Bronfman Big Idea Contest: Finalists Announced!


Congratulations to Ariel Beery, our own Bronfman finalist, for making the top five list in Charles Bronfman’s big idea contest for Jewish communal innovation at Brandeis University.

 UPDATE: Ariel’s proposal will soon be joined by the proposals of Yehuda Kurtzer and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who have kindly agreed to share them on this blog!  

Among his illustrious competitors are:

  • Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of Kosher Sex and television’s “Shalom in the Home,” and founder of the Jewish Values Network— project: “Bringing Judaism to the Mainstream”
    • You can read more about Rabbi Shmuley’s idea here where he says: “Why have we failed? I believe the principal reason is the false choice that the American Jewish community has imposed upon its constituents. In essence, one is always forced to choose between the Jewish and the mainstream community… We can make Judaism and Jewish values so central to American life that wherever anyone turns to TV, radio, the Internet or print, they will bump into something Jewish.”
  • Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent and founder of the Mayyim Hayyim mikvah– project: “Minhag America”
    • Note Diamant’s use of the term “minhag America” in this Jewish Standard article. She says, “We are creating a new Judaism, minhag America, a strong, healthy, creative American Judaism”
    • Minhag America is the 1847 prayerbook created by Max Lilienthal as a national American prayerbook
  • Yehuda Kurtzer, instructor at Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School and Harvard PhD candidate– project: “The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory”
  • Saul Singer, columnist and editor for the Jerusalem Post– project: “From Survival to Purpose”
    • You can read more about Singer’s idea in his own words here, where he says: ” We have forgotten that our purpose is not to survive; our survival is to advance our purpose”


    Ariel Beery’s proposal, as featured in our Bronfman Big Idea Series, is entitled “Translating Judaism for the Post-Digital Age: Creative Zionism and a Renewed Jewish People.”

    Keep reading to learn what the finalists have in common.

    Choosing a Winner: What You Can Expect

    The finalists were selected from 231 candidates, 49 of whom were rabbis, 19 were lawyers, and 50 were international from Australia, India, Italy, Sweden, and Israel.

    We look forward to learning more on February 24th, when finalists will present their ideas in a symposium. Each session will be 15 minutes with a 15 minute question and answer session.

    What Can We Learn From These Nominees?

    What conclusions can we draw from this list of five finalists? A preliminary assessment tells us the following:

    • Wordsmiths— All are authors or known in some way for their writing
    • Media Savvy— All five are already well known in the Jewish world for their thinking and voices. They have established personae and have proven to be media savvy
    • Movers and Shakers— Ariel Beery, Rabbi Boteach, and Anita Diamant have founded Jewish institutions (the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism, the Jewish Values Network, and Mayyim Hayyim, respectively– among others)
    • Geography— Diamant and Kurtzer are Boston based. Beery is from New York but has deep connections with Israel having lived there and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Rabbi Boteach is from California. Presumably Singer is in Jerusalem, although I haven’t been able to find much personal information about him
    • Forward Thinking— It seems from their titles that four of the five proposals (excluding Kurtzer) are focused on future strategic thinking and making Judaism more accessible– but we can’t say for sure until we read them

    What else have you noticed about the finalists? What do they have in common? Were they whom you expected? The types of proposals you expected? What does it tell us that 181 proposals came from the United States?

    Voicing Your Thoughts: Inviting Proposals

    A reminder that I am still welcoming your proposals and ideas for Jewish communal innovation, whether they were officially submitted to the Brandeis contest or not.

    The series is still in publication and your voice is welcome. Please e-mail me for more information at: mnorton [at]

    Recommended Reading

    A Personal Note

    As you may already know, I am still sick and am not up to post writing right now (believe me, this is for the good of my readers). Please stay tuned for more high priority issues in the world of Jewish philanthropy when I return next week.



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    35 Responses to Bronfman Big Idea Contest: Finalists Announced!

    1. Rhonda says:

      I wonder what the details of the 5 projects are? It doesn’t seem a coincidence that big names and well known people won the contest. Not to say that the names were more important than the ideas, but I wonder how much impact that had on who won. I figured some unknown genious would be picked. Too bad. Nevertheless, I hope that one of these five ideas will make a positive impact.

