Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's Ahead in 2011

Over the past year, at an ever-increasing rate, a number of interesting conversations have been taking place about Jewish Community, Jewish communities, and urban renewal.
I have had the opportunity to speak on a number of these topics, from the Birthright Next Conference in New Orleans, Synagogue 3000's Next Dor conversation in New York, and the recent conference on Rebuilding Jewish Communities in Detroit.

It certainly seems as though these conversations are coming to a head.

Recently, the Editor of David's Voice (my brother), wrote an interesting article about the role and responsibilities of the Jewish community in Cincinnati to the city itself, its history, legacy, and future. He writes:

And now the challenge is upon us again. I feel like it is our responsibility, as Jewish Cincinnatians, to help our city at large and help save another part of what gives our city its definition, the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. In short, we can’t let the past slip away. I implore you to learn more about the history there, to take one of the brewery tours (which are fantastic - http://www.otrbrewerydistrict.org/) or even just take a stroll down one of its enchanting streets. I think you will begin to see why what we have there is worth saving.

In many of the conversations I have been a part of, this idea has constantly resurfaced; Jews have often played a large role in the development of the cities in which they find themselves, but what about the redevelopment?

As young adults today, we have more mobility than ever, that when coupled with the allure of bigger cities, is often irresistible. And why not? Bigger cities mean more jobs, more culture, a larger dating pool, and a sense of adventure.

How can cities like Cincinnati, Detroit, and St. Louis stand up to all that New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have to offer?

The first way, as the David's Voice piece alludes to, is the there actually are quite a few interesting things already happening in our cities, but we are often so out of the loop that we have no idea. I spoke with a girl from St. Louis who is currently studying in Texas yesterday. She group us where most of the Jews did, hearing the same tired refrain that the city was dangerous, and as a result, never learned much about it. I started telling her about some of the neighborhoods and haunts I like and she responded with a bit of bewilderment. She hadn't even considered St. Louis as an option, because she knew nothing about it.

The second area in which smaller cities can compete is by emphasizing the functional gaps that do exist and presenting them as opportunities for willing entrepreneurs. I spoke with a friend yesterday who received a prestigious fellowship that will set him up for success in a new educational venture he hopes to launch. If he can be properly connect to venture capital, mentors, and human capital in St. Louis, he might be willing to start the company locally. We need to look to Washington University, among others, as a resource to connect him with young programming and leadership talent. Not only will this help him access the talent pool he needs, but it will also keep that talent in the area.

But the responsibility doesn't just rest on the secular leadership of the city. Jewish communities must take leadership roles by creating and contributing to:
1. venture capital available for young entrepreneurs
2. job placement services for both graduating students and local young professionals
3. local internship opportunities to give students a chance to see St. Louis beyond the ivory tower
4. the preservation of the unique historical character of St. Louis
5. encouragement of urban resettlement of community members

Entrepreneurs go where the opportunities are, and in a world of web-based products, the opportunity is often ease of access to capital. St. Louis, for example, ranks 3rd in dollars in trust funds. These funds do very little for the local economy because they aren't put into action. Combined with a conservative investment climate, and most harmful, a fear of failure, people are simply less likely to take chances. By putting up dollars, and creating a culture of supporting innovation and learning from failure, St. Louis can and will draw more entrepreneurs, who will create jobs.

The economic recession has created an very interesting phenomenon in which post-college children are moving back into their parents' houses. This influx of young adults, who might otherwise be elsewhere, should be seen as an immense opportunity. It is imperative that we make every effort to provide this group with productive employment opportunities while we have access to them. Additionally, it is important that we connect with university students in St. Louis in order to provide them employment opportunities post-graduation. St. Louis has already attracted top-tier talent to the city as students, but it has not retained them. Many St. Louis employers actively avoid transplant students for fear they won't stay. This must change.

Piggy-backing on this, we must create internships that will provide students with positive and appealing opportunities to spend a summer in St. Louis and get to know the city while gaining valuable experience. In a conversation hosted by a Wash U dean with alumni who had stayed in town, the one commonality was that all of us had spent a summer during college in St. Louis. That summer showed me an entirely different side of St. Louis that was exciting and enticing.

