Bronfman Big Idea Series: Jewish Community Incubator (Shai Litt)

The Jewish Community Incubator

Shai Litt’s entry in the Charles Bronfman Brandeis Contest for the next big idea in Jewish communal innovation is the formation of a Jewish Community Incubator that will be based in Israel with satellite locations throughout the world.

This is the second post in the Bronfman Big Idea series.

About the Author

Jeremy (Shai) Litt is a landscape architect whose work focuses on large scale environmental rehabilitation projects for public and private clients in Israel. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Landscape Architecture and a Masters of Science in Real Estate Development and Investment.

Born and raised in the United States, Shai moved to Israel in 1996. He is married with four children, ages 10– 22.

What You Can Expect From This Post

This post is divided into four primary sections:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. The Jewish Community Incubator: Core Ideas– Jewish Activism Museum, Maggid Performance Troupe, Traveling Exhibition, Jewish Values Institute
  3. The Larger Vision
  4. Community Issues and Debates

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts and reactions on reading about this project idea.

1. Executive Summary

The Jewish Community Incubator’s (JCI) goal is that every Jew who visits gains a better understanding of their place in the Jewish community, a clearer perception of the obligations that are associated with belonging, and a heightened sense of mission and purpose.

Today, many Jews do not understand the significance of Jewishness and their part in the Jewish community. In general, Hebrew schools, museums, and academic curricula stress Jewish history, ethnicity, religious law, and culture. The JCI proposes a different institution– one that would stress Jewish values, their origin, and their relevance to living as Jews and Jewish communities in our modern societies, with the intent of demonstrating that there is a continuing value to being Jewish and to being part of the Jewish community.

Within a generation or two, the Jewish Community Incubator’s goal is to transform our community into one that sees our “Jewishness” in the quality of our commitments to shared Jewish values, enabling us to make our communities and the world a better place, while enriching our lives as individuals.

The Jewish Community Incubator: Core Ideas

The core components of the Jewish Community Incubator based in Israel are the:

  • Jewish Activism Museum
  • Maggid Performance Troupe
  • Traveling Exhibition
  • Jewish Values Institute

Keep reading for graphic representations of each of these below.

The Jewish Activism Museum

The Jewish Activism Museum will be a guided venue for teaching, exchanging ideas about, and illustrating the values that have shaped the Jewish people over time. The Museum will be imbued with a spirit in which Jewish values will be a substantive basis for retaining and building Jewish communal identity in the Common Era.

The Museum will focus on examples of how Jewish values and “Derech Eretz” (personal comportment) developed in four major historical periods of Judaism, and how they telescope into each other to form a basis for value-based action today. Guides will accompany visitors to engage them in discovering personal meaning from our Tradition and to help them develop personal mission statements based on their strengths and interests.

A primary component of the Museum will be the “Fifth Tier,” which consists of thousands of value-referenced practical examples of real people and real projects showing how the Jewish values learned in the four historical periods are manifested in our actions and sensibilities. This tier will be reproduced through satellites sites of the Museum, to be built in cities around the world with large Jewish populations.

Maggid Performance Troupe

One pedagogical tool for engaging visitors in the process of developing Jewish values for themselves and our community as a whole is the Maggid Performance Troupe. With a repertoire of approximately 100 vignettes, the Troupe utilizes a pedagogical method that is a cross between the Tana’aitic debates of 2,000 years ago and the Yiddish theater to draw visitors into the questions of applied ethics that sharpen the meaning and common vocabulary of Jewish values.

Traveling Exhibition

Another tool is the Traveling Exhibition, a double length bendable bus and “moving billboard” containing components of the Maggid Performance Troupe and the Museum that travels to Jewish communities, institutions, and schools that do not have easy access to the Museum or one of its satellites.

Jewish Values Institute

The Jewish Values Institute will be the research and development arm of the Jewish Community Incubator. Its physical facilities will house a library, classroom, and research lab where staff will prepare Jewish publications and media advancing the mission of the Incubator.

The primary objectives of the Jewish Values Institute are:

  • Programming for strengthening values-based Jewish identity
  • Facilitating dialogue about how a state can be both Jewish and democratic in a sovereign Jewish community
  • Organizing events to promote the Museum’s priorities, as reflected through its exhibits and programming
  • Creating and making accessible classes through the media of the internet for distance based learning in Diaspora communities (materials would be designed with sensitivities to sight and hearing impaired populations as well as the able-bodied)
  • Initiating programs for strengthening values-based Jewish identity and values-based communal expression for college aged youth and Birthright participants
  • Assisting Jewish federations in the Diaspora with values based action projects for the Jewish Community Incubators satellite sites
  • Nominating and honoring Mitzvah Heroes (an idea developed by Danny Siegel of the Ziv Charitable Fund), whose actions have made a significant difference in promoting the Jewish community

One of the central ideas of the Jewish Values Institute is a volunteer activism program called “Ten-4.” The program would be based on a ripple effect modality in which 10 groups of 10 community representatives are taught and trained in methods of advancing Jewish values utilizing the resources of the Incubator, and they in turn teach ten more groups of ten– a total of 10,000 emissaries drawn from communities around the world.

Click on the video to see how these ideas would be physically manifested.

The Larger Vision

The Jewish Community Incubator proposes the collective cultural and traditional wisdom of the Jews as a basis for building our communities. It would draw on ideas about Jewish community that can be inferred from our traditional sources, and respond as well to criticisms of modern societies by social philosophers of our time, with the objective of developing an all-encompassing social milieu that is responsive to the challenges of providing an enriching community life in a world of fragmented, a la carte alternatives.

The Jewish Community Incubator would utilize four approaches to actualize this vision.

  1. Develop and make explicit a set of values that we as a community identify as “Jewish” (this task belongs to the Jewish Values Institute, as well as each one of us– the freedom to chose Jewish values is what gives Jewish values worth)
  2. Teach and live the values by developing a common “Jewish vocabulary” of words, thoughts, and historical background that act as a catalyst for action in our community, thereby developing our community’s common ground and sharpening our skills in defining that ground
  3. Provide a values-based context for the strengthening of organizations, such as Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), Federations, synagogues, Jewish clubs, camps, study groups, and day schools. By sharing common values and goals, we achieve not only the result of common efforts, but we also build a community in the process
  4. Reduce organizational barriers to achieving the above mentioned objectives by ensuring that the four factors that ensure good community are in place:
  • Accessibility: participation in community life cannot be limited by how much money you have or whether you are a leader, a community professional, an academic, or take another role in the Jewish community. All that ought to be required is a passion to give yourself and advance the values you share with other members of your community. Your worth as a community member is measured by your commitment to the community’s values
  • Influence: institutions are designed to influence, as well as to be influenced
  • Efficiency: the effort to influence would achieve results in proportion to the effort expended
  • Values: the values of the community are substantive, not merely formalistic, and are sufficiently shared by the community to form a basis for community identity and sustainability

To use computers as a metaphor, the Jewish Community Incubator is a new, intuitive, user-friendly interface for Judaism and Jewish communities that:

  • Focuses on the importance of applications (deeds, mitzvot) as the essential purpose of the operating system platform (religion), and as a counterpoint to those whose predisposition is to focus almost exclusively on hardware and software specifications
  • Does not require prior knowledge of DOS, Vista, UNIX, or Leopard operating systems (religious education or Hebrew) in order to gain functional proficiency and earn a place within the user community
  • Permits users who are not part of existing Macintosh/IMB distribution networks (religious streams) to gain access to the power of the applications on terms better suited to their inclinations and budgets (their personal strengths and missions). Savvy computer users or those new to computers can become part of a broader user community by “mass customizing” their computers to “markets of one.” Once in the community, if their needs change, there will always be time to learn DOS and the other graphic interfaces, as well as to get a prepackaged computer from one of the distribution networks
Community Issues and Debates: Why Be Jewish? Why Be Part of the Jewish Community?

Jewish values span the distance between anachronistic approaches to Jewishness and traditionalistic approaches, by supplementing rather than supplanting both individuality and religion. JCI provides a non-denominational, common umbrella under which all Jews, irrespective of traditional outlook, can without coercion unite as a community.

We live in an era where Jews have the mistaken impression that our values are universal and “Judeo-Christian,” and that the message our community can give to society therefore does not add any unique value above what we consider universal values.

MTV-type media influences affect our self-image more than any form of media did for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. The sense that we have no unique ideological message then combines with an increasingly diluted or undefined Jewish “cultural” flavor to ravage the sense of identity we once gained from the venues that were our community institutions. Our institutions have become “just another place” to deliver services– and our heritage, culture and ideology “just another” of a wide variety of options.

In such a circumstance, when there is nothing distinctive about Jewishness ideologically or socially, we must ask ourselves, “Why be Jewish?” That the answer has not been clearly articulated underscores that our community has failed to understand itself and the importance of its continued existence. It is an indication of our community’s health that no answer exists.

Why Be Jewish? The Jewish Community Incubator’s Response–
The Jewish Community Incubator sharpens the definition of Jewishesness by teaching the substance of our values that are not utilitarian-based. They are shaped by synthesis and evaluation of competing claims that fold humane and Jewish sensibilities into the development of our communal mores. In the process of reclaiming our Jewish heritage for ourselves, a heritage based on Jewish values, the Jewish Community Incubator will reintroduce Jewish content into our lives and our institutions’ lives, thus enriching both.

We will provide a sense of community in an age of opportunity and options by showing how “community” contributes to living a good, meaningful life, and how Jewish communities can contribute to the societies they are a part of. Consequently, with time Jews will see greater value in maintaining our communities than abandoning them, and even those who at first do not see the personal gain to be had in investing in Jewish communities will later, after the benefits become clearer.

Inspirational Ideas on Creating and Enabling Community: Hayek and Mannheim–
The Jewish Community Incubator also addresses the claims that Friedrich von Hayek had (The Road to Serfdom, 1944) against Karl Mannheim’s theory in Diagnosis of Our Time (1943). Mannheim’s ideas are a precursor to the philosophical approach the JCI proposes. Mannheim claimed that good communities do not destroy personal freedom, they enhance it. Freedoms are maintained because they are informed by an “awareness” that the best of science and religion contributes to. Confronting life and becoming educated about it allows us to benefit from it, according to Mannheim. Community institutions should enable this paradigm.