    2. Shai says:

      Rhonda, see

      There wasn’t much information on what the Brandeis selection committee was looking for, but what there was appeared in this article.

      Your question was how the idea vs. the person weighed in their consideration. I’m going to engage in some forensics here, so I’m on shakey ground – but I like Maya’s challenges, so I’m going for it.

      Based on the article, no doubt the idea was important, but the person behind the idea and their qualifications to teach was equally important (impossible to say if it was more important, because on this matter of the “idea” they were always vague and they never publicized any of the over 200 ideas submitted, so no 2nd guessing allowed).

      Three different sources in the article were quoted as seeing the eventual candidate as being an ‘academic’ or as being one of the “Jewish professional leadership”). One quote mentioned that that experience might not be “significant”, as in not a PhD, but they were clearly interested in having somebody they felt to be their equal as part of their faculty. A “colleague” if you will. This might have resulted in the impression you got that “big names” were a requisite.

      As well, a significant requirement was an idea that could be put in the form of a book “with practical implications” within 3 years.

      Not all “big ideas” need books, some big ideas are derivative or collaborative projects that do not lend themselves to being captured on the page in a way that might be interesting enough to read about, when the preference is to partake in them (imagine a book about Birthright selling before there was a Birthright), and some ideas that can be put in book form don’t need 3 years to do it. Were there “big ideas” that didn’t make because of this that are better than the ones selected? Impossible to know.

      It seems clear to me then that this also weighted the selection toward an academic and writers (which all the finalists are), as academics often feel books are accomplishments in and of themselves. “Publish or die” is the rule in academia. It is my experience that academics in the liberal arts (as Judaic Studies is) fields are more disposed to the idea that their actions need only “imply” projects that are “practical”, and may have no interest in actually doing the projects themselves (rather, preferring to leave it to others). This was a puzzle for me when I was putting my project together for submission, because I saw they were also saying they were looking for the next Birthright, which IS a practical project, but the book was such an important part of the “package”. I wasn’t sure how to deal with that.

      When we see the next 3 ideas, we’ll see whether the “implication” got more weight or the “practical” did, or whether it’s a blend of both.

      Between the lines, I also wonder if the search for the next “Birthright” suggested a concern we see in the article, and that I saw in a different article in a quote by the sponsor, Charles Bronfman, that we are losing Jewish youth, that we need some sort of “hook” to keep them in the fold. He admitted (I think it was at the GA speech) that he and most of the leadership has no clue how to deal with this. I estimate that this was the impetus for the contest in the first place – their frustration at this difference.

      Probably then, one of the requirements might have been that the idea itself had to address itself to this, or to be geared to or by a person of the generation-of-youth who DOES have a clue, or symbolically represents the search for clues. They are likely then to have weighted submissions from people who seem to understand that generation (or their perceived concerns and needs) more heavily than submissions that had more general appeal.

      I think it will be interesting to see how this all turns out, whether any of the ideas have the kind of power that that of Mordechai Kaplan’s did in 1929, which was used as the paradigm for what they are looking for. Will one of these projects be the next “Birthright”? Will any of them have the power to change how Jews see themselves and their place in the Jewish community?

      I am interested in seeing the 3 ideas that I have not yet reviewed. Heck, I’d like to see all of the 200 plus ideas. Even the Braveheart one.

      The best ideas, I think, are derivative – a product of brainstorming between lots of people. I think it was unfortunate that the whole process seemed to go under the radar for two months, and the only place I could find any discussion on it was here on Maya’s site.

      This contest should have been a community project, not any less than it was a Brandeis project. I strongly felt, and mentioned it in my comments in other contexts, that the community shouldn’t have to be silenced just because it’s not their nickle. It causes apathy and the destruction of a sense of community, and the sense that we can contract out leadership to others rather than take action ourselves. BTAT.

      As for my own idea, I’m still going to develop it further and pursue it, as I think all the others who submitted to Maya’s blog should, to the degree possible. A friend of mine told me that each big idea requires a meshugga and a financier. Once you have both, the rest falls into place. We may have not found a financier this time (except maybe Ariel – we’ll see), but speaking for myself, I am a meshugga about my idea and I don’t intend to accept the contest standards as a final word about its worth.

