The weeks immediately following the overwhelming month of Tishrei, heavy with Jewish holidays, are always daunting. The workweek seems suddenly endless, the days too long. The lists of things to do stretch on and on, and there are no excuses – we can no longer hide behind out of office automatic replies. It is now time to begin to honor all of the commitments we made, to ourselves and to each other, and we often do not know where or how to begin.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, who wrote poetic introductions to each of the Jewish months in his work Meged Yerachim, says the following about the month of Cheshvan, the month following Tishrei, in which there are no Jewish holidays at all:
When the soul shines, even skies laden with fog illuminate a pleasant light.
Rav Kook is challenging us to stop leaning on the choreographed moments of meaning, provided so generously during the month of Tishrei, and to begin to create meaning ourselves, and bring it into the world as we enter the month of Cheshvan. We do an about-face going from Tishrei to Cheshvan; in Tishrei, our spiritual and communal experiences are handed to us on a silver platter. In Cheshvan, though,we enter a fog, and unless we illuminate the world around us, it will remain dark. But, as Rav Kook implies, we have tremendous power to bring light, not only to ourselves, but also to the world. It is simultaneously daunting and exciting.
This experience of the transition from Tishrei to Cheshvan can also serve as a metaphor for Jewish life today. As Shawn Landres and Felicia Herman write in “Seeding the Ecosystem of the Jewish Future”
The vertical institutions of the 20th century, led by professional insiders, are giving way to new horizontal structures – distributed networks populated by multiple organizations that operate simultaneously and autonomously, and that communicate and share information with their audiences and between their organizations in ways previously unimaginable.
20th century Judaism in America is analogous to the month of Tishrei. There were centralized institutions that took care of the needs of the Jewish community, and provided structured, uniform opportunities for spiritual growth, education, and connections. But 21st century Judaism looks much more like the month of Cheshvan. There are no authoritative organizations that create resonance and meaning for everyone. The community itself is so diverse, and has such differing needs, that the offerings of old no longer speak to the majority of the community. 21st century Jewish life in the U.S feels like Rav Kook’s fog-laden skies; it is murky, unclear, and takes inner strength and light to navigate.
It is much easier to lean on what exists, or to abandon it altogether, than to face the fog and bring one’s inner light to bear on it. But that is exactly what today’s courageous generation of Jewish innovators are doing; they plunge into the Cheshvan-esque mist, dedicating their careers and talents to creating sparks of brightness that help today’s Jews continue to find inspiration, connections, and meaning from our rich tradition. They’re inspiring, as individuals and as a group, and their example can help each of us as we transition into this new Jewish year.
This past May, UpStart accepted a new group of innovators into its Accelerator program. This year, while all are planning programming to benefit the SF BayArea, for the first time the class has members based in Boston, Milwaukee, New York, and Jerusalem, as well as in the Bay Area. These individuals have insight into the needs of today’s Jewish community, the courage to articulate and bring those needs to light, and the strength and perseverance to try to meet those needs. UpStart is excited and honored to help them re-design Jewish life, adding to the 100,000+ Jews each year who now benefit from the compelling programs of the other current and alumni UpStarters, not including the additional 1,000,000+ views and app uses of UpStarter alum G-dcast’s Jewish media content. The newest class of UpStarters offers the creative and diverse allows Jewish life to be ever more meaningful and relevant to Jews of today. The class includes:
Representing The Paradigm Project are leadership team members Anna Hartman, Ellen Dietrick and Peter Blair. All three have been recipients of the JECEI-Covenant Fellowship (2007-2010).
Anna Hartman received the Pomegranate Prize from the Covenant Foundation (2011).
Ellen Dietrick received the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education
(2005), was a Jim Joseph Foundation Leading Educators Online Fellow (2009 – present), and won the URJ Techie Award for Best Use of Technology in Early Childhood Education (2010).
Peter Blair was also a recipient of a Fellowship from the PIRG’s for their Green Corps program (1997).
