Reboot: Still Creating

Reboot attracted a lot of attention when it was launched in 2003 as a way to reach unaffiliated young Jews through culture, and it stayed in the spotlight thanks largely to its use of media. Guilt and Pleasure Magazine, published seven handsome issues before ceasing publication in 2008. The Reboot Stereophonic record label, now known as the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, has revisited the meaning of American Jewish identity through classic recordings of Jewish-mashup pop culture.

Fast forward to the present. In the last few months Reboot attracted enormous attention in the mass media, including an interview on CNN, with its “Sabbath Manifesto” and its National Day of Unplugging on March 19/20. Last fall’s High Holiday project, 10Q invited participants to reimagine the Ten Days of Repentance through ten personal questions over the ten days. The goal is still to involve young unaffiliated Jews, but with a twist: timeless Jewish ideas are reframed in an utterly contemporary context. It’s the new face of Reboot.

Executive director Lou Cove explained to me that these creative ideas are born at the annual summit in Park City, Utah. (New Voices, the magazine for Jewish college students, wrote about this annual retreat in 2009 .) He describes it as a curated conversation for a select group of people who tend to be creative and media-savvy. After Shabbat dinner at the summit two years ago, participants talked about how technology invades every waking hour, and how the Sabbath can be an antidote to that. The project coalesced around the Manifesto, and the launch this March clearly struck a nerve.

Each year the summit asks three questions: Who am I? What am I inheriting? And what am I going to do about it? And the answers often revolve around culture, because as Cove says, “nothing celebrates identity like culture.” The 315 active Rebooters were selected because they know how to reach a mass audience with new ideas, which helps explain why the latest projects have been so successful in attracting media attention. It’s a striking contrast to the apparatus of surveys, reports, panel discussions, resolutions, task forces, and committees that characterize so many other initiatives in the Jewish community at large.

Reboot views Twitter and Facebook as “false communities” that don’t serve deeper needs. That, too, differs from the communal consensus, where social networking is a constant topic of conversation. And in a time when innovation is a buzzword, Rebooters continue to find meaning in tradition. When one Rebooter became interested in Jewish ethical wills, it led to a call for reflection about life and meaning linked to Rosh Hashana, the traditional time to take stock of our lives. That became the 10Q project.

There’s a lot to be learned from Reboot’s playbook. Rebooters recognize that culture is the most widespread form of Jewish identity; they build community around substance, not just social events and the Internet; and they trust the power of enduring Jewish values. More JCCs and Federations, as they try to attract younger unaffiliated Jews, might try the same.

Bob Goldfarb is the president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, and a regular contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy. He can be reached at bob [at] jewishcreativity [dot] org.