      I thank Maya for the opportunity to give me a venue to learn from all of you, and exchange thoughts with you. I also am grateful to have seen all your ideas. I wish there were more, because I find ideas very inspiring and I learn a great deal from them and the people behind them, and the competition is healthy. I know my own ideas have become better because of my interactions with some of you, and I deeply appreciate the time you took to interact with me.

      I also, Maya, much appreciate the extra effort you put into gather the information for this post, and submitting it even though you are under the weather. Sh’teheeyee briyah.

    3. thenewjew says:

      Hi Rhonda,

      It seems they’ve left the criteria open so as not to be tied to them, legally or otherwise.

      I think you’re right on in your observation that they were looking for a personality along with an idea. Not that it’s a negative, necessarily, but we always knew that they had their own agenda when the reward for the next big Jewish idea was a professorship. That’s going to cut out a large swath of people.

      Thanks for your comment. Can’t wait to hear more news from Brandeis.


    4. thenewjew says:

      Dear Shai,

      You draw an interesting comparison between an idea that is “big,” which is to say important, and actionable. I think we have to look for an idea that can be turned into a project at this stage because we don’t get very far just thinking about something. We have to be able to do something with it. Your own project is certainly a good example of this.

      Like you, I have hoped since the contest’s start that we can give all of these ideas breath– and of course, you know that I have welcomed anyone with an idea to share them here.

      I’m not convinced that the idea chosen will deal with youth, but moreover with attracting people into the fold (the fold of the tallis, not the hassock :)). At least for Beery, Rabbi Boteach, and Diamant, there is a very strong personal dynamic of popularization of Judaism with them. I know that phrase is going to inspire a reaction in you, but there is value in attracting people to care about being Jewish and understanding what it is.

      If you take R. Boteach, for instance, Kosher Sex was a very accessible, easy book. It was friendly and didn’t make judgments about anything– very much outside the norm of Orthodoxy. From the internet clips of “Shalom in the Home,” I get the same impression.

      Diamant, whose writing I am in love with, has done great things for making Judaism more hands on. Starting with The Red Tent, which is what shot her to bestseller stardom, and sourcing from her books on Jewish weddings and how to be Jewish, she given a much needed woman’s, practical perspective. Mayyim Hayyim’s mikvah and women’s educational classes are also in this vein (I encourage you to go if you are anywhere near the Boston area).

      As it is now, we have at least one more proposal that is on the way to being published here (although perhaps not for a few weeks) and I hope that there will be more. Like you, I have been searching for others and I hope that cutting out so many people will leave them looking for other options to think about these ideas.

      Warm wishes, Shai.


    5. Congrats to the winning 5! I’m glad that one of the “Maya 7” was selected. I agree with you Maya that there seems to be some similarities between the ideas (forward looking), and the finalists (all established or well known).

      Like some other commenters on your site have mentioned, I did think that some relative unknowns would be among the finalists, and would offer ideas that would blow my mind. The finalists chosen seem to be “safe,” but that is not to say that their ideas aren’t amazing and potentially transformative. I guess I was thinking more of the ideas, than the people submitting them, but clearly the teaching prize required taking into account the individual submitting the proposal.

      I have to admit that I was a little disappointed after receiving a rejection letter, but Shai’s comments about not letting the contest determine the worth of his idea, and his plans to continue working on his submission in the future regardless of the result of the contest has inspired me to not give up so easily on my project. I was not going to quit ARB, but I believe that the need for the larger project I propose is only growing. If only I could find a generous donor who cares about fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is academia. Someone out there has to care enough…right?

      It might be because I’m not one of the finalists, but I have to admit that I am just as interested in the ideas that didn’t win than the ones that did. I wonder if there will be a way to read those ideas? I wish someone would release them online, after getting the permission of the authors of course. It seems like a waste to generate over 200 ideas, and then to only discuss 5 of them. Maya, since you have talked to Prof. Sarna, would you mind asking him if any of the non-finalist ideas will be released, or made available? (When you are feeling better, of course).

      Thanks again Maya for all your hard work exposing some of the big ideas! To all the other people who submitted their ideas, whether you made it to the finals or not, you should be proud for putting yourselves out there and taking a risk for the betterment of the Jewish community.

