The Big Ideas Series: Introducing 13 Proposals for Jewish Communal Innovation (Phase One)


Fertile Ground: Share Your Ideas
Photo by Paul Goyette

Last week I invited you to submit your Big Ideas for communal discussion a la Charles Bronfman’s Brandeis contest. Ideas on any scale and topic are welcome having to do with Jewish communal innovation.


Thus far, I have received 13 great proposals (all of which were formally submitted to the contest).

The Proposals

Here’s what you can look forward to so far. (All proposals listed herein were official contest submissions.)

    1. “Using the Internet to Fight Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in Higher Education” by the creator of the Anti-Racist Blog
    2. “The Jewish Community Incubator by Shai Litt
    3. “Hebrew Nation: A Jewish Identity in the 21st Century” by Gary Kulwin
    4. “The Edah: Embracing a New Definition of Am Yisrael” by Rabbi Morey Schwartz
    5. “Covenant with the Future” by Tsvi Bisk, Director of the Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking
    6. “Renewing the Jewish Pioneering Spirit by Volunteer Work in the Negev” by Dr. Jason Goodfriend
    7. “Translating Judaism for the Post-Digital Age: Creative Zionism and a Renewed Jewish People” by Ariel Beery– (FINALIST)
    8. “Life-Centered Judaism: Bringing Life Unto the Nations” by David Bar-Cohn– NEW!
    9. “Minhag America” by Anita Diamant (FINALIST) NEW!
    10. “The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory” by Yehuda Kurtzer– WINNER
    11. “Bringing Judaism to the Mainstream” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (FINALIST)UPCOMING!
    12. “Crossing the Threshold: Creating Peace with the Earth through Deep Theology” by Rabbi Mevorach Seidenberg– UPCOMING!
    13. “Being There for the Other: Creating a New Jewish Community of Caring” by Nechama Liss-Levinson and Paul Marcus (SEMI-FINALIST)– UPCOMING!

        We Need You!


        So how can you get involved? Submit your ideas to me by e-mail (mnorton [at] or leave a comment. As important, get involved in the discussion. Take a few minutes to read people’s thoughts and weigh in on what you think: are the ideas important, how could they be implemented, do they apply to your community?

        If you want to get started early, you can begin by reading my ideas here. They aren’t exactly big ideas– more of a knee jerk reaction to hearing about the contest in which I said to myself “I know, I know!”– but I do think they would change the way the Jewish community envisions its future. So, what do you think?

        I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

        Photo by Paul Goyette

        Recommended Reading

        Interested in learning more about Jewish social innovation? Click here (and scroll down).



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        37 Responses to The Big Ideas Series: Introducing 13 Proposals for Jewish Communal Innovation (Phase One)

        1. Maya,

          Your ideas are great. Hopefully someone will pick them up and run with them, or help you get funding to launch them yourself.

          I’m interested in reading the other official submission to the contest, besides mine. The topic is intriguing, but doesn’t give much away.

          I had read the idea about Restoring Jewish Peoplehood already, which I thought was very interesting. The scientific component of that project seemed a but overwhelming, but it is a great idea if it could be pulled off.

          I’ll stay tuned! Thanks for making the contest ideas available.

        2. thenewjew says:

          Hi ARB,

          I successfully predicted the topic of your e-mail last night. Sorry for the delay. I am hoping the problem will be solved very soon. My apologies for any inconvenience it may have caused you.

          As you saw, you are first on the list. You can expect an entry for your review by the time you wake up tomorrow.

          In happier news, thanks! Funding schmunding. There are ideas of similar virtue floating around, but in scaled back models. I believe that in these types of things (as with your idea) things need to be done fully in order to accomplish their goals completely. To be done in any other way would sleight the idea and what it was trying to accomplish. I would be honored to have a hand in making any of these things happen, but it is much more important to me that they get done.

          As far as Restoring Jewish Peoplehood, there is always (in general terms) a dichotomy between the concept and the implementation of the idea itself. The research, funding, and strategic planning that goes behind them is what gives them a sense of urgency and hopefully, irons out whatever kinks need to be thought about further. From the drawing board to the fire, as they say.

          Best wishes, 🙂


        3. Hey Maya,

          Glad you received my e-mail. No problem about the delay. Please take your time; I don’t want to rush you. I look forward to reading your write-up whenever you finish.

