Monday, May 20, 2013

Jewish Megatrends, a conversation.

Read More......

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Free your ass and your mind will follow? Hadag Nachash infiltrates your thoughts with infectious music.

“Thanks for coming to celebrate Israeli Independence day with us,” said Sha’anan Streett, frontman for Hadag Nachash, the Israeli hip hop funk band.  “We’ve always known what it is like to be the few against the many,” he continued, before launching into ‘Mah Na’aseh’, the band’s irreverent ode to being high. The transition was unexpected, to say the least. The song, which details the narrator’s experiences with pot, has a tight Rhythm and Blues groove with a Hip Hop sensibility that evokes groups like The Roots and Erykah Badu. But Hadag Nachash have a different element they bring to the table as well.  The group brings all of the joy and angst, pain, conflict, and questions that represent much of Jewish Israeli society. 

And they do it with aplomb, moving between modern Israeli and Arabic melodies and slang and ancient Jewish sources.
During the final moments of ‘Mah Na’asah’, as Hadag Nachash repeats the refrain, “tzarich latzet mi zeh,” (I have to get out of this, or I gotta get away from this), they sneak in a song from the Haggadah, the Passover liturgy, “be’tzeit Yisrael miMitzrayim, beit Ya’akov mei am loez,” (When Israel went out of Egypt, the House of Jacob from a people of a foreign language).

Hadag Nachash has mastered the balance of being danceable and serious at the same time, expressing so much complexity, while still grooving. In ‘Shirat HaSticker’, a song in which the political situation and disagreements in Israel are exposed through the expressions gracing the country’s many bumper stickers, the group pauses after the chorus with a sample from a young boy (probably at his Bar Mitzvah) singing the blessings for reading the Haftarah. Just to repeat, the group takes issues spanning from the Israeli Palestinian conflict, issues of religious freedom and secular society, and traditional Jewish blessings and wraps it all in a musical shell that still gets a crowd moving.

Their performance at City Winery this past week was in support of their new album, Zman Lehitorer (time to wake up), which once again manages to incorporate and synthesize sounds from around the world while taking up important issues. The album’s title track is a full on protest anthem mixed over a Dubstep-influenced beat.  “This is the time to wake up, our home is decaying,” they sing, exhorting to raise our fist and come together to change the social realities. One could easily imagine this as a theme song of the social protests which recently occurred in Israel in which nearly a tenth of the country’s population took to the streets to demand more social justice. This latest album also brings far more Middle Eastern influences into Hadag Nachash’s repertoire.  On songs like ‘Eilo ze haya’ and ‘Eneni Boged’, you can almost hear the melodies lifted right off the radio in Lebanon.  

But it isn’t all serious. The album also features songs like ‘Pizmon’ (a pizmon is a Jewish song that praises god, but in modern Hebrew, it means 'chorus'), ‘Mabsut’, and ‘Hakol Yistader’, which is the summer feel-good anthem of the album, telling us that everything will work out, and in the end every passes.

It is an incredible feat to consistently crank out great music, so much the more so when the lyrical content is so rich and full of insider references to Israeli and Jewish history, thought culture, and conflicts.  In fact, you could teach an entire Israeli history class using this group as the lens.

Do whatever you have to get your hands on this music, and to see Hadag Nachash live. You can watch video of their performance at Chicago's City Winery here

Read More......

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Engaging the Unengaged.

