1. Why did you decide to start Uri L'Tzedek?
We founded Uri L'Tzedek because we perceived a gap in American Orthodoxy. Rav Soloveitchik wrote: "the actualization of the ideals of justice and righteousness is the pillar of fire which halakhic man follows," yet before Uri L'Tzedek there was no center of Orthodox efforts to promote justice and righteousness in the broader world.
American Orthodoxy has been so successful in many areas: building vibrant communities and institutions, promoting talmud Torah, and more. However, many Orthodox Jews felt that the Orthodox community was not living up to its potential to pursue tzedek
in the broader world, to be an or lagoyim
, a light unto the nations. We founded Uri L'Tzedek to fill that gap by engaging, empowering and hopefully inspiring the American Orthodox Jewish community to pursue tzedek
within but also beyond its own communal borders. 2. What has been your biggest challenge since starting your organization?Tzedek
is hard work. It's easy to do service project and feel good for a day, or to learn about an issue and feel something about it for a few hours, but to take one's deepest values, tzedek, rachamim, mishpat,
and actualize them in a big and complicated world is not easy, even when the cause is just. We've had our sucesses - over 80 restaurants across the nation are certified by the Tav HaYosher, an ethical seal that promotes just workplaces in kosher restaurants, we've hosted hundreds of batei midrash where people come together to learn Torah and apply it to the world's most pressing modern day issues, but we've also had our setbacks... I think the fact that not every single kosher restaurant in the US has the Tav, whose standards are just meeting the legal requirements for wages, breaks and overtimes, is a major setback. I think the perception among some members of the Orthodox world that creating a society that takes care of the ger, yatom and almanah, is a political cause and not a Torah cause is a challenge for the organization. But the Torah's call be rodfei tzedek, pursuers of justice, is what keeps the organization striving and, thank God, growing.3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I am deeply looking forward to learning from the amazing group of people gathered together, to sharing best practices and ideas, to networking, and to being reinvigorated with the energy that a day focusing on our future, can bring.
------------------------------Ari Hart is the co-founder of Uri L'Tzedek and a leader of multiple initiatives that bring the Jewish community and the world together to make positive social change. A contributor to the Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz magazine, and more, he was recently selected by the Jewish Week as one of the 36 "forward-thinking young people who are helping to remake the Jewish community." He has worked to spread the message of Jewish social justice and responsibility in synagogues, schools and change organizations across North America.
Follow him on Twitter: @arihart
Visit his website: http://www.utzedek.org
1. How did you get involved in Jewish education?
I began, I suppose, as a 4th grader when a boy in my class, a sad boy, overweight and from a divorced family, became the object of what I perceived was our Hebrew teacher's unfair displeasure. I stayed after school to complain, and the teacher suggest that I become the boy's tutor. And so every Wednesday, he would come for a lesson. After he left, I would discuss his progress with his father, standing in the closet in my parents' room to assure privacy. I was very serious. I was eight. Since that time, I can never remember a time that I was not involved in some way with trrying to establish the cables of concern upon which Torah travels most effectively.2. Your synagogue has famously been described as a “teaching synagogue.” What does that mean?
In the year 2000 I resigned from my synagogue to pursue a personal passion: the training of young Rabbis, with an emphasis on the arts of the shepherd. A committee of the Board of Trustees came to ask me to reconsider. Their offer: whatever work you had hoped to do outside the Riverdale Jewish Center, come back and do it here. Shortly thereafter I brought aboard the first Rabbinic intern.
Since that time, some thirty young men, all learned, devout and talented before they ever crossed my threshold, have come to the Riverdale Jewish Center to learn the craft
of the community Rabbi. The RJC is a multi-generational, multi dimensional synagogue community. It has multiple minyanim, each with a unique character. It has an active youth community, young couples, titans of industry, Holocaust survivors, elders, academics and Torah scholars. It is a multiplex of stages, intimate and public, intellectual and emotional, joyous and catastrophic.
The concept of the Teaching Shul was to use these “stages” as a way to provide a full range of Rabbinic functions, with mentoring and supervision and with minimal political pressures. Beginning with the second year of the program, we included more than one intern. Currently our annual team averages 4-5.
