Reimagining What Might Be Possible: The Innovative Spirit of Today’s Jewish Life

During December, 2009, a consultation on Jewish innovation and social entrepreneurship was convened in Toronto. The goal, to begin a process to address the key issues that will affect the success of the Jewish innovation sector.

Dr. Caryn Aviv has prepared an analysis of the consultation, Haskalah 2.0, that Jumpstart’s Joshua Avedon describes as “both an interesting reflection on what happened and meaningful to the development of the field as a whole.”

Since the innovation subject is so relevant to many of the participants in this week’s ROI Global Summit, it was only fitting the analysis was released here.

Following is an excerpt from Dr. Aviv … the complete Haskalah 2.0 analysis is available for download.

The Emerging Paradigm for Jewish Innovation

Jewish innovation is often difficult to define. The impact of innovation can be extremely powerful, but at the same time it’s hard to predict or quantify. Debates about what constitutes or qualifies as “innovation” sometimes provoke anxiety or lead to false dichotomies between what is innovative and what is “established.” Proponents of Jewish innovation argue that new forms of creative, spiritual, and artistic opportunities are in fact vital to Judaism’s future. Alternatively, and more prosaically, is Jewish innovation simply an emerging industry unto itself, a set of responses to current circumstances and strategic business opportunities with its own set of economic interests at stake?

In the end, innovation is often simply defined by what it is decidedly not – the patterns and practices of the current Jewish communal “establishment.” Many Jewish innovators have been influenced by or are products of Jewish federations, synagogues, Hillels, day schools, summer camps, and other mainstays of the Jewish communal world. Many, but not all, leaders of Jewish startups describe themselves and their work (sometimes defiantly) either as alternatives to these traditional organizations, or (less frequently, at least in public) in opposition to, or as an antidote to, these institutions. Others take a more explicitly cooperative approach to framing Jewish innovation, arguing that their ideas and organizations expand the range of options for participation Jewish life, often through strategic partnerships and collaborations with established Jewish institutions. Still others seek to provide opportunities to grow and nourish emerging leaders who hope to take on important future roles and responsibilities within the larger Jewish community. This means that both the success and failure of individual projects make a meaningful contribution to Jewish life.

about: The consultation was organized by Jumpstart, JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute, and The Jewish Federations of North America, hosted by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and co-sponsored by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.