Hayek countered by claiming that no “awareness” could offset the unpredictability of “the invisible hand” of motivations that determine whether efforts succeed. He claimed it is not in the modern era’s nature of thinking people to agree to be part of a group or to accept values other than their own. Lastly, and perhaps most damning of his claims about human nature, Hayek claimed that it is easier to get people to agree to what they do not want than it is to achieve agreement about what they do want.

Conclusion: Choosing to Be Jewish in a Jewish Community

The Jewish Community Incubator sits at the nexus between the argument between the “shareholder” approach of Mannheim and the “consumerist” approach of Hayek that predominates today. The question at the center of their debate about communities is, “Do we have a choice?” Are we destined to be a tempest tossed by the sum of self-interested actions, or are there efforts we can make to harness the tempest and salvage community from it?

Jews Today Have Three Options–
Jews have three options today. Those who are like Hayek would say that the time for change has passed, that our only real option is riding a deterministic wave. Any effort to save the Jewish community is pointless either because “community” is outmoded, and perhaps because Judaism is also outmoded.

The second option is to “rearrange the deck chairs.” We can paper over the shortcomings that are ravaging communities everywhere, shift our institutional weight to the other foot, make pronouncements, claim successes, become more “efficient,” elect “new leaders,” and all the things we have been doing and little else. We can, in a word, become better “consumers” of community. This is not very different from the first option.

The best choice is the last option. We should take Mannheim’s approach and embrace the richness of our Jewish communal tradition, eschewing the havoc of consumersist determinism. We must seek to turn the tide by rebuilding our communities, rebuilding ourselves, and in the process become better contributing shareholders of our community, our societies, and our world.

Component Image
Jewish Community Incubator— Overall View of Conceptual Site JewishActivismMuseum
Jewish Community Incubator— Overall View of Conceptual Site (broader view) JewishCommunityIncubator BroadView
Entrance to Jewish Activism Museum JCI MuseumEntrance
View of the Jewish Activism Museum (with “Sky’s the Limit” ceiling and five tiers) JewishActivismMuseum
View of the Maggid Performance Troupe Theater MaggidPerformanceTroupe Theater
Traveling Exhibition Bus TravelingExhibitionBus
Jewish Values Institute Building (bridge leading from Jewish Activism Museum) JewishValuesInstitute
Temporary Exhibit Building with gift center, themed restaurant, and gathering space JCI TemporaryExhibitHall

Curriculum Ideas

The Bronfman Contest also asks applicants to submit ideas for classes they would like to teach.

Shai Litt’s course would be called Innovating Jewish Communities and would center around the following questions:

  • What is a community?
  • How do community institutions contribute to and inhibit Jewish life?
  • How can community resources serve to enhance sustainable Jewish community?
  • How can we creatively enhance our communities?
  • How do our attitudes about community shape our institutions, and how do our institutions shape us?

Here is a book list of recommended reading to learn more about the ideas discussed in this proposal, including some that would be taught in the course.

More information is available upon request.

Your Contribution

So what do you think of these ideas? Are they valuable? How could these plans be further developed to meet your needs more fully? What are your reactions and thoughts?

We can’t wait to hear your comments.

Recommended Reading

Bronfman Big Idea Series, Proposal One: “Using the Internet to Fight Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in Higher Education” by the author of the Anti-Racist Blog and Stop Campus Hate.



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38 Responses to Bronfman Big Idea Series: Jewish Community Incubator (Shai Litt)

  1. Dasani P. says:

    I think this is a very interesting idea. Great looking building too. However, I was left with some major questions.

    First, I couldn’t help but feel like the proposal is lacking in specifics. What will this center, performance group, museum, and classes do to achieve the goals you stated? How will the specific parts be implemented? For example, what will the performance troupe do? Without knowing about lesson plans, teaching agenda, programs, scripts, etc., it is hard to grasp the full extent of this proposal. Can you provide more specifics?

    Second, the proposed building, while beautiful, seem like it would cost millions of dollars. Additional start-up costs would include hiring the performance group, teachers, educators, actors, land (in Israel and in the satellite locations), security, etc. Would Bronfman be the one footing the bill for the infrastructure? Would you need to construct the building, and spend money for the other expenses before any of your goals could be achieved? It just seems like the start-up costs are enormous, and not feasible within the 2-year time period.

    Third, don’t you think that many Jewish values” are universal, as opposed to only being for Jews? If there was such a list of Jewish values, who would compile that list? Is that something that needs to be done?

    Fourth, would you have a bendable promotional bus in Israel, and other busses elsewhere? It would seem to be a bit much to ship one bus to other countries, so you would need multiple busses. Are busses the best way to advertise?

    Fifth, a museum in Israel is a good idea, but that limits the number of people who can visit it. Many Jews never make it to Israel, and those that do go don’t always have time (nor would they necessarily want to) spend time in another museum. How about putting the museum online in addition to the one in Israel.

    Sixth, Can you explain how the satellite museums would work. What cities would they be built in, how much would that cost, etc…

    All in all I think this is a very interesting proposal. You obviously spent lots of time on it. I would just like to hear some more detail.

  2. Shai says:

    Dasani P, thanks for your response. The replies are as follows:
    1) The presentation lacks specifics because I’m presenting the “big idea” at this point. For now I’ll address those you raised, but I’ll have to beg your pardon if I leave the very specific specifics to the idea development stage that can occur once funding is in place.

    The project will take between 5 and 7 years to complete. The repertoire for the performance troupe and the curricula for the learning center can be prepared within the first 2 to 3 years of this period, and after the curriculum is prepared we can begin with the training of the ten-4 group. What the curricula and repertoire consists of specifically is a bit much to ask – the contest was only announced in mid October, after all, but the point of both is to, as the submission states, to teach how “four major historical periods of Judaism…form a basis for value-based action today” and to ” engage Jews in discovering personal meaning from our Tradition and to help them develop personal mission statements based on their strengths and interests”. The idea is iterative, using the curriculum and the performances to teach both community values, and to help each person find their own place within that context.

    2) Following are the cost figures, and a bit more info taken froma market analysis for the Museum.

    • Location: Modiin (proposed), 4.25 acres (17.5 dunams)
    • Cost: Modiin — $35 million including $7 million endowment fund; Diaspora sites — $6 million (costs exclude price of land).
    • Annual Visitation to the Israeli site: 460,000 visitors per year (290,000 from local visitation, the remainder from the Diaspora) with 345,000 breakeven
    • Entry fees: 25 NIS for non-adults, 40 NIS for adults.
    Note that the 2 year time period for the contest is NOT to build the project. As I said, that’d take much longer. The 2 years is only to write a first draft of a book that explains the idea, with a 3rd year to get the book published. Ideally, this 2 year period would run in parallel with the 5-7 years I described above.

    3) This is a good question, because from a utilitarian perspective it appears that many Jewish values are universal. However, Jewish values are much more than utilitarian in their approach. Just one example is the universal value of human life. Because of the basis for that value in Judaism, Jews frequently have different approaches than other cultures would regarding when teh value of life conflicts with other values. For example, capital punishment, abortion rights, self-defense, whether you can tell a lie to save a life, etc. Referring back to your previous question, one of the tasks of the Incubator (its curriculum and theater repertoire, as well as the Museum exhibits) is to give all Jews who wish to be part of a Jewish communithy the shared vocabulary of insights, history, sensibilities and casuistric background to enable them to see that the universalistic aspects of Jewish values only scratch the surface of what Jewish values mean in a Jewish community context.

    4) One bendable bus would be in Israel. There would be others at locations of the satellites. No, busses aren’t the best way to advertise – it’s but one way to advertise, and I think that a moving museum could be quite eye-catching – it’s a non-costly way to advertise.

    5) As the submission described the 5th Tier of the Museum would be replicated (with modifications for local flavor) in cities with major Jewish populations. For those who can’t easily get to teh Museum, the traveling exhibit will be able to serve some of those needs. As far as the internet, I wrote that the JVI would be involved in “Creating and making accessible classes through the media of the internet for distance based learning in Diaspora communities (materials would be designed with sensitivities to sight and hearing impaired populations as well as the able-bodied)”. This content would help, of course. But I want to be clear that the internet, I think, is over-rated as a tool of community building. It is a tool of communiities that are built. The same way that we don’t get advanced degrees from reputable universities by watching video tapes of lectures and having no direct interaction with the teachers and other students as part of a learning community, I don’t feel that an internet experience can match what the Incubator can provide. I wrote that “Guides will accompany visitors to engage them in discovering personal meaning from our Tradition and to help them develop personal mission statements based on their strengths and interests.” It seems to me that there is no equivalent to the hands on approach that I’m proposing here – one that challenges each person to figure out what it is that bothers him about the world, what his strengths are for dealing with it, and helping him build a personal mission within a Jewish values context for making the world and himself a better place. I think you need personal contact for that, and a trained staff that can help that happen.

    6) The costs I dealt with above. Essentially they would be built in any city with a Jewish population worldwide that believes it would benefit from such a facility. It consists of the 5th Tier, which I described in the submission as containing “thousands of value-referenced practical examples of real people and real projects showing how the Jewish values learned in the four historical periods are manifested in our actions and sensibilities. ”

    The facility would consist of 5 segments that “telescope” within each other, representing 5 periods;

    *Biblical Times until the First Temple period (featuring, for example, the themes of commonality of mankind with Adam, the value of man and protest with Avraham and Noach, and Yonah at Ninveh);
    *the First Temple to the Second Temple Period (featuring, for example, the prophets Amos, Hoshea and Yirmiyahu as well as the division of powers and creation of “community” under the reign of Yoshiyahu);
    *the Second Temple Period until the Emancipation (featuring the later prophets, the Tanna’im, Rishonim and Achronim);
    *the Emancipation until 10 years ago (featuring actions and thought from Rav Kook and Samuel Gompers to Karl Marx and Rene Cassin, showing how thoughts and world-changing actions of Jews from disparate backgrounds have had their foundation in the previous 3 historical periods);
    * and the 5th tier, 10 years ago until today (featuring “Mitzvah Heroes”, the projects and personal virtues that illustrate the values we as Jews stand for, and ought to incorporate in our lives). Guides accompanying each exhibit transform the exhibits from a frontal pedagogical presentation to a living, active experience by engaging visitors in discovering personal meaning from our Tradition, and to help them develop their personal “mission statements”.

    Thank you for your detailed comments – I look forward to answering any further questions you might have.

  3. thenewjew says:

    Great questions, Dasani.

    I can tell you that Shai and I worked very hard to be able to describe the core ideas of the Jewish Community Incubator in a way that was manageable and practical for a blog entry (even a long one).