Beyond interchangeable jobs and internships, there is a character of the city which should be celebrated and preserved. The urban neighborhoods of red brick are unique and high quality (so much so that abandoned buildings are often stripped of this brick). Now, we shouldn't go overboard, requiring materials so expensive that they all but prohibit developers from rehabbing the property, but neighborhoods with character are attractive, particularly to younger buyers and should be protected.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, is advocating on behalf of urban resettlement. Sure, the suburbs seem safer, have better public schools, and are 'great places to raise kids', but they are also unsustainable in their density and fragmentation, and tend to suck resources from their urban core. If this urban core collapses, so too will the suburbs, as we have so vividly witnessed in Detroit.

You see, quite simply, if the cities in which our communities reside collapse, our communities will surely follow. Rebuilding our cities will require the coordination and resources found in the Jewish institutions, combined with the ideas, resourcefulness and brazen idealism of our young adults. Read More......

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SHI 360 Takes On The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Who raps in Hebrew, Arabic, French, and English? None other than super-semite, SHI 360. SHI, who gained a fair amount of exposure with Subliminal, one of the most well-known Israeli rappers, has been working on his newest solo album, and just released a clip from a song called 'Jew World Order'. In it, SHI takes on many of the most insidious accusations made against Jews with a sarcastic, "We did it".

Which reminds me of a joke about a Jewish man who was riding on the London Underground reading an Arab newspaper. A friend of his, who happened to be riding in the same underground car, noticed this strange phenomenon. Very upset, he approached the newspaper reader. "Moishe, have you lost your mind? Why are you reading an Arab newspaper?" Moishe replied, "I used to read the Jewish newspaper, but what did I find? Jews being persecuted, Israel being attacked, Jews disappearing through assimilation and intermarriage, Jews living in poverty. So I switched to the Arab newspaper. Now what do I find? Jews own all the banks, Jews control the media, Jews are all rich and powerful, Jews rule the world. The news is so much better!"

Check out SHI's new track:

Read More......

Monday, December 13, 2010

Think Tank: Rebuilding Communities

Most people think of Detroit as the first failed major American city, but if anywhere has a chance of totally reinventing what an urban community looks like, it is this very same place.

This past Sunday and Monday, the Jewish Federations of North America convened a conference entitled "Rebuilding Jewish Communities by Attracting and Retaining Young adults.

St. Louis was an obvious candidate to participate in this conversation. The population of the city itself had been in decline for a long time, with businesses packing up shop, airlines dropping routes, and natives young adults often not returning after college.

The conference sought to present case studies of the efforts being made in several cities across North America including Montreal, Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh and STL. In addition to leaders in the young adult movements of these cities were representatives from the Schusterman Family mega-Foundation, PresenTense, Moishe House, and Jewish Federations of North America (with yours truly representing Moishe House, Next Dor STL, and JFED STL's Concierge model).

Every city is a bit different, but what united those in attendance is that they are, by and large, losing young adults to more major markets. Overwhelmingly, this population flight has been from smaller communities to larger ones, from the Midwest outward to the coasts. Richard Florida even wrote a book or two about this.

The conference showed that people are indeed troubled by this trend, and that these boom towns of the 18-1900's want to have ensure they have futures well into the 2000's.

While the conference started out with some excellent information about young adults as a demographic and the overall urban renewal strategies needed to revitalize neighborhoods and cities, the majority of the conversations focused on Jewish young adult engagement.

Some of the recurring themes included creating social venture capital, investing in Jewish young adult ideas and supporting the resulting ventures, shifting the culture from focusing on young adult philanthropic giving immediate towards building identity and community first, and then letting the value of both naturally lead into support. Many of the presenters spoke about helping connect people to the city, beyond merely the Jewish community, so that people feel a part of the city life and can see the location as a long term destination.

Speakers pointed to the fact that we live in an era of 'Jewish by choice' as well as increasingly fragmented identity, which is more fluid than previous generations. This led to the point that Judaism and Jewish community is no longer motivated by paranoia and fear, but must rather be championed by values, joy, and service.

One of the interesting points that came up in the course of the discussion is that young adults, Jewish or otherwise want to be where there is a perception of opportunity; opportunity for creating a social life, a professional life, and a romantic life. If young adults abandon smaller cities and don't return, the cities will fail under the weight of a decreased tax base and lowered density. If the cities fail, the Jewish communities will fail. It is therefore essential that any community development/engagement strategy understand that it fits into the broader goal of urban revitalization.