Cross posted from

A couple of weeks ago, 50 young adult engagement professionals gathered in Long Beach, California for the first-ever NEXTwork Launch. In a day full of training, networking, and best practice-sharing, attendees had the unique opportunity to spread their wealth of knowledge in an asset mapping activity.
What does asset mapping look like? Check out the photo to the right. Each participant expressed an issue with which they are grappling in order to encourage their peers to lend their expertise. Rebecca Halpin, a former NEXT fellow currently working at IKAR, a spiritual community in Los Angeles, CA,  asked the question, “How do I engage the totally uninterested?” She clarified further: “Someone who would never step foot in a synagogue or go to a Jewish event.”
The question is a big one, and reaches to one of the core tensions of living in a country that provides us with so much freedom and so many options. To begin to answer her question, it is worth framing the reality that organizations, particularly Jewish non-profits, must decide who they want to reach in order to have the focus to achieve that reach. We must decide if we are trying to deepen experiences for those already bought into our mission, or organization, or if we are going to try to reach those who haven’t yet stepped through our doors.
If we follow the first path, then we should take the advice of the participant who responded to the question succinctly, “Don’t bother!”  To elaborate:  If you are doing something well, and the people who come really like it, don’t burn yourself out worrying about everyone else.
If we decide, however, that our goal is to connect to those not already a part of our initiative, we should probably stop using terms like unaffiliated, or unengaged.  Instead, we need to do something a bit different.  The first is to identify more specifically who we are trying to reach, and this is known as market segmentation.  Are you looking for recently transplanted individuals who don’t know where to turn, or might have tried something and were turned off?  Or are you after people who have created their own personal groups and communities and currently don’t find value in your offering?
One of the best places to start, as noted on the asset map, is to, “find out what they are interested in.”  Whether or not it turns out that individuals are interested in your particular offerings, this information is actionable.  It allows you to identify if you have an existing offering the individual simply doesn’t know about (suggesting a marketing issue), if you aren’t offering things individuals want (a content issue), or if your institution is simply on a different planet from the individual (a vision issue).
So how do you get this critical information?  NEXT believes one answer is one-on-one personal engagement. If you make yourself available as a contact for people who are new to your city or looking to learn more about the community, and take the time to hear their stories, you will learn a great deal.  Learn from insurance salespeople. Oftentimes, they also don’t know who to talk to, so they start with who they already know, and ask for referrals.  At the end of every conversation, ask, “Do you know anyone else who might have an interesting perspective on X,” or “Can you recommend a friend who is Jewish but doesn’t come to ‘Jewish’ events?”  As people hear that you are willing to actually sit down with them and hear their story, don’t be surprised if you start getting unsolicited calls.
Concurrently, another good piece of advice from the asset map is to “have regulars bring a friend.” Young adults often do things because it is where their current friends are, or where their potential friends may be.  Your current participants can be your greatest asset in promoting your events.  You just have to ask.
As an epilogue, a lot of the other responses to Rebecca’s question revolved around low-barrier programming, and most of the advice was to take the Jewish content out entirely.  While this may be a great starting place for organizations whose primary goal is to engage young adults, it may not be a great approach for an organization focused on spirituality and Jewish learning.  Instead,  I would advise that such organizations continue to do what they do best–create great Jewish spiritual experiences–and ask those who appreciate it to share it with their friends and networks.
Read More......

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Are People in the Midwest Stuck?

Richard Florida is one of the more influential thinkers about the trends in City development, having penned such influential books as, "The Creative Class" and "Who's Your City".  His premise is usually that the creative class of people are driving city growth and when creative people have a choice, they want to be in a place with more opportunity and a lot of other creative people.

A recent Florida article posits that folks in places that aren't trendy are stuck, and are falling behind because of it.  Julie Zimmerman, Editor of Cincinnati Magazine had a few things to say in response to Florida's assumptions.

She starts out by providing her bona fides, namely that she lived in the more 'creative' and desirable markets before ending up in Cincinnati, and that she has remained there, not because she is stuck, but because she found the quality of life she was looking for.  The low cost-of-living, ability to have your parents take your kids for the night, and ability to reconnect with childhood friends are true of many Midwestern cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis.

While her view is likely shared by many of her age cohort, it is undeniable that many younger adults, unburdened by mortgage or child care costs, find major markets to be a draw.  The real question for the future of 'stuck' cities is whether these young adults will return from the 'creative' cities to their places of birth to raise their own children.

If you've recently made a move, or are thinking about moving home, what is motivating you?  Is it the sex appeal of a New York, Chicago, or Austin, or the affordability and pace of a Cincinnati, Kansas City, or Tulsa? Read More......

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rise of the Meta-

As the internet started proliferating, a number of sites developed to try to make sense of the chaos.  Yahoo gained pre-eminence by warehousing links to all sorts of sites, and starting to group them together.  Webcrawler and other early search engines allowed you to go beyond browsing links and start finding specific content.  Google introduced advanced algorithms to refine those search results and help you find what you wanted faster and more precisely.  None of these technologies actually created content, they merely provided tools to help the average user to make sense and navigate the vast information already available.

This rise of the meta-, that is, not providing the direct content but cataloging it, reorganizing it, and synthesizing it, has bled over into many other facets of society.  And it has real consequences. Take media for example.  With the proliferation of share-able news via twitter, facebook, and other platforms, people are far less interested in the original source of the content, and are likely instead to find the content through an intermediary, either a friend or account they follow, or a news aggregator like Google News.  Sites like the Huffington Post, which creates only a fraction of the content it lists, have found popularity in instead curating the content that is most visible. Because each news site has its own webpage, facebook, and twitter accounts, the information is easily accessible, but the channel is increasingly saturated.  As such, the power has moved away from those who actually create the content to those who aggregate it and curate it, in other words, those functioning at the meta level.