    You touch on many of the same questions that I had when I first learned of the idea and I am really glad that you are asking them as Shai is a man with a very detailed plan that, as you can see, he is happy to share.

    I look forward to hearing your reaction and to your follow up questions, if you have any.

    Happy New Year,


  4. sigal marelly says:

    please have it in hebrew

  5. Shai says:

    By way of further detail on two of the elements (the curricula and the Maggid repertoire), I can’t yet offer scripts or specific lesson plans (not just for lack of time, but I am not expert in such things), but here are some details that might help understand the vision (I’ll also provide some details on the 10-4):

    Educational vision:

    The primary approach the Incubator takes with regard to Jewish Values is to provide the tools, and allow the visitors to use them. The “tools” are mostly in the form of story vignettes or examples or discussions from the gemarah or writings of Jews post-Emancipation that discuss various perspectives on Jewish values, or show how in each situation the challenge of parsing the choices (usually choices between one or more value) were made and why, and what the results were. There will also be a series of vignettes dealing with personal comportment such as matters of patience, tolerance, honor, etc.

    Key to the approach is to allow each person to do their own heavy lifting – to carefully consider the evidence, the “frameworks” provided for dealing with the problem, and to make their own choices about what their values, and the community’s values, should be based on the common “vocabulary” learned there. In the process it is intended that as a community we will become more focused on the substance of our values, rather than the mere formalism or utility of them. Only by doing this can we use common values as a foundation for uniting as a Jewish community, dedicated in our common actions to achieving common goals. And on a personal level, only by seeking the substance in our actions can we utilize communities as a fount for personal growth.

    This is not a place where anybody is going to get a “psak halacha” (legal decision) about what correct belief should be. In fact, it’s going to be hard for many Jews to realize that Jewish Values can shape their lives even though they have no commitment to halacha at all. Rather, it’s a place where Jews learn how to build the substance of a meaningful life by making choices. Indeed, I claim (I’m sure I’m not alone) that it is the process of wrestling with the choices, examining the frameworks and acting that is an especially Jewish way of approaching values. We grab both horns of a problem and don’t let go of either – we tend more to synthesize than see values as either/or propositions. For example, the idea of an invisible G-d that is ever present. Or the idea of a Jewish and Democratic state. Or the idea of chosenness while believing in universal human rights, and the idea of crafting a basis for community based both on Peoplehood as well as Religion. We are not binary thinkers, we are concept synthesizers on the whole and this a large part of why the “flavor” of the Jewish value system is so fascinating.

    But at the same time, it’s not without effort. It’s a “thinking-persons” approach to community building. Yes, one can pass over the thinking part and immerse one’s self in the “actions” of the 5th tier – this is possible, and for those who can’t do more it’s encouraged to do this. But for those who need a reason to be Jews, the introduction to the richness of Jewish values, and the Jewish community as a container for these values, is a project with a lifetime of rewards, if only we will be wise enough to see the potential within it and grasp onto it.

    The curricula used to teach the 10-4 group will be based on the above vision. The Ten-4 will be taught how to teach “Jewish values” using the resources of the Incubator.

    Maggid repertoire:

    Consists of approximately 100 performances of 7-15 minutes each, followed by discussion periods of 10-15 minutes. The peformances should cycle through about once per month or so.

    The performances run throughout the day, and are divided into a content and audience matrix. This means that just as there are different audiences by age, knowledge, experience, there ought to be different ways of approaching them “where they are at”. It’d be pointless to make all this effort and “speak over their heads”. The next aspect of the matrix is content oriented. As visitors go through the museum, by the time they get to the 5th tier they often will have a good idea about the value issues that fascinate them, and upon which they are motivated to act. Some of the exhibits are interactive and will give notice to the actors which issues are “hot”. The audience will get to choose together with the troupe which issues they’d like to “explore”, and the troupe will perform a “casuistry play” to bring the issue to the fore.

    The point of the play is not to be offensive – it’s to be thought-provoking. People who come to the performance with their minds made up will be asked to open them, as they will be given exposure to all sides of the debate. The play ends with a discussion period where the audience is asked to decide how, based on the vocabulary of Jewish values they learned, they choose to incorporate what they learned into their lives. They will have an opportunity to pursuade each other. Preferably, what they will have learned will lead them to act. That we will be acting as a People based on a common set of values anda common value-vocabulary is the basis for rebuilding our community.

    Of course, this is no ordinary acting, nor is the Museum ordinary. I expect that the participants in the 10-4, the guides in the Museum, and the actors will not be ordinary persons but rather in terms of their commitment to the values of our community, they will be extra-ordinary in their patience, love of their fellow Jew, and care about the future of our People.

    I mentioned in a previous comment that we can expect the curriculum and repertoire to be finished after 2-3 years, after which the 10-4 will be taught in teh expectation that after the 5-7 year incubation period of the Museum is finished, all the facilities will be ready to “hit the common-ground running”. In theory, some of the facilities can get started sooner, especially the Maggid troupe and the mobile exhibition. It’s really a matter of timing and funding, and I expect that the funding will come from diverse sources rather than a single one.

    One last important point – language. How, you may ask, am I going to deal with all the different languages?

    The peformance troupe will perform in accord with the language of the host facility. In Israel, that would be Hebrew, but it’s likely that certain of the vignettes that are especially topical to English speakers will be translated into English, and the discussion periods will be in English as well when the audiences are English speaking. Same in theory could be true for French speaking, but I’m not sure it’s necessary as usually the French speaking Jews have some knowledge of Hebrew. In any case, there will be transponders for the performance part of the play that will translate the performance into a number of languages.

    Displays will be in Hebrew, Russian and English, with display-oriented transponders to offer translations in Amharic, Yiddish, German, Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese as well. Displays will also have summaries in Braille for the use of the blind, and video transponders with sign language will be provided for deaf patrons. The way I envision it, this will be possible because most of the displays, especially those on the 5th tier, will be a form of computer screen matrix that allows each viewer to change the display for his language. This is a technical matter that I’ll have to work out later – but it represents my intent that all Jews should have accessibility to their community, and language shouldn’t be a barrier.

    The 10-4

    The population of “emissaries” of the Incubator will likely be drawn from the population of Hebrew School and Day School teachers, Principles, Student and Campus Activists, Day Camp Managers, Rabbis and Cantors, fired-up Birthright grads, though criteria for participation open it to all Jews. A total of 10,000, or a ratio of approximately 1 person per 1000 Jews (see Shmot (Exodus), Parshat Yitro, Chapter 18 v. 21), “leaders of thousands” will result, and the selected for the program will be chosen with that ratio in mind. For example, a community of 6000 Jews will have 6 delegates.

    The objective of the voluntary 10-4 group is to increase the face-to-face involvement of the individual Jew and Jewish family with their community. It is also to reconnotate the meaning of the word “religion” to include the broadly cultural approach to values that Judaism incorporates, an approach that will be more tenable to the unaffiliated. It’s a pity that words like “mitzvah” or so misunderstood, and connoted as if they were coercive. I can see part of the approach of the Museum changing those connotations – imagine t-shirts with the folowing on them: “Just Do It…Better”; “Je-Wish for a Better World”; “Judaism 5768: 6,453,628,000 served”; “Judaism: Making Better Worlds for 3 Millennia”; “Judaism: Ask What YOU Can Do”; “If not now, when? If I am only for myself, what am I?”; “No Stream, Just Jewish”; “Jews for JCI: WE can do it!”

    Currently, the primary face of the community is via a rabbinical figure or the person taking care of the towels at the locker room of the JCC for many Jews. I’m looking for something more substantive and non-demonational for those who are looking for that, and this idea is the one I came up with to do that. If anybody has specific questions about that, I’ll be happy to fill in the details.

    I’ll close with a parting comment. I am a Jew – I was not born into a halachic way of life, though I am part of that community today. I have some insight into where I’ve been, where I am and why I think we all need to be going to the same place in order to survive as a community. The last thing I wish to do, having travelled as far as I have, is to give anybody the impression that I’ve got all the answers. I don’t. I’d like to build this facility as much for myself as for us all. I am also grasping for the ideal, but I see it nowhere. I hope I will have many comrades who share this search with me. It is for us fellow searchers that I propose this idea. I hope it meets with your approval, and especially, I hope to get input on how I can make it better and more suited to your needs.

  6. Shai says:

    Sigal, hi

    Yes, Hebrew will be coming soon. Before I go through the effort to do so, I am trying revise the content in English (my mother tongue) so that the idea will be conveyed as clearly as possible. I’ve found it very difficult to do as you can see in only 5 pages! 🙂

  7. Shai says:

    The above article is about Limmud. Maya, it might be useful for a post of its own.

    The article appeared in today’s Jerusalem Post. I think Limmud is an excellent example of the direction we need to go to fulfil the guidelines of the contest, “the next big idea since birthright/taglit that changes the way Jews think about themselves and their community”. While I like what they’re doing at Limmud, I want to comment about the critical difference between their approach and my own, in the hope that it will make my own proposal clearer and more understandable.

    Limmud does not go far enough regarding the “community” aspect of the Bronfman challenge, though it goes quite far regarding the “think about themselves”.

    The article describes the individualization of Judaism, a Judaism that has as its feature taking what suits you, a la carte. It describes as well a type of personalized Judaism. So far so good. But that has to find a context in “community” in order for the edifice of individuation to be sustainable for generations. The young women and men will one day be parents and leaders of our institutions. Will they have the vision needed to make of the personalization they seek a “community”?

    There has to be thought given to how each of these persons fits into a Jewish community if “Jewish community” is to have any meaning. Limmud could be said to be a community dedicated to the value of personalized Judaism, whatever that means at any particular time and culture. But there are competing values to this, and it’s worth asking the question whether all of them have been assimilated into the Limmud solution.

    My critique of that absence in an otherwise good approach, and what I hope to combat with my proposal, is the “consumerization” of community and Judaism. It is my view that consumers do not have any “stake” in what they consume, in the sense that one has a stake in a community. I wish to replace consumerism with “shareholding”, the way one might feel a sense of obligation to a family business even when the competition is offering a better price on what your business sells.

    The objective of my proposal is to create a Jewish population that, as I stated in the proposal, will see greater value in building their community (family business) into a better one than abandoning it for something that, at that moment, is more suitable to their personal needs. The proposal takes a long-view, rather than a short “personalized” one, and expects an answer to the question regarding the basis upon which we can build sustainable communities (those that last for generations). Of course for this to happen I’ve explictly said what our institutions have to permit (accessibility, influenceability, ec.).

