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
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.
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.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
- “3 Ideas for Jewish Communal Innovation: Israel Alumni Corps, Birthright Alumni Corps, Adult Israel Trips”
- “Charles Bronfman Prize for Humanitarian Action: Seeking a Better World”
- “Steinhardt Hosts Birthright Reunion: Best Practice Idea for Jewish Young Adults” (see section on Bronfman’s Big Idea contest)
- “Slingshot Releases ‘Resource Guide for American Jewish Innovation, 2007– 2007′”
- “Assessing the Forward 50: What We Can Learn About Top American Jewish Philanthropists” (Roger Bennett and Sharna Goldseker of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies are profiled)
- “JTA’s ‘Reimagining Federated Philanthropy’– What You Need to Know” (Sharna Goldseker of the Bronfman Philanthropies is profiled)
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