The following is the better part of an email chain from the Jewschool contributors email list from the last two days. I have posted this for two reasons. First, I thought it was funny. Second, from time to time I see commenters here at Jewschool writing as though we have some kind of coherent editorial process or well-defined agenda. The manner in which we conduct these email exchanges should disabuse y’all of that notion.
I had to laugh when I saw this in the AJC Access newsletter:
“AJC launched its new, cutting-edge iPhone application—the first from a major Jewish organization. The AJC app, available free of charge in Apple’s App Store, allows iPhone users to stay updated on AJC news, blogs, videos, Twitter and more….”
The first? I’ve had an iPhone app for my website for about 2 years now. It’s not that hard and even I didn’t claim to be the first….
But it begs the question- if I’m savvy enough to use blogs, twitter and other social media, why would I need an app from AJC?
And if I’m already following all those feeds, aren’t I already getting sufficiently updated?
There are some things AJC does that I think are okay, and some are a bit well, you know. But it’s as if they invented the very notion of a Jewish App. And that theirs is useful…
AJC cutting edge? AJC doesn’t even know what its mission is. Its mission statement is like, three pages long. The whole real mission? All about scaring old people into giving money so the org doesn’t have to fold.
On the other hand, an app to help distinguish between AJCongress and AJComittee might actually be useful…
How about the difference between the arukh hashulchan and the shulchan arukh?
The Jewish Literary Salon in Krakow, Poland - one of the many complex Jewish projects in contemporary Poland
In Dan Sieradski’s recent web project 31 Days, 31 Ideas, cartoonist and rootsman thinker EliValley suggests that the American Jewish community create “Birthright Diaspora.” Awkwardly conceived as a 10-day immersion in a Jewish diasporic site, the manifesto suggests that by creating a program in which Israeli and American Jews visit “global” Jewish communities located far from their own, their Jewish identities will transform into something better. Valley writes:
It’s time to expand our notions of positive Jewish identity and at long last move beyond an ideology that fretfully masquerades self-hatred as Jewish empowerment. By digging through centuries of global Jewish life, Birthright Diaspora will help transform Jewish self-awareness and break the dichotomy of “hero” and “victim” that has handicapped internal Jewish intellectual inquiry for decades. The goal is not merely widespread immersion experiences in global Jewish communities but a renewed understanding of Diaspora as a Birthright that forms the roots of Jewish consciousness. If implemented effectively, Birthright Diaspora can lead to an existential transformation in the way Jews and Israelis view themselves and the world.
It is a heartfelt manifesto, and what it lacks in theoretical precision it regains in passion. For many years now, there has been an emphasis on the next big “program” that will contribute to the strengthening of what we have come to call Jewish Identity and Community. Various ideological camps, including Jewschool, have claimed that by funding the notion of “global Jewish Peoplehood,” Jewish identity and community will bz’h undergo the type of “existential transformation” that Valley describes.
I am confident that longing for this type of existential transformation is a red herring, or even more troubling, a fantasy of our own power. By denying the reality that the Jewish Diaspora has geographically contracted and remained intact, our cultural activists continue to accept a model of a “shackled” community that pivots off a vague notion that, as Valley writes, “in the Jewish world, the interconnectivity often manifests itself through ripples emanating from the perceived center of Jewish life in Jerusalem.” More »
Not in NYC? Host your own watching party & catch it on the Jewish Channel on Saturday nights. [Note: TJC is available on cable -- iO Optimum ch. 291, Time Warner ch. 528, RCN ch. 268, Verizon FiOS ch. 900, and Cox Cable ch. 1. For more information, visit tjctv.com.] Send some photos to editor-at-jewschool-dot-com & we’ll post them on the site. (Or just share them with us on facebook)
Let me start by saying that as excited as I was to fly the Jewschool flag, I was somewhat suspicious of the event itself. I tend to sneer at the kind of spirituality that comes with chanting and meditating and crystals and beads and what-have-you, and that’s sort of what I expected to be bombarded with here. After all, I know that Jay Michaelson is prone to running off to Tibet for a month of silent contemplation, and Seth Castleman has built his career on bringing the Dharma and the Torah together. I know that Danya holds a torch for the kind of traditional Jewish spirituality that I both crave and mock, although from reading her memoir I know that she’s adopted the lotus position herself on more than one occasion.