The Paradigm Project is a grassroots change initiative focused on multiplying and nurturing the seeds of excellence in Jewish early childhood education. The Paradigm Project is a group of current and aspiring leaders in the field of early childhood education who engage in professional development together with a goal of revolutionizing the field via communities of practice that are delivered through social media and year-long fellowships at the intersection of Judaism, leadership, and the most current research in early childhood education. Unique to the Paradigm Project’s approach to professional development is its commitment to learning that is ongoing, social, inspirational, and focused on the application of learning.
Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D. was born in Georgia, he is a University of Georgia alumnus. His background is in Special Education and Data Administration. He and his wife made Aliyah in 2013 and now live in Jerusalem. Shortly after, concerned about the future of the Jewish people and realizing the power of an Israel experience, he formed Project Beyond.
Project Beyond offers personalized 10-day extension experiences in Israel to those who have recently completed a short Israel trip. Project Beyond believes an extension experience facilitates a deeper connection with Israel, Jewish heritage, the Jewish people, and helps establish a person’s role in their US home Jewish community. By leveraging the $3,000 financial and time investment of the Israel experience, and while the priceless element, inspiration, is abundant, Project Beyond will provide the platform that can facilitate a life-long and meaningful connection.
David Winitsky is the Founder and director of the Jewish Plays Project, a collaborator with StorahTelling, and a PresenTense New York City Fellow. He has directed or assisted on Broadway, off-Broadway, and regionally at Papermill Playhouse, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, California Shakespeare Festival and Philadelphia Theatre Company. He received an MFA in Directing from Northwestern and a BA in Mathematics from Cornell. He is also a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab and Emerging Artists Theatre.
The Jewish Plays Project transforms the Jewish communal structure into an incubator and accelerator for marketable new Jewish theater projects destined for mainstream theaters and commercial producers. By investing in emerging artists in their Jewish identity; engaging Jewish communities in the vetting, selecting and championing of new voices; and securing mainstream production opportunities for the best new plays, the JPP will put bold, progressive Jewish conversations on world stages.
Julie served as an educator in the Jewish community for nine years before joining Jewish LearningWorks in 2007. Julie holds a BA from the University of Michigan and is also certified in Iyengar-based yoga from the Yoga Room in Berkeley, in Yoga and Jewish Spirituality from Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality, and in Movement-based Expressive Arts from Tamalpa Institute.
Mara has been with Jewish LearningWorks for over five years, and is currently the COO. She previously served as an Associate Director and the Director of Jewish Service Learning. Mara holds an MBA in nonprofit management from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a BA from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Jewish Learning Works – Embodied Jewish Learning believes holistic health is a Jewish value and a basic human right. Through yoga, dance, and other Embodied Jewish Learning, Bay Area Jews will experience Judaism through wellness practices that nourish their minds, bodies, hearts and souls. To accomplish this, Embodied Jewish Learning will offer high quality programs, capacity building, professional development of practitioners, and thought leadership.
Yigal Deutscher entered the world of Jewish environmentalism as an Adamah Fellow at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut. Since then, he has received a certificate in Argo-ecology from the University of California Santa Cruz, as well as a Permaculture Design Certificate from the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia. He was the founder of the Eco-Israel Apprenticeship program at the Chava v’Adam Farm in Israel
Yigal is the founder of 7Seeds, an educational platform creatively linking ancient Jewish teachings of Shmita and Permaculture Design strategies in order to support the emergence of holistic, regenerative Jewish communities. To do this 7Seeds provides educational publications and curriculum, consultation and design services, community organizing and training, as well as organizational training and events which range from one-day intensives to week-long courses. 7Seeds is dedicated to creating unique educational opportunities to bring to life the deep teachings of Permaculture and Shmita and the powerful cultural possibilities that emerge from the union of these two paradigms.
7Seeds. Where ancient mythology and Jewish earth-based wisdom traditions activate a journey towards community resilience and regenerative cultural design.
Check out their inspiring work, and be moved to contribute your light to help dispel the fog!
Maya Bernstein is an Associate at UpStart Bay Area.