In the Jewish organizational world, we seem to be seeing this trend as well.  As organizations like Moishe House proliferate, and as philanthropists and communities continue to put more resources behind young adult engagement, the amount of content (in this case, programming or events), has generally risen.  Many communities now have professionals working exclusively on engaging young adults, fully outside of a development context.  That is to say that communities are starting to try to connect to young adults without the immediate goal of asking them for money.  In major markets like Chicago, where the organizational landscape is quite robust, there are often several nights a week in which more than one young adult group is hosting something.  But even in Chicago, there are large numbers of young adults, even those who express interest in community involvement, who know little about the actual events and opportunities taking place.  This discovery gap creates a market opportunity for an organization to play the meta role, amassing the information and categorizing and curating it in a useful and share-able manner.

At a time with more and more consultants, and fewer and fewer people actually doing the work, those in the meta role are crucial for the discovery process, but also risk diverting resources from the work that must actually be done on the ground.

The danger in playing in the meta field is relatively simple:  If you rely totally on others to create the information you re-purpose, you have to be sure that there is sufficient high quality content to pull from.  As more Jewish organizations seek to play at the meta level, it is crucial that the landscape not become top heavy.  In other words, if we imagine the relationship between content (or program) providers and aggregators to be such that there must be many providers to one aggregator, we should be wary that there aren't more aggregators to the detriment of fewer providers.

Read More......

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Can you love Israel and still criticize it?

A central challenge has emerged in the American Jewish community's relationship to and support of Israel: How can we as American Jews, embodying an often secular and universalist worldview, support Israel without compromising our ethics or ignoring a complicated reality?

Many American Jews, particularly under 30, have solved this by simply ceasing their support.  Some have taken it upon themselves to prove their ideological credentials by actively working against the State of Israel through the BDS movement.  A middle ground, of sorts, holds that one can be 'Pro-Israel' without being Zionist, that is, that one can simultaneously support Israel and work for peace.  The recent move to the right by the Israeli government has challenged this view.

Jews have always had a sense of connection to the land and the people of Israel, but only in the past 63 years have we had a state as well. Recently, I came across a piece by a friend that recasts the issue in an interesting way.

Zoe Jick, who works with the World Zionist Organiztion and MASA, wrote an article in which she reframes the conversation by suggesting that Zionist means believing in the Utopian ideal of a Jewish homeland that is a light unto the nations.  Pro-Israel, she argues, is a measure of support for the government of Israel's policies.

AIPAC, the largest Pro-Israel lobby, claims that they support the relationship between the US and Israel and don't take political stances.  However, as the Israeli government's policies reflect an increasingly particularist view, and continue to empower the ultra-orthodox and settler minorities, it could be argued that an apolitical stance is still a nod in favor of the very political status quo.

Given this context, Jick suggests that we should reclaim the idea of Zionism, and use it as a base from which to criticize the policies and practices that are moving the very real State of Israel away from the ideals of the People of Israel.

Obviously, not everyone feels the way Jick does, and she was singled out in a recent opinion piece by Evelyn Gordon.  What you'll notice is that the author of this piece doesn't actually respond to Jick's ideas, merely takes quotes out of context to lament how terrible it is that even Jewish communal professionals can't be counted on to support Israel.  In doing so Gordon lays bare the rift between those who believe that there are legitimate areas for criticism, and that dissent is in fact the duty of those who truly love Israel, and those who believe that absolute support and defense of Israel is a responsibility of all Jews.

As the space for true dialogue contracts, ill-informed zealots from both sides of the isle are allowed to spin distortions, misinformation, and outright lies to an increasingly polarized consumer base.  Given this situation, is it a surprise that so many of us are simply tuning out?

Why don't we create spaces for REAL dialogue on these issues; safe spaces, with intellectual standards, in which we can discuss our feelings, our challenges, and our ideas without fear of recrimination?

In a Jewish world in which people have to take sides on issues of depth and subtlety, everyone loses.  We are too small of a people and the issues are too important to be co-opted by media trends of sound bytes and ad hominem attacks.  This Hanukkah, bring a little light into the world by studying the issues more deeply, withholding judgement in conversations, and engaging in real conversation. Read More......

Monday, December 5, 2011

Iran's nuclear program has been a cause of concern for Israel, who views its Persian neighbor as an existential threat, based on the the views expressed by the ruling regime. Iran's regime feels Israel is a threat, generally based on comments the Israeli's have made regarding the need to keep military options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. Sure, there have been a whole lot of cold war type actions going on recently, but the threat of all out war is such that Defense Secretary Panetta recently made explicit statements telling the Israelis not to bomb Iran. No matter how you feel about the saber-rattling between Israel and Iran, which has grown steadily over the past few years, you should know that most people think that all our military options are a bad idea. But don't take my word for it, the Oxford Research group has published a pretty comprehensive study of the potential effects of an Israeli campaign to derail Iran's nuclear program and concluded that it won't have the long-term positive outcomes to outweigh the costs.  You should read it. Read More......