Bronfman’s Big Idea for Jewish Social Innovation: Where Do We Stand at the Halfway Mark?


The Epitome of a Jewish Nerd

I don’t know about you, but being a Jewish philanthropy nerd (it’s not like it’s a secret), I can’t wait to hear the results of Charles Bronfman’s Big Idea Contest, whose deadline was Friday.

What’s the Big Idea?

While I love the idea of a contest to encourage thinking around a particular issue (like Ronny Maman’s manners contest), I have never quite been able to conceptualize how Bronfman’s contest will work.

The prize is less than sexy: a two year professorship at Brandeis teaching one class, with allowance for time spent researching and writing, culminating in a book manuscript three years from date of appointment.

When I think about the characteristics such a genius who would come up with the Great Jewish Idea would possess, I am not sure that the contest’s rewards would be particularly appealing.

Sure, Einstein, the epitome of all things brilliant and Jewish, was a Princeton professor, but he was also a high school drop out. The constraints of academia are appealing to the active mind only when the rewards are clear and certain. Time will tell whether the prize yields fruit.

Contest Reward Guidelines Have Been Delineated

Brandeis Logo

Apparently I am not alone in this thinking. Brandeis’ guidelines for the contest’s reward have become much more didactic and bland since the contest got underway (one might say boring, even). I don’t have the original text of the job post, but let’s see if you think this language is an enervating as I do:

“The salary of the incumbent of the Visiting Chair will be set at a competitive level, and includes those benefits normally provided to full-time faculty. The incumbent will be provided with the research assistance of a graduate fellow, and will also have access to a research fund and additional funds to defray lecture and administrative expenses.”

No one will be chomping at the bit for with language. It sounds reluctant and uneasy, like small print rather than the dashing headlines we might expect.

Bronfman’s Take

My thoughts are affirmed by Bronfman himself, who in a November 15th interview with the Jerusalem Post expressed mild dismay at contest submissions, which include an oft mentioned entry of a “‘Braveheart’ movie with a Jew as the central character.’

In short, Bronfman says, “It got all screwed up.”

Words of Analysis: Gary Rosenblatt and Jonathan Sarna


The Jerusalem Post also cites Gary Rosenblatt (editor of the New York Jewish Week) who contends: “What troubles me is the very notion that we need, and can benefit from, a quick fix to the myriad problems that threaten the future of Jewish life as we know it in America.”

I respectfully disagree. I see no evidence that such a notion was Bronfman’s intent or desired outcome in any way.


Jonathan Sarna, Director of Brandeis’ Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program says:

“Historically, Judaism has repeatedly been advanced by creative thinkers and agents of change — recall the work of Yohanan Ben Zakkai, Sa’adia Gaon, Moses Maimonides, Isaac Luria, Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, Leopold Zunz, Isaac Mayer Wise, Solomon Schechter, Sarah Schnirer, and Theodor Herzl, to name just a few.”

Calling All Wise Ones

Can Bronfman’s contest find our hidden Maimonides? Our closeted Herzl? Most likely it will help a professor, academic, or Jewish professional flesh out an idea she is already working on and help translate it into a working concept.

Contest finalists will meet in a symposium (which I am guessing– and hoping) will be public in February or March.

The question at this point seems to be not what is the next big Jewish idea, but what really good Jewish ideas can we use to improve the health of the Jewish community.

I, for one, am staying tuned.

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20 Responses to Bronfman’s Big Idea for Jewish Social Innovation: Where Do We Stand at the Halfway Mark?

  1. Anon says:

    Thanks for an interesting article. I submitted a proposal to the contest, and I am looking forward to the results. While I know the chances of winning are a long shot, I thought it was rewarding to flush out my idea, and get it on paper.

    I hope that other philanthropists, and organizations take some of the non-winning ideas and run with them. Even if I don’t win, I believe my idea would be a valuable contribution to the Jewish community. I would share it, but I’m not sure how that would impact my appication, so maybe in the future I will discuss it further.

