Deborah Fishman sits with Tomer Marshall.
This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series.

[Tomer Marshall is Curator at Leadel: A Jewish Media Hub, showcasing the rich variety of contemporary Jewish voices and expressions. Following completion of a master’s thesis in comparative media exploring the evolution of formats in new media, he gained experience in web development and writing and directing for television in Israel.]

Tell me about your network.

The underlying principle behind Leadel is to figure out how to get people from different backgrounds, life skills, and areas of value-based work to connect with one another. How can those in the environmental movement connect with the Jewish Anglo scene in Jerusalem? How could my friends in the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) movement connect with the people I know in the Tel Aviv art/design scene? These people had never met and while it might seem that they have little in common, they actually have a lot in common: At the end of the day, they are all engaged in activities for the benefit of society.

We do this through creating a central campfire for the tribe – somewhere people can come and don’t have to talk to one other, but they can see and be exposed to each other. There’s no broadcaster doing this, as they are all focused on the niche audience. By doing a Jewish public TV series featuring extended profiles, we could all be more aware of each other on a personal story level, not only on a political level. We’ve also done a lot of experiments in new media showing what is interesting in the Jewish web, such as a crowd-sourced video asking people for questions about Chanukah.

How do you measure the impact of your network?

Measuring is the old way of thinking. I’m not sure I can say up front what the results will be. No one would have said the outcomes of the Internet would be facebook or email – money went into it because it was touted as a missile defense program. But would you say it wasn’t worth it? In putting money into smaller organizations whose goals are more open and experimental, you have to know that the ROI is going to be very different. The question should be: Is what I’m doing enabling the creation of more connections, or not? Then, it’s feeling the pulse and what the connections are doing. Are they growing and strengthening? Are people I’m funding helping other people? If you fund five organizations which aren’t only thinking about themselves but each are trying to help five others, you’re going to make an impact.

What do you think the impact of networks will be on the Jewish world?

Networks are going to change the Jewish people because we’re the people of the media: we change as the dominant media change. We’re going into an era of networks; right now it’s still at an early stage. It’s too early to tell what the hubs of the Jewish people will be in this new era. Networks aren’t a command and control system. They’re more of an enabling system. Will the hubs be big organizations, or will they not hop onto the train before others do? The question is whether we will change happily and in a way that flows, or if it will be bumpier.

Our job as part of the Jewish organizational world is to make it as flowing and pleasant as possible. For starters, everyone should read Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s Linked – it’s good to understand the basic terminology. Also, if we learn the new “Web literacy” skills and ideas – such as content management, nodes, and organizing information – the networked effect might soak better into Jewish society.

What is the role of technology in a networked world?

Technology is a distraction – networks entail a change of mindset. For instance, when we launched Leadel, we had a web server for our videos. It was very expensive, and it was also a closed environment. We decided to transfer our videos to YouTube. It was less “ours,” but it was contributing to a bigger network, making videos open and free to the world. The idea of a network is that, once someone makes something everyone else can use, they’re creating value, and that value will flow. So you can see that technology is the last decision once you have the mindset that is aimed at being part of and contributing to something bigger – a network.

How do you envision the Jewish world operating under a network mindset?

If you see one TED Talk, you say “Wow, I learned something new.” If you see a few, you say “Wow, there’s still so much I don’t know.” We need to bring that perspective into the Jewish world. We don’t want to just cater to people’s specific needs in directing them to one isolated Jewish experience; it’s about getting people to understand that there’s so much more they don’t know and excite them about learning. There needs to be something that brings together people from different places and disciplines that have nothing to do with each other – but they find a way to learn from each other.

People are connecting, learning, and starting to care about being part of a bigger organism. Instead of politics, which say, “I’m right and you’re wrong” and imply a fight over limited resources, we need to understand anti-politics, to be all on the same side and to see good in others.

What has Leadel done to contribute to this new mindset?

Last February, Leadel organized a digital Jewish education forum bringing together Jewish educators and pioneering education technology for a day of learning. We thought it important to enable organizations to have better digital presence, because if they understand how to use the web, they will make it better for the Jewish people through economy of scale. It’s critical for organizations to understand that the main point is to create value for others.

And we’re planning to take this to the next level with even a bigger Jewish TEDlike conference. Stay tuned, join our mailing list, and we’ll keep you updated.

This post is cross-posted on Deborah’s blog, hachavaya.blogspot.com, as a part of her ongoing conversation series with network-weavers about their best practices.

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