          As far as funding, I wonder whether any of Israeli Billionares, or caring people in the Jewish community would think about funding some of the good contest ideas that are not chosen. It was said before, and I tend to agree, that the next, next big Jewish idea may be figuring out how to fund the many great proposals which won’t win the contest.

          As a side note, people should remember that there will be two winners, but I think the second idea will be chosen after a new round of submissions. So if people didn’t submit an idea this time, then can do it next time. (unless I’m wrong)

          I totally agree with your point about the inevitable difference between the concept and the implementation. Problems and difficulties are bound to pop up. Hopefully the final product can be close to the original concept.

          I know that I tried to think about possible problems, and come up with an idea that I thought could successfully be implemented, but big projects tend to take on a life of their own once you start them.

          Anyways, I better run. Talk to you soon.


        4. thenewjew says:

          There are great ideas. I would like to think with you, other Big Idea participants, and anyone else who is interested what can be done to forward our thinking.

          I happen to believe that we are entering a period of intellectual renaissance in the Jewish community. We are surfing the crest of a wave and I can’t wait to dive to the other side.

          While there are a number new organizations that do are involved with Jewish social innovation as part of their own programming, there is no organization that I am aware of that is devoted fully and passionately to thinking about Jewish ideas. I can hear what people are saying, “All talk and no action,” but to my mind there is something very powerful about a Jewish social innovation think tank like the one you are describing.

          I do hope these ideas get picked up, marinated, digested, and then acted upon– I am just not sure that there is an organization at this very second who is equipped or prioritized to do it.

          I can tell you that I will be monitoring this issue closer and updating you as soon as I learn anything.


        5. ARB says:

          Intellectual Renaissance- I like the sound of that.

          The more good ideas the better.

          But without backing, most ideas will not ever get off the ground.

          Maybe we could start a new blog aimed at promoting, and getting funding for big Jewish ideas? Or have a series of posts on your blog devoted to that?

          It would be a shame if only one (or two) big idea of many got funding.

          I like to think of it like a basketball draft. Michael Jordan was something like the third pick in the draft. If only #1 ever got a chance, then there would never have been MJ.

        6. thenewjew says:

          “Maybe we could start a new blog aimed at promoting, and getting funding for big Jewish ideas? Or have a series of posts on your blog devoted to that?”

          ARB, certainly what I am hoping to accomplish as one of the main mission’s of this blog– having an official way to do it like the Bronfman series just makes it easier and more formal. If you have ideas about how to expand this further, I would like to hear them.

          Inside the theme of Jewish philanthropy, the four pillars of my blog are:
          1. Jewish communal innovation
          2. Expanding the paradigms for supporting Israel in the Jewish community
          3. Cleantech (also known as green technologies) in Israel
          4. Technology integration in the Middle East and Muslim countries (including Israel)

          (from my “About” page:


        7. ARB says:

          Once the ideas get out there, I bet we can find people or organizations that may be interested in a particular topic. I’m sure not every idea will be for every potential donor.

          Maybe we can compile a list (there might be one already) of possible sources of funding. Contacting them should be easy enough.

          I’m not completely sure how to go about it. I have some experience in sale, but not in selling huge ideas. I’ll defer to your expertise, and offer to help in any way I can.

        8. thenewjew says:

          Let’s see how it goes first. After all, they aren’t our ideas to “sell” and I’m sure Mr. Bronfman has some ideas of his own, currently existing and that might come as a result of seeing all the projects together. After all, the Bronfmans have been working on innovative ideas for quite some time what with the various prize contests, salons, magnanimous funding of their philanthropy overall, and their support of the Slingshot project.

          I like your thinking though.


        9. ARB says:

          Good points. I agree we should wait and see what happens.

        10. ARB says:

          The “Hebrew Nation” concept is very interesting.

          I totally agree that a large ecosystem of Jewish civil society is important.

          I also really like the idea of making an individual website for a contest proposal.

        11. Shai says:

          Gary, hi

          I enjoyed reading your proposal. I think you were spot on in identifying some of the trends, and your solutions were quite creative.

          I had offered a comment to Maya in response to her original comments that the Jewish community of Israeli expats has been assimilating quickly in Europe and America, and I think your idea speaks to to the need to keep them in the fold. I see it in a context of several solutions to assimilation in the Diaspora, because non-expats are still 95% of the Jewish population in the Diaspora.

          I’m not sure how I see your proposals answering the needs of the broader Jewish community, though, and I don’t share your optimism that affiliation with Israel and its national language is, or for the time being can be, the powerful catalyst to community building your proposal asserts it to be. Perhaps you’ll explain further?