    Maybe the next, next Big Jewish idea is to get funding for all the non-winning good ideas in the Bronfman contest. Bloggers like you should ask people to share their ideas after the results are announced.

    Thanks again for writing on this topic. I’m sure other contest entrants are excitedly awaiting the results, and there is way too little information and discussion on the contest lately.

  2. thenewjew says:

    Thanks for your comment. I certainly will be writing about the ideas and encouraging everyone who feels comfortable to write and share more about theirs as soon as we hear what’s happening with the contest. Please stay in touch, I would love to hear more about your idea in particular.

    If it was okay to share according to the contest rules, would you be open to it? I will look into finding out just so we know in general and leave a comment as soon as (if) I find out anything.

    As far as writing about it, my pleasure. I am gathering all the information I can and can’t wait to hear about all the ideas submitted. All boats rise with the tide, as they say.

    You can also reach me at mnorton [at]

  3. Anon says:

    “If it was okay to share according to the contest rules, would you be open to it?”

    I’d be happy to. Let me know if you hear any information about the contest rules.

    Keep up the great blogging. I love your site!

  4. thenewjew says:

    Thanks so much, that really means a lot to me.

    I’ve contacted the powers that be and will keep you updated on their response.


  5. Anon says:

    If the contest rules allow, I would be glad to generally share my idea.

    Once the finalists are announced, I will send you my entire proposal to look at and/or post.

    It would be neat if you could post a number of complete proposals on the web for people to look at.

    Please e-mail me with any updates at detroitjewandproud [at]

  6. thenewjew says:

    I surely will.

    The Bronfman Philanthropies have a generous habit of sharing important Jewish documents, so I am confident that they will release the finalists’ proposals. I would love to read all submissions myself. Let’s see what happens down the road.


  7. […] time I think about Charles Bronfman’s Big Idea contest for Jewish communal innovation, I just can’t wait to hear what the ideas are. Great […]

  8. thenewjew says:

    Hi Anon,

    I’ve just e-mailed you and posted on this topic as well. Discussion, conversation, and all those good things are encouraged. Jonathan Sarna, director of Brandeis’ Hornstein program and one of the contest’s administrators has given us the official go ahead.

    Can’t wait to hear what you have to say and much thanks to you for helping me realize that the only thinking stopping us was a single e-mail to ask for permission (how easy it was).

    Talk to you soon,


  9. Anon says:

    Thanks for getting this information. I sent you my idea. Hopefully you approve.

  10. Jena Isle says:

    Hi great site, visit my site too:

    BTW, I borrowed the pic and sited your site,..I found the pic on several blogs, but I want yours ..thanks.

  11. Jena Isle says:

    that should read cited, sorry, typo. cheers!

  12. Maya Norton says:

    Thanks, Jena. Glad you like– and appreciate the citing.

    Let me know when your blog returns to publication.


  13. David Johansson says:

    Dear The New Jew

    I have been reading your web page, and looking at a picture of Einstein.

    I am right now writing a paper on Intelligent Design, which I am planning to hand out to students in 6- 12th grade in Sweden, Uppsala specifically. For this ‘pamhlet’ I will be needing som pictures of people, animals and phenomen that illustrate Intelligent Design. In this case, Einstein has made som interesting talks about Intelligent Design. To be able to hand out this paper, I have to use pictures which I have permission to use.

    I was wanting to ask you, if it would be possible for me to use your picture of Einstein, which you use on your web page?

    It would be very helpful for my paper!

    Thank you for answer!

    Regards, David Johansson

  14. Do you know whether they ever came up with a winner?

  15. car jacks says:

    This is the first time I comment here and I must say you share us genuine, and quality information for other bloggers! Good job.
    p.s. You have a very good template . Where did you find it?

    • Maya Norton says:

      Thanks very much, Car Jacks.

      As I responded initially, the template is one of the free options for all WordPress users. Check it out off the main homepage. WordPress is a great site to use for a blog. I highly recommend it.

      ~ Maya

  16. If you want to increase your knowledge just keep visiting this web page and be updated with the latest information posted here.|

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