If you are from St. Louis and find yourself elsewhere, why did you leave? What would bring you back? And if are already here, what do you need to keep you here and excited to be here? Read More......

Monday, December 6, 2010

Review of 'Last of the Red Hot Mamas'

Sophie Tucker was one of the queens of show business. With a career that spanned several decades, styles of music, and deeply impacted the likes of Bette Middler, even those of us unfamiliar with Tucker, have likely been impacted by her contributions. When I heard that the New Jewish Theatre was performing a show entitled "Last of the Red Hot Mama's", I figured it would be worth learning more about.
It turns out that everything about Sophie Tucker was large. Her personality, her voice, and apparently, her libido. The NJT's take on her definitely got the first two parts of this equation right. The cast were all solid, particularly the three actresses playing Sophie throughout her life. Each brought a great deal of talent and passion, and songs like 'My Yiddishe Momma' were filled with emotion. The new theater at the Staenberg JCC has top quality lighting, while maintaining an rather intimate feel. A few lines were lost when actors were facing away from us, but in general, being up close to the action was worth it.

The story largely follows the life of Sophie Tucker from young immigrant, working in her parents restaurant, through her career starting off in tin pan alley, to her ascent as an international sensation. The story weaves in songs from the period to help tell the story, as well as to provide background into the sounds of the times.

I can certainly see my grandparents getting nostalgic at the performance. Which brings me to a criticism of the show. Sophie Tucker's performance and persona drew greatly from the risque and often relatively explicit content, hence the name 'Red Hot Mama'. With the exception of a few lines of dialogue, well into the second half of the show, there was little attention given to this aspect of Sophie Tucker.

Overall, the show was well produced and performed. If you are thinking about checking it out, stay tuned for details about a special performance (and price) for young adults. You can also check out dates and prices here.
Read More......

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chappy Hannukah

So the weather has suddenly caught up with the calendar, and just in time, the festival of lights shows up. So, maybe it is worth explaining, just what is this Hanukkah anyways, and why does it have a whole station on Sirius/XM
For many Jews, particularly in America, Hannukah is basically our answer to Christmas ('instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights!'). Except that it isn't, at all. For one, the holiday predates Jesus (and therefore, his birthday), and also, despite being a pretty common story (they tried to kill us and keep us from being Jews, we survived, let's eat), Hannukah is actually a pretty minor Jewish holiday.

Ok, so what is this all about? So, you probably know about Mattityahu (Hasidic Rapper Mattisyahu's namesake), and his son Judah, who revolted against the Syrian king Antiochus after the king sacked Jerusalem, spoiled the temple and effectively outlawed the practice of Judaism.

Maybe you heard that the revolt was successful and the Maccabees pushed the Syrians out of Jerusalem and rededicated the temple. And, I'm guessing that you knew that there was only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously, it burned for eight (which was the amount of time it took to harvest, crush, and processes more oil).

But you probably didn't know much about the mystical dimension of an eight day festival. Check it:
It has also been noted that the number eight has special significance in Jewish theology, as representing transcendence and the Jewish People's special role in human history. Seven is the number of days of creation, that is, of completion of the material cosmos, and also of the classical planets. Eight, being one step beyond seven, represents the Infinite. Hence, the Eighth Day of the Assembly festival, mentioned above, is according to Jewish Law a festival for Jews only (unlike Sukkot, when all peoples were welcome in Jerusalem). Similarly, the rite of brit milah (circumcision), which brings a Jewish male into God's Covenant, is performed on the eighth day. Hence, Hanukkah's eight days (in celebration of monotheism over Hellenistic humanism) have symbolic importance for practicing Jews.

Great, but where did all this music come from? Why is Hannukah probably the second most celebrated Jewish holiday in the US other than Passover? Probably because it is fun. I mean, you get to eat fried foods, you get chocolate coins for acting like a kid and spinning a top, and in a lot of families, you get presents.

Particularly in a country like ours, where people trample each other for Black Friday sales, and brag about their holiday present haul, its hard to not want to keep up with the Smith's, right?

Well, either way, here's to eight bright (and crazy) nights! Hannukah Sameach

Read More......

Monday, November 22, 2010


Last night, at a cozy house in Dogtown, a number of St. Louis' funkiest musicians came together for an event known as Friendsgiving.
Friendsgiving, at its simplest, is a potlock jam session, where participants bring a dish or an instrument and eat and play well into the night.