    My unstated assumptions here are that we as human beings are hard-wired for “community” as contexts for personal growth. Also unstated but now stated is the assumption that to the degree we are seen as whole persons rather than fragmented ones, our person-hood is enhanced. For this to happen, I see communities as the means to the end – that we need to establish a social milieu within which members are familiar with other members in all their complexity (as much as feasible), not just in specific roles (father, philanthropist, butcher, etc.). This requires more restructuring than my proposal can provide, but a realignment according to Jewish values will grease the skids for that to happen. Lastly, I believe that “community” is not as described in the article, something that only makes “demands”, it’s something that has the seed of enriched personal growth within it. True, our institutions now may not offer that. But the solution is to fix them. These Jews in the article are merely addressing the world as they found it – there’s no blame in that. I believe that if we are to sustain Jewish community, though, we need to find a type of community that has the potential to engage these Jews and make of them a “community”.

    It is that mission that the Jewish Community Incubator is dedicated.

  8. Lee says:

    Hi Maya and Shai,

    First of all, I’ve enjoyed following your blog since I discovered it!

    And to the proposal itself:
    It occurs to me that Jewish communities all over the world and the Ministry of Ed in Israel are busy providing answers to the questions you pose re Jewish values. So the idea of centralizing it, or having an idea bank could be beneficial. However, I–and I hope you too–don’t mean centralize as “dictate”. So why do you need a scholarly institute? The way I see it, we all have values and they’re all valid. Let’s NOT spend money on creating authority figures and then a building place to house them.

    Another issue is that of community-a concept that I value and I agree that it provides a long-term approach. Still, what kind of community will appeal to the secular Jewish population in Israel? Think about it. A great attraction for this segment is the luxury of forgetting that they’re Jewish! I say this in the “non-persecuted” sense of forgetting. And they really devote minimal tme to these issues and they’re proud of not needing to belong to a community. How will you attract them?

    To me, living in Israel, it is essential that the issue of values permeate into society at large (pls see my post of Dec 24). Too many kids in Israel today (probably most of these do not belong to any sort of community –[see, I told you I agree]) don’t believe they can make a difference in society and don’t see why they should try. That is, the term “society” here (geographically) is a shadow of its former and truer self, because people feel that they’re randomly wandering within society without being PART of it. So it’s vitally important to connect the secular population with values, in my opinion. You suggest that “community” is the answer , and if so, I want to know the answer to my previous question: how will your Jewish community approach draw in the secular Jews in Israel?

    Finally, in my opinion, a performance troup, or more specifically, engaging learners in preparing a performance, is an excellent tool for learning and internalizing.

  9. Lee says:


    The website isn’t automatically published with the comment:

  10. TO says:

    I am wondering how set you are on the particular building you propose? How about a smaller one, that can be constructed more quickly, and at a cheaper cost?

    For example, you could just as easily have one hallway that covers the periods you describe, rather than multiple floors. The building is beautiful, but don’t you want your project that have an impact sooner rather than later, and don’t you think the lower the cost is the more likely you will find someone to fund your idea?

  11. TO says:


    I am also wondering why you think your idea is so essential? Why do you think the jewish community, which has existed for thousands of years, needs the project you propose to survive?

  12. thenewjew says:

    Hi TO,

    Thanks for your comment, but I think Shai is pretty clear about why he thinks the Jewish Community Incubator idea is so important in his proposal. Maybe you could change the way you ask the question to help us better address what you’re thinking about?

    Happy 2008,


  13. thenewjew says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for the link. The website URL shows when you move your mouse over your name.

    To my readers: go check out Lee’s great blog.


  14. thenewjew says:

    Thanks for the link, Shai. I think Limmud is an organization we are going to be hearing more and more about. I’ll certainly come back and write about it in the future.


  15. Shai says:

    Lee, thanks for your comment.

    JCI is not a scholarly institute. JVI is. Most people will interface with JCI. To illustrate, JCI is the “Disneyworld”, and JVI is “Imagineering”. The former exists because of the creativity and vision of the latter, but most visitors to the former never see the latter.

    That geographically there is a center for this project does not imply “centralizing”. The opposite, the idea requires spreading the facilities (satellites) throughout the world, accompanied by delegates at a 1:1000 ratio. It requires people walking away from the facility with a mission that they can implement in their community, not on the grounds of the facility. If anything, this is a “decentralization” project – using the concepts of “mass customization” and “markets of one”.

    To my way of thinking, “communities” are groups of people who work together to advance common values. I don’t see Jewish values as something that can be dictated, and even if it could be dictated, there being no choice about accepting them or ability to influence them would completely defeat the purpose for which I believe communities serve best, and that’s helping each person to live a more enriching, meaningful life. Also, asking about what kinds of communities will appeal to seculars ignores that “community” as an institution has been severely weakened in all modern socieities, not just Jewish society. We are not alone with this problem. But I feel that we are in a unique position to recover “community” because we have a solid cultural basis for values education that, if properly approached, will cause communities to develop that enrich indidvidual liberty and choice, rather than proscribe it.

    Jewish values are as much about the process than the goal – grinding competing values together and distilling an approach or a set of sensibilities about how to move forward. For this reason, too, “dictating” misses the point, because it only relates to the end point and not the process of synthesizing. Through doing our own “heavy lifting” as I’ve said before, we earn our place within our community and enrich our lives through the process of reflection and action through our shared values. No, for sure any “dictation” of values would be pointless.

    If the Ministry of Education has made values education an objective of theirs, they haven’t done an adequate job of it. I think you allude to your agreement with this assessment in your description of the apathy of Israeli youth. I don’t think the M of E so sanguine as to believe that they’ve got the problem of manners, tolerance, personal comportment, morals, etc. under control. Rabbi MK Melchior is doing good work to try and turn things around, but I don’t think an hour a week in 10th grade or something similar can come close to what’s needed. The facility I’m describing is designed to be an adjunct to the school system, specializing in “values education”. And it’s targeted to much greater audiences than school age children, too. It is my view that this is something that the Ministry of Education can integrate into its curricula, and it will be welcomed. Regarding that other communities are involved with this, yes, I’ve seen discussions – but very little in terms of a “big idea” of any sort, and the values are usually couched in terms of “citizenship” or “social justice” and the like – not in the broader context of community building per se. The objective is to use common values as a means to build communities and people. Most of the approaches til now that I’ve seen take community for granted, as if it’s merely the sum of individuals. It’s not.

    As a person who lives in Israel as well, with children in the “system” and who has spoken to many who have children in the system, there is definitely a desire amongst secular and traditional Jews to have some connection with Jewish wisdom without having to commit to a religious affiliation or orthodoxy (the idea of a “correct belief”). This Incubator speaks to them clearly, in their language, and allows them to make their own decisios. I merely offer a venue for offering a vocabulary – how they make the sentences with that vocabulary is largely up to them – but I propose that “communities” share “vocabularies”. As of now, we don’t really share vocabularies. JCI will hopefully change that. I’d like to know how what I’ve written gave any other message than this – please let me know what I need to make clearer. Anyway, it is especially the secular community in Israel that is looking for something like this – I wouldn’t characterize them as a class as “wanting to forget” about their Jewishness. I’d divide them into 2 groups:

    1) A group that wishes to have some connection to Jewishness and Jewish identity – you see these, for example, in the secular gemarah study groups. I estimate this as about 50% of secular Jews.

    2a) A group like you describe – uninterested in thinking about anything too deep, looking for an American or EU passport, just biding the time before they can disappear amongst the great unwashed (estimated at 20%) and
    2b) Those who appear like 2a, but would definitely be more like group 1 if a reasonable offering that wasn’t patronizing was offered. They won’t work for it themselves, but they’d fall into place and desire to raise their children within such a network if it were available (estimated at 30%).

    I’ve interviewed about 40 secular Jews regarding the question, and the above is based on those interviews.

    What’s interesting is one man I spoke to who said he hopes my idea fails. Why? Because he said it’s against his socialist values. Government should take care of all citizen needs. The idea that people can take upon themselves community projects merely permits government to shirk its responsibility. My idea, he said, was “too American”. 🙂

  16. Shai says:

    TO, thanks for your questions.

    Regarding the shape of the building, the site and the building are conceptual. It’s a 3 dimensional representation of a functional concept of how the various parts of the Incubator fit together.

    Once there’s a site, other solutions will suggest themselves, and I’ve thought of at least 3 or 4 very different other ideas of how to do it depending on the characteristics of the site.

    The basic principle you see in the inverted pyramid is the idea that the historical tiers build one upon the other. This could be done with enough land in a spiral form, or as a series of boxes – the possibilities are many. But regarding cost, recognize that Museum space costs about $4500 per square meter (about $450/s.f.), not including land.

    It makes little difference to cost whether it’s tiered or otherwise. A lot depends on the land, some depends on construction methods – basically except for the cost/m2 it’s all unknown at this point. So, to cheapen the project we’d have to reduce m2 (area), and at this point, without a developed curricula and details for each exhibit, I believe the figures I used are a reasonable estimate for the meantime.

    Regarding your other question, I’ll be happy to explain. It’s actually a very good question.

    I don’t think that it’s davka my project that will save the Jewish community, but at the same time I think it’s unrealistic to presume that just because our community survived for thousands of years (after a thousand, who’s counting?), that our continued existence is assured. I also think that all our other efforts, better day school education, day camps, Birthright, etc. will come to naught if we do not create a sustainable community context for the inculcated values to take root. So, whatever the solution – mine or someone else’s, in my opinion the foundation of our effort as Jews must be to buttress, rebuild and sustain our communities or our investments in these programs will be lost. They’ll amount to philanthropic alchemy.

    The reason I refer repeatedly to the Tanaaim is that they were the last Jewish community innovators to go through a time equivalent to what we are going through now, in terms of the scope of the upheaval. The 2nd Temple was destroyed, the Bar Kochba revolt was put down, and much of the population was evacuated from the Land. The Jews would have disappeared as a Nation if they did not work creatively and quickly to invent the institution of the Rabbinate as we know it today, and the concept of Synagogues, which allowed our communities to become portable. Further, they further refined the religion to survive without sovereignty and a Sanhedrin (high religious court). I believe we are facing a challenge no less significant today. Unfortunately, we don’t have the kind of consensus around leadership we did then, but we’ll have to do with what we’ve got – and do something. I think that Charles Bronfman sees that, too, if the competition guidelines are an indication.

