Yehuda Kurtzer Wins Bronfman’s Brandeis Contest

Congratulations (Image)
Photo by Steve Ryan

Huge congratulations are in order for Yehuda Kurtzer who has been declared the winner of Charles Bronfman’s Brandeis contest.

“The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory”: Excerpt

Kurtzer’s proposal: “The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory” will be featured here shortly. Here’s a sneak peek of what you can expect.

“In the Jewish world, I see this new claim on memory deeply manifest in the proliferation of emergent and independent spiritual communities, and more importantly in the massive reclamation of traditional Jewish text as the key anchor to Jewish growth and affiliation.

It seems now that the most effective vehicles of progressive Jewish dynamic vision are those anchored in the framework of memory, in the quest for mythical nostalgia, in the desire for what I call “new authenticity”…

Young Jews in their 20s and 30s – everyone’s most desired demographic – seek out independent prayer communities precisely because they don’t simplify the service or elaborate too much on a basic paradigm. American Jewish leadership is being transformed by institutions like Pardes in Israel, wherein traditional Jewish learning is cast as an invigorating means to seize authenticity, to enable Jews to stake a claim to and own their tradition.

What is most striking about all these institutions is that none entails a rejection of progressivism or radicalism. Many of them, by design or by accident, are extremely hip and cutting-edge…

This is again a powerful paradox: Rather than employing the language of newness and dissociation from antiquated old models, those models are being rehabilitated to convey that newness – that renaissance – much more effectively.”

To a Job Well Done

To Ariel Beery, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Anita Diamant, and Saul Singer– I greatly admire your efforts and look forward to hearing more from you in the near future.

Learn More about the Bronfman Big Idea Series

In the meantime, I am happy to welcome several new proposals from contest entrants and semi-finalists. The official contest may be over, but we’re still hard at work thinking about creative innovation for the Jewish community. You can always check out what is coming up next on the Bronfman Big Idea Series homepage here.


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16 Responses to Yehuda Kurtzer Wins Bronfman’s Brandeis Contest

  1. Gary Kulwin says:

    Kol Ha-Kavod to Yehuda Kurtzer for his victory in the “Big Idea” contest. He produced a strong proposal, and I sincerely hope that he can develop his ideas into a text that can approach the impact that Mordechai Kaplan’s book had following the 1929 contest.

    Anyway, Maya, I’m glad that you’re not “closing the book” on all of this Big Idea stuff, now that the formal contest is over. While it seems to be very difficult to reach consensus about what is a “good Big Idea” and what isn’t, I think the kind of discussion we’ve been having on this blog gets to the core issues that the larger Jewish community needs to be talking about more.

    Where do we go from here? I guess that we will all figure this out as time goes on. While my contest-related passion has faded, I still find this blog to be the most interesting Jewish site on the Internet, precisely because of the continuing “big picture” focus here – and the instinct to keep asking big questions while looking for the big answers.

    Your Loyal Reader, GK

  2. My two cents (just on the words written above, not on his personal life and agenda)…

    On the statement: “Rather than employing the language of newness and dissociation from antiquated old models, those models are being rehabilitated to convey that newness”, I think he is right on the money.

    Many Reform and Conservative communities have made a move back to more traditional sources, and even observances, precisely out of recognition that this is the well from which the Jewish community draws its vitality. Any approach that puts a fresh/contemporary lens on Jewish sources is to my mind a very valuable thing, provided it is an authentic effort (as opposed to morphing Judaism to provide a means of ideological justification). This goes for Torah observant communities as well!

    As far as the “proposal” I have no comment because the intro does not discuss what he proposes to do.

    Thanks for posting, Maya. Continued refua shleima to you!

    All the best, David

  3. Maya Norton says:

    Thanks, David. Both needed and appreciated.

    Sorry not to be able to post more of the proposal at this point, but I am waiting for Yehuda’s approval of the blogified version, that will make it easier to read in this format (it’s the same treatment that every proposal posted on The New Jew has gotten thus far).

    As far as the excerpt I’ve chosen, I tried to pick one that was especially salient in conveying his idea overall. You can see if what you think when the full version is posted. Yehuda uses Boston as a case study for new Jewish involvement and reconnection, which I think is apt both from his standpoint geographically and because Boston is often identified as a hotbed of such positive activity.

    More to come soon from Yehuda.

    Best wishes,


  4. No Opinion says:

    Not really a plan in his proposal that I could see. Am I missing something?

  5. No Opinion says:

    Complete proposals for all 5 finalists:

  6. Maya Norton says:

    Hi No Opinion,

    Thanks for the links. I just think that the version brought to you on this blog are a bit easier to read (otherwise I wouldn’t bother).


  7. No Opinion says:

    I like your blog posts Maya. Don’t get me wrong. But since it’s online now, I thought I would provide the links. Some people (person, lol), seems to be seething, and chomping at the bit to read it.

  8. Maya Norton says:

    No, not at all. I appreciate that you did.

    Thanks for the compliment. 🙂


  9. Maya Norton says:

    Dear Readers,

    I’ve added a note that all negative comments have been removed from this post and will be removed from Mr. Kurtzer’s upcoming proposal post. If you find that your comment was deleted, this is why.

    This is how it will be for the next two posts. As always, I ask that you remain respectful in order to promote conversation and healthy discussion.

    Thanks in advance,


  10. Ayam says:

    Why not remove all the negative comments from the other proposals? It will make your “Big Idea” page and links much nicer.

  11. Maya Norton says:

    Hi Ayam,

    It’s a good question. I scrape at the idea of limiting people’s ideas, so I have a real internal conflict about curbing the way people are expressing themselves and keeping it as respectful as possible.

    A number of users have been purged, but they have been extreme cases where they left me with no choice. In the case of this particular proposal, the baseline for publishing was that the comments needed to adhere to strict rules of respect in communicating their criticism, which is an idea it is easy to get behind.

    Ideally, I would like all conversation in this blog to be constructive and respectful, but the truth is that I’m not totally comfortable deleting comments because an idea is expressed in a dubious manner. There have been some valid comments that have included insults to other users, and in these cases, the user is always warned and the next comment is deleted if it doesn’t adhere to basic rules of courtesy (that’s the goal, anyway). It’s a real issue for me that I am still thinking about.

    To be completely frank, when I delete comments, I tend to get 5-15 vituperative personal e-mails and when it happens frequently– as it has been recently– I just don’t have the energy to deal with the hatred along with everything else that is going on right now.

    If you have further thoughts, I’d like to hear them.

    Also, I have to ask if that is your real name.

    Thanks for your comment, Ayam,


  12. Ian Zwerling says:

    Nietzsche said to lie one must know the truth. To complain, even vituperatively is no different, to know a different truth. I dont think its fair to automatically accept a proposal because it won. I await to hear anyting positive about this winning proposal.

  13. Maya Norton says:

    Hi Ian,

    Constructive feedback is always welcome here. Anything that devalues the discussion, is derogatory to other posters, or has no relation to the conversation at hand is not.

    Shabbat Shalom,


  14. This topic is quite hot on the Internet right now. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing what to write about?

    • Maya Norton says:

      I try to cover issues of import to Jewish philanthropy and giving in the Jewish world. Please feel free to explore my “About” page on the top navigation bar for more info.

      ~ Maya

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