Organized and hosted by KDHX's Andy Coco, who plays in numerous St. Louis bands (Gumbohead, Dogtown All-stars, Hot Karl), the evening brought together some great people, food, and music.

Check out two of the Jams below. Apologies for the video quality, this was taken with a mobile phone.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Moishe House St. Louis Gets Recognition

The St. Louis Moishe House has done it again, winning Moishe House's House of the Month award. This award, which highlights one of the 33 houses across the world, recognizes the work that the newest combination of residents have done.

In the month of October, MHSTL hosted events for Simchat Torah, Shabbat dinners, attended screenings of an Israeli film, Lebanon, held current event discussions, and a social action Halloween program.

The St. Louis house, which was founded in 2008, is currently located in Richmond Heights. To learn more about the group, check them out here and on facebook, here. Read More......

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sklar Brothers Bring The NSFW, Young Adults Dig It

This past Saturday night at a ballroom at the Sheraton in Clayton, comedy duo, the Sklar Brothers, unleashed their humor on the Young Professionals of the Jewish community.

The event, organized to celebrate the end of the 2010 Federation annual campaign, brought together around 300 young adults (and some not so young) to laugh at the unique tag-team style of the St. Louis natives.

The brothers, known for their work on HBO and elsewhere joked about everything from growing up thinking they were poor, to problems buying the story of the original "Karate Kid" and brought some refreshing vulgarity to a world of Jewish events often known for being rated PG.

Although the language was at times gratifyingly crude, the controversy from the evening came from a decidedly different place: the cost.

The cost of the event, $15, could only be paid once a minimum $52 contribution had been made to the Federation. That brings the cost for two to over $80. In fairness, the donation goes towards the Federation's support of basic social services, agencies, advocacy, and sexier things like Next Dor and Moishe House. Last year, the minimum donation was $100, pointed out the YPD staff person, and truly, for those of us to earn an income a dollar a week isn't really a lot to ask.

But what about all of the graduate students, new arrivals and unemployed young adults living here? Many of them aren't particularly situated here in St. Louis, have little affiliation with the city or the Federation, and tend to simply not have a lot of spare cash. For several friends, they found the required donation distasteful and a turnoff. They felt disenfranchised and saw the whole thing as a reassertion that Federation sees them only as the contents of their pocketbooks.

In my opinion, the whole issue comes down to one of communication, and might have been avoided by a slightly different marketing campaign. A casual perusal through the promotional materials will show that the impetus of the event was communicated in a way that led to a bit of confusion. Many people don't understand what the campaign is and so saying that the event celebrates its close didn't help to disambiguate. Instead, the materials could have pointed out that as a thank you to all of those who enabled Federation to continue its important work in the community with a minimum donation of $52, an event was being organized with famous comedians, candy, and an open bar for $15, which is not a bad deal. From there, communicating that it is not too late to take advantage of the event by making the minimum donation is relatively easy. That clarifies the purpose of the event, the reason for the minimum donation, and includes a call to action to inspire those stragglers to donate.

In the end, I was able, through some finagling (and a larger than minimum donation), to ensure that a friend of mine who couldn't afford it, but loves the Sklar brothers, was able to attend. The event was well produced and put together, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It was certainly a success, but even from successes, one can draw lessons from the tensions along the way.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

St. Louis Young Adults Make Waves in NYC

This story is reposted from Jewishinstlouis.org and can be found here

When the St. Louis Next Dor delegates spoke at a Synagogue3000 Conference in New York City recently before 176 attendees representing 53 congregations across the country, everyone listened with rapt attention. The four 20-somethings representing St. Louis - David Elias, Aliza Haber, Ariel Lyons-Warren and Yoni Sarason - were the youngest group of presenters addressing one of the most important issues facing our Jewish community – how to engage young Jewish adults. And they posited a unique model.

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, CEO of S3000, said of the Next Dor STL contingent, “They not only provided a pilot project voice about what and how they’ve created a successful young Jewish adult engagement initiative, but also demonstrated to the mostly Boomer and Gen X crowd that young Jewish adults really do know what they want and how to go about creating sacred community on their terms.”