So let me be the first to say that the event was not that at all. Sure, Danya and Jay disagreed on whether aromatherapy bath crystals can really be considered spiritual tools, but the discussion was much more focused on the interplay between “religion” (i.e. the structures & strictures, rituals and communities of organized faith) and “spirituality” (what Danya calls the moments of feeling groovy). (Incidentally, if you were hoping for more of an exploration of how your boogers embody God, Jay is holding a series of conference calls for folks to come together in exploration of the non-dual Judaism he espouses in his book.)
The three speakers introduced themselves and their approaches but then quickly moved on to the Q&A portion of the evening. They did two rounds of four questions each. I tried to capture the entire Q&A session with my Flip Camera, but the darn thing crashed after Seth & Danya answered the first four questions and Jay had answered the first three. But the footage I did manage to get captures enough of the feeling of the event and many of the interesting points. I’ll lead with Jay’s answer to a question about the place of Judaism in his spirituality. (This is from the first round of questions, so I don’t have Danya & Seth’s answers to the same question.)
Behind the cut are more videos addressing the role of music in each person’s spirituality, the place of Israel in their spirituality, and approaches to balancing structured religion with a desire to “pick and choose” and get rid of bits of religion that don’t sit well with us. More »
I might have gotten that title mixed up a bit. Fuller report coming tomorrow, including video of most of the Q&A part of the panel. In the meantime, if you’re curious to know what it was about and you weren’t one of the lucky 120 or so people who made it in the room before the risk of fire hazard cut folks out, you can see tweets from me and Joanna Ware from the panel. (Scroll down to those with timestamps between 7:00 and 8:00 pm EST on Jan. 31st.) I took some snapshots of the Jewschool table and the crowd as well. My pictures of the panel didn’t come out so great (Danya talks with her hands too much for my crappy camera phone to focus!) so you’ll have to wait for the video to see Jay Michaelson, Seth Castleman, and Danya Ruttenberg in action.
One common thread among many of the latest ideas is the benefit of creating centralized resources for the Jewish community. You might think a self-styled anarchist would enjoy the current status quo of messy everyone making Shabbos for themselves, but Dan is first and foremost a digital native and he understands the logic of the Internet. A singular Google and a singular iTunes have replaced local telephone books and record stores. Shouldn’t the Jewish community have single web interfaces?
A couple of ideas, however, seem to run up against the principle of centralization, inventing J-wheels where standard wheels are already rolling along quite fine:
#16 Social Auctions suffers from the same problem of all non-Ebay auction sites: Ebay is where the buyers are. Unless… if you can make it a mitzvah imperative. Can we make TzchatkesForTzedakah.com a web destination? Maybe with the right Facebook interface. Do I want to let all my friends know that I just bid $10 for a used Star Trek model to benefit Haitian relief? Hmm….
Finally, Dan announced that the brainstorming project will continue through February, as Jewschool, JTA, The Forward, eJewish Philanthropy, Jewcy and the Jewish Federations of North America play tag team with Dan in producing 28 more ideas.
So: What are your thoughts on centralization in the Jewish community?
Jewschool was once just a twinkle in an innovator’s eye. Disenchanted with mainstream Jewish offerings, some guy named Daniel “Mobius” Sieradski started this here blog and gave a soap box to those nearest him who had a bone to pick with the establishment. Jewschool dominated the Jblogosphere (back when there were only a handful of us), spawned competitors, and became the online home of progressive Jewish thought. We continue to be the largest progressive Jewish blog covering the full spectrum of religion, politics and culture, even though Sieradski has moved on.
