The Final Five At the Gate

updated two hours later: The JAFI Board meetings the past few days has put me a bit behind in posting. We can now bring you breaking news about the Bronfman Prize Finalist.

Here is the original post from earlier today.

This past Sunday, Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program played host to the five semi-finalists for the new Charles R. Bronfman Visiting Chair in Jewish Communal Innovation.

The winner of the current competition, which is supported by philanthropist Charles R. Bronfman, will receive salary, benefits and research assistance for two years.

The winner will be expected to teach one course each semester at Brandeis, and to deliver lectures or seminars based on the project, but the bulk of the chair-holder’s time will be set aside for research and writing. The book that results from this effort will be published and promoted by Brandeis University Press.

Jacob Berkman writes in a JTA post from yesterday…

From 231 contestants Brandeis chose five finalists: two noted authors, one of whom is also a reality television show host, a Harvard doctoral candidate, a 20-something publisher of a startup magazine and a journalist. A faculty committee interviewed each of the five for an hour prior to the public symposium presentations.

The proposals all seemed to echo James Baldwin’s idea…“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

The question for all of the finalists is, ‘how‘.

For Ariel Beery, the publisher of the startup magazine PresenTense and co-founder of the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism, the answer is learning how Jews of the past adapted their Judaism to their contemporary societies and recognizing that Jews today must adapt to the latest technological advancements.

“These shifts were elemental in figuring out what it means to be Jewish,” Beery said. “In doing so they learned from the best outside and imitated inside in order to bring Jewish content to new vehicles through technology.”

His book proposal, “Translating Judaism for the Post-Digital Age,” focuses on how Jews must adapt Judaism to the age of online social networking, where Facebook rules.

Beery, at 28 the youngest of the finalists, envisions a Jewish network based on building Jewish “nodes” in major cities throughout the world where Jews can live, work and create together, sharing ideas. Then, Jews must work with existing Jewish infrastructure to develop an online platform to share these ideas.

Another finalist, Anita Diamant, the author of the best-selling novel “The Red Tent,” believes that Jews must learn that Judaism did not die in the past and that modern American Judaism is very much alive and teeming with growth and innovation.

Her proposed book, “Minhag America,” would be a description of that growth and perhaps a prescription for how to spread ideas that work.

Diamant has 17 chapter ideas that would focus on issues that illustrate what is happening in the Jewish world today. Among the headings she has chosen are “Power to the People: Lifelong Jewish Learning for Everyone,” “Counting Women In,” “Art is Not Idolatry,” “Pop Culture, Grin and Bear it” and “Authentic Spirituality.”

“There has never been a better time to be Jewish,” Diamant said. “After a little more than 350 years on this continent, we find ourselves taking a thrilling, not-so-risk-free leap into the next, living through changes as profound and unpredictable as those presented by rabbinic Judaism when it emerged.”

To meet the other three finalists, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Yehuda Kurtzer and Saul Singer, click here.