The S3000 event brought together Jewish organizers, rabbis, congregational leaders, federation representatives, experts in communal initiatives and others committed to community building for Jews in their 20s and 30s. The goal of the conference was to have a free-thinking and honest conversation about how to reach the next generation of Jews. And underlying that was to explore the relevance synagogues will play in the future of Jewish life. Next Dor, which is a national initiative for engaging young Jewish adults, is typically organized by rabbis that forge connections, build community and launch peer-driven initiatives – both in and around the congregations that host their endeavors.

But Next Dor STL takes a different approach.

Sarason, founder and a current staff member, explained it this way. “We tap young local talent to reach post-college and pre-marriage Jewish adults (ages 21 to mid 30s). Most other Next Dor sites are ensconced with a synagogue; we are independent. Other sites use their funds to hire a professional while we use it to renovate the space – we have our own house near Central Reform Congregation with whom we have a special exchange. We also focus on non-traditional programming that doesn’t take place within the confines of an institutional setting such as a synagogue or Jewish organization.”

Rabbi Susan Talve of CRC, who accompanied the Next Dor STL delegates, explained the laissez-faire set up between Next Dor STL and her congregation. “Our hope was that Next Dor STL would provide a space for young adults to find meaningful relationships, conversations and experiences.” There were contingencies in setting it up, she noted. “There were core values we expected the young people to build on like embracing the LGBT community, Jews of color, open to interfaith relationships and Jews by choice. I hope also at this critical time in their lives, in an economy that is tough for many of them to find work, they know they can still be part of something bigger than themselves, find ways to help each other and serve the common good.”

Lyons-Warren , one of the initial founders and a current board member, pointed out that Next Dor STL is indeed a Jewish community space that serves the common good. Available to and welcoming for young Jewish adults, it’s non-denominational and independent of any one synagogue. “The most important goal is providing a safe comfortable place to be…the Jewish identity will follow. Our generation does not respond to the same types of outreach as our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.”

Next Dor STL has empowered young people to form their own community. “It’s about letting us have the reigns, the power and the resources rather than conforming to someone else’s concept. Young people are full of ideas, but they’re not necessarily listened to. Here our ideas have come to fruition without the typical roadblocks,” said Sarason.

Elias, a program director and board member, said he views Next Dor STL as a success “if there are a plethora of options out there for young, Jewish adults to explore. I want young people to realize that St. Louis has a lot to offer and I see Next Dor STL as a resource for young adults and a conduit to other organizations within the city."

Haber calls Next Dor STL her lifeline to the Jewish community. “I moved back to St. Louis from Chicago, heard about Next Dor and went to a couple of events. I started to think, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool.’ I went to more and this led to other involvements. I’m more involved in Jewish social life and living than ever. Now I’m a youth director for USY, I have new friends and networking opportunities that helped me find work. In fact, my whole life revolves around things I’ve done and people I’ve met at Next Dor.”

Since opening, hosting its first event a year ago on Nov. 10, 2009, more than 300 young adults have made 1,500 visits to St. Louis’ Next Dor, participating in more than 100 programs that include social action projects, educational events and social and recreational programs. This is the tip of the iceberg. Sarason wants to ignite more relationships with existing organizations which have had not as much success with young adults in the past. “For instance, we did an interfaith dialogue with ADL that was successful. We’re doing a movie series with them. In essence, we’re taking the programs out of the institutional setting and having conversations that allow young people to express themselves and do something meaningful.”

Next Dor STL’s model has put the St. Louis Jewish community on the map, said Sarason. “I’ve heard from people in Houston, Detroit, New York. We’ve had initial conversations and many have said, ‘Wow, I would like to visit St. Louis. It sounds like a great community.’”
Read More......

Monday, November 1, 2010

Eyal Kless, World-Renowned Violinist to Speak at Next Dor

Eyal Kless, born in Israel, has performed and taught throughout the world, fast establishing himself a dynamic and versatile musician. During his visit to St. Louis, to play at Powell Symphony Hall, he will also be speaking at Next Dor.

The small gathering, taking place at 7 PM on Tuesday, November 2nd, will be an intimate conversation with this fantastic musician. For more information about the event, click here.

Eyal's performances will take place Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. at the next “On Stage at Powell” program at 7 p.m., and on Monday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., at Washington University’s New Music Building, 560 Music Center. Read More......

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do Synagogues Have a Future?