    6. Shai says:

      Maya, as usual we agree more than disagree. Where we might disagree is about what it means to be “brought into the fold”, and whether the method chosen to do so is sustainable on a broad community basis, rather than merely on an opportunistic singular/individual basis. I expect that the latter case will lose as many Jews as we gain, and risk further dividing our ranks rather than uniting us. Big Ideas have to be practical, I agree, but just because they’re practical doesn’t mean they are in any way “big” at all.

      And, I think your observation about being brought into the fold is right. But I also believe “fold” implies “scope” – some sort of overlay for Judaism that respects our uniqueness as a culture even as it respects our uniquness as individuals. As yet I haven’t seen this being grasped by our leadership.

      The “fold” of a “big idea” would be geared to the problems Israeli or French or English Jews feel, not just American Jews, and shouldn’t cheat by redefining the word “fold”. Similarly, the fold must be big enough to include Jews who will be born in coming generations, the true measure of “rate of return” on our investments. It should be comprehensive enough to include Jews whether they are in a stream or not. And it should find a way to bring Jews into a fold based on some intrinsic rather than extrensic quality of their connectedness, a connection founded on commitment to ideals that bind us rather than merely a tribal tie. So, depending on how it responds to the above issues, the nature of the “popularization” of Judaism is essential to whether the “big idea” is a solution, or part of the problem. If the “popularization” we’ve seen til now hasn’t turned the tide, why expect it to now? Why expect a book, of all things, to be the means by which the vision is accomplished, when so much ink has been spilled and accomplished little?

      I prefer the sort of on-the-ground bottom up work in the Limmud style as a way of “popularization” (though this support by no means exhausts the possibilities of how what they do can be done in other ways). In terms of making Judaism “accessible” (by the way, look up “” if you want to see if your hunch about Orthodox Jewish norms is right), I prefer Limmud’s method because it forces Jews to bang down their own doors rather than have it done for them. “Yisrael” means “wrestles with G-d” for a reason!

      Putting the solutions in pretty packages (another way of saying “popularizing”) for people allows them to get away with not edoing the heavy lifting themselves, to create their own derech, and stretching the metaphor, it leads to unhealthy “flabby” connections with our communities that wither over time. Such people either sustain a formal connection without substance, or give up the connections altogether when the effort becomes too difficult. Why do such individuals expect the Jewish community to keep playing nanny, picking up after them? Let them create a Judaism and Jewish Community in their own image if they don’t like it, instead of grousing about the one they inherited! Only a Jewish community consisting of people who make an effort to be Jewish (however that’s done – I’m not prescribing here) will mean enough to Jews to be chosen as a way of life.

      For example, and if he’s reading this I hope he’s not offended, as much as I disagree with him, I think Orthodox Anarchist is a fantastic paradigm of what Jews should do. I think he’s got some things completely wrong (perhaps because I still don’t understand him properly – but I dont’ think I’ll ever be invited for coffee so not much I can do about that), and I think he should be more future oriented (incorporating a sense of obligation to future generations and to community that does not necessarily have the “individual” at the centerpoint) – but the intensity! I respect that, even as I don’t like some of his opinions – and that respect while disagreeing is not any different from all the other Jewish streams who believe intensely that their way is right, and mine not. So what? At least they’re doing the heavy lifting! There should be much more attention paid to how to enable Jews to connect like that (not do it for them!). If we don’t do it, there is no solution, no big idea, that will work. At least that’s what I firmly believe, based on my analysis of the problem.

      To summarize, I don’t thnk anybody except ourselves make “Judaism more hands on”. It’s a DIY project for each and every one of us who CHOOSES to be a Jew, building our Jewish communities and Jewish religion. People have been buying “off the shelf” for so long, they’ve forgotten this is so, but it is now so, as much as it has been. If we keep looking for big ideas that do the work for Jews, that intice them with how we can make their lives easier rather than more meaningful, we’ll continue to fail.

    7. Dan says:

      Of course we have no idea about the other 200+ ideas that were submitted. Reason tells us some were probably close ‘runners-up’ and some completely off the wall. Perhaps we will see them at some point; I suspect not. This is not uncommon with academic prizes. Unless like the ones you posted, they are independently submitted or wind up on the author’s own site.