          Your solution is one of several that are addressed to Diaspora problems, that also look to Israel to provide some sort of model, ideal or solution. You also mentioned that “American Jews should identify with Israel in a similar manner as members of other ethinic Diasporas”, but even if they “should”, they clearly don’t. Not even Israelis in the Diaspora do. If Israel and affiliation with Israel had such power, would there be so many yordim? I live in Israel. I know that in Israel we have many divisions of identity that are so deep, that even “Israeliness” does not join us all. How would it, or Hebrew speaking prowess, achieve “community” in America or elsewhere if it can’t achieve it in Israel?

          Also, I can’t speak for the Bronfman Committee, but my reading of the competition guidelines does not correspond to those who interpret “The Jewish Community” to mean the “American Jewish Community”. In any case, Israel is not a model or solution for what ails America’s Jewish communities. Not yet, anyway. We have a different type of assimilation happening here, a different brew that influences the dynamic of the demographic shifts, and of course we have political and sovereignty issues that no other Jewish community in the world deals with. By the time all young Jews in America have been to Israel on Birthright visits, we may have to send ours kids to America to see how to maintain Jewish identity (I’m exaggerating, but only to make my point!) if what you’re looking for is a Jewish cultural community rather than a strictly religious one.

          But all that said, it is my assertion that we need to seek solutions that provide a sustainable sense of community for us all, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, secular and not. Any solution that saves one at the expense of or without addressing the other will fall short of the task. As a principle, we as Jews should adopt for ourselves the belief that “no Jew should be left behind”. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh l’zeh. That said, there can be no single silver bullet, and Mr. Bronfman acknowledged this. If your bullet can save the expatriate community, in my view it’s worth looking into further.

          We all speak from what we think we know, and your background in organizational science is clearly expressed in your proposal. My background is more in the city/environmental planning field, seeing cities and communities as part of an environmental ecosystem made up of individuals that found and utilize institutions and structure to order their lives and to infuence/be influenced by their communities. The reason I like your idea is it enriches the choices available for Jewish expression. I don’t share your optimism regarding the organizational structure of your proposal.

          While the organizational models you mentioned are thought provoking, it seems to me that you speak of them as though the organizations were what drives the system, rather than them being an interface between the system and the uses, rather than the confluence of individuals that share values that build the organizations. That “it is hard to make sense of the current condition of the Jewish community by looking at stated beliefs and attitudes alone” suggests, if true, that our organizations are more concerned with our organizations than the people served by those organizations.

          I see that as something to be repaired. As I read your proposal, it seemed to me that you accept this as a fact and choose to work with it, when it may be this propensity that undermines the communities they purport to serve, and which has so frustrated those who contribute of their fortunes and begin to feel as though “the system” rather than its Jewish values drives Jewish Philanthropy today. I would think that Job One woud not be to have a different type of organization, but to change our organizations so that they are:

          a) efficient: the effort to influence them achieves results in proportion to the effort
          b) influencable: they are designed to be influenced, not less than we are influenced by them.
          c) accessible; participation is not classified or limited by how much money you have or whether you are a leader. All that’s needed is a passion to give of yourself, to advance values that you share with other members of your community.
          d) truly represent our values in a way that is substantive, not merely formalistic

          The Organization is an outgrowth of these four principles in service of the values of the people in the organization. Else, the organization serves only to perpetuate its own existence, which as efficiently as it may do it, the evidence is that its leaving its constituents behind.

          If all organizations are about is efficient service delivery, those organizations shouldn’t be surprised if their clients treat their “communities” as service providers rather than “shareholder” operations, and leave when they can get better results for their effort/dollar (right? Only a quarter of Jewish foundation money goes to Israel and Jewish causes?).

          It seems to me that this paradigm shift is one of the key changes we as a Jewish community must make if we are to survive as a Jewish community. If the impression we give young Jews is that the intensity of their Jewish identity is primarily measured by whether they are “leaders” or by the heft of the thousands of dollars they donate every year to a Jewish rather than another charitable institution, we cannot seriously expect that this commerical-transaction-Judaism can be sustained. I don’t doubt that the money serves good causes, but Jewish identity is not just about spreading wealth – it’s about personal growth, about our relationship to other people and theirs to us, and about our ability to influence the world to be a better place. I’m convinced that Foundations rather than Federations are growing is because of this – people with the abiity to give want to feel that it is them, not just their money, that is important. And that those without money or leadership abilities remain nameless underscores the problem that we aren’t focused enough on individuals rather than organizations (the polls you refer to always serve organizational purposes, remember).