    Especially since WWII ended, our world has radically changed, ending a process that began at least 150 years before. Not just for Jews, but for all modern societies. Changes in concepts about morality, our understanding of science and our own minds, the birth of multi-culturalism, advances in education and communication, the birth control pill even! – all these and other changes have given us opportunities and options never faced before by any human being – least of all, faced by Jews. Jews now must choose Judaism, it is no longer just a fate chosen for us.

    Some Jews choose not to choose the opposite – that’s another way some deal with “choice”.

    But if we, and by this I mean all communities not just Jewish ones, wish to benefit from all that communities can offer, we need to find a way to build communities within this context of choice – in a way that honors the collective AND the individual. If we choose community over choice, or choice over community, our lives as persons are immeasurably lessened. We need a system for choosing both, and I believe the approach I’ve suggested does this – that’s why I’m so optimistic about it.

    Further, it’s important to be explicit about the unstated assertion behind your question. The question you ask presupposes the assertion that many Jews will choose community over choice and opportunity. Some will, and still do – I think that is what orthodoxy demands, and for many, that’s a choice that works. Yet, it is my belief that we’ve lived under the illusion that the past one-size-fits-all solutions well past their shelf lives, and even orthodoxy is feeling the lapping waves of “off-the-derech” losses on its shores. Jews and almost all other humans in modern socieites are choosing “choice” and “opportunity” instead of “community”, if they’re forced to choose one or the other. Or, they are substituting community” with various fragmented “sub-identities” that, in some sense, are the functional (though not substantive) equivalent of community.

    But this in my view is wrong-minded. It’s a lie. There is no substantive equivalent to community, what we’ve substituted for that is something else entirely. If we want to be real community, and if we are not satisfied to watch 80% of our numbers disappear to apathy, assimilation and intermarriage, as a community I think we’re obligated to give a better answer regarding why being Jewish and being part of a Jewish community is a net BENEFIT when waying all the choices and opportunities that are out there.

    I’ve written enough about this already – above you’ll see more about wha I mean by all of this if you’ve got time to read it all – but I don’t think we’ve done that yet, and I’m proposing Jewish Values as a basis for building Jewish communities that are a realistic alternative for Jewish identity, for those who are not able, ready or willing for whatever reason to choose orthodoxy as their path to Jewish identity. The approach I’ve taken is not in opposition to orthodoxy as far as I can tell – but it’s not of orthodoxy, either. For this reason, I think the span of this tent is broad enough to encompass us all. That’s a good enough start, I think.

  17. Gary Kulwin says:

    As always, I am remarkably impressed by Shai’s writing (and now, I’m even more impressed by his skills as an architect – the drawings are great!).

    What I enjoyed here the most were the guiding principles in the executive summary, i.e. the concept of obligations that come with belonging to a group, and the link between collective mission and individual purpose. In my writing, I tend to view community members as “consumers”, while Shai’s writing emphasizes that individuals are rational actors who can (and need to) recognize and accept their responsibilities as well as the consequences of their actions. While these perspectives seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum, I strongly believe in Shai’s position even as I embrace my own.

    As somebody who has worked for several years doing communal work, I wholeheartedly feel that the lack of belief in “the obligation to serve”, and the cynicism toward those who do serve, is one of the primary forces damaging our people. Communal professionals in the Diaspora work under very trying conditions, often with little respect or recognition from the broader community. I will never forget when I heard that a young donor asked my former colleague (the Federation’s YLD Director), “do you ever think about giving this up and getting a real job?”

    Particularly troubling is the “Rabbi Roulette” phenomenon in the U.S., where congregation leaders feel increasingly free to dismiss their rabbis whenever they offend the board or fail to live up to their “expectations”. This blog post, from the Project STAR site, touches on this issue.

    In Israel, this decline in a “service ethic” seems to be taking the form of increased avoidance of IDF service (both compulsory and reserve service), and the recent comments by Bar Rafaeli in Yediot Aharonot are just one example of the kinds of attitudes that we are now dealing with.

    The JCI idea itself reminded me of an existing Israeli institution – Bet Hatefutsot,
    the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. Like the JCI, BH is a museum which uses its exhibits to convey underlying messages – the unity of the Jewish People (in spite of their geographic and cultural diversity), and the centrality of Israel to all branches of the Diaspora. This comparison should not be seen as a criticism of your proposal (ala “it’s been done before”). Indeed, your proposal seems to take a proven model (experiential museums based in Israel) and adapt it to current circumstances (sort of like a software upgrade – “Beth Hatefutsot 2.0”, as it were).

    Part of the problem with Beth Hatefutsot today is that its themes have been so well internalized; the fact that Israel now contains the world’s largest Jewish population (and will probably soon be home to a majority of the world’s Jews) makes the museum’s themes seem slightly dated. The JCI’s themes, on the other hand, seem more in tune with the broader ideological challenges facing world Jewry today.

    It’s interesting that some people have questioned the “practicality” of this proposal, when the organized Jewish community has clearly demonstrated a passion for building large museums and cultural centers that document the Jewish experience (the growth of Shoah-related museums in the 1980s and 1990s is just one example of this). In fact, I think that the question should not be “is building another museum a good strategy for sustaining Jewish identity?”, but rather “if we are going to build new Jewish museums anyway (and I think that the museum-building trend will continue for various reasons), then what kinds of ideas and values should we be trying to convey with them?”.

    (BTW, on a tangent: if your proposal was funded, I would hope that the struggle for Soviet Jewry would receive some prominence in the “modern period” wing of the JCI. The struggle of the refuseniks against the Soviet empire – which looked invincible in the 1960s and 1970s – is certainly most fascinating examples in the modern era of altruistic behavior for the sake of Jewish survival.)

    As you have noted previously, our approaches are very different in many ways. You focus more on “high culture” (i.e. informal education and the arts), while I tend to focus on “pop culture” (some might not even call this true culture at all). Your approach to society is humanistic, and seems to assert a capacity to change people through rational discourse, while my approach is certainly more deterministic (although perhaps not as extreme as Hayek’s position) and more focused on pre-conscious cognition. I’m starting to think that part of the problem with the Brandeis “contest idea” is the belief that we could select one “big idea proposal” (and, by extension, one school of thought) as most worthy.

    This not just another way of stating that “there are plenty of good ideas out there”, or that “we need to test many strategies at once if we hope to make an impact on the current Jewish condition”. Those statements may be true, of course, but they don’t really get at the heart of the matter – “Jewish continuity studies” seems to be an interdisciplinary field in its own right, and there are too many different schools of thought to seriously try to solicit the best one. This would be analogous to holding a contest for physicists, in order to award a prize for the “best new idea” in physics. (Of course, the Nobel Prize in Physics does exist – but this goes to researchers who have discovered ideas that have already been proven significant across a period of time.)

    I hope that, as an outcome from this contest, Mr. Bronfman and other philanthropists will begin to consider new ways to solicit project ideas from the grass-roots. In particular, I would like to see them avoid trying to identify one or two “great ideas” in favor of a “virtual incubator” approach, where multiple worthy ideas can be fleshed out collaboratively (and thus sustained as proposals indefinitely, until appropriate funding may be found).

    Anyway, I wish you luck with this and I hope that the JCI can find funding, even if the Brandeis committee doesn’t select yours as the winning proposal. BTW, if you don’t win the contest – are you available to design the buildings for a new chain of Israeli mini-malls?

    Regards, GK

  18. Shai says:

    Gary, thank you for your thoughtful review of the submission and comments. I very much appreciate your observations, and will take them to heart.

    By way of response to some of your points, we can speculate on several motivations that drive the format of the Bronfman contest. But based on comments that Charles Bronfman made in a Jerusalem Post article in November, it seems to me they know well that there is no single silver bullet. Rather, we’ve lived as a community so long on the equity of past generations that today, many of us feel we need a machine gun of silver bullets. This reallization merely underscores the obligations we have today to be innovative in finding solutions to making Jewish communities sustainable.

    The critical question I’m trying to address is more a matter of the timing. The submission is attempting to draw attention to why the bullets we have shot until now have not yielded an improving trend, but that rather the reverse has occurred. Not only do we need an answer to what’s needed, we need to understand what’s going wrong.

    The problem, I think, is the unexamined assumption that developed with the theories of BF Skinner. His optimistic proposal was that we are creatures of our environment. One need only teach more, expose more, reward more, and the result will be that you can influence what people do and who they become. That’s an incredibly powerful idea, one that influences everything from religion to education to penetentiaries. But I think with time we are seeing that it underestimates the power people hold in their own hands to shape their fate and their sense of their ability to shape their world.

    I worked a lot in the neighborhood and community planning fields in the US, and much of my education was about examining this very issue – can we design neighborhoods that influence, or are we only able to enable certain behaviors? The jury is no longer out. It’s a chimera to assume that “programs” per se (each being a silver bullet) influence anything unless we as individuals are willing and able to act on how we are influenced.

    So here is the ikkar (central point) of my proposal – to enable Jews to build communities, to be influenced by them, and to influence them. I do not think our communities are such now that they meet these criteria, which is why they are being abandoned by so many. It’s not that they are being abandoned for something better, per se, but often they’re abandoned for something seen as “equivalent”, and much of that is our own fault as a community. For reasons I believe can be described as political, we convinced ourselves that our values, especially how we approach and integrate them into our lives, are “universal” or “Judeo Christian”. I can’t deny there are similarities; there are. But if we are to continue as a Jewish people, we have to understand how we are “separate” (from the word kadosh, also translated as “holy”). We need to appreciate the beauty of our differences, even as we respect the beauty of the differences in other cultures. We deserve not less, from ourselves and from others.

    In short, for people who are not bound by halachic / orthodox loyalties, Judaism no longer influences “community”. This can, and should change – and I think the way I’ve selected can accomplish this.

    Indeed, I believe having strong communities in place is a prerequisite for success of the other silver bullets, and this is why I think the timing is critical. In parallel, or before, projects that strengthen Jewish communities and seek to make Jews integral in them are critical to our continued existence as Jews, to our ability to benefit from Jewish communities so that our personal lives are enriched and more meaningful, and so that the cultural traits and sensibilities that have been nurtured by Jewish culture can continue to be a positive influence on us, our socieites and our world.