Interns generally serve for two years, the second as “Senior Interns” with more administrative and programmatic responsibility. In addition to shadowing opportunities and many Shabbatot around my family’s table, each Intern has a weekly private meeting with me. These are used at the Intern’s discretion for Homiletic consultation, personal issues, faith-related discussions or professional guidance. It is their time.
Referred to as “The Rabbinic Team” or just “The Team,” the Interns, the Assistant Rabbi and I meet weekly together to distribute responsibilities, to evaluate programs and to chart the future. In that meeting, everyone is expected to be candid and creative; hierarchy is largely abandoned. “The Team” runs the sacred dimension of the synagogue, thus distinguishing our approach from internships that are more limited in scope. It is my hope that Rabbis trained in a team approach will be, in future, more trusting and cooperative colleagues.
What has occurred in the course of the decade of the Intern Initiative is a shift in our congregational structure. The members and leadership of the RJC have come to see the training of young Rabbis as part of the synagogue’s core mission. Each Fall, the arrival of the new Interns is a major event; their company at Shabbat tables is often a hot ticket. Within a month the pundits, armchair mentors are predicting which ones are headed for greatness and which ones need work. And when former interns return for visits, they are embraced and welcomed with great pride.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the Intern Initiative is that the past three assistant Rabbis have been chosen from among our Senior Intern and that now, in the job description of each Assistant Rabbi appears the obligation “to assist in the coordination of Rabbinic Interns.” Once I saw that a large mainstream congregation could be used as a training platform; now the members and leaders of the community define
their synagogue as a Teaching Shul.3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I am looking forward to learning. The conference has gathered some of the most creative and accomplished people dedicating themselves to the transmission of the Massorah. And I am looking forward to meeting the young people who are just beginning their adventure in Jewish education. I know that some of the stars of tomorrow will be in that hotel, and I am impatient. I can't wait for tomorrow ; I want to meet them now! ------------------------------
Rabbi Jonathan I. Rosenblatt, a native of Baltimore, has served for more than a quarter century as the Senior Rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, Bronx NY. Under his leadership the RJC has become the largest 'teaching synagogue' in the country, through its Rabbinic and Pre-rabbinic internship programs. Rabbi Rosenblatt holds a BA and an MA of the Johns Hopkins University and a Phd of Columbia University. He studied in Yeshivat Har Etzion and was ordained by RIETS. He and his wife Tzipporah, an attorney, have 4 children.
Check out the Synagogue website: http://www.rjconline.org
1. How did you conceive of the idea to start your organization?
For many years I was a Health Educator for Planned Parenthood. I presented workshops on all aspects of sexuality and relationships.
I know what you may be thinking! Sexuality can have many definitions. Sexuality is more than just sex. It encompasses sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image and gender roles. Sexuality education addresses the biological, socio-cultural, psychological and spiritual dimensions of sexuality, including the skills to communicate effectively and to make responsible decisions.
While many public schools address sexuality education in health class, they fail to address sexual ethics and are prohibited from teaching sexuality within a religious framework. Conversely, Jewish day schools are not required to follow state mandates for health education which means they may not educate youth about preventing HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. JLoveandValues brings an added value of addressing not only the sexual ethics within a Jewish framework, but also the biology and interpersonal relationships that young people need to learn about in a safe and Jewish environment.
More than ever, our children need age-appropriate information, boundaries and guidelines to become sexually responsible. When working with Jewish teens, I bring the added dimension of Jewish values to the discussion of sexuality. JLoveandValues offers a forum for Jewish teens to think about healthy choices and responsible decision-making based on Jewish values and moral reasoning.2. How has the Jewish community responded to the need to address bullying?
Bullying has become recognized as a significant issue within our greater culture. States have created anti-bulling legislation and many public schools require professional development for all staff. This effort (has been in large part) is due to the extreme forms of bullying committed against the teens who have ultimately committed suicide.