Sieradski left Jewschool with the intent of going big with his ideas, to no avail. The Jewish community is, like any community, terrified of change. Its institutions reject bold, smart ideas for the safety of orthodoxies. Sacredcows wallow in an abundance of funds, while social incubators and fellowships need one to be a trust fund baby. And the digital age has yet to overcome the organizational/copyright turf wars that keep information segregated, siloed and inaccessible.
There are a lot of bright ideas out there. And they’re dying. How the hell can we spark a conversation about those doomed ideas? With whom can we pitch, share and network to connect around shared ideas? Where can we find our own resources without the institutions and angel funders? And who would care about it all? In essence, can we crowdsourcethis effing revolution?
Sieradski is posting one of his ideas every day for all of January. In February, he and six cosponsors including Jewschool will post 31 more ideas that have never seen the light of public exposure. We at Jewschool join him in hoping this means some bright people with time on their hands will say, “Hey, I want to do that.”
We’re already into Day 3 and he’s already showcased…
Pop-up Parsha, a widget that searches pages for references to Torah parshot and scriptural citations and offers a pop-up window with the Hebrew/English text, plus links to commentaries and discussion boards.
Pop-up Jewish dictionary, another hypertext tool that would offer definitions for Jew-lingo. Sieradski makes a great point that as he increased his Jewish literacy, his friends often stopped reading the garbledigook of Jewspeak. I facetiously engaged the same problem for my non-Jewy friends by defining my nomenclature. If we’re battling low Jewish literacy, then surely we can make it easy on each other?
The Hebrew input widget is neither “striking nor sexy” but allows for simpler typing of Hebrew into any web form or comment box — and offers phonetic entry of Hebrew (H for Hay, G for Gimel, etc.).
Not all these ideas will be winners, he warns, and not all will be totally original:
Most are ideas for web applications, some are web publications, and some are ideas for new organizations all together. And not every one of them is parochial even — some have uses beyond the Jewish community. Yet what connects them, is that each one brings something to the table that I believe to be truly revolutionary and transformative — things that have the potential to alter the Jewish world as we know it. And that’s what I’m in it for: A revitalized, renewed, and refreshing Jewish existence. It’s the only thing I’ve ever truly been for.
Indeed, it’s what Jewschool was created to do. We’ll post a wrap-up here of the last seven ideas every week for two months. Have an idea you want pitched? Email us and you might end up guest posting your idea here.
Editor’s note: The following is a direct response to the recent post publicizing this month’s meeting of the Men’s Havurah at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun featuring the NYC federation’s top dog John Ruskay and Jewish media guru Daniel Sieradski in a dialogue between the establishment and anti-establishment voices in the Jewish world today.
The BJ Men’s Havura is the place to be this Shabbat afternoon. If you identify as male, and not as female. And that’s just fine. I know, I know: it sounds sexist. But let’s back up for a moment; a little context goes a long way.
A year and a half ago Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein, one of B’nei Jeshurun‘s three rabbis, decided that it was time to act to address a growing gender imbalance that had been apparent at BJ for some time, one that mirrors a trend affecting all areas of non-Orthodox Jewish religious life- men just aren’t as interested in “doing” Judaism as women are. In the words of Sylvia Barack Fishman in an important study published last year:
Today American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism than girls and women in almost every venue and in every age, from school age children through the adult years. The descent of male interest is evident not only in domestic Judaism, as expected, but also in public Judaism, religious leadership, and secular ethnic attachments.
Whether or not it’s a direct effect of women’s empowerment in Jewish life, the fact is irrefutable- men are dropping out. The question at BJ was what to do about it.