      As to the selection process, we do need to keep in mind one of Shai’s points. Despite this being called by most the “Bronfman Prize”, which as he is funding it is correct, this is a Brandeis University project. In other words, the prize is overseen by an academic institution of higher learning. First and foremost, a teaching appointment for two years is involved. My own guess, this fact (that teaching was a part and was announced in advance) probably eliminated proposals from consideration as an academic appointment was just not likely for the proposer.

      My guess is they had no idea at all as to either the quantity or quality of proposals that would be submitted and hence the vagueness. As a result, to tie themselves down in advance would be self-defeating.

      I am also guessing they (meaning the selection committee) are also gambling. They chose projects (at least some as we have not seen all the proposals) already in infancy. Better chance for traction, hence success; then in a few years they can claim this first prize award as a success. Again, let’s remember, first and foremost this is an academic prize. It will be judged in the Jewish community by the traction it gains; in academia, the bar is different.

    8. Withlove says:

      I am disappointed with the finalists in this contest. All of them already have a soapbox. We have heard their ideas; A television personality with an agent, a best selling novelist, a newspaper journalist? Which one of these individuals hasn’t publicized their ideas? I thought the purpose of this competition was to give a voice to a truly groundbreaking idea, something that had not been on the horizon. What difference will a two year hiatus to write make in these people’s lives. They are already writing.

      And how groundbreaking are the ideas? Do they truly answer the question, “Why be Jewish?”

      I guess the committee wanted a “name” and a “book”. How easy it is to take someone who already has a name and a book.

    9. kulwin says:

      Hi, Maya (and everybody else) –

      Not to be a grumpy loser (my wife would say I’m grumpy much of the time anyway), but I was a more than a little disappointed as well when I saw the list of finalists. Of course, I think that all five finalists are solid choices, and I wish them all the best (although I’m personally rooting for Ariel Beery!).

      I don’t think that my beef has anything to do to the fact that they are all established voices. I’m sure that those who are well known are at least as likely to have good ideas as the less famous. These people are well known for successes they have already achieved, a pretty good indicator of success in the future. In this sense, the selection committee chose wisely.

      On the other hand, these choices (other than Ariel B., in my opinion) seem to be pretty “conservative” – not in a political or religious sense, but in an institutional “rock the boat” sense. I could be wrong (since, like most people, I have not read their proposals yet), but I tend to agree with what Shai suggested – the funders’ chief concern seems to be how to keep future generations of Jews (including today’s young adults) “in the fold”. In other words, the Big Problem (in search of a Big Solution) behind the current contest appears to be Outreach – “how can we sell our product better?”

      Personally, I am more interested in proposals that seem to answer the deeper and more controversial question, “what sort of product should we be selling?”. At the very least, we might want to start by asking, “Is there something flawed or inadequate with the product line that we’re selling right now?” As a former Jewish professional with “time in the field”, I am a little cynical about dramatic prospects for “Outreach” (although some programs, like Birthright, are obviously having amazing results). I wish that, as a community, we could talk a little bit more about “Inreach” – getting our already committed members to try out new, fulfilling forms of Jewish life (which could, in turn, inspire more of the unaffiliated to join us).

      Like Shai, I would love to see a new version of this contest in a year or two, where all of the proposals were submitted publicly, and not only to satisfy my own curiousity. I am curious to see if there are others who are on my wavelength – proposing projects very similar to my own. While I have received warm support from readers here, I really wonder if there are any other thinkers or activists out there who specifically want to push for more Hebrew cultural activity in the Diaspora. Contests like these could be a great platform for continued networking. We just need to know what everybody else is thinking.

      I think that, deep down inside, I (and many of the other people who wrote proposals) just need to know that we are not “The Braveheart Guy” – i.e. somebody whose idea is off the wall to everybody but the proposer himself. If there is a chance that you ideas will have traction, then it is definitely worth continuing to struggle. However, if you are “alone in the wilderness” (even if you remain convinced in the worth of your ideas), the struggle may ultimately be fruitless. I would certainly like to know more about what amcha thinks about the ideas put out for their consideration.

      I’m not sure how much further I want to invest in pushing my “project” as a whole, although I do want to keep reading and writing for a while. The last couple of months have been exhilerating, almost cathartic for me. In particular, I think that I want to devote more energy promoting those models that already exist and need more support – primarily the Ben Gamla charter schools and the Israeli Network (yes, another shameless plug for the causes I support!).