          I’ve rambled long enough. Good work, Gary – I look forward to seeing more contributions from you, and I hope you’ll find the two recommendations you need. You have a lot to offer our community! 🙂

        12. ARB says:


          As far as your letters of recommendation, I don’t think they have to be from someone working in Jewish communal service. I’m sure your wife and/or a friend(s) could vouch for you. After all the hard work you put in I would like to see your idea included as an official contest submission. Just a thought.

          Anti-Racist Blog

        13. Lauren T. says:

          Anti-semitism and anti-zionism are huge problems in academia across the world. I am interested to hear suggestions on how to tackle that problem.

        14. Gary Kulwin says:

          Wow! I am truly delghted by the response here. After feeling a little frustrated by the thought that my book proposal might never see the light of day, I decided to google “Bronfman contest” to see what other entrants were doing. This is how I discovered the “New Jew” blog this morning. I put up my one page “placeholder” website during my lunch break. Then, just before returning to work, I posted my comment on The New Jew blog, and discovered that a number of you have already read my proposal. In less than one day, I feel that my writing has achieved some real value. (Now I just have to find more Jewish continuity blogs to spread the “Hebrew Nation Gospel”…). 🙂

          Thanks to all of you who left kind comments. In particular, I deeply enjoyed reading Shai’s critique of the book proposal. Shai, there is so much I want to write, but alas it is almost my bedtime here in Florida! I plan to post my comments on my website, and link back here when I’m done (hopefully during the weekend). Thanks, in advance, for helping me think through much of what I’ve written.

          Indeed, I’m now thinking that I should take my “Hebrew Nation” proposal and turn it into the basis of a more comprehensive website. Do you think that this would work better as some sort of blog (where I write about different topics related to the core concept), as a wiki (where I start with some general structure of the book and gradually try to “fill in” the content), or as something else?

          Also, regarding ARB’s comments on the letters of recommendation: I think you may be right, and at this point I think that letters from almost anyone should fulfill the requirement. I have written to a couple of friends and asked for their help. On the other hand, I’m not sure what the real intent behind the requirement is – I assume that the Hornstein people want to somehow separate out the “serious” and “non-serious” proposals before they arrive on a set of finalists.

          I sincerely hope that the seriousness of each proposal will be based on the ideas in the written proposal itself, with the resume and recommendations playing a lesser role. Of course, I also understand the practical concerns; somebody with significant teaching and research experience will probably be best suited to fulfill the duties of a visiting professor.

          Anyway, goodnight and “chag sameach” (the last day I can write that, at least for a while). 😦

        15. thenewjew says:


          Your e-mail address tells me you are quite invested in the issues of anti-semitism and anti-racism yourself. What is your background?

          Interested to hear your thoughts on the upcoming Anti-Racist Blog’s proposal.


        16. thenewjew says:

          Dear Gary,

          So glad you are off to such a good start. I love your initiative in putting up a landing page for your contest idea at lunch and having hits by dinner. It’s so 2007. I am honored to be a conduit in advancing your idea and really look forward to the discussion resulting from the post that will come next week— although we’ve gotten off to a really strong start.

          I agree that if the contest legally requires you (and keep in mind– it is a legal requirement for them as well) to submit recommendations, just go for it. Don’t let something so small hold you back. You got the proposal in under deadline, so just fill in the missing link.

          From the recommendations and proposals I have read thus far, I can tell you that the most important thing someone can say about you is why you are “the right man for the job” and why, not that you are a devout member of your synagogue and daven twice a day (not to make any judgment on that at all, but that’s not what this contest is all about).

          On the subject of turning your landing page into a website– ahem, I would like to suggest a blog instead. You can see my post here on how to get started:


        17. PeteF says:

          Lots of great ideas!

        18. thenewjew says:

          No question, Peter.

          Stay tuned, they will all be featured this week. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

          Shavua Tov,


        19. Gary Kulwin says:

          Hi, Maya and Friends –

          Following in your footsteps, I have created a blog of my own:

          My initial comments to Shai’s Dec. 11 post are provided there.

