Applications for the Open Dor Project are Open Now and will remain open until January 5th, 2018.
By Rabbi George Wielechowski
On my way to the Open Dor Project’s first cohort convening this past summer, I got lucky enough to find myself seated next to the Spirit of the Jewish Future. You’ll perhaps be surprised to learn that the Spirit of the Jewish Future is a middle-aged, Hindu man named Arul.
Arul is the chief technology officer of a Fortune 500 tech company. He is a kind and talkative soul, sporting a proudly bald head and salt and pepper 5 o’clock shadow to go with his round face and inviting smile. Arul and I quickly entered into a conversation about all kinds of things: our shared passion and work experience in tech, our families, and our passion for the religious identities we have acquired relatively late in life. But the majority of our conversation was engaged in sharing on this last subject, and on what the future might hold for faith traditions of all kinds.
As the Open Dor Project opens its application cycle for the year beginning today, I’ve been thinking a lot about Arul. During that flight, I learned that Arul’s main job these days as CTO of his big and successful company doesn’t have much to do with maintaining the tech of today, but is mostly concerned with bravely imagining and exploring the yet-to-be-developed tech of tomorrow.
“I’m a futurist,” he told me with a wink.
Arul explained that his company probably spends a third to a half of each dollar on exploring and experimenting in what they don’t know yet – about their industry, their customers, their own core product roadmaps and business models – so they’ll be ready when the future of their industry becomes the present.
Now, I had heard of futurists before but wanted to pin him down a little on whether this was a real thing.
“What does being a futurist really mean?” I asked.
Futurists, it turns out:
- Are not afraid to talk openly about what they don’t know or what they don’t do well;
- Invest a good part of their resources in self-disruption – if someone’s going to eventually take over large parts of their market share one day with a new idea, it ought to be them;
- Leap with courage into as many scenarios of potential futures and experiment in them as much as possible – increasing their chances of finding many solutions to a known challenge, and even potentially positioning themselves to solve unpredictable challenges yet to come.
So, I’ve been wondering more and more: What if Jewish leaders could be like Arul and his company, and like many forward thinking leaders working in everything from tech to science to economics? What if we could be brave enough, all of us, to be Jewish futurists? What if we could create a community and a space where we could all walk into a room or write an essay and say what we wanted and needed to about our work, and the landscape we do it in, without political consequence or vitriol?
What would we say in that magical space as we discussed today’s modern, American Jews? As we humbly explored and took into account the fundamental human needs, not just the assumed Jewish needs, of the less connected majority that we claim we are trying to serve?
Maybe we’d look around at each other and honestly say we don’t know (yet) how to make the successful case to these folks that being in regular Jewish community matters to living a better life. Maybe we’d admit we don’t know how to define “Jewish spirituality” or even what characteristics make certain expressions of spirituality exclusively Jewish. Perhaps we’d even share that we don’t know what Jewish community will look like or come to mean in the next 5 years, let alone in the next generation. But that we’re willing to work hard and explore and experiment to get closer to finding out all of these things, and more.
The Open Dor Project feels lucky to serve a growing movement of brave Jewish spiritual leaders and organizations who are actively leaping into the unknown. Like my friend, Arul, these futurist clergy are deeply rooted in the religious values and traditions of the past and are also always experimenting towards discovering the new, religious expressions of tomorrow. We hope that the magical space where we can come together in community and admit what we don’t know, but that we’re willing to try and fail and try again to find out, is soon to be created. We also hope for a time when a much larger portion, if not a majority, of Jewish institutional resources will be spent on bravely supporting the building of the many paths that will lead us towards the next, exciting, and unknown Jewish future.
If you’re a brave spiritual leader hoping for some of these same things, we invite you to apply to the Open Dor Project today.
As the plane was touching down and our conversation coming to a close, I mentioned to Arul that I admired his name, and wanted to know its meaning in Sanskrit.
“My full name means ‘Blessing of God from a limitless universe.’”
I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Of course it does.”
Rabbi George Wielechowski is the founding director of the Open Dor Project.