      Another idea I had today was to try to begin blogging (or just plain writing) in עברית. It just seems more than a little silly to keep writing about the joys of Hebrew – in English! Frankly, though, it’s just a lot easier for me to express myself in English. On the other hand, I wonder whether a good chunk of my potential audience doesn’t even bother to read English language blogs, Jewishly themed or otherwise. Has anybody else here tried Hebrew blogging?

      As a middle aged guy with a busy job and a restless two year old, I don’t have as much time for activism as I did in the past. On the other hand, I am feeling more passionate than ever (esp. since becoming an Abba) that we all need to do something to change the course of Jewish life.

      Anyway, enough kvetching for now; I’ll probably do more on my own blog,, later (another shameless plug!). 🙂

      Shabbat Shalom , GK

      P.S. Feel better, Maya!

    10. Shai says:

      Dan, you know what a good idea would have been? Take the two “chairs” (Charles Bronfman funded another one that will be auctioned off in “contest” in two years, after this one finishes) and divide them into two contests; The “regular citizens” vs. the “academics”. Talk about a “reality show”!

      After two years see which group came up with something that best resonates with Jews at causing them to “think about themselves and their community”, and fund it. It just might be that academics and Jewish professionals, the types of people who are appropriate for making Brandeis a better Brandeis, might not necessarily be the ones who always make our Jewish communities better Jewish communities. Just maybe.

      In fact, it wouldn’t be too late! Take all the non-winning ideas and elect a new set of judges for a non-Brandeis sort of scenario, and select one of them!

      Heck, that is a “big idea” all itself, encouraging Jewish lay-people to take upon themselves responsibility for building their communities by becoming themselves the Jewish leadership! I fear it would be perceived as a mutiny 🙂 In actuality, though, the absence of this approach contributed to the situation we’re in.

      Maya, we can start here. Everybody, spread the word and have people send in their submissions to Maya and we’ll review them all here. Maybe we can get a list of emails of competitors and ask them to submit. Together, we can vote from a menu for our favorite selection committee! Maybe Bronfman would fund that, too?

      You in? 🙂

    11. Shai says:

      And to use Dan Sieradski’s idea, from his speech at the GA, if people like Bronfman don’t want to fund it, we can use paypal! Or is this too much of a “storming of the Bastille”? 😉

    12. Shai says:

      Or skip the jury! We can have a bicameral vote – paypal, for the idea that raises the most money, and popular, for the idea that receives the most votes (need the technology to keep tabs of IP’s). Whoa! We’ll make the cover of TIME! 🙂

    13. Shai says:

      Another idea – a bicameral vote without a jury. Paypal (not papal) vs. Popular! We’ll make the cover of TIME! 🙂

    14. ARB says:


      Your “big idea” menu would come in handy right about now.

    15. Gary Kulwin says:

      Actually, after reading Saul Singer’s article (where he advocates some form of proselytizing, which the Jewish community has traditionally avoided), I think that both he and Ariel B. may have disruptive proposals with the potential to “rock the Jewish boat”. I am not sure if a serious proselytizing program could be effectively implemented (at least, in the near future). However, just raising this idea could force communal leaders to ask themselves other intriguing questions. If we exist primarily as a “faith community” in the Diaspora (especially in the United States), then why don’t we consider proselytizing the way other religious groups (i.e. our “competitors”) would? On the other hand, if we primarily see ourselves as an “ethnic group”, then why don’t we engage more in the kinds of activities (especially linguistic and cultural pursuits) that other groups would maintain?

      In other words, Saul S. seems to be asking some of the same kinds of questions that I asked in my proposal, albeit from a religious (vs. ethnic) perspective. How do our ideologies match our organizational structures? Is organizational outreach to the unaffiliated a viable means to insure continuity, or do we need to examine our situation on a more holistic/environmental level? How should the practices of non-Jewish groups affect our own? Saul’s core thesis, when articulated in a full-length manuscript, could be very provocative indeed.

      Regards, GK

    16. ARB says:

      Chabad looks to enhance Birthright experience: Newly funded program will provide post-Birthright programming.

      A couple more Birthright related articles linked here:

      P.S. Maya, I just got in touch with a woman who lives by me who is willing to donate thousands of Jewish authored and related books to the Vilnius Jewish Library. She also runs huge book drives and is willing to donate books regularly to the project. That is exciting news!

