Riding the Tiger: Tikkun Olam Makers to Shape Jewish NY with First-of-its-Kind, Permanent TOM Community

This system allows people who are paralyzed from the neck down to turn pages in a book. Photo courtesy ZOA Productions; TOM TLV 2015.

By Maayan Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

Gidi Grinstein, president and founder of Reut Institute, describes Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) as a “phenomenal, societal gift by the Jewish community to broader society.” In July, the majority of nearly 9,000 voters gave some big thumbs up to Grinstein’s assertion, selecting TOM as the winner of UJA Federation of New York’s “Shape Your Jewish New York” competition. As the winner, TOM receives a $250,000 grant from UJA to establish a first-of-its-kind permanent TOM community in New York.

TOM is a program of the Reut Institute, a Tel-Aviv-based think tank. Based on the six core principles of scalability, community integration, collaborative competition, affordability, smart development and innovation, TOM brings together strategic thinkers, engineers, designers and project managers to solve unmet social challenges in disadvantaged communities.

The UJA contest funds a nonprofit with the best idea for making the Jewish community more welcoming and inclusive. Four finalists were chosen from 32 submitted proposals. TOM received the most votes.

“We did not think we would win,” said Grinstein, whose program was in competition with 70 Faces Media, Central Synagogue and the Friedberg JCC. “We felt it was a tough competition.”

TOM plans to use its winnings to establish a permanent TOM presence in New York, including professional staff. Until now, the project has been completely volunteer run. Grinstein said TOM’s goal will be to involve as many Jews in the tri-state area as possible in this “Jewish inspired project.”

“We want to help many millions of people around the world – any person around the world who struggles with a neglected problem,” said Grinstein. “The intention is that all this goodness comes through and from the Jewish community.”

Aside from the cash prize, Grinstein said the competition helped TOM to build new and deeper relationships, and provided the project with unprecedented recognition. TOM is a project that emerged at the edges of the Jewish community and Israel, “but it is becoming one of the fastest-growing tikkun olam movements in the Jewish world. To get the recognition of the UJA Federation in New York is nothing short of amazing,” Grinstein said.

TOM drives assistive technology innovation through the making of affordable open source solutions to real-world challenges facing people with disabilities. It’s flagship activities include community make-a-thons, at which prototypes for assist technologies are designed. In a second phase, driven by developer groups, these prototypes are made into products. And finally – phase three – the products are disseminated.

In the three years since TOM launched, the project has dealt with more than 250 product prototypes. It has run make-a-thons in more than 30 cities in 10 countries. TOM aims to impact the lives 250 million people around the world in the next 10 years.

As TOM establishes its permanent New York presence, it is also building a permanent innovation center in southern Tel Aviv in collaboration with WeWork. The Tel Aviv space will serve as TOM’s global center and allow the project to dramatically accelerate its rate of innovation. The Tel Aviv center is scheduled to open in mid-October.

“Our vision was for Israel and the Jewish people to partner in improving the lives of a quarter billion people in a decade, and our strategy to do that is to deploy the energy of the Start-up Nation to solve the needs of people at the bottom of society,” said Grinstein. “We’ve riding the tiger.”