Toward the Miraculous Future: A Chanukiya of Predictions for 2012

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein
“Daddy, how do we know it REALLY was a miracle, not just that somebody counted the oil the wrong way?”  Morgan Cohen, age 9

For the serious adult student, Chanukah presents interesting questions about Jewish history, the challenge of heroic narrative and the complexities of a Jewish authority. But for a nine year old, a simple question belies its profound impact: was it really a miracle that the oil burned for eight nights? This question, asked last week by my daughter Morgan, has been burning in my head ever since, especially as I prepared my annual list of predictions for the coming year.

In many ways, 2011 was a year filled with surprises that, despite the continued environment of hardship and challenge pervading our current times, was imbued with a sense of miraculousness. For example, who could have imagined that Gilad Shalit would be released after 1,940 days and nights of our collective burning desire to see him free?

Miracles help us believe in what lies ahead while predictions help us make sense of and prepare for it. And even though the only prediction we can make with certainty about the coming year is that the unpredictable will happen, we also have to believe that the miraculous will as well. With that in mind, here are eight predictions for 2012:

  1. Disruption” is the new“ innovation.” For the past several years, we have been consumed by the concept of innovation, so much so that we have begun to question its meaning. If everything is innovative then perhaps nothing is, and we risk losing our ability to distinguish those ideas that can be truly transformative. I predict that in 2012, we will continue to celebrate the systemic innovations that improve the Jewish world, but that there will be an increased focus on truly disruptive ideas that will move our community into new paradigms of experience. What exactly these disruptions will be I leave to our collective wisdom.
  2. The Sun Rises in the East … More than ever, I am convinced that eastern Europe is the crucible of some of the most interesting ideas in the Jewish world. Young adults from all across the former Soviet Union and other eastern and central European states are reclaiming their Jewish heritage and, at the same time, engaging in creative ways to connect with one another. Whether it is Jewrnalism, an emerging network of Jewish citizen journalism in in central eastern Europe, or the incredible growth in interest in Limmud FSU experiences across Russia and Russian-speaking communities around the world, these entrepreneurial individuals (and, by the way, an amazing number of them are women) are taking advantage of the support of organizations like the ROI Community, Paideia, and others to transform their ideas into action. This year will bring even more of these activists and idealists to the forefront, in ways that will be hard to ignore.
  3. The Year of Storytelling. Yes, we are the People of the Book – and the best books tell great stories. As communication technology allows us to create, share and blend our stories together in ways once unimaginable, we will see an even greater focus on the power and potential of the personal and collective narrative. With organizations such as Storahtelling and PJ Library reinforcing the powerful value of biblical and creative stories, and with individuals like Beth Kanter helping translate the ways new technologies enhance our ability to share our stories, I think the increased focus on storytelling will be one of THE stories of 2012.
  4. CityLabs. Tip O’Neil famously said “all politics is local.” More than ever, the future of the Jewish world depends in part on the experimentation, communication and cross-pollination of ideas that are generated in local communities that view their cities as laboratories of Jewish experiences. Cities like Denver, Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, Portland and Toronto are already ahead of the curve and communities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston and Seattle have the potential for even greater exploration. CityLabs are not just happening in North America either, but also in places such as Paris, Moscow and Johannesburg. I predict that the emerging Jewish CityLab movement will help make the future of many cities much brighter.
  5. Emancipatory Philanthropy. The rise of online tools that allow nearly anyone to be a donor these days has been among the top stories of the past couple of years. As online giving continues to grow, and more organizations like the Natan Fund and technology platforms like Kickstarter give individuals the freedom to engage in philanthropy in self-guided ways, I predict the new story of 2012 will be how our more institutional philanthropic platforms will transform their models into a more emancipatory approach.
  6. Network Weaving as a Core Competency. I would be remiss if I didn’t have one prediction about networks. The truth is, the need for network weaving has become apparent to many in the Jewish world. As more organizations adopt a network mindset, we will see them developing a core competency in connecting and animating strategic networks of individuals that share similar ideas, interests and experiences. Assessing the ways network weaving can be used as performance driven activity is an obvious next step for these organizations and an area that I think (and hope!) will take center stage in 2012.
  7. Food for Thought. Maybe it is because latkes are on my mind, but I think that the Jewish food movement will take even deeper root in 2012. From initiatives such as Gefiltefest in the UK to community gardens such as Earth’s Promise in Be’er Sheva, individuals are using food in ever-evolving ways to build and nourish community. With organizations like Hazon helping to lead the way, I predict this area of Jewish engagement to expand this year and not a moment too soon. As global food concerns continue to rise, the Jewish food movement has an important role to play not only in educating us about what we put in our mouths, but in making sure everyone has enough to eat.
  8. Israel Endures. It may seem less like a predication than a prayer, but each year I remember that we can’t take Israel’s existence for granted. This past year was one of regional tumult and diplomatic complexity, and 2012 looks to be no less difficult. Iran, Palestinian relations and domestic issues will all likely be among the challenges Israel will face this coming year, even as she continues to be a leading light among the nations in science, commerce and the arts.

While there is no doubt we will need patience, perseverance and resolve for the road ahead, let’s hope that among the miracles of the coming year will be that the only rocket we are discussing in Israel is the SpaceIL rocket launch for the GoogleX competition!

So there you have it – eight predictions for 2012. Like the Chanukiyah in our homes, each prediction is lit by one candle that stands taller than the others – a candle of hope and belief that illuminates the miraculousness of all that we have seen and all that we hope see in the year ahead.

Chag Urim Sameach and happy Chanukah!

Seth Cohen is the Director of Network Initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and can be found on Twitter at @sethacohen33.