Prospects for Jewish Media

by Bob Goldfarb This month a Boston-based entrepreneur is launching a new “nonprofit news wire that will provide features, art, monthly special sections, and Israel coverage; assistance in advertising, sales, and circulation; and national advertising placements.” The man behind the new venture, Russel Pergament, has 30 years of experience as a newspaper publisher, first with the TAB newspapers in greater Boston and later with the urban dailies MetroBoston and AM New York. The service's debut High Holiday section (for insertion in local newspapers) features top-name contributors like Rabbi Harold Kushner, Rep. Barney Frank, cooking maven Mollie Katzen, and comic Jackie Mason. The company has also announced an exclusive agreement for coverage of Israel from the country's largest-circulation daily, … [Read more...]

Leadership in a Grassroots Era

A generation ago the futurist Alvin Toffler envisioned consumers who would participate in the production of what they consume. He called them “prosumers,” and foresaw that technology would empower individuals to help design the goods and services they use. Anyone who creates a music channel on Pandora or orders a customized computer is a “prosumer.” The epitome of the “prosumer” approach in synagogue life is the independent-minyanim movement. It de-emphasizes an elite leadership group and encourages spreading decision-making throughout the minyan, an approach captured by the title of Rabbi Elie Kaunfer's book Empowered Judaism. Like “prosumerism” generally it is a minority phenomenon, an emerging model that complements the dominant institutional structure. The United Synagogue of Conservative … [Read more...]

Succeeding with Innovation

How can Jewish innovation be sustained? Part of the answer, from the experience of entrepreneurs outside Jewish life, is to be more rigorous in scrutinizing the competitive environment and the resource needs of each startup, and especially to have a definite plan for financing it in the long term. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson, who retired at the end of the last academic year, virtually created the school's curriculum on entrepreneurship. He has distilled his long experience into four key “ingredients” necessary for success: 1. A careful definition of available opportunities Is there a demand out there that’s not being recognized or addressed, and what product or service can I offer that meets it? 2. The motivation to pursue those opportunities to achieve some desired … [Read more...]

Selling Innovation

An often-heard lament among supporters of startups is that philanthropists have never fully embraced Jewish innovation. To the extent that that's true, it may be partly because of the way innovation has been marketed. Successful marketing depends on persuading the target audience that a product offers something that the buyer wants. In the case of innovation the value proposition includes its very newness: it's a new movement, it helps new ideas come to fruition, it adapts to new realities. Novelty as a benefit has a limited shelf life, however. It works only so long as the product is still fresh. The longer the case is made for innovation per se, the more dated it will seem - and innovation has been with us now for a number of years. There's also some vagueness about the product called … [Read more...]

The Day the Music Died?

From the reactions to the closing of JDub Records, you might imagine that it was the only music company serving younger Jews. One of the exceptions was the astute, must-read commentary by Jo Ellen Green Kaiser on the Zeek page of The Forward, which acknowledges “'underground' record labels like Erez Safar’s Shemspeed outfit.” It pointedly captions Safar's photo “Last Man Standing.” Shemspeed's music may not be “underground” but its reputation certainly is. Shemspeed is one of the projects that are fiscally sponsored by the organization I work for. When I've mentioned Shemspeed in conversation with foundations or Federation leaders the usual reaction is, “Who?” The obituaries of JDub typically note that Matisyahu recorded for JDub when it was launched, but they don't mention that he now works with … [Read more...]


Many of the first reactions to the closing of JDub Records have followed the same pattern: they look for someone to blame. Some fault philanthropists for lacking a true commitment to innovation, notwithstanding the enormous and ongoing support for the startup sector by Jewish foundations. Others point to traditional institutions for not embracing innovators, even though many Jewish institutions have had partnerships with startups like JDub and have helped support them financially for years. A few think that the management ought to have done things differently, despite JDub's considerable reputation and substantial impact over a relatively long period. Finding villains who supposedly sabotaged a noble cause is less an analysis than a set of talking points. Let's look instead at the expectations … [Read more...]

25 Years of Leadership

Last week, before a very international group of younger Jewish leaders, Prof. Ruth Gavison asked Natan Sharansky a timely question. “The 'Arab Spring' may turn out to be less stable than nondemocratic regimes,” she began. “What impact will this have on Israel's prospects for peace?” Prof. Gavison, who was awarded the Israel Prize this year for legal research, is the founder and president of the Center for Zionist-Jewish-Liberal- Humanistic Thought. Natan Sharansky is of course the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Sharansky's response was unequivocal. “I'm very glad about what's happening,” he began. “I don't miss Mubarak and I won't miss Assad.” He elaborated, “I prefer to deal with democracy. Democratic leaders depend on the people, who want peace, good economy, a good education. … [Read more...]

Innovation and Responsibility

by Bob Goldfarb Whom does Jewish innovation serve? It's a question that needs closer attention as the sector continues to grow. According to a recent report, The Jewish Innovation Economy, this sector “is more focused on Jewish identity and belonging, along with religious expression, than on social services and large-scale institutional action.” That's markedly different from Federations, which typically have a primary commitment to caring for Jews in need. Another difference, as we know from earlier studies, is that the leadership of startups is atypical of the North American Jewish population generally. “Fully 95% [of startup leaders] have been to Israel at least once, compared with 35% of American Jews overall,” confirms the new report. In addition, more than half of the founders and … [Read more...]