The Jewish community recognizes bullying is in conflict with Jewish values and the tenets of living a Jewish life. However, bullying looks different in every community. In the Jewish setting, particularly within day schools or summer camp, bullying may take on subtle forms of aggression, known as relational aggression. This includes behaviors such as exclusion, gossiping, spreading rumors, or taunting in the hallways.
That being said, it’s very easy for children to deny or hide that there is a problem. From an administrative or Jewish community point of view, everything may appear to be fine because their narrow definition of bullying is one which may solely feature physical acts of cruelty or blatant verbal taunting.
The reality is that Jewish youth, particularly those in middle school when bullying or aggressive behavior peaks, need teachers and fellow students to take a stand against aggressive behavior. Youth also need safe spaces and trusted adults who will listen when they need help. In order to create such an environment, Jewish Institutions must strive to reach/educate/train every administrative employee, educator and youth-serving professional to understand not only how bullying is defined on a continuum of aggressive behaviors, but also to know institutional policies, procedures and protocols, and finally to know how to respond to overt and covert forms of such aggressive acts. 3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I look forward to meeting and networking with fellow professionals who share the same passion for working with youth. ------------------------------
Mara Yacobi is a Licensed Social Worker with over ten years of experience working in adolescent sexuality and prevention education. As a dynamic speaker and educator, Mara has led workshops and presented motivational speeches for thousands of students in middle schools, high schools, colleges, camps, youth groups and agencies. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Simmons College and Masters of Social Work from New York University.
Check out her website: http://www.jloveandvalues.com
Follow her on Twitter: @jloveandvalues
1. How did you get involved with the JTA?
My first role as JTA's Digital Media Associate was one of three media & communications placements made possible by the Schusterman Insight Fellowship (the others were JDub Records and the Natan Fund). I was hired full time last year and got nerdily excited about the new JTA Jewish News Archive, a free online database of over 200,000 articles since 1923 which is now a central focus of mine.2. How have you seen the digital age effect Jewish nonprofits?
The digital age has ushered in more content and more platforms for sharing content than ever before; the marketplace for attention-grabbing has never been so competitive. As Jewish nonprofits and funders decide how to allocate digital resources, it's important that the fundamentals of Jewish education aren't neglected. Like basketball, slam dunks sell tickets, but championships are build around good coaching.3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I'm excited to learn from educators who have experience sharing big Jewish ideas in small doses. Beyond helping JTA develop new uses for the Jewish News Archive, the energy of camp counselors, youth program leaders and other new media whizzes like Bible Raps and G-dcast is just fun to experience first hand.
------------------------------Adam Soclof is the media & marketing associate at JTA, where he writes for the JTA Archive Blog. An alum of PresenTense and the Schusterman Insight Fellowship, Adam has worked for JDub Records and the Natan Fund. He was a counselor-educator for the Nesiya Institute, Bnei Akiva Camp Stone, and continues to serve as a social media advisor to Bible Raps, for whom he produced and directed the Purim video "Haman Song". Adam hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
Check out the JTA blog: http://blogs.jta.org/archive
. Follow him on Twitter:
1. Why did you decide to start your organization?
I was raised with very negative ideas about Orthodox Jews despite having had almost no personal contact with them. The stereotypes and misconceptions I grew up with made me much less willing to explore Orthodox Judaism as a possible path in life. I realized a few years ago that the attitude I was raised with is prevelent among nearly all non-Orthodox Jews and that they are similarly impeded them from exploring Orthodoxy. It occurred to me that if someone would correct these myths and misconceptions though, more Jews would be willing to learn about Orthodox Judaism. With technology (YouTube videos and social media) being as it is today, anyone can put a message out there and if it's compelling enough it will spread.2. What has been your favorite experience as a Jewish educator?
I feel that traditional Judaism is one of the best kept secrets in the world. My passion is getting people to give it a chance because most Jews have their mind made up about Judaism despite actually knowing very little about it. So when someone starts to explore Judaism more deeply - whether it's a first Shabbos experience or attending a Torah class - and they begin to understand how amazing their heritage is and how much more there is to discover, it's one of the best feelings out there - reconnecting a Jew with his birthright. 3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
Connecting with people (in real life, as opposed to online where I usually connect!) who have similar interests and passions and letting more people know about Jew in the City.
