Dropping the God Standard: Another 800 Pound Gorilla in the discourse about Judaism and Jewish Education

By David J. Steiner The Judaism that we inherited started in a coffin. Had Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai not been smuggled out of Jerusalem pretending to be dead, to sue for peace and ask for Yavne to create a new academy for our scholars, we would most likely not have the religion we have today. However, were Yochanan to visit a synagogue of any of our modern denominations, the great likelihood is that he would not recognize our practices as the fruit of his efforts. … [Read more...]

Philanthropy in Motion: The Benefits of Running for a Cause

Doron Almog puts a medal on a child from ALEH at the 2014 Jerusalem Marathon. Photo courtesy ALEH.

By Jason Gardner In my social circles, it is well known that I take running very seriously. As an elite runner, marathons and spontaneous off-road excursions are a big part of my life. As a Jewish communal professional, I spend a fair share of my time encouraging others to incorporate running into their lives. The reasoning is simple. In addition to the physical and emotional advantages enjoyed by the runner, pounding the pavement also represents an unparalleled fundraising opportunity. By marrying an inspirational act of human strength and will with an equally stirring organizational story, runners can open hearts and wallets to help support some very deserving charities and causes. With running becoming more popular than ever, numerous nonprofits around the world have tapped into the … [Read more...]

Shavuot’s Message of Caring for the Impoverished of the World

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By Jacob Sztokman Shavuot is my favorite holiday, because it reminds me why I’m doing the work that I’m doing. Three years ago, I dropped everything and opened up an organization called Gabriel Project Mumbai to provide nutrition, health, hygiene and literacy support to children living in the slums of Mumbai. These are children on the margins of the margins of society, the ones most people have given up on, the ones whose misery or death barely register on the global radar as an actual event. Even as one third of all children in the world under five years old who die from malnutrition or preventable health issues live in India, it seems as if most of the world has given up on them. Sometimes, when I describe what I do to fellow Jewish landsmen, I get blank looks. I also get rebuked: “There are … [Read more...]

Together in Israel: Reimagining the Congregational Israel Trip

By Lindsay Ganci and Rabbi Danny Burkeman Many people have traveled to Israel on a family trip, many have taken part in teen trips to Israel, and a lucky few have traveled on both. This past February, we organized a congregational Israel trip that would blend the experiences of a family and teen trip into one hybrid adventure. When our congregation began talking about a family trip to Israel, one of our congregants approached us and asked about the possibility of offering a parallel teenage trip for our youth program, POWTY (Port Washington Temple Youth). This was around the same time that Taglit-Birthright expanded their eligibility criteria so that teenagers who went on an educational trip to Israel during high school would still be eligible to a place on a free trip. This removed what had … [Read more...]

Facebook Problems, Israeli Solutions: How My Nonprofit Leveraged Israeli Technology to Launch a Social Media Platform for Under $1,000

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By Bradley Caro Cook Not long ago, Birthright Alumni experienced something of a social media tragedy when Facebook launched its new platform. Group policies shifted, and administrators were responsible for renewing their groups or they wouldn't carry over to the new and improved site. Many administrators were unaware of the new policy, and the result was unfortunate: thousands of Birthright Israel alumni who had relied on Facebook pages to stay connected watched their groups disappear, and with no follow-up framework for them to reconnect, countless relationships were lost. Hearing the stories of long-lost buses, I hoped to integrate a strong social media component into my organization, Project Beyond, a week-long personalized Israel trip extension, often tacked onto the end of a Birthright … [Read more...]

Connecting to Young Jews Like Me is an Online Experience

By Raina Blumenthal Every Jewish organization I have been involved with post high school I first found out about by looking at their website. Like many other people in my generation I’ve grown up spending a lot of time on the Internet. Statistics show that the average American teen spends 7 hours a day on their electronics (phone, computer, and tablet). While I was involved in my Jewish community as a child by having a bat mitzvah and attended JCC camp, as I got older and moved away from home, I relied on the Internet to find new opportunities to connect with the Jewish community. Through Internet searches I found and signed up to become a camp staff member, a Hillel student leader, went to Israel on Birthright and even signed for a MASA Israel program. While I was living in Israel I found a … [Read more...]

Jewish Outreach Goes to Camp Ramah

By Rabbi Abigail Treu Jewish outreach on college campuses and through synagogues has, over the past two decades, become the norm. We are no longer surprised to hear that freshmen who never self-identified as Jews were invited to a Shabbat dinner on campus, or that synagogues are revamping their schools to accommodate competition from soccer practice and the plethora of activities many families choose over their children’s Jewish education. One area of Jewish education has, however, only begun to venture into the Jewish outreach arena: Jewish camping. As a new program of the National Ramah Commission demonstrates, the field of Jewish camping is fertile ground for reaching unaffiliated families. Ramah’s OpenDoor program was launched in the summer of 2013, funded by grants from the Zell Family … [Read more...]