At BJ, where I served last year as the first cantorial intern, the vast majority of lay leaders are female. Whether it’s the Torah readers, prayer service leaders or committee chairs, women dominate. The monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh group and the annual women’s retreat are popular and successful. Until the Men’s Havura was formed there had been no space at BJ for men alone since 1984, when Marshall Meyer became the rabbi and disbanded the congregation’s Brotherhood and Sisterhood. (To be technical, the BJ Men’s Havura is open to all people male-identified, regardless of biology and regardless of sexual orientation.) I think that it’s crucial for there to be female space, opportunities for women to gather with other women and feel proud and safe to express themselves Jewishly, to explore their identity as Jewish women. I think that it’s equally important for male space to exist in our communities. As congregations become more fully egalitarian, opportunities for men to explore together the meaning of contemporary male Jewish identity are increasingly rare.
Traditional models of gender roles in Judaism are responsible for thousands of years of oppression of women and non-heterosexuals. Jewish feminists, both female and male, have, in the past 40 years or so, changed the way that we think about those roles and opened up ritual and social space for women. The concepts of Jewish womanhood and femininity have been critiqued and updated to reflect the needs and values of the contemporary Jewish community. But, to ask a question posed by Sarah Blustain in the current edition of Lilith (entitled “boys are the new girls”): “Did women’s lib by some incredible, ironical twist of fate, leave men confined?” It is time to revisit Jewish manhood and masculinity. This is just what Rabbi Bronstein had in mind when he started the Havura (click on link for an interview in Zeek of the topic).
It’s important to stress that a male critique of masculinity can be a feminist endeavor, as I believe the BJ Havura is. Daniel Boyarin, in his book Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, quotes Tania Modleski to say that such a critique is feminist when “it analyzes male power, male hegemony, with a concern for the effects of this power on the female subject…” The very first meeting of the Havura, after a spirited Mincha service, we engaged in a Torah study, looking critically at models of manhood in the Chumash. Subsequent gatherings included a provocative discussion about sexuality and male-female relations with psychotherapist Esther Perel, author of the international bestseller, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.
As the cantorial intern at BJ, I co-facilitated all of last year’s Havura meetings, along with Rabbi Bronstein and Marshall T. Meyer Fellow Rabbi Ezra Weinberg, and I was at the committee meetings. As I see it, Marcelo and the Havura committee are seeking to meet the challenges of liberating Jewish men from the confines of inadequate gender roles and to create a spiritually relevant space for men. Meeting these challenges is certainly in the interest of Jewish women as well. To quote Blustain’s piece in Lilith again, “It may be the ultimate feminist undertaking in the coming decades to help men free themselves—and to demand that they do so in the ways that continue to free us as well.”
Now, this week’s event may not relate specifically to the issues raised above, but it serves another important goal: getting the target audience in the door. When asked last year by the Havura committee heads for a program idea that would interest my friends and get them to come to a Men’s Havura, I thought immediately about Dan Sieradski in dialogue with John Ruskay (a dynamic activist in his youth, and a BJ member). I figured it would pique the interest of my friends and like-minded young men – the group that is least represented at the Havura’s gatherings. From the excitement in the 84 responses posted so far, it seems that the program has done just that.
This month’s meeting of the Men’s Havurah at B’nai Jeshurun on December 19th will feature John Ruskay and Daniel Sieradski in a dialogue between the establishment and anti-establishment voices in the Jewish world today. Where are we? What’s needed? What are the generational divides?
John is the Executive Vice President and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. Daniel was the founding publisher and editor-in-chief of Jewschool as well as blogs Radical Torah and Orthodox Anarchist.
This program will also include davening, schnappsing and socializing. For men only. For more information contact Naomi Goodhart: firstname.lastname@example.org. Saturday, December 19th, 5 pm – 7 pm, in Frankel Hall at the 88th Street shul. (Facebook event here.)
Here’s a taste of Fritz and Caroline from a slam this summer. The recording quality isn’t amazing, but they say so many freakin’ profound and important things about the modern Jew’s struggle with identity and history that you may need to watch it a few times anyway.
I was a little bit late to the game myself, only catching up with the book in September. If you haven’t read it yet, let me tell you – don’t wait. It’s a great window into how one person grappled with the big questions of life, and as you know from reading Danya here, she writes with panache. She also writes with extensive footnoting, which makes for a memoir that has the feel of a great (and very accessible) academic work. We’re Jews, we tend to interpret our lives through text (and interpret our texts through life), and the way Danya weaves in the voices of those who have written before her reflects this ethos in a thrilling way.