    So, if there are other schools of thought within the “Jewish continuity studies” sphere, I’d like to see their practical plans for how to achieve this desire. As yet, “desire” is all I’ve seen – a lot of earnest thinking about and wishing about what we can be and become. But more, I’ve seen acquiescence – a sense that communities and Jewishness are anachronistic. My view, which I still share with many, is that this is not true, that a different vision is worth fighting for. The time for action I think is now and a sense of urgency is in the air. I am hoping then that the time for this idea of the Incubator has arrived, and I hope to be priviledged to be part of the process of bringing it to fruition.

    I like your idea about virtual incubators. In theory, with this contest that can be done already. But so far, only Maya (as far as I know) has taken the initiative with Professor Sarna’s approval to get the projects on the web so they can be talked about. I’d have loved to see the other projects, too – but I suppose when the best ideas are chosen as finalists at the end of February / early March, maybe the idea you mention will begin to take form. For me, I’m hoping as a minimum to get enough visibility for my project to find backing to get it off the ground. The opportunity to be part of an environment where the greatest minds in Jewish community studies are collected would be a huge benefit and priviledge for the project, as would it be to teach young students who are looking to make the Jewish community their life-long occupation. I have some ideas that I think would make a fantastic book, too, which is a requisite of the position.

    As far as the architecture, I’ll give you a peak behind the curtain – except for the upside down pyramid the movie and pics you saw were generated in Sketchup in about 5 hours time, using templates I pulled off the net. I have the pro version, but anybody can download an almost complete version of the program for free from Google. But yes of course, if it doesn’t work out with the contest, you can certainly reach me about the mini-malls. 🙂

  19. This is a great proposal, and another great write-up by Maya.

    My major suggestion: I hope you would consider another museum similar in size to the one in Israel that would be located in the U.S., and possibly in Europe.

    Reasoning: Most Diaspora Jews get to Israel a few times at most, and Diaspora Jews face the challenges of identity that you previously identified among Israeli Jews (albeit a bit different). Therefore, a big museum and institute, maybe in New York (or Boston) where there is a large Jewish population, would be extremely beneficial, and accessible on a more frequent basis.

    I hope your submission does well in the contest, and if it doesn’t win, I hope you find funding. There are no guarantees, but I see lots of potential in your project.

    Those who read my proposal will be interested in this article:

    Diaspora students to tell Knesset of challenges

  20. thenewjew says:

    Dear ARB,

    Good comments. I think the popular feeling has been that Jews abroad would also like their own such Jewish Community Incubator closer to where they live– the problem, of course, being the funding.

    From Israel, it very much makes sense for us to think of a single project that is centrally located (as we see it being Israeli Jews) and then having satellite locales. I think when we split up the training, programming, and physical foundation building, the idea of how much it would cost to fund skyrockets. I agree with you, however, that the idea of multiple sites being part of the foundational proposal is important.

    I’m glad you commented with that link because I have a question for you. Has the JPost site been hacked? I am writing a post on 10 things we should be thinking about in relation to these proposals (kind of a to do list for the Jewish world) and almost every article I click on comes up with an error– including that one. Has this been true for you as well?



  21. Shai says:

    Thanks, ARB. I considered what you proposed. I think that it’s possible to fall on one side or the other of this issue based on:

    1) Whether one sees the Jewish community as a global community in some respect
    2) If one sees it as global, whether one feels Israel has some central symbolic place within the Jewish community that is special in some way, or if one wants to encourage such feelings.
    3) Whether one feels that the distances (perception, not actual) of Israel and Diaspora are so great as to present a signficant barrier to the ideas asserted in 1 and 2 above. (So far, I’m putting my own prejudices out on the table, because you see how I’ve built the proposal).
    4) Whether one senses that the content of the satellites and the replication of the Maggid Performance Troupe and the Traveling Exhibit, as well as the provision of the 10-4 group can achieve the “beneficial” aspects you refer to without a replication in more than one place (probably depends on whether you feel the facility is part of a “preaching to the choir” effort or something more in the realm of “community outreach”, and
    5) How we use the word “accessibility”, and whether the replication you speak of is geographically necessary to achieve the revolution in community perspective needed to fend of the apathy that I feel our current institutional framework fosters.

    If only on Item 5 alone I would carefully consider replication – it’s just that crticial that people feel that their communities are influenceable, and if replication is what’s needed to achieve that, I’m all for it. So yes, I’d consider it.

    Probably, though, the JVI part of the project doesn’t need to be replicated in both the Diaspora and Israel.

    I”d also have to refigure the financials, as my breakeven based on expenses in Israel is 345,000 visitors of which only 290,000 are locally derived. So there’s a fiscal aspect to such a decision that is also germaine.

    At the end of the day, the answer to your question is probably not mine to give. It’ll depend on the vision of the funding agent. However, I feel strongly that if there is to be a replication, the facilities should be built in both Israel and the Diaspora, not first in the Diaspora and then Israel. This feeling is based on a sense of the urgency of community building needs in Israel – here we have a chance to arrest a trend that began in the Diaspora 2 generations ago, and we shouldn’t let the opportunity slip through our fingers.

    Thanks for your comments!

  22. I don’t know if the jpost site has been hacked. I am getting error when clicking on the link also. I’m glad I caught the article yesterday and decided to post the text. If I have any more info. I’ll let you know.

  23. thenewjew says:

    I’m going to ask someone who will know officially. I’ll let you know what I find out.


  24. Shai,

    Thanks for the heart-felt comment on ARB. I didn’t know how to get in touch with you, so I had to reply here. (Hope you don’t mind Maya)

    Your experience with Mr. Martillo is unfortunate. His blog is well known for spreading hate.

    I too have experienced similar anti-Jew racism on campus, and on the web. Anti-Racist Blog unfortunately attracts some nasty commenters. For example, someone sent me this message just after you sent in your comment,

    “What exactly is wrong with being anti-Zionism? Sorry to tell you Jews that you’re not the best people on the earth, you’re no better than anyone, God never said you were, so you can stop killing innocent children any day now.

    Please stop making snuff films too.”

    I get sickening comments like that far too often. It only shows why projects tackling anti-semitism and anti-Zionism are so necessary.

    As far as a manual to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on campus, I will certainly put together such a document as part of my project (I might do it in the future anyways). If you look at past ARB articles, you can see that I often take a specific claim made by anti-Semites or anti-Zionists, and I refute it.

    There are some pretty good books that are similar to what you describe. Check out Myths and Facts by Mitchell Bard:

    Mr. Bard also has a good website called the Jewish Virtual Library which posts some of the book online.

    More generally, The Jewish Virtual Library is a great reference site.

  25. Anti-Racist Blog says:


    Will you be setting up a blog with your complete proposal on it?

  26. Shai says:

    Hi ARB

    Maya has the complete proposal – the further details you can take from it are some ideas on teaching innovation in community building, and on the “substance” of Jewish concepts of values vs. those of other cultures – such as tzedaka vs. charity to give but one – but there are many others. If that’s of interest, Maya offered to send the content to anyone who’s interested.

    I still have more detail that was not in teh submission related to the content of the Museum, presentation methods, pedagogical / idea constructs for how the values and their projects would be cross-referenced and catalogued, and how they might be presented, a market analysis with a 10 year cash flow, and the like – but it’s not the sort of thing that really lends itself to discussion on blogs, so I didn’t set up a blog to discuss it. Also, I only started it all in October, so as much as I’ve accomplished I realize that it’s better to focus on the main message than the details now. I want to figure out a way get the message across without having first to write a book! 🙂

    Besides, for now Maya’s blog is as good a place as any for the discussion – so if anybody’s got anything more to add, of course I’ll be happy to respond if that’s what you’d like, or simply to listen if there are some suggestions to be made.

    I’d especially like to see the comments of those who will as yet be presented in the series to the proposals submitted thusfar, including by Rabbi Maury Schwartz, Tsvi Bisk, and Professor Jason Goodfriend. The first is even a neighbor of mine – lives only a block or so away. The last is also Israeli (formerly from America, like me) and probably the second one, too.

    It’s nice to know that so we have submissions from all over the Jewish world, that we are care about each other even when oceans separate us. I think that’s a great thing. It’s obvious by the passion that’s gone into the submissions thusfar that we all want to see a better future for the Jewish community. The question now is, I think, whether the Bronfman committee will be looking for an idea – just a book and lecture series, say, or whether they will see a project of the sort that books and lecture series’ can give birth to as having added value, the kind of ideas such as what you and I have proposed. Maybe they’d prefer both. Based on teh competition guidelines, and the description of the chair, it seems the former is more what they’re after, more than the latter, but Charles Bronfman has also said that independant of the chair at Brandeis, good ideas gaining exposure may find themselves getting funded even if they aren’t winners of the chair position. So, with that in mind, onward.

    We’ll find out by early March, one way or the other!