------------------------------Allison is the founder and director of Jew in the City which breaks down stereotypes about religious Jews and offers a humorous meaningful look into Orthodox Judaism through the power of new media. Allison has been involved in Jewish Outreach for over a dozen years and has worked at Partners in Torah, Sinai Retreats, and NCSY. She has written, directed and produced videos for Aish.com and lectures around the country and on WebYeshiva.org. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in Philosophy and is a mother of four.
Check out her website: http://JewintheCity.com Follow her on Twitter:
1. How has your organization responded to the growing world of social media?
It actually presents a challenge to many schools – who understandably try to discourage their youth from the obsession.2. What is the biggest misconception Jewish non-profit organizations have about marketing?
Schools and non-profits need to realize that marketing (i.e. educating donors about your cause; educating parents about your school, etc.) is not a luxury – rather a necessity.3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
Meeting real heroes - people on the front lines of raising tomorrow’s leaders.
------------------------------Yitzchok Saftlas is the founder and president of Bottom Line Marketing Group. Founded in 1992, Bottom Line Marketing Group helps corporate, political and non-profit clients get results through effective marketing techniques. Notable clients include: NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Friends of the IDF, Catapult Learning and Dirshu. Mr. Saftlas has a weekly marketing column in Yated Ne’eman, and is a featured speaker on marketing, addressing the Torah Umesorah and AJOP conventions, as well as the annual Fundraising Seminar.
Visit Bottom Line Marketings Website at: http://www.BottomLineMG.com
1. How did you get involved in Israel education?
I was bar mitzvahed and went to Jewish summer camp, but still largely grew up disconnected from Judaism or Israel. By the time I got to college, these were things I explicitly wanted nothing to do with. After I graduated I joined the Peace Corps in Ecuador and (this was in the years of the second "intifada" - I prefer the term Palestinian terror war, but that's another story) was for the first time confronted with intense anti-Israelism, not from Ecuadorians but from my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and the largely European Western travelers found wandering around places like Ecuador. For some reason it bothered me, but when I tried to respond to it I found I had nothing to say, because I knew nothing about Israel. That forced me for the first time to confront in an honest way my own ignorance about all things Jewish and I realized that it bothered me. Birthright gave me a great opportunity to see the country firsthand - I had the requisite transformative experience minus the sex and booze - but, even though I was invited back as a madrich for another trip, was clearly only a basic introduction. At the time I was a public high school teacher in Brooklyn in the New York City Teaching Fellows program and I started doing what I could (mostly reading in my spare time) to learn more, but after a year or so it became clear that this would not be good enough to get at what I wanted. I also knew I didn't want to be a high school teacher anymore for different reasons and learned that it was possible to be an academic in this thing called Jewish Studies. This seemed like a way to unite my new passion for learning about Judaism (in the appropriately detached manner, of course) and teaching in a career. So I enrolled in the Master's program at the graduate school of the Jewish Theological Seminary with the goal of ultimately pursuing a PhD and an academic career. I was ultimately offered a very attractive fellowship to get that PhD at JTS (probably the world's best place to learn the scholarly take on the history and culture of the Jews), but by then I was working at the Anti-Defamation League and had a son on the way, which made the uncertain career prospects of an academic much less attractive. At the same time, my experience at ADL taught me that the anti-Israel movement is far deeper with a much broader base of support than I had previously imagined, which heightened my concern and led me to the realization that helping to defeat this campaign was the thing I most wanted to do with my life professionally and was maybe even something I could contribute to in a meaningful way. About a year ago I switched to The David Project, an organization I love that has allowed me to focus entirely on teaching people the true story of Israel and Zionism as best I can and to do my part to defeat anti-Israelism.
Apart from that whole long story, I think I should add that I find the story of modern Israel to be the most fascinating history I have ever learned. A big part of my motivation for doing what I do stems from my desire to help people see - forget about all the politics - how incredible the story is. I feel very strongly that if more people had a true appreciation for that many of the political problems we face would be much less serious.
