Bronfman Big Idea Series: “Big Ideas? I’ve Got a Million of ‘Em”


What’s all this about big ideas? How about some regular old good ideas. Andrew Silow-Carroll, the Editor in Chief of New Jersey Jewish News and a nascent blogger, has some suggestions.

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 ‘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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17 Responses to Bronfman Big Idea Series: “Big Ideas? I’ve Got a Million of ‘Em”

  1. ARB says:

    How about creating a “menu” consisting of good ideas that are sent to Jewish million, billion and gazillionaries? They can fund the ones they want.

    Maybe a smaller one for an appetizer, then a bigger one for the main course. Don’t forget to leave room for desert.


  2. thenewjew says:

    Okay, since you mentioned it, I’ll let you in on my secret.

    For two years I have wanted to do such a thing, pretty much exactly as you described. Let me know if you want the details and I’ll spill.

    Another example that I was considering and that diverges from what you are talking about has to do with small, style donors. Most middle class Americans have some disposable income they would like to donate to a good cause.

    In Israel in particular, where a dollar goes a long way, there is much work to be done. I was thinking for a long time– and taking the complementary steps– to try to establish such a menu, but there’s too much bureaucracy and lack of transparency here.

    BUT– it’s still very much on my mind.


  3. ARB says:

    I would love to know the details. Feel free to e-mail me about your idea if you want to keep it out of public view for now. It would be great if you could put something together like that.

    I like your other ideas about small donors. I just hear a radio program about That would be anotehr interesting project avenue to look into. I’m not mega rich, but I would certainly give some money to smaller causes that are worthwhile.

  4. ARB says:

    How about a blog, e-mail list and possibly a hard copy newsletter that is affiliated with The New Jew (maybe a sister site) that functions as the project “menu.” Just a thought.

  5. ARB says:

    Such a project should be one of the first entries on the “menu.” The New Jew is a great blog, which also should get funding.

  6. ARB says:

    To be more specific, the first entree on the menu would be funding the menu itself.

  7. thenewjew says:

    Lots of good thoughts.

    First of all, yes I should get funding. 🙂 Sign me up. I could do a lot more than I am doing now if I had the financial resources. I have lots of ideas that need just a little bit of financial supports and a significant amount of vision, time, and energy. Let me know if you happen to bump into a loving benefactor and we can both get our names on that list.

    Second, to learn more on, check out my entry on “Cause-Based Viral Marketing: How Your Nonprofit Can Maximize Social Networking Tools.” It’s one of my favorite and earliest entries.


    Third, I’m very open to starting a project like that, but the issue isn’t the medium, it’s the content. It would require huge buy-in from the communities, nonprofits, and potential donors alike. When I spoke with people in the know about it before, they strongly discouraged me saying it would step on too many toes. I’m still thinking about it, however, and would be happy to talk with you about the details as (and if) I can find a way to do it holistically within the community.

    Shabbat Shalom, ARB. Warm wishes,


  8. thenewjew says:

    Also it’s somewhat of a tricky business getting financial support for your blog because you have to guarantee neutrality (or rather, authenticity) of your own opinion.

    Ideally I would love for my blog to earn me income, but I won’t do it in any way that affects the content. It would have to be on very specific terms.

    Is this something you have thought about significantly for your own work? We all know at this point that ultimate project sponsorship would include the blog/website as a central feature, but if support of the blog/website were offered without the other aspects, would you consider it?

    I’m guessing you’d say definitely yes as it would move you closer to your own goals in the fight against anti-semitism and anti-Zionism.


  9. ARB says:


    Any thoughts on this article from JPost:

    Hillel head wants ‘reverse birthright’ program for Israelis

  10. kulwin says:

    ARB – Thanks for posting this JPost link. I think that it would be great if we could bring lots of young, Hebrew-speaking Israelis here to staff Jewish cultural institutions (maybe my mini-malls will be hiring by the time this program gets of the ground?). 🙂

    Kol Tuv, GK

  11. ARB’s new blog project (warning, this blog is very new and bare-bones but much more will be added ASAP):

    This blog is dedicated to spreading the word about the Vilnius Jewish Library project. The hope is to create a library in Vilnius, Lithuania, for 100,000 books, all in English, that are either written by Jewish authors or explore Jewish themes. The Vilnius Jewish Library is an important part of a larger vision to restore Vilnius, Lithuania, as the capital of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

  12. antiracistblog says:

    Please help spread the word!

    I linked you on the VJL site. =)

  13. About the Vilnius Jewish Library Blog
    This blog is dedicated to spreading the word about the Vilnius Jewish Library project. The hope is to create a library in Vilnius, Lithuania, for 100,000 books, all in English, that are either written by Jewish authors or explore Jewish themes.

    I know what you’re thinking: Do people even speak or understand English in Vilnius? Well, not the majority of people there. But the library will offer English language courses to help people understand the books, and much of the library’s contents will be translated into the local dialect.

    If you think about it, since most of the Jewish population of the area was wiped out during WWII, you can’t expect many books on modern Jewish culture, religion, philosophy, or life to be written in the local language. Because many of these types of books can be found in English, it makes senses that the library would collect these books to fill the void.

    The Vilnius Jewish Library is an important part of a larger vision to restore Vilnius, Lithuania, as the capital of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. For more information on the project, go here.

  14. thenewjew says:


    Reverse Birthright, coming soon. As I said, all these links/important articles are coming soon to an entry near you (it’s an aggregate of 10 resources you should have for thinking about Jewish identity in 2008). Look for it this week.

    Congratulations to you and Wyman for getting the Vilnius blog going. I’m excited for more good things to come.


  15. Jonathan Ramsfelder says:

    I recently visited Disney World and went on Soarin, an exhilarating audio-visual-smell-movement attraction designed to simulate hang-gliding over California. While “experiencing” the attraction, I thought how inspiring it would be if Israel and Jewish Peoplehood were, instead, the themes. It would be fantastic if such an experience could be housed in a few major U.S. cities and targeted at Generation X and Yers as like a Virtual Birthright trip without the flight and time required. I’m thinking a name like “Ascend and Transcend” would adequately capture the experience and cultivate interest.

  16. DC says:

    Or Jewish World. Walt Disney, no fan of the Jews, would probably not have attended.

  17. thenewjew says:


    All the better than that we could use his idea and expand upon it for our own purposes.


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