  27. Lee says:

    Hi Shai,

    Thanks for your lengthy response. Mine’s lengthy too.
    Yes, it was the need for a JVI that I was questioning, with an added emphasis on the insistence on a physical and geographical center.
    Here are the parts in your writing that led me to these questions:
    “One of the central ideas of the Jewish Values Institute is a volunteer activism program called “Ten-4.” The program would be based on a ripple effect modality in which 10 groups of 10 community representatives ARE TAUGHT AND TRAINED in METHODS of advancing Jewish values” It sounds to me a lot like (Jewish) Big Brother overseeing the Values issue for Jewish Society.
    You also likened the JVI to the invention of the Rabbinate: if the comparison is just to designate it as a milestone in the development of Jewish thought, you might want to clarify that. However, to my ear you describe it as an AUTHORITATIVE body that will ”distill” all the truly Jewish values for the benefit of all Jews for the sake of Jewish posterity.
    Is the idea really to “distill” values that characterize Judaism/Jewishness/Jewish existence/Jewish people??? Are we all going to be the same? I’m exaggerating, of course, and you said in your response to me that it is more in the process. If so, I ask again: why not a giant, digital resource center with contributions from all the Jewish communities worldwide (and their quirks and unique features)-a Jewish Café? No authority, no physical structure. Broader conceptual definition; cheaper implementation.
    I’d bet that if you googled ”Jewish Leadership” and then you looked into each of the various programs, forums, colleges, institutes, synagogues (etc.) that are asking the same questions you are, you’d find they ALL deal with values—Jewish Values. That is to say, to a great extent, your wish has already come true! They don’t need a “common vocabulary,” but a giant database/resource center, where materials are open and communication amongst groups and individuals flows.
    The following is from your reply to someone’s comment and it does not match up with the tone I heard in the more formal proposal section: I’m guessing you might want to review the differences and dissonances and iron them out:
    This is not a place where anybody is going to get a “psak halacha” (legal decision) about what correct belief should be. In fact, it’s going to be hard for many Jews to realize that Jewish Values can shape their lives even though they have no commitment to halacha at all. Rather, it’s a place where Jews learn how to build the substance of a meaningful life by making choices. Indeed, I claim (I’m sure I’m not alone) that it is the process of wrestling with the choices, examining the frameworks and acting that is an especially Jewish way of approaching values. We grab both horns of a problem and don’t let go of either – we tend more to synthesize than see values as either/or propositions. For example, the idea of an invisible G-d that is ever present. Or the idea of a Jewish and Democratic state. Or the idea of closenness while believing in universal human rights, and the idea of crafting a basis for community based both on Peoplehood as well as Religion. We are not binary thinkers, we are concept synthesizers on the whole and this a large part of why the “flavor” of the Jewish value system is so fascinating.
    Drawing people into thought-provoking dialogue is not the same as “the Jewish Community Incubator will reintroduce Jewish content into our lives and our institutions’ lives, thus enriching both.”
    Now to the question of enticing those who are not currently involved in that process to join it. My 10th grader’s school is taking them on a 3 day outing to explore what it means to be Israeli, and they’ve been told that next year there will be a parallel on Jewish identity. How many will actually listen, think and enter the discussion? Seventh graders have a “Roots” project. How many will learn from it? It seems to me that at every age and every place, people who want to devote their energies to these issues can find a framework, a venue, or even a book. Some look for the secular gemarah study groups, some for an Israeli-Zionist social framework, others go to a Gar’in Nachal, some choose Conservative or Reform Judaism.
    I also think that some of your 2b group is turning to civil society frameworks, contributing where they see a need and thus seeing themselves as connected to community.

    I hope I’ve helped you “distill” your own core values about your idea. I myself prefer multiple approaches and a variety of responses. I’ll add only one more thing: I believe that the willingness to devote energies to questions and issues is a sign of luxury: only in a society that is well sustained and has the time and the means can people afford to consider their values. It means moving beyond the existential issues. To me it means living in Peace.

  28. Shai says:

    Lee I’m glad you came back to it. I’m a bit flummoxed (like that word? :-)) about how what I’ve said was interpreted that way – but not surprised. I’m using words that have a different connotation to many, and I think part of JCI’s task is going to have to be reconnotating those words so that they can be useful to us all, whether we are parts of a stream/denomination or not.

    Regarding the “taught and trained” quote, the context was “taught and trained to use the resources of the incubator”. It’s kind of like when you got your orientation to the library – where the card file was (I’ve just dated myself), where the microfiche is, etc. It’s not teaching people what to think, but how to think, how to find the resources to think, what the vocabulary they’ll need is to think. The heavy lifting is each of ours to do. Indeed, that’s the concept of “Talmud Torah” – the turning over the problem in an attempt to reach resolution or synthesis – the “cultural” aspect of values unique to Jews is the value they place on the process of that exploration. If it were just about teaching people answers, there’d be no process and thus, indeed the difference between the Jewish cultural approach and other approaches would be slim.

    The JVI was likened to Imagineering and the Museum to DisneyWorld, not the rabbinate. The Incubator deals with matters of Hashkafa, not halacha. For those who want halacha as part of their lives, many venues exist in 100’s of flavors. Adding another won’t contribute much.

    There is certainly a lot rabbis contribute to Jewish thought on matters of hashkafa (principled thought), but to illustrate that this contribution is not exclusive, I specifically chose the 4th tier (the 4th largest tier, 2nd only to the 5th) to highlight the hashkafic thought since the tiem of the Emancipation, and this tier would no doubt include a lot of thinkers who are not rabbis. Indeed, including the 5th tier, half of the Museum’s area is dedicated to post-Emancipation eras. I was very specific in saying that the objective is to provide a vocabulary for Jewish values thinking – but that each and every one of us must engage in building sentences with that vocabulary.

    I frequently receive the comment that databases and virtual internet links and what not can offer teh equivalent of what I’m proposing, and I continue to wonder why people think that. There is a need to take a few giant steps backward and remember that we will have achieved nothing if all that’s been achieved by this project is the passing of information about values. If my proposal came off as that alone, I’ve failed severely in my presentation.

    The “process” I referred to is amongst religous Jews referred to as “Talmud Torah” – learning Torah. It’s a form of casuistry – weighing solutions, examining examples, exploring extremes, and deciding on action. It’s not very different from any conscious choice you make when what you’re deciding on is important to you. I stress the process because the claim I’m making is that Jewish values is not something that evolves from passive activity. It is the opposite of being told what to do, and the opposite of authoritarianism. It’s about taking responsbility for your choices, and owning the consequences for yourself, and your community. Jewish values education is about understanding consequences.

    This is not about a more efficient way to distribute data or retrieve it, or a new way to think about data or store it. It’s about using values and values-based living as a way to build a common ground for common action by the Jewish community, using a definition of community that is non-denominational. But that common ground has to be built. I cannot fathom how a database can build a community, nor do I think virtual communities are “communities” in any sense of the word that is meaningful to the task I’ve defined. You keep using the word “authority”, but that’s not my word. If there’s a sense of obligation that arises from the integration of Jewish values in our lives, it will derive from a voluntary understanding that we are part of something bigger, and that sacrifices for that “something bigger” yield us returns sufficiently rewarding to justify those sacrifices. But I am NOT proposing anything by that that can be described as “authoritarian”. What I’m describing is “community”, and I stand by the belief that human beings’ lives are enriched when they are lived in communities – not in any sort of virtual equivalent of communties.

    Regarding “physcial structure”, ideally the facility satellites in the Diaspora would be built at JCC’s. The reason is that ideally, Jewish institutions should be clustered tightly enough that much of a Jews social interaction is with other Jews. Interaction requires a geographical location.

    Also, physical structures possess a symbolism that virtual one’s do not. They symbolize permanence that we need as a community. Physical structures draw one’s attention and interaction in ways that virtual sites cannot. They remind us that we are people, not packets of functions, and that the worth of who we are is not identical with the worth of what we do. They permit a choreography of experience that no screen or keyboard can equal, and a venue for real learning and interaction that is incomparably richer than a virtual experience can offer. People don’t watch videos of Hawaiin vacations, or prefer Playstation versions of baseball to real baseball – why would it be valid to presume that a virtual experience of the sort I’m describing can come close to achieving what a real “physical” building could? Why keep returning to the matter of money? Is no price worth paying to save a sense of community?

    Regarding the tone of the response vs the submission, I’ll have to look at that in more detail – there’s a limit to what can be said in 5 pages, and I’ve gone well beyond that in the comments to provide the correct tone – so it’s back tot he drawing board if the message didn’t get through correctly the first time.

    “Drawing people into thought provoking dialogue” is the same as “reintroducing Jewish content into our lives and institutions’ lives” because the former is the way we introduce the latter.

    Regarding how young teenagers will relate to exhibits such as those in teh Museum, well that remains to be seen. I’m not as pessimistic about that as you seem to be. My own son “grew up” last year and now “Machshevet Yisrael” is one of his favorite subjects. People mature at different rates, some people never mature, and that’s just the way the ball bounces. No purpose is served by force-feeding people these values, I feel I made that clear.

    But there’s a core reason, I think, that values in israel are treated lightly, and it’s not the age of the persons. In my opinion, scoffing is a protest at a system that is unmalleable and uninfluenceable. It literally seems not to make a difference what values we have, so people act like it makes no difference. Not for no reason, Lee, did I stress the importance of structural reform in our institutions. I don’t think it’s constructive to equate “devoting energies” or “frameworks” or other curricular means of “eating at the edge of the cookie” to a project that is dedicated to, in the words of the competition guidelines, “change the way jews think about themselves and their communties”. On one hand, one can claim that’s impossible – you seem to be suggesting that might be so, that everyone is going to find what suits them without any overarching vision that binds us all. That’s Hayek’s vision, or rather, his sense of what was inevitable in modern socieities. But I specifically am choosing to deny Hayek his victory with this proposal.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “multiple approaches and variety of responses” that is different from what I mean by that. As I said, I’m not dictating to anyone.

    The last view you had is one we’ll have to agree to disagree about. It is my view that the “luxury” is in presuming that we have any choice BUT to spend our energies on the questions that themselves require resolution for society to exist at all. I don’t take the existence of society or community for granted, as though these are infinite resources that spontaneously generate of themselves. It requires, not less than Peace, not only a desire to concede and compromise, but an ability to do so. It is my view that famliarizing our Jewish community with the foundation of Jewish values as a basis for gaining common ground earns us that ability.

  29. Shai says:

    Lee it occured to me last night what you meant by “invention of the Rabbinate”. I misunderstood you.

    All I said was that the invention of the rabbinate as we know it today was a result of the need to innovate a way to sustain the Jewish community in the Diaspora. It was a departure from the way things were done before, because the situation that existed before no longer existed. Therefore, the Tannaim were community innovators.

    Because I see the time we live in now as not less different than what came before, I am proposing that we take upon ourselves the obligation to see those changes realistically and react realistically, by creating community institutions that retain our sense of Jewish community, but that also are responsive to how the context of our community living has changed so drastically.

    There was nothing in all that that implied anything regarding authority or coercion or anything else you read into it. I realize that there are a lot of Jews that feel worsted by the rabbinic system and mabye you’re one – I knew that I’d have to confront this sooner or later, that no matter how I say things, they’ll be interpreted through the lens of people’s personal experiences. That’s the nature of cognition. So, deal with it I will – I hope you and people like you will be able to give the project a chance to achieve its vision, and not reflexively identify it with the coercive forces of the “magistrate”. But I can’t prevent that, I suppose, if all that I’ve written was insufficient to convince – it’ll just have to be demonstrated that it’s not so.

  30. Shai,

    What I am sensing, which came through in your words, is that you are frustrated with an “empty” sort of Judaism that is apparent on each end of the Jewish world. On the non-religious side it is what you call “consumerist determinism”, i.e. where Jews are just taking whatever the secular culture throws at them, whereby “Jewishness” is superficially cultural rather than a source of real connection with our heritage and its values… And on the religious side, that mitzvot observance is often empty by virtue of being mechanistic, where people are neurotic about the details of their actions rather than investing them with meaning and purpose. So what we need for all involved is a return to values and a sense of purpose. I think this is a great problem to address!

