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

Monday, November 14, 2011

When Tweeting Depletes: How Social Media Can Disconnect Us

The conversation continues courtesy of eJewishPhilanthropy (What? You still don;t subscribe? Shame!). Here I am, Mr. Digital Oleh, agreeing that digital is not the only solution. Maybe not even the best solution. Like a knife or a drill, it is a tool. We need to learn how to use it well and when to put it back in the virtual tool box and use other tools. Discuss...

When Tweeting Depletes:
How Social Media Can Disconnect Us
November 11, 2011

by Ami Hersh and Leor Shtull Leber

As people who barely remember a time before the Internet and who use Facebook (too) often to stay in touch with friends from around the world, we are not ignorant of the power of social media and technology in connecting people and ideas. However, we question the direction we are taking when we rely too heavily on technology and we fear the authenticity of our relationships when they are based on “@s” and “#s”

We admit we are guilty too. Once we were sitting around a table with friends, each of us on our own laptop. Somebody walked in and asked if he could join and do homework with us, and we awkwardly apologized that we were actually in a meeting – it just so happened that our meeting involved us all sitting in a circle in silence working collaboratively on the same Google doc.

Still, we use the word “guilty” because of the value of personal relationships with which we were raised. We both recently attended the JFNA General Assembly in Denver and were shocked to see the technology culture present and the (over)use of smartphones during sessions. We were encouraged to play with our phones instead of focusing on the speakers. People barely looked up – a great success according to the “Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!” message of the conference. What happened to turning off your phone for a lecture? Further, one of the winning innovative ideas at the Jewish Futures Conference called for the elimination of meetings: young people don’t want to waste their time meeting in person when smart phones can do the job.

Well, we are young people who have smart phones. We still cherish the face to face time of meetings in person – and look forward to disconnecting by turning off our phones during those meeting. Email and social media are important and effective tools, but we must be conscious of overuse and of replacing genuine in-person relationships, both when we are distant and even when we are together in the same room, by tweeting instead of talking.

As it says in Mishlei 27:19, “As water reflects face to face, so the heart of man to man.” The beauty of interpersonal relationships is the ability to look into the eyes of another human being and connect deeply with them through conversation and expression. As you stare into the eyes of another human being created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, you are able to let their souls reflect and interact with your own. The whole world can open up before your eyes. Social media is spectacular, important, and quite useful when utilized in its proper time and place. Let us not however allow the over-presence of social media to dilute our in-person enduring relationships.

Ami Hersh is a senior rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the assistant director of Camp Ramah in Nyack. He can be reached at

Leor Shtull Leber is a senior at Brown University concentrating in Cognitive Science and a Student Representative on the Brown RISD Hillel Board of Trustees. She can be reached 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.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Making Meaning Together

This will be in my synagogue's August bulletin. I submit it is an important lesson and invitation for all Jewish educational institutions.

I had the very good fortune to join a group of fifty synagogue educators in the Leadership Institute in learning with Dr. Larry Hoffman, a professor at the Hebrew Union College in New York. His lesson was a titled Limits, Truth and the Anxious Search for Meaning: The Changing Rhetoric of Leadership. He described different ways Judaism functioned through history, using the observance of Shabbat as a lens.

He described the period from biblical times through the middle ages as the age of limits. Essentially, Judaism was focused on rules. We observed Shabbat because it was required. In the book of Exodus (31:13-17) we learned that violating the Sabbath could lead to death or worse. Halakhah (Jewish law) consisted of rules that defined how we functioned as members of the Jewish community. It worked for a long time.

The age of enlightenment at the beginning of the 19th century brought something new. The freedom to be a part of the larger, non-Jewish world around us meant that the limits were not enough. We learned about how Jews in Salonika began hanging out in coffee houses on Shabbat. And what’s worse, they were ordering and paying for the coffee! Rabbi Hoffman described this as a symptom of a larger issue – namely that the game of limits was no longer working for a lot of Jews. Many Jews stopped believing that God would punish them.

The new game used the language of truth. We were in the age of Jeffersonian democracy, of liberty, equality and fraternity and of science uncovering all of the truths of the universe. Reform Judaism arose and introduced the sermon – an opportunity for rabbis to teach truth. We became the only Jews who rose for the Shema because it was the biggest truth in the service – and became known as “the watchword of our faith. There is much more to these concepts, but the exciting part comes next.

