You probably heard by now that Brandeis University is holding a competition for The Next Big Idea in Jewish life. Philanthropist Charles Bronfman is backing the competition, whose lucky winner will spend two salaried years at the university developing his or her idea into a book-length project that “aims to change the way Jews think about themselves and their community.”
I was excited when I heard about this, because I am chockablock with ideas about how to change the Jewish world. But then I thought about having to relocate to Boston, and besides, I have enough trouble concentrating on one idea for two hours, let alone for two years.
So instead I have decided to make my ideas “open source,” and by sharing them here I am offering my blessing to anyone who wants to pick up on the concept and enter it in the contest. Just give me a shout out in the acknowledgments.
Bar/Bat Mitzva Registry
Does anyone on planet earth who is not a teenager know what to buy a teenager? Too old for toys, too young for Scotch, b’nei mitzva are gift-giving nightmares. You can go the Judaica route, but just how many Kiddush cups can one 13-year-old use? Books are always a nice idea, because they look good on their parents’ shelves. So how about an on-line registry, where Joshua and Ariella can post their wish list, guests can click on “buy me,” and everyone can focus on the deeper questions of the day, such as “Are they serving sushi?”
Fundraising Dinner Offsets
You know the drill: Cocktail hour. Interminable speech by the president. Ditto by the executive director. Guest choir sings the entire Naomi Shemer songbook. And special guest speaker tells how his experience as a pro athlete/television actor/Washington pundit relates to the work of your school/hospital/research fund. Meanwhile, the Giants and the Packers are in overtime.
So how about this: Announce a fund-raising goal for the dinner and promise to lop off chunks of time for every step closer you get to the goal. Reach the goal before the dinner — everyone stays home and watches the game!
Vowels and Capital Letters
For the average American Jew, learning Hebrew is like the old TV game show Beat the Clock. Remember? Gene Wood would announce the stunt: “All you have to do is use this spoon to carry the egg to the bucket.” And then he added the challenges: “But you’ll be blindfolded — and wearing roller skates!” Modern Hebrew is exactly like that. All you have to do is read these words. But we’re going to take away all the vowels. And the capital letters, so you can spend an hour before you realize that â€˜eye-zen-how-er’ is not a verb meaning to invade Korea. And if you want to read Torah, no punctuation! Fun!
So let’s finish what Ben-Yehuda started and bring Hebrew orthography into the 13th century. Hey Israel, buy a vowel!
Hagba Training Camp
Hagba, or the act of lifting the Torah scroll, is one of the most dramatic moments of Shabbat morning services. And who doesn’t like a little drama packed into the morning prayers, like the fear that somebody’s uncle will break his wrist trying to lift a 400-pound Torah scroll over his head, after which the congregation will have to fast for the next 30 days?! I say we fund a weeklong camp to train hagbaniks, with sessions on weight training, technique, and the all-important walking-backward-and-sitting-down-without-landing-on-the-floor. And how about “Fantasy Hagba Camp,” where you can train side-by-side with legendary Torah lifters, like Irwin “Six Columns” Zussman of Oceanside, NY?
That should get you started. And if these ideas don’t change the way Jews think about themselves and their community, they’re just not trying hard enough.
Reprinted with permission (and thanks).
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