Not the JEDLAB Manifesto

JEDLABBy Ken Gordon

Greetings, eJewishPhilanthropists!

My name is Ken Gordon, and I’m a co-founder of JEDLAB, the blended Jewish education community. A while back, I wrote a numbered list of the 20 essential principles by which JEDLAB lives. I called it “The JEDLAB Manifesto.” I never published it. Why? There are many reasons for this, but the chief one was that I didn’t feel comfortable issuing such a proclamation to this constantly shifting, stubbornly multi-vocal group. While I was a co-founder of JEDLAB… I didn’t feel like had the right to speak for everyone.

Looking at it now, I see that these 20 points are merely what I think is best about our network. The ways in which our network works best. And so, below, that’s what we’ve got – along with a bit of commentary. Happy reading.

1. Relationships come first in JEDLAB.

There’s something inspiring when JEDLABians place human connection before, say, organizational or ideological advocacy. In JEDLAB we want you to say what you think, and to have others respond in kind. When you and your interlocutor manage to express yourselves in an authentic manner, then the relationship may begin.

2. JEDLAB happens where JEDLAB congregates: in a restaurant, in a meeting room, at a conference, via Google + Hangout, and, yes, on a Facebook group.

We are a blended community that is healthiest when it takes multiple forms. We are online. We are offline. We are four people. We are 4,000 people. It all depends on who shows up, and where. As it says in this HaYidion article: “JEDLAB is a network, a community, a Jewish-ed minyan, a society. It’s a debating society, an incubator, a 24/6 professional development party. It’s people throwing spaghetti against the wall. Joyful chaos. A family. JEDLAB is what its members think it is, and this can change at any moment. It’s also an online forum. But, unlike most online forums, JEDLAB – which, right now, most consistently manifests itself as a Facebook group – is unsatisfied with merely being a highly engaged online community.” So pick up the phone, and call that JEDLABian who you think has an interesting POV. Go meet for coffee. Make deeper connections whenever you can.

3. We insist on authentic expression from, and respect between, our members.

It’s tough to balance honesty and respect. Sometimes honesty sounds like an insult. And sometimes nastiness usurps the place of respect. We try and encourage people to be both honest and respectful – and when someone fails to be either of these things, they get called out. That is when JEDLAB truly takes responsibility for itself.

4. JEDLAB reads books together: to add to our common vocabulary, to grow intellectually, and to help ignite new ideas.

Online communication is always in danger of being pretty thin. Books thicken discourse. Reading books as a group works wonderfully. Jews have been doing this kind of thing for a very long time. When JEDLAB reads together – and I hope it will always do so – it continues this noble tradition. Bring your reading into JEDLAB, and encourage others to join you. Check out the latest literary adventure here.

5. We are inspired by the working method of the MIT Media Lab, and seek it make it our own.

How much of the MIT Media Lab’s process and ethos has filtered into entered into JEDLAB? Hard to say. Difficult to measure. My hope is that innovators and innovations will wend their way through the network, gather feedback and collaborators, and change the way things are done in Jewish education.

6. We strive to avoid consciously marketing ourselves, or our organizations, in JEDLAB conversations. Marketing is the antithesis of authentic dialogue.

When you teach and learn online, rather than buy and sell, you’ve accomplished something worthwhile. The most worthwhile contributions to JEDLAB are invariably outward focused.

7. Following Tony Wagner’s notion of innovation, we aim to fuse play, passion, and purpose.

When JEDLAB really works, it’s a place of innovation. It is admittedly difficult to arrange for a conjunction of all three “P” elements all the time… but when they align, superb things happen. We should do what we can to bring about such a syzygy.

8. The more diverse our membership, the stronger our community.

When we first started JEDLAB, it was called the JDS Media Lab. We soon realized that this idea would restrict the nature of the conversation – and that if we were going to make any changes to the ecosystem, we needed to invite people from every corner of our habitat. The more, the more different, the merrier.

9. Any member of JEDLAB can become a leader.

There ain’t no org chart in JEDLAB – and that’s a good thing. No, a great thing. Haven’t we all had enough of org charts? In JEDLAB, one leads by showing leadership qualities. You want to be a leader in JEDLAB? Show your intelligence. Be generous. Demonstrate your creativity. Build connections. Organize a meetup. Invite someone new and awesome into the conversation. Don’t wait for other people to do stuff, make it happen.

10. With Herzl, we believe that dreaming must be married to willing.

Deb Grayson Riegel recently drew my attention to a blog post titled “The Three Qualities of People I Most Enjoy Working With,” in which the author says that he likes to work with people who (a) Dream Big; (b) Get S**** Done; and (c) Know How to Have fun. I am totally down with this, and want to collaborate with any JEDLABian who agrees here.

11. Our resumes are the least interesting thing about us.

Tell me what you like and I’ll show you who you are. A resume rarely displays one’s true passion. Save your CV for the next job interview; in JEDLAB, we need to hear what you deeply and sincerely care about.

12. We always endorse fearlessness.

It’s not easy to be fearless in the Jewish world. There are times you can be punished for voicing a particular opinion. Indeed, we have a few members who were indeed punished for saying something that upset someone in the power structure. We work to create an atmosphere in which saying the brave thing is applauded. When we succeed, it’s a great thing.

13. JEDLAB fights the Jewish-ed inferiority complex.

There’s something in our world – low pay, modest-to-scant respect – that makes it easy for Jewish ed people to feel inferior to others. This is bad and wrong and we should do everything we can to counteract that sense.

14. Our independence is our strength; we aim to make our members as independent outside of JEDLAB as they are within the circle.

Ideally, one takes the lessons of JEDLAB and makes local changes in one’s own community. If you haven’t yet used the lessons of JEDLAB with your colleagues, in your kehillah, maybe it’s time to start doing so.

15. JEDLAB members have the right to invite anyone to join their Personal Learning Networks.

We should talk to people who really have something to say – and now, with the universal interconnectedness of the Internet, we can. If there’s someone who should be in JEDLAB, don’t be shy: invite her in!

16. We strive to make and keep JEDLAB a place of safety and support.

If a person feels unsafe in JEDLAB, we encourage him or her to speak up. Sometimes all that’s needed in such cases is a specific and honest conversation.

17. We believe ideas are to be shared, tested, critiqued, improved.

We need to do more – much more – beta-sharing. Don’t just post links to your final products, give us stuff that’s in-process. I would much rather have people give their honest opinions about a mere sketch of an idea than receive empty kudos extolling the polished virtues of a final draft.

18. At its best, JEDLAB is reflection in action.

It’s one thing to be innovative in the classroom. It’s another to reflect upon it and use that innovation to create a spirited conversation on JEDLAB. The idea is that by reflecting thoughtfully in public, we’ll enable others to innovate.

19. JEDLAB is a great place to find collaborators.

There are a number of JEDLABians who’ve gotten jobs and consulting work and who have started new programs with other JEDLABians. At its best, JEDLAB is an ongoing partnership. Take steps to cultivate your own partners. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

20. JEDLAB is a work-in-progress. Always.

No word is ever the final word in JEDLAB. Let’s keep talking…

Ken Gordon is the co-founder of JEDLAB. Join him, Yechiel Hoffman and Sara Shaprio-Plevan, on the JEDLAB Facebook group, for some conversations about these 20 points. We’ll be talking on Tuesday nights, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST, starting January 20.