Rabbi Hoffman says that we are living in another revolutionary time right now. The game is changing from truth to one of meaning. Science has taught us that it cannot give us all of the truths in the universe. It tells us that our merely observing the world changes it.

The game of meaning means that we are interpreters of our world. Our task is to make meaning of the world and our experiences in it. We are active partners with God in the ongoing creation. We go back to Genesis and read that God created the universe and saw that it was good. God didn’t see limits or laws. God didn’t call it truth. God called it good. Rabbi Hoffman suggests that our role is to make it good.

We need to make up our our own life and worlds. It can be an overwhelming and daunting task. But if we believe that we have the freedom to try and develop the confidence to do it, we can create a beautiful and awesome reality. We are not interested in limits. Truths, he says are  a dime a dozen – you can find all you want on Wikipedia. We need to know that life is worthwhile. That we can make things better. That is what Judaism is all about.

The job of Jewish leaders (professionals and lay people – you) is to give our people real competence is areas of Judaism to use them to build their lives. So I want to invite you to step up to this challenge. As a member of B’nai Israel, your family is a part of a vibrant community. Among us are searchers and builders, teachers and learners, connectors and sticky people, those who like to pray, hang out or world repairers. Come in and talk to us, call, text, e-mail or tweet.

Come to services. Take a class. Join a committee. Meet someone new. Get together with someone you know well. Build a sukkah. Join a car pool. Let’s make some meaning together.

Cross posted to Davar Acher

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Answers to Open the Door

Peter Eckstein is one of my favorite colleagues. Not only is he a professional and a deep thinker, but he likes the Grateful Dead so much that Terrapin is part of his e-mail address! He called me recently to talk over some ideas about using technology in our work - it was one of several calls he had with a bunch of colleagues. Hopefully you received an invitation to the survey from JESNA or some other source, but if not, click here. This is the beginning of a conversation. For all of our sakes, I hope you will join in! Here is his post about this from his blog, The Fifth Child. (His blog is definitely worth following!) 

Pesach is a time for questions.

So, in the spirit of the season, I would like to ask you some. I’ll start with one: How do Jewish educators learn to use 21st century educational technology in the Jewish classroom? This will lead to a few more. What follows is a survey with 15 questions (an auspicious number for Pesach). The goal of this short (5-8 minutes) questionnaire is to find some answers to the question of how and what we learn.

My friend and colleague Barry Gruber recently posted a piece about the smorgasbord of opportunities to learn what the ‘net provides. He’s right – it truly is a blessing. I wonder if this cornucopia is so bountiful that there will be many who, like the 4th child, will be so intimidated by all the resources available that they will be daunted by the act of beginning to learn. They won’t know where to start. They won’t know what to ask. If this is the case, what should we do about it?

Ergo the survey. This is an independent project to explore the nature of on-line Jewish professional development related to the utilization of educational technology. It’s focus is to find out how we Jewish educators learn about these new tools, where we learn from, and if we need to make these learning opportunities more accessible. I'm hoping that this information will help shape the way Jewish educators can easily learn more about the use of digital tools in their classrooms.

Teaching is leading. We educators create an environment for our students to construct their knowledge base. The tools that are being developed today and tomorrow empower us to achieve this goal. The complicated part is that we need to learn how to use them. There’s the rub. What’s the best way for the educators, who can’t go to conferences or don’t have local resources provided by central agencies, to learn how to take the next step into the world of digital Jewish learning?

Questions. There are many. And the answers may lead us to an understanding of what we can do to build a solid base of Jewish educators who can comfortably engage their students, speaking a common language. This is why I’m asking you all to take part in this adventure.

I must thank Jonathan Woocher and Rebecca Leshin of the Lippman Kanfer Institute for supporting this project and providing the platform to make it possible. I also want to acknowledge the many educators in the Jewish cloud who have contributed ideas to help create this survey. There are too many to mention by name, but I do want to thank you all for you assistance.

So please click here to access this professional development survey. Answers can be signposts leading us in the direction of creating Jewish futures for our students. We just need to start with the questions. Together let’s find the answers.