    17. kibitzer says:

      Shmuley’s a tachlis (ifmore than a little overexposed) guy, so I’ll assume the best, but as for the others — what exactly is the Big Idea? I thought the search was for elevator ideas — you know — the kind of ideas you could sum up in an elevator ride: “free trips for college students to Israel”; “a publicly funded Hebrew-language charter school;” “a Jewish service corps based on the Peace Corps.”

      Instead we get “concepts”, “ideas,” “paradigms”, “perceptions.” The contest is turning out to be a fancy name for a book-writing fellowship — a book that will expand on the essays and ideas they’ve already written, will be read by very few, and to the extent that people quote or adopt them they’ll refer back to the oped or summary that will eventually be written (or already has been). So why spend all the time and money on the book? Just write the oped!

      Singer, by the way, is the son of Suzanne Singer, emeritus managing editor of Moment magazine under Hershel Shanks. His father is Max Singer of the conservative Hudson Institute, his sister Wendy is AIPAC rep in Israel, and his brother Alex, z”l, was killed while on patrol in Lebanon in 1987. The family was raised in Washington, DC and Israel.

    18. Shai says:

      Kibitzer, hi

      I am not sure, but based on the title of Rabbi Boteach’s submission, it might be based on the article you can read here:

      To summarize, in this article he proposes making Jewish values more interesting to American Jews by making them more interesting to American society-at-large. Like Diamant’s proposal (Minhag America), Jews outside America are apparently perceived as not really having a problem.

      He said, “The implementation of these ideas stands the best chance of bringing the universality of Judaism and Jewish values for the very first time to the epicenter of American intellectual, cultural and political life. “

    19. thenewjew says:


      Great points (and great name).

      That’s why I’ll continue writing and publishing about these ideas with those who are willing to share and listen. “Why be Jewish,” indeed. I think it’s a question that still needs addressing.


    20. thenewjew says:


      Very true, but I think the proposal series is enough of a menu, no? Tell me what you think I could do to present such a menu in a more attractive way. Can’t wait to hear your ideas.


    21. thenewjew says:


      You certainly make a good point about the difference between an “elevator idea” and a “big idea.” I think of an elevator idea as being small but actionable and a big idea as being conceptual but unwieldy. A good big idea, I think, can serve both purposes.

      Thanks for the biographical information for Mr. Singer. Much appreciated.


    22. thenewjew says:


      Looks like you found the exact article. Great job. Now let’s see if we can do anything about a little matter of republishing it here.

      * Scheming thoughts *


    23. ARB says:

      “Very true, but I think the proposal series is enough of a menu, no?”

      I think something in hard copy format would be beneficial. Many of the people with money to fund projects are older, and may not be so tech. savy, or wired into the internet.

    24. Maya Norton says:


      I am thrilled to announce that two more contest finalists have agreed to share their proposals with us. Look for them in the coming days.

      ~ “The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory” by Yehuda Kurtzer
      ~ “Bringing Judaism to the Mainstream” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach


    25. Gary Kulwin says:

      As some people might say these days, “You rock, Maya!” 🙂

      This has definitely become the unofficial site of the Bronfman contest. I’m surprised that JTA, or even Brandeis itself, hasn’t posted a link to your site for additional information on the contest. Indeed, as ARB suggested, it would be nice if somebody flew Maya out to Waltham, MA to provide a “live blog” of the proceedings.

      BTW, do you think that Dr. Sarna (or anybody else “officially” related to the competition) would be interested in posting a guest article here? I got the impression that everybody was pretty surprised by the relatively large volume of entries. I wonder if this experience has left any lasting impressions, and what they might do differently (if anything) during the second run of this contest a couple of years from now.

      Regards, GK

    26. Maya Norton says:

      Thanks, Gary.

      It’s funny that you mention these things because I have had some of the same thoughts. This blog gets significant hits whenever there is a contest announcement, and as you know I have scoured the internet and activated my somewhat dormant Israeli chutzpanit to bring some of these proposals to you, yet there has been no wider recognition– other than widespread direct linking of Ariel Beery’s proposal.