2. How has the digital age effected Israel advocacy?
I don't know if there are really any Israel advocacy-specific ways that the internet has changed things, but, as with everything else in the world, Israel advocacy has been deeply and profoundly affected by new information technology. Just as the publishing industry is struggling mightily to cope with the tremendous tumult the new technology has unleashed, so too are we faced with extraordinarily difficult challenges in making Israel's case. So, as with everyone else, on the one hand we have a multiplicity of revolutionary communication tools at our fingertips, making it theoretically easier than ever before to reach a far wider audience. At the same time, the anti-Israelists have the very same tools, which means that our historic advantages in terms of access to centers of power in the West don't count for as much as they used to. (Don't get me wrong, they still matter, just not as much.)It's also true that unfortunately in many cases antis have harnessed the power of these tools better than we have, but I don't see any reason why that has to be so. In the end, we are faced with the same problems faced by everyone, from governments to small business: how to adapt to explosive and accelerating change in a world that is getting more complicated, more dangerous, and easier to access all the time. I don't think anyone has the answers to those questions. (If you do and you'll be at the conference, please tell me.) And the era of explosive change has only just begun. Which means it's going to be a wild ride and, for whatever strange reason, politically at least the Jewish state remains at the center of the world's thinking. I have no doubt that we can win the new battle for public onion in these changed circumstances. But you better believe it is going to be long and tough, and take the collective effort of a lot of talented, passionate people.
3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
Meeting and talking to the participants. What else?!
Matthew Ackerman is a New York-based Middle East Analyst for The David Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating strong voices for Israel, with a particular focus on college campuses. He regularly lectures, leads workshops, and serves as a panelist for public panels on Zionism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and related issues for student and adult audiences. Matthew is also a regular contributor to a range of publications, including The Jerusalem Post and The Forward, and is a blogger for Commentary.
1. How did you get involved in Jewish education?
The story goes, at least as my parents tell it, that when the kindergarten teacher asked all the kids in class what they wanted to be when they grew up, my response was "I want to be a rabbi!" I grew up in a very active Reform family and was always naturally drawn to Jewish life and learning. I took my Judaism very seriously, so much so that before my Bar Mitzvah I decided I would "interview" all the local rabbis in my hometown of San Diego and decide what part of the Jewish community resonated the most with me. The last stop on my journey was the local Orthodox shul in La Jolla, Congregation Adat Yeshurun, and immediately I found my religious home. I discovered a way of life that was intensely vibrant, passionate and inspired. I swam into the ocean of Jewish learning and my existence as a human being created in the image of God has been deeply enriched every day since. There could be nothing more rewarding for me professionally than to spend my life introducing people from all walks of life to the richness and profundity of Torah and the Jewish tradition and to further that learning experience for students with a day school and Yeshiva background.
2. You have published a book of "Twitter Torah" with Torah ideas in 140 characters or less. How has the Jewish community, overall, responded to Twitter?
Twitter is only a microcosm of a larger transformation in not only the way people communicate but the very way information is created and disseminated. The average young person today is as much a creator of content as they are a consumer of it. On the global stage, Twitter, and the world that exists around it, has helped topple oppressive regimes and pierce a ray of freedom into the darkness that dictatorships attempt to impose on their societies. On the personal front, Twitter and similar services, have changed the expectation of most people in how they interact with received content. No longer do people sit idly and absorb from professionals, whether they be journalists or rabbis, but now people expect to be able to question, to challenge, to agree or to vigorously disagree. They expect to be able to take what is given to them and to reshape it in a way that is in consonance with their perspective and values. This presents both great opportunities and great challenges for the Jewish community and we are only beginning to contemplate the implications of this shift in the broader Jewish community.
3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I am excited to spend a day with others who are dedicated to imparting a passionate, transformative Torah to the Jewish community and learning from each other!
