UpStart’s Latest Innovators

by Maya Bernstein

Two years ago, in an Op-Ed piece for the JTA, Ari Kelman spoke about a “wave of cultural and organizational creativity that American Jewry has not experienced since the early part of the 20th century.” Jewish American young adults, finding that existing institutions do not adequately address their diverse needs, have been creating new organizations of their own, reflective of their pluralistic, progressive values, marking a shift from location and function-based institutions, to action and mission-based organizations. This movement, Kelman writes “has been quietly gaining momentum for more than a decade.”

This week, in another example of how that movement is thriving and growing, UpStart completed its application process, and welcomed its newest group of “UpStarters.” Five new groups were accepted from an applicant pool of twelve exciting, innovative ideas (projects) to creatively engage Jews in Jewish life in the Bay Area and beyond. UpStart’s newest members are:

  • Bay Area Learning Initiative (BALI) provides a select group of dynamic, highly motivated, accomplished adults the opportunity to study classical Jewish sources. These adults, in turn, will lead engaging, high-level learning circles for a broad cross-section of the Jewish community in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Fair Trade Judaica seeks to increase the availability, diversity, and purchase of fair trade Judaica products by the U.S. Jewish community, helping to ensure that commerce in Judaica is informed by sacred principles of fairness and justice.
  • G-dcast is a concrete, colorful step towards elevating Jewish literacy. In a weekly four minute cartoon, G-dcast encapsulates the entire Torah. 55 voices – teachers, storytellers, rabbis and musicians – tell each week’s parsha, and G-dcast animates their voices in a vivid, fun style.
  • Mitzvah on the Rocks creates entry-points into the Jewish community for young adults who are interested in building or developing their connection to Judaism in a social, non-denominational, welcoming environment.
  • Wilderness Torah brings earth-based Jewish spirituality to the Bay Area to help individuals deepen their connection to Community, Earth, Spirit and Self through celebratory land-based festivals, rituals, and rites of passage.

These new initiatives join their colleagues at UpStart, Jewish Gateways, Jewish Milestones, Friendship Circle, Palo Alto and Remember Us.

Acutely aware of the findings in the 2008 Survey of New Jewish Organizations, and specifically those stating that new Jewish start-ups are especially vulnerable given the financial crisis, and that their leaders face particular challenges in developing sustainable models for governance and financial management, UpStart will provide these organizations with much-needed consultative and coaching support to increase their chances of success in today’s economic climate. Furthermore, UpStart will provide a formal community of peer learning and support.

UpStart’s newest members represent the spectrum of issues that are at the forefront of what today’s “institutionally unaffiliated but Jewishly engaged ” young adult population cares most about: environmentalism, arts and media, social justice, Jewish learning circles, and personally meaningful community. We wish them perseverance and success as they begin this next phase of their journeys, “building on the margins,” as Kelman says, “the future of Jewish life.”

Contact information on the new “UpStarters” can be found here.

Maya Bernstein is Director of Education and Leadership Initiatives for UpStart Bay Area.