Apparently, some other people got nominated too. I have neither read their books nor shared webspace with them, so I offer their names and titles without further comment:
Lila Corwin Berman – Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity (University of California Press)
Ari Y. Kelman – Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio in the United States (University of California Press)
Kenneth B. Moss – Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution (Harvard University Press)
Sarah Abrevaya Stein – Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce (Yale University Press)
Mazel tov to them too, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m rooting against them. (Look, I don’t watch sports, so ever since America’s Next Top Model stopped being good, this is about as invested as I get in any kind of competition.)
For a somewhat less biased and more informative take, read the press release from the Jewish Book Council.
The switchover is complete. A slight change in expected behavior: the old feed automatically redirects to the new one. So if you’re subscribed to the old feed, you’re going to keep getting updates for the next 30 days, rather than what we had originally written about a placeholder article. Please change your RSS subscription to point to: jewschool.com/feed, because after 30 days, the old one won’t redirect anymore, it’ll just stop working.
This is an announcement for you readers who follow Jewschool through our RSS feed. Tomorrow afternoon, we’re going to be changing a few settings on how the feed is published, with the result that its location will change. There are a bunch of reasons for making these changes, like that we’ll now be able to offer per-author and per-category feeds, but what it means for you is this: once we update those settings, the next time you try to access the feed, you’ll see that it’s empty except for a single article, which will give you the new location. This bears repeating: if you don’t switch your subscription over to that new location, you will not get Jewschool posts through RSS. The placeholder item will remain in place for 30 days, at which point the old feed address will cease to function altogether.
Let us know in the comments if you have any questions. It should be a pretty painless switch.
Jewschool has 999 followers on Twitter. Quick, somebody put us over the top! And if you’d like to follow the tweets of some of Jewschool’s contributors, then you can follow 14 of us at once right here.
If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, then surely you’re aware of UJC’s Jewish Community Heroes campaign. In case you’re not, here’s what I’ve gathered strictly from the barrage of “Vote for X!” messages I’ve been receiving.
UJC, aka The Jewish Federations of North America, aka The Jewish Establishment, sponsored an online popularity contest that sent dozens (if not hundreds) of Jewish Non-Profits scurrying to mobilize their social networks to garner votes for their candidates. The winner(s?) get some kind of cash prize for their organization.
A disclaimer: I am generally much more positive about UJC than many of my compadres here. While I don’t always love every decision the Federations make, I think the good they do outweighs their missteps. And a big honking chunk of the good the UJC does is making thoughtful allocations of communal funds to ensure that worthy causes can thrive. The whole point of federated giving is to protect the less-sexy charities (like elder care facilities) from losing the popularity contest of philanthropy.
So what are we to make of the UJC’s current effort? To be fair, I am not going to pop over to their website to see if my impressions from Facebook accurately reflect the campaign. Here’s a video they’ve made that you can watch while I do that, announcing the twenty semi-finalists:
I’m going to refrain from thinking too hard about who made the semifinals except to point out two things:
First, there’s a disproportionate number of Chabadniks among the group, which is a testament to how far ahead of the rest of us Chabad is when it comes to social networking. This should surprise no one.
Second, I want to congratulate two Jewschoolers among the final twenty: Aryeh Goldsmith (aka Aryeh) and William Levin (aka Jewish Robot)! Okay, those congratulations may seem a bit weak coming at the end of this particular rant, but they both do good work, and each got more than 12,000 votes, so either they’re both skilled organizers or making positive impacts on many people’s Jewish experiences or both. So kol hakavod.
