The Power of the Collective: PresenTense 2012


In June of 2007, a centrally located religious neighborhood in Jerusalem became the launching pad for what would later become the PresenTense Global Summer Institute.

But back in 2007, this low-key initiative with lofty goals was known as the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism (PICZ) and its goal was about “harnessing the potential of a global Jewish People rooted in the Jewish state … to contribute their unique spark of creativity to the Jewish People,” according to co-founder Aharon Horwitz.

That first summer was a success. Horwitz, along with co-founder Ariel Beery, slept little, worked hard, and like many start-up entrepreneurs, quickly maxed out their credit cards. Steering committee members Esther Kustanowitz and Inbal Freund-Novick were a visible presence and the original fellows group included Bible Raps‘ Matt Barr and Challah for Hunger‘s Eli Winkelman. In 2007, most of the names associated with PresenTense were unknown outside their own local networks. Today, a good number are highly recognizable in the global young adult Jewish community.

In 2007, the name of the game was “bootstrapping.” Today, with a clarified vision and purpose – the program, the curriculum and an exceptional team – have coalesced into the PresenTense Group. The summer institute itself has become truly global – with participants not only from smaller cities in the U.S., but also from Budapest, Buenos Aires, London, St. Petersburg, Russia, and more.

PresenTense’s Global Summer Institute is a six-week program that teaches entrepreneurs how to turn an idea into a viable venture to better Israel and the worldwide Jewish community. Using PresenTense’s curriculum, that relies on the collective power and guidance of a team of mentors, coaches and teachers, entrepreneurs leave the Institute with the tools to develop and grow their initiatives.

This past July marked the 6th annual Launch Night program, where the most recent Summer Institute Fellows joined together with the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers Global Jewish Connections Fellowship at Jerusalem’s JVP Media Quarter, to pitch their projects to friends, relatives, influencers and potential funders and partners.

The evening itself was both bittersweet and nostalgic as it marked the public culmination of Ariel and Aharon’s involvement as Co-Directors of the PresenTense Group (see Transitions). The network they leave behind is not only strong, but global in reach – seeded with 296 fellows, 282 startups, 500 steering committee members, tens of funding partners, board members, mentors and thousands of other volunteers.

Here is a brief look at three of the projects unveiled at this summer’s Launch Night:

From Odessa, Ukraine, Jenny Spektor (Global Jewish Connections Fellowship):

Developing a global website to which different communities and different organizations will add their programs, so that the wide spectrum of JCC programs will be available for all Jews worldwide. The website will also provide a forum for discussion on Jewish topics.

From Greensboro, North Carolina, Justin Sakofs (Global Summer Institute):

Venture: MagneticShul

MagneticShul is a toy designed for 3-7-year-olds to further engage them in synagogue ritual life. Children can play and explore through imaginative play during t’filot by using scenes from Beit Kenesset and magnets of people and articles found in the synagogue environment. ManneticShul allows for the pluralism and plurality of Jewish synagogue worship by having children direct the environment themselves.

From Buenos Airies, Melisa Goldfinger (Global Summer Institute):

Venture: Heme Aquí (Here I Am)

Heme Aquí is an organization that helps people with special needs through a unique method: golf therapy. Through this sport, Heme Aquí teaches the mentally disabled to develop their self-esteem, concentration and coordination. Most importantly, Heme Aquí promotes the integration of the disabled into mainstream society by hosting golf tournaments that include both the organization’s students and other players in the area. Heme Aquí works with its students’ parents and siblings because it firmly believes that true inclusion starts with an accepting and encouraging family. Heme Aquí wants to show society that people with special needs can learn things a s complex as golf; they too can contribute to and be a meaningful part of society.