    My feeling reading this proposal was that you jumped the gun a bit by getting into details about the vehicles for promoting Jewish values (museum, maggid troupe, etc.) without sufficiently setting up the problem and making a case *conceptually* about what approach is needed. Rather than leaving it as an afterthought, I would almost immediately start the discussion with Mannheim…

    “Good communities do not destroy personal freedom, they enhance it.” Great! I want to hear more about this. How do we create a Jewishness and Jewish culture that gives people *more* sense of freedom than they would otherwise experience without it? This is a great question! The problem is, I don’t think that in telling people that their worth in the Jewish community is dependent on their commitment to Jewish values, the result will be a feeling of “freedom.” This sounds quite heavy-handed and judgmental in fact. Rather than telling people they need to stop thinking in utilitarian terms (what will benefit me/others) and instead in absolute values, I would present the values themselves as a utilitarian solution: That by engaging Jewish values and really getting them into our “kishkas”, the sense of meaning and purpose that results will be of incredible *benefit* for the individual and the community. I would get into the psychology of what truly motivates people in their lives, what frustrates people, what they feel the default secular culture (or dati olam) is lacking, and make the case that a values/meaning-based psychological boost – which Judaism offers – will answer those frustrations, give renewed motivation and produce an unparalleled sense of freedom and sense of life!

    “Freedoms are maintained because they are informed by an “awareness” that the best of science and religion contributes to.” Yes, giving people the sense that they can grab onto the “best” of science and religion by a values-driven approach – this is offering people something! And I know you don’t want to “define” what Jewish values are, but I think you would connect with the reader more by giving some concrete examples.

    And then… after you’ve set up the problem and offered a conceptual solution, then you ask the question: What in practical terms can we do in order to help people to discover the freeing/life-imbuing experience of conducting one’s life on the basis of Jewish values? Now we get into the Incubator idea. (Beautiful work on the graphics by the way!) And once again, you have to make a case as to why this will really work.

    I think the JCI can only be a good and positive thing, and even if it is not a panacea, if done right anyone who goes there will get a great deal out of it. That said, I have a couple of questions about it: 1) If it wouldn’t be simpler and more cost-effective to utilize existing institutions (of the type you mentioned in #3 above) rather than building all that physical infrastructure that would be required to implement this in Jewish communities across the globe, and 2) How people will be sufficiently touched by this program if they only go to the JCI – in any likely scenario – at best just a handful of times. It seems to me that part of a solution needs to be follow-through. I know you try to address this with the personal mission statement idea, but I’m not sure that will be enough. And herein lies another opportunity for you to come up with an additional brilliant solution!

    Shabbat Shalom,

  31. Shai says:

    Thanks for your review, David.

    I suggest you read the comments, and include those I added to Tsvi Bisk’s comment list, too. It’d fill in a lot of the gaps. Also, if you wish, I would love to meet you (I’m in Israel) and we can discuss the questions you have in person. Maya can give you my email, or I can use yours via the email listed on your website. Your choice. After reviewing your proposal, I think there’s a lot we share in common, and perhaps we can collaborate in bringing the project to fruition in a way that meets your “vision” as well.

    The “consumerist determinism” claim I made isn’t a quip against Jewish communities alone, such that one could draw a conclusion from that to anybody’s level or manner of ritual observance. It’s one about modern western civilization, and most Jewish communities find their context there.

    We relate to our community institutions as though their sole purpose was to provide us services best and cheaply, not things we are part of, that we maintain or create (this is less a problem in the Orthdodox community, but it’s still a problem and the objective here is to save the entire Jewish community, not rest on laurels).

    We’ve evolved our institutions to be first and foremost “service providers” rather than receptacles for individual growth and influence, and I claim this is why our communities have weakened. Others do the job of “service provision” better if all we want is a gym (YMCA), a club (any Alumni group) or a charity distribution network (United Way), given that we no longer share common values as a individuals. I get more into this in the responses to the comments I received.

    Now, it could be that everything OUGHT to be commoditized this way (if I were Von Hayek, I’d believe this), but it is my belief that human beings are wired to seek meaning within and contribute to the societies they live in and that personal growth requires strong communities and a primary, not a fragmented, community identity. This kind of growth and affiliation is something that a person just can’t buy. It must be earned. It requires work, introspection, compromise, and as a basis for it all, shared ideals that settle within the fabric of institutions that all of us in a community use as a touchstone for our common identities and personal growth.

    I used the example of the Family Business to demonstrate what I’m proposing as an alternative, because as a model it demonstrates taking responsibility for the services rather than the E’baying them. In a sense, it’s kind of like the way a person who lives on the farm feels about beef and vegetables, vs. how someone who lives on the Upper West Side does. He knows where it comes from. He knows his contribution to it. He is influenced by it, and he influences it. He is “of” it. He doesn’t just “buy” it and “consume” it. He is an integral part of its ecology.

    While I may be frustrated by the emptiness and mechanistic nature of the way some people treat their communal affiliations (because I think these methods are not efficacious in achieving personal growth nor community building, but merely are formalities/fluff in place of the substance. People can find commonality of worth only when they agree on something substantive), I don’t pretend to judge people who empty ritual of meaning or who make ritual the ikkar of their community identity. Most of us just deal with the world the way we find it, and I am trying to find my own way – I am not qualified to judge anyone). I am simply saying that these people do not share common values that can be used to forge a common ground as a single Jewish community, and since I believe the competition guidelines was looking for a Big Idea that did that, I tried to do it with a Jewish Community Incubator.

    The whole matter of if I told “people that their worth in the Jewish community is dependent on their commitment to Jewish values” is something you read into my proposal. I suggest reading the comments and if you have any further questions, perhaps rephrasing the question will make it easier for me to reply.

    The essential thrust of the use of values is to find a common denominator for building Jewish Community. If you read the proposal and comments carefully (also the comments in Tsvi Bisk’s proposal), you’ll see that I refer to Jewish literature and culture as a treasury for withdrawing the vocabulary with which each of us approach our life-mission and utilizes our culture to define Jewish values for themselves. It is how we engage in the process of using these Jewish values that makes us functional as Jews (rather than merely Jews in potentia), and our sharing this characteristic process to derive our values that bind us together as a community. How we pull that vocabulary together into sentences and paragraphs I leave to each Jew. If they want to use their “stream” as a context for doing that, that’s OK. I propose a supplement, not a supplanting, of the existing streams. If they want to do it on their own without a stream, that’s fine by me, too and I think anybody concerned with the substance of what mitzvot should do, should accept that as well. The last thing I wish to do, and I don’t think there’s anything in my presentation that suggests it, is to tell people from on high what their values should be and to use that as some sort of “who’s in, who’s out” criteria. But that said, it’s the criteria I use. If someone feels they should be considered in every respect contributors to their community while being the value equivalent of a couch potato, that’s not much of a change from the status quo ante and that has only served to sink us, David. I don’t think we can afford to repeat that for another few decades.

    Regarding your comment about starting with Mannheim, I could have literally written 20-30 pages on the concept that would have clarified all the questions you now asked. By now with all the comments below the submission you read and elsewhere on Maya’s blog, I may have. But as Maya and I tried to decide which information should make it in (the competition limits of 5 pages), we thought that de-emphasizing the “practical equivalent of Birthright” elements would be unwise. Maybe they weren’t as interested in that as I thought they were, as it turns out, and it’d have been better to focus on the concept. Better it’d have been if they gave me 10 pages to do it all.  But just the same, I think you give too much weight to the Mannheim/Von Hayek debate. All Mannheim was saying was that people can live their life with intention based on a rational and supra-rational approach to living, and need not ride life like a wave that they have no control over. It was an argument about determinism, and I think that the Jewish approach (Rambam’s and Mannheim’s at least) is self-explanatory to anybody whose values are “Jewish”, meaning that they take responsibility for their actions and believe what they do has ontological meaning and purpose. Your questions about examples are essentially asking me to prove the value of Jewish values using Jewish values. It’s self referencing. I was using the Von Hayek alternative merely to show what we have been doing instead of what I thought we should be doing, and if you want me to detail the latter further after having read the comments I’ll be happy to.

    I dealt with the “utilitarian” question in the comments. Maybe it was in Tsvi’s comment list. Can’t remember. Anyway, the gist is that people’s personal motivations are their own business. I observed that communities coalesce around common values, and that common values entail agreed reasons for why we do things. I used the example of the community of people who wished to end the Vietnam war. Some hated war. Others just didn’t want to serve. To look at them, you couldn’t tell the difference. But if all of them were the former, you wouldn’t have had their “community” dissipate and disappear when the war ended. They would have continued as a community until all war ended. When you make a comparison then with my intent for the Jewish community, a utilitarian connection would end whenever a specific project ends. Communities cannot sustain themselves when utilitarian connections are encouraged as adequate. Nevertheless it’s all some people are capable of and nobody’s pushing anyone out. But as an ideal, I think it’s important to keep what I said in mind.

    Regarding your questions, they’ve been addressed in the comments. I will address the follow-through matter, as there’s an opportunity to expand. I addressed the question in the submission and in the comments to a degree.

    Again, I see Jewish affiliation as a hands-on affair. People who don’t use the resources can only benefit from them through the radiance of impacts caused by those who do use the resources, such as schools, synagogues, other visitors who have started projects, etc.. I hope that will be enough to get those who are difficult to reach interested enough to be more forthcoming on their own, and there would be local and virtual resources, as well as a traveling exhibit, to make the resources as accessible as possible. But because I see it as a hands on affair I’m putting responsibility for each person’s Jewishness on them. This is an enabling institution. It does not “do Jewish” for anybody; that’s for each Jew to do. They are going to have to eventually do their own heavy lifting in terms of making Jewish values their own.

  32. Shai,

    It sounds like you’ve given thought to the issues I addressed. You’ll excuse me for not going over all the comments — I am an admittedly methodical (i.e. slow) reader/writer, and I think I could be at this all day if I’m not careful!

    That said, I’m definitely open to discussing this further. Why don’t you be in touch by email and we’ll exchange phone #s.

    — David

  33. Maya Norton says:

    Hi David,

    I’ve sent Shai your contact information so that you two can talk.


  34. shawn slonsky says:

    I’m very proud of you Bro.

  35. Shai says:

    Thanks, Shawn – regards to all 🙂

  36. […] “Bronfman Big Idea Contest: Jewish Community Incubator (Shai Litt)“ […]

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