Okay, so reviewing the rules, it looks like I got it about right. Anyone could nominate. Voting narrowed the field to 20 semifinalists. A panel of judges will narrow that group down to five finalists. (The judges span from people who are experts in the running of nonprofits to a comedian and two athletes… I’m not really sure what the thinking is there, but I’ll write that off as being mostly harmless.) It’s not clear how the ultimate winner gets chosen, but the winner will be announced at the General Assembly in Washington, DC next month. Whoever he or she may be, the winner will receive $25K to put towards their project, and the four runners-up will receive some kind of undisclosed smaller investment.
This strikes me as so contrary to the idea behind Federation, I just don’t know what to do with it. Okay, here are the potential upsides: some Jewish organizations, in their scurrying to win, might learn a thing or two about how to utilize social networking to get their message across. And I suppose if someone went to vote and actually bothered to look at the nominees other than the one who sent them to the site to begin with, then some lesser-known Jewish causes might get some publicity. Oh, and I guess UJC might get some publicity in certain corners of the Jewish world that might not already be familiar with them.
Here are the potential downsides: organizations making their first steps into social networking alienate their supporters (or would-be supporters) by using the contact to say “vote for me!” rather than something meaningful. Organizations that already have a robust network in place can stuff the voting box, so smaller, newer, or poorer organization (aka those who might need the money even more) are at a disadvantage. (See note above about Chabad.) The idea that Federations distribute money based on a strategic plan for maximizing the impact of that money becomes a laughingstock. Kids are taught that being popular comes with a financial reward. Presumably, someone in each of these organizations took time out of doing the actual work they’re supposed to do in order to organize and mobilize the voters. And somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 or more is given out as a reward for… well, it’s not really clear now, is it?
Last night, my Motzei Shabbos plans took me to the cinema, where I saw Julie & Julia. For those of you living outside the world of popular culture, this is a film based on a book based on a blog. The blog was started in late 2002 – just around the time I stopped blogging my first time around – right around the moment when blogging jumped from being a niche phenomenon to a zeitgeist. (Coincidentally, Jewschool launched in December 2002, just a few months later.)
There’s a moment in the film in which Julie’s husband, despairing at the state of their marriage (crumbling under the weight of her cooking/blogging project), asks Julie why she blogs, why this has become so important to her. Julie’s answer had a lot to do with a search for individual identity and voice at a moment in her life when she risked dissolving into her bland, repetitive workaday existence. Last night, listening to this conversation on the big screen, I found myself reflecting on the same question relative to this here blog that you’re reading.
It just so happens that it was the second time in two days that the question had come up for me. On Friday, I had coffee with Ally Berenson, program director of Gesher City Boston. There were two purposes to this meeting. Ally and I were in USY together, so it’s always a pleasure to see each other and catch up. Since we both work in the Jewish community, we inevitably have a lot to talk about, but since I work primarily with teenagers and she works primarily with the 21-35 crowd, our professional lives don’t intersect as often as I might like. However, at the last Jewschool powwow (about a dozen of the editors & contributors got together for a real-life in-person meeting last month), Team Jewschool talked about exploring potential connections Jewschool could and should be making with other organizations out there in the Jewish world. I immediately thought of GesherCity. Now before all you bleeding edge anti-establishment hipsters vomit all over your netbooks, let me explain… More »
Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, blogger of Ima on (and off) the Bimah, pointed out recently that Haveil Havalim, the so-called Jewish Blog Carnival, has become a rather conservative affair. With the grand exception of a few progressive regular Haveil Havalim submitters (like herself and Benji Lovitt of What War Zone?), most of the folks submitting their blog posts to the carnival are at least a little to the right of those of us here at Jewschool. Rabbi Phyllis even called us Jewschoolers out by name, asking why we didn’t participate.
So in answer to her call for progressive voices in Haveil Havalim, here we are. And to those of you who are regular readers of Haveil Havalim, but first time visitors to Jewschool, bruchim haba’im l’Jewschool. Welcome.
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish & Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack. The term Haveil Havalim, which means Vanity of Vanities, is from Kohelet, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other excesses and realized that it was nothing but hevel, or in English, vanity.