpartner from the comfort of your couch at 2 am.
  3. It’s nondenominational and fosters creative ideas. Anyone, including other partners, me, you, other people in the community can suggest programs or events to a tenpartnership, but the ten partners ultimately decide what to do. Nobody else tells them what programs to run; they do what they think is best for their local community.
  4. It offers an equal voice at the virtual table. Each tenpartner has the same “say” and the same ability to have an impact.
  5. It’s sustainable. The partners seed the account once and then it can stay evergreen, creating new programs for years, without any new money. No need to put in more money, nobody asking for further donations, ever. Isn’t that refreshing? And …
  6. It’s based on technology. Our simple, custom-built collaboration platform fits in to the way we manage our information in real life.

Our model doesn’t recreate the wheel – it adds a new one. We’re not suggesting that we throw out the Federation model – rather, we’re creating a new layer that extends the reach of current institutions.

It engages young Jews where they are, out on the periphery, and brings them into the family business on their terms. It creates an easy-entry, entry-level layer of lay leadership engagement that gets them into Jewish communal service. Hopefully some of them will “graduate” from tenpartnerships into other types of institutional lay leadership afterwards.

The Jewish Futures Conference is primarily about education. We believe that education is experiential. If we are successful in rolling out our tenpartners Jewish Communal Service 2.0 model across the country and around the word, we will engage and empower hundreds of new lay leaders, who will create thousands of new educational experiences, that will touch tens or hundreds of thousands of people in their communities, all with a financially sustainable business model. It’s remarkable, yet amazingly practical and simple.

So what do we need from you? We need you to download the upgrade to Jewish Communal Service 2.0. It’s not as easy as clicking a button, but its close. You just need to work with us, support us. Open your doors and let us in to the family business. You have a lot of experience, wisdom and resources to offer us, and we have tons of young, dynamic and energetic people we can bring to the table as the next generation of young Jewish lay leaders.

That’s practical “engagement”. That’s Jewish Communal Service 2.0. And that’s how we can work together to create the next generation of Jewish lay leadership, and start fixing the Jewish Future – today. Ben Wiener is President of Portofino Equity Advisors, a private equity company. He is also the founder of tenpartners, an innovative Jewish nonprofit start-up. A former corporate lawyer, Ben also clerked on Israel’s Supreme Court before leaving legal practice for a business career. Ben earned a B.A. from Yeshiva University, and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. He lives with his wife and children in Jerusalem.