Rabbi Greenberg is the Orthodox Rabbi of Harvard Hillel, Co-Director of Harvard JLIC and Vice President of the Harvard Chaplains. He has written both scholarly and popular articles and is the author of Covenantal Promise and Destiny: Wisdom for Life and Twitter Torah: Thoughts on the Hebrew Bible in 140 Characters or Less. Rabbi Greenberg, along with his wife and son, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiGreenberg
1. How did you get involved in Jewish education?
I grew up a very assimilated Jew in Toronto, and worked in advertising, but in 1985 came to Israel on the Jerusalem Fellowships, a 6-week study and tour program founded by Aish HaTorah. I stayed for a year. In the second year I met my husband who is an Aish HaTorah rabbi and we moved to be part of Aish in Toronto. There I became a Jewish educator, and together we founded The Village Shul, a vibrant outreach community in Toronto's Forest Hill. Then I began to write books, and over the years became an international speaker. I always say that I am still in advertising, I just have a better product. 2. What was your most memorable moment as an educator?
Although I have spoken all over the world in front of many audiences and dignitaries, this past May I spoke at the Aish World Center in Jerusalem for the cast of the television show, "House". That was cool.3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I am excited to be part of an event that will inspire those who are inspiring the next generation of Jewish leaders (and I also love to eat food that I didn't make).
------------------------------Lori Palatnik is an author, media personality and Jewish educator. She is a much sought after speaker, having lectured in The U.S., Canada, Mexico, U.K., Central America, South America, South Africa and Israel, including featured talks at Yale, Brown and Penn. She is the Founding Director of The Jewish Women's Renaissance Project, bringing 1,000 women to Israel each year on a "Birthright"-like trip for women. Her weekly video blog, "Lori Almost Live" is a popular feature on aish.com, viewed by over 50,000 people each month.
Learn more about Lori's programs at http://www.jwrp.org
1. How has your organization, G-dcast, capitalized on social media?
We have always posted our videos to Youtube and Facebook for free use and comments, plus we tweet about the parsha a few times a week. It's really paid off, as many, many people embed the videos on their own Facebook pages or Twitter streams and we see a very significant piece of our traffic coming in through those channels. People hear about G-dcast through their friends, which is a great cost-effective way for us to get the word out. We also love the way that people discuss the parsha in these comment threads and on each others' Facebook pages.2. How did you conceive of the idea to start G-dcast?
Basically, I heard a wild story one evening about a man who buried his own leg. It was a diabetes-related amputation, and as it turned out, he was following a very Jewish burial custom about preserving all the parts of the body in one place that is discussed at length in Talmud and other places.
To me, at the time, this was entirely new. I thought, “What? That’s Jewish? Who knew?!” and embarked on a two week research project that took me to a rabbi, a funeral director and a pile of Jewish texts. It was the most Jewish learning I’d done in a decade. And I realized, as a media producer, that this story was a powerful opportunity. Presented as an animation (a medium it seemed custom-made for) it might trigger less engaged viewers to try out some Jewish learning as well.
I partnered with a writer and animator to explore the idea of teaching Jewish ideas through funny little films. We decided to start with the Bible.
G-dcast secured pilot funding two years later and launched in 2008 with 55 short films and Teachers’ Guides. We are making "the leg film" this winter! 3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I am so excited to spend time in person with the actual people out there working with youth. We make films for kids and teens but we spend so much time in the studio sitting at our computers and at mixing boards, etc, that we rarely get to hang out with the people who are actually using these programs to make an impact on young people! Working with educators and kids energizes me so much - I learn so much everytime and always return to my creative process with dozens of new ideas. I remember everyone's faces when I go back to work, and make newer, better stuff thanks to the opportunity to connect.
------------------------------Sarah Lefton is the Founding Director of G-dcast, a fusion of a publishing career (The New York Times, etc), and a passion for Jewish community building (Camp Tawonga, JCCSF, Mission Minyan.) Her last startup was JewishFashionConspiracy, home of the YO SEMITE and JEWS FOR JETER tee shirts.
Sarah was named one of the Forward 50 most influential Jews of 2009, and is a recipient of the Joshua Venture Group fellowship for Jewish social entrepreneurs. She was a guest of the Obamas at the White House Jewish Heritage Month reception.See her videos at www.g-dcast.com