          Happy Reading! GK

        20. […] A Quick Response To Shai (Part One) December 18, 2007 My proposal has already received some attention on Maya Norton’s “The New Jew” blog.  (Maya’s example, along with her words of encouragement, inspired me to create my own blog here.  Thanks, Maya!)  In particular, I received an excellent critique of my proposal from Shai.  You can read his comments, along with other comments, here. […]

        21. thenewjew says:

          Discussion here going on critical of the Bronfman contest (and the idea behind it)…

        22. […] Maya Norton at The New Jew discusses how a famous Jewish philanthropist, Charles Bronfman, is hosting a major contest to find the best “big idea” in Jewish communal innovation. […]

        23. […] we are deep into a discussion of Jewish identity, Israel, Zionism, and our Jewish future, I would like to introduce you to a […]

        24. […] Bronfman’s Brandeis contest for the next big idea in Jewish communal innovation (don’t tell me you haven’t heard of this one!) […]

        25. Theodore D, Kemper says:

          What a surprise to learn that the winner of the Bronfman competition is a local graduate student who, conveniently, is available to take a two-year visiting professorship on short notice. Unlike virtually all full-time faculty who could in no way have convinced their dean to allow them to shuffle off in this way for two years without applying for a leave of absence a year or more in advance. What a surprise, further, to learn that the winner has also participated in a Brandeis program and therefore must be known to someone or even many in the Brandeis community. And, would it surprise you if you learned that his idea was known to some in the Brandeis community even before the contest was announced? Given the kinds of networks that characterize academia, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. And, would you be shocked, shocked at the thought that the winner was known even before the contest was announced? It wouldn’t shock me, because that thought came to me upon reading the details of the contest and its odd reqirements and timing. (I cannot comment on the quality of the winner’s idea without reading the ideas that didn’t win. But, still….)

        26. Tzemach says:

          Somebody should have told me this was a competition for “small” ideas only.

        27. Tzemach says:

          Bronfmans can do what they what with the grants but obviously there are not doing anything to ignite the imagination of our people. The choice of the finalists and the winner is disappointing. They should have given this work to a private startup. It seem that PC universities are no longer capable of creative daring work and big ideas.

        28. Maya Norton says:

          Hi Tzemach,

          Of course no one but Brandeis can control the outcome of the contest, but you have an opportunity to share your thoughts here. I encourage you to do so if you are so inclined.

          Many of the proposals listed herein are very much big ideas. We have the opportunity to learn from there, converse with the authors, and go from there.

          I’m interested in hearing more about who or what you think is the best locale for creating “daring creative work and big ideas.” It’s a really important question.


        29. Tzemach says:

          Maya, by praising the winner(s) so lavishly you discredited your site.

        30. Maya Norton says:


          I do not believe that by highlighting Mr. Kurtzer’s name in red and marking him as the winner is lavish praise, only a means of identification.

          Mr. Kurtzer has been given the same high level of respect as every one of the contest applicants, whose ideas and courage to share them, I so admire.


        31. Dr.Martin Laskin says:

          First of all, wishing you a rfuah shlama. Did you receive my proposal that was submitted to the Bronfman competition? I e-mailed it to you last week along with a brief biography and photo. Just want to know if you got it, if you didn’t I will send it in again. Proposal was ‘Ha Olam Ha Zeh V’Ha Olam Ha ba. Thanks for all you are doing.

          All the best,

          Martin Laskin

        32. Maya Norton says:

          Dear Martin,

          I didn’t receive it, so I’m glad you followed up. You would have received a confirmation e-mail from me if I had.

          I’ve just sent you an e-mail and look forward to learning more about your ideas.

          Best regards,


        33. […] am thrilled to announce a new phase of the Big Idea Series. Thanks to Prof. Jonathan Sarna, Chair of the Bronfman-Brandeis Contest, I was able to invite all […]

        34. […] Big Idea Series: Second, you ask, what about the Big Ideas Series? My hope is to bring it back gradually. I will be in touch with each author who submitted a […]

        35. The Big Ideas Series: Introducing 13 Proposals for Jewish Communal Innovation (Phase One) | The New Jew

          […]These numbers additionally do not include cash advance fees, which can additional increase costs when funeral suppliers use third-party vendors.[…]

        36. The Big Ideas Series: Introducing 13 Proposals for Jewish Communal Innovation (Phase One) | The New Jew

          […]To assist with future monetary needs by offering a cash worth policy that adult youngsters can borrow against to pay for faculty, buy a home, and so forth.[…]

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