Identity, Politics

The Next Big Jewish Idea is…a tired old idea

The admirable project of a social media extravaganza to engage the Jewish demos in picking the Los Angeles federation’s next idea to revolutionize Jewish life has reached fruition! Thank God! We’ve been waiting so long to discover what the next revolution in Jewish thinking is: Jewish spam. The “LaunchBox,” formerly “Jewww in a Box,” is essentially an upgrade from federation spam to federation-sponsored kiruv. How very web 2.0, all hail the wisdom of crowdsourcing, halleluyah. You can read the description as it bends over backwards trying to explain why this is big, new, or innovative.

Seriously, I can’t fault the LA federation for picking a practical winner whose project they could implement immediately and one that would contribute to their everyday work. Mazel tov to Batsheva Frankel on her success, it’s a fine idea. But, personally, I feel the hype and slogan just don’t justify the final product.

(P.S. I want one.)

11 thoughts on “The Next Big Jewish Idea is…a tired old idea

  1. There seems to be a trend on this website…constantly criticizing the Jewish establishment no matter what they do. I feel the tone of this post is snarky (not uncommon for this site) and it criticizes without offering what the writer thinks should be the best big idea. I guess I just don’t respect people who sit on the side lines criticizing without making the case for a solution.

  2. Maybe they’ll put Chabad in charge of filling these boxes, in which case, this idea might actually work. I mean, let’s get real, “experiencing the mitzvah or theme”? Just call it mivtzoim and get it over with. Now throw in a couple of hyperactive pimply black hat bochers with a pair of tefillin, shabbos candles and a copy of’s “Think Jewish” weekly pamphlette, and you’ve got yourself a genu-i-ne quesadilla, I do declare.

  3. Dave, I’m a professional Jew by day and spent most of my waking hours creating the alternatives that I prefer. I also blog about them here. Most of the contributors here at Jewschool have a project they are deeply engaged with. None of us are on the sidelines.
    That said, yes, damn straight this site has a culture of critical engagement. There is so much inane crap coming out of the “establishment” these days, too much to keep up with. There’s plenty outside the establishment that gets critiqued here as well.
    But I’ll take your suggestion to heart all the same. Thanks for reading.

  4. Right on, Kung Fu Jew. My synagogue also sends out kits. I hate those kits. You get a crappy menorah on Hannukah and some nasty dried fruit in a plastic bag on Rosh Hashanah. So… now it’s a crappy kit attached to a website? Like there aren’t ten thousand Jewy Ed websites already? Somehow, however, this website will have college friends and families gathering around it like a campfire. It better spit out money. For all the creative types (and hype) that went into this project, it’s depressing they couldn’t come up with anything better. And, they’re still using http://WWW...

  5. My first memory of anything like this was in mailings targeted specifically to Jewish college kids, as it wasn’t identified with any denomination or stream. It was a grassroots project called Lights in Action. Started around 1992 and ended in 2000 and tried hard to use humor with reverence as a means to communicate Torah and mitzvot. It was killed by its own success, I think when it tried to scale and the challenge of developing a transparent and understandable institutional structure with reliable funding had the consequence of diminishing its creative energy.
    I think the desire is to have some sort of engagement solution with the target (their personal practice of mitzvot) complete the connection. And that’s a good thing for folk with a really shallow appreciation or understanding of Judaism and its values. Coming at a time when passive, consumer Judaism is increasingly being recognized as unsustaining and unreliable, I’m skeptical that simply marketing Judaism and re-branding mitzvot in kiruv literature is enough… I’d rather a project be funded that liberates the creative wellspring of the collective Jewish people with all their diverse insight. Since so much relies ultimately on the design of these materials, Launchbox either succeeds or fails on the basis of how well that design communicates and functions for its target audience. It’s a serious challenge and I’m curious how they will measure it’s success.

  6. From the description of the idea:
    “Danny, a 17 year old who practically lives on Facebook, can find an on-line community of Jewish teens from all around Los Angeles who have created a group to plan a fundraiser for Israel.”
    I already hate it. This statement reveals an incredible amount of ignorance about young Jews, educational merit, but worst of all, an ignorance of how social media actually works.
    Damn you for reinforcing facile stereotypes about young people, social media and social change. I sure hope they have an evaluation plan for this thing that relies on something more substantial than how many boxes they send.

  7. I sure hope they have an evaluation plan for this thing that relies on something more substantial than how many boxes they send.
    THAT WAS MY FIRST THOUGHT!!! It’s the FIRST metric they will use to argue for a doubling of their budget next year. The second metric will be website visits, but instead of presenting totals, they’ll write about percent increase (from zero!). So, sure, our website is only getting 100 hits a day, but that’s stunning 500% growth from a year ago.
    You know what bothers me most about these “mitzvah in a box” projects? And yes, I’ve seen more than my share – Hillel’s “Shabbat in a box” (EPIC BARF!) comes to mind. It’s that it’s easier for the Federation system to send out a stupid box of crap than go out and actually touch another Jew, pat them on the back, invite them over for Shabbos. Maybe a sweaty, ugly Jew with bad breath and ever worse English. No, we can’t have that. So let’s just throw a box at them, and they can sit there with the other members of their smelly, sweaty, ignorant Jewish family and learn from the box. Anything so that we don’t actually have to touch them.

  8. Reb Yudel,
    All the finalists offer projects that merely duplicate existing programs and resources. It is sheer nonsense to pretend that there is anything new here. They would draw more people to Judaism by announcing a bonfire where all the money for this project will be consumed in a raging inferno. Heck, we may even pick up a few confused pyromaniac converts, to boot!
    But seriously, if they have all this money, and need a place to spend it, I know quite a few Jewish families who are struggling to pay their bills and feed their children. That her unoriginal, regurgitated idea will take food out of the mouths of babes and sucklings is something Batsheva should really start crying about.
    I’m going to go barf some more.

  9. Kung Fu Jew,
    Sorry I haven’t replied, just got back into town. I agree with most of what you say, honestly. I think that the established Jewish community needs to be more creative and embrace different, dare I say, more politically liberal ideas. I think they have to start realizing that relationships are the things that matter in this world and should move in that direction rather than sending out boxes. But, if you want your programs to take hold, you cannot be so snarky (what you call “culture of critical engagement”). Have you ever written about a good idea that a federation has done? I am sure that there is one in the hundreds.
    From someone who doesn’t know you, you seem like a petty child, which I am sure you are not. All I am saying is, if you want these important programs to be accepted by the larger Jewish community, than you have to start acting more like an adult – which is probably how you normally act.

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