      I don’t want to bother Prof. Sarna as I know for a fact he is an extremely busy man, but I do wonder why I seem to be the sole blogger– or even media outlet– for this competition. Although far outside their modus operandi, wouldn’t it be somewhat in Brandeis or a media affiliate’s best interest to do the same?

      The JPost is my fiercest competitor, if we can even use those terms, having published both Singer and Rabbi Boteach’s proposals, but with three finalist proposals to be published in the coming days, I seem to be ahead in the count.

      We’ll be at at least 10 really high quality proposals by the end of next week, perhaps more. That’s a high percentage of the participants. With the series still ongoing– my encouragement is active!– I hope to get more still. I can’t believe how high quality, interesting, and thoughtful the proposals have been so far.

      Seriously, a billionaire has an idea to hold a contest to make change in the Jewish world and the reaction from the mainstream is ho hum? What’s going on here? I join you in my confusion on this one.

      And yes, if you are reading this and you’d like to fly me to Boston to liveblog the February 24th symposium (or anything else), I can be ready in a number of hours. I’m ready for sponsorship! 🙂

      Warm wishes, Gary,


    27. Barry Freudkind says:

      This contest was obviously a fraud put out bu bronfman and sarna to try and get publicity for the soon to be extinct brandeis univ.
      All the winners are part of the establishment which created the problems they purport to solve.
      By running a fake contest bronfman has lost whatever credibility he had from birthrite program.
      I believe the reason they are not publishing all the entries is because they do not want the Jewish public to see what frauds they are.
      PS sarna claims to have written dozens of books. Stop 10 Jews on the street and ask if they ever heard of sarna or ever read his books. The only yes answer you will get is if you accidentally stumble on one of sarnas relatives!

    28. Maya Norton says:

      Dear Reader (above),

      When you enter your e-mail, I can see it, as I’m sure you know. We have already communicated by e-mail about your feelings on the contest.

      I respectfully ask you that if you would like to express your opinions here on whatever issue, to please use your own name and stand by it. If that doesn’t work for you, pick a moniker, but please don’t mix and match identities.

      I see the comment box as the best way we have in the blogosphere of communicating our thoughts and opinions with each other, and in this blog, of adding to the larger Jewish conversation.


    29. Texasyid says:

      Point well taken
      Nevertheless, none of the proposals are in the Big Idea catagory of Birthrite. They are the same old preudo-intellectual drivel put out by the pro-assimiliationist do-nothings that have ruined world Jewry.
      It so happens I know of a fellow that submitted a proposal that is heads and shoulders above all of the garbage that passes as finalists of the Big idea.
      Therefore When I say the contest is fixed I speak from personal experience.
      Bronfman has problems with his family that led him to intermarry a non-Jew perhaps even a non-white woman, who later converted reformed style.
      Sarna is a nothing outside his cocktail circuit friends.
      The gentile % of brandeis is increasing as Jews stay away from that has been college. this phoney contest was designed to garner publicity for brandeis, bronfman and sarna and do nothing for Am Yehudi!

    30. Maya Norton says:

      Dear Texas Yid,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Any chance your friend might be interested in adding that great proposal to our conversation? I am available by e-mail at mayan80 [at]


    31. Texas Yid says:

      I think he might have been willing to post his proposal here ,but he is upset at me for verbally attacking bronfman and sarna and does not want to be linked to me.

    32. Texas Yid says:

      Birthrite is a simple easy to understand project that all Jews can get behind and support.
      The 5 finalists of the bronfman prize are intellectuals or pseudo intellectuals who came up with ideas such as teaching Judaism to gentiles.. With over 100,000 US Jews that have joined cults and 1 million US Jews who have converted or whose kids have converted are we capable of teaching Judaism to strangers when we have not been able to teach it to our own people? Many young Jews do not set foot in shul even on Holy Days. many young Jews work on Holy Days. For American Jews to teach Judaism to gentiles is like ariel sharon running a weight watchers class!
      Once again how difficult would it be for the bronfman foundation to scan the proposals and put them on the net???
      What are they hiding?
      Perhaps a rigged contest!?

    33. Texas Yid says:

      Anyone know that professional holocaust survivor tom lantos and his meshugana wife converted to mormonism as did dem senator harry reeds “Jewish” wife.
      Too bad rabbi shmully did not spend as much time teaching Judaism to them as he wants to do teaching it to gentiles.

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