Institutions are always a product of the times in which they are created. Jewish Institutions, doubly so. Lately, many of these institutions, which form the backbone of the organized Jewish world, have had their very need questioned by young adults and others who see them as relics of another time.

Jewish hospitals, community centers and specific social services were all created to provide services for Jews which they often could not receive elsewhere. Fast forward to the present day and we find few institutions from whose most inner sanctums we are excluded. Conversely, when barriers and quotas fell, Jews enthusiastically embraced these institutions.

But surely, synagogues, which are very specifically Jewish, and whose purpose is not made redundant by other institutions have remained essential, right?

With young adults choosing not to affiliate, synagogues are getting pretty worried.
Enter Synagogue 3000, an organization seeking to help imagine and create the next generation of synagogues and young adult engagement.

S3K has encouraged what they call a 'relational' approach to Jewish engagement, stressing relationships over membership (sound familiar?), capacity building over pocketbook pandering, and a long term and more national view of the Jewish community.

This past weekend, S3K hosted a 'Next Dor Conversation', in which they invited Rabbis, Jewish professionals, and lay leaders to learn from the five initial Next Dor sites, including our very own in St. Louis. In addition to presentations by each site as to its approach and results, Steven Cohen, Sociologist of American Jewry, presented some early findings from a survey conducted of participants of all sites. His results showed increased participation, increased identification, and increased integration into the Jewish community across all sites.

Cohen's main point was this: young adults are waiting longer to get married, synagogues' main demographic are married couples, and therefore, the work that needs to be done is to keep people engaged long enough so that when they get married, the synagogue is an obvious next step.

Four of Next Dor St. Louis's crew were flown to New York to attend the conference, to present, participate, and schmooze. This opportunity provided them the opportunity to both showcase their work and the city, while exposing them to new ideas and individuals.

Judging by the enthusiasm and compliments received by the St. Louis delegation, it is clear that Next Dor STL is not only making an impact locally, but is getting the attention of serious Jewish thinkers, activists, and professionals around the country.

What will this mean for the future of traditional Jewish institutions, synagogues in particular? We aren't quite sure, but it certainly is exciting.
Read More......

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Muslims Who Saved Jews: Groundbreaking Exhibition Hits St. Louis

In the dark story of the Holocaust, some of the few bright spots were the lives saved by individuals who put their own safety at risk. In the case of Jews being saved by those outside the faith, the State of Israel honors them as 'righteous among the nations'. Rarely, though, have we heard of the Albanian Muslims who saved some 2000 Jews during this period.

A new exhibition of photographs of these brave individuals is coming to St. Louis.

From the press release:

In 2003, renowned photographer Norman Gershman embarked on a project to find and photograph Albanian Muslim families who had sheltered and saved Jews - both Albanian nationals and refugees from neighboring countries - during World War II.

By 2004, after two photographic journeys to Albania and Kosovo, he had discovered roughly 150 Muslim families who had taken part in the rescue of the Jews due to their belief in Besa, or honor, an ancient code which requires Albanians to endanger their own lives if necessary to save the life of anyone seeking asylum.

Besa is, to this day, the highest moral law of the region, superseding religious differences, blood feuds and tribal traditions.

The result of Gershman’s journey, striking images of these families, as well as their stunning stories, will be on display for the first time in St. Louis at Temple Emanuel from October 21 to December 1, 2010.

The free exhibit can be viewed at Temple Emanuel, 12166 Conway Road, in Creve Coeur Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., and by appointment.

Read More......

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Visionaries, Opulence, and Cold Hard Cash

One of the classic tactics in fundraising (and many other types of businesses) is to throw a big event. You make it the place to be, create an experience, and then watch the money flow in.

On Monday night, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis threw a bash to celebrate the three supporting family foundations, Lubin-Green, Krazberg, and Staenberg, who provide a huge amount of funding to the community.

The ritzy event took place at.. well the Ritz, and was quite a production. In addition to the open bars, and who's who (including the Mayor of St. Louis, the County Executive, the Senator, and the Governor), the $250 per seat dinner included entertainment from Michael Feinstein, famous singer, pianist, and music revivalist. Feinstein, at 54, was ever the entertainer, laying on the Jewish pretty thick for the audience. His smile, sealed against his teeth by what appeared to be a fresh session of Botox, was both endearing and frightening.

As one of the 30 under 30 there (not as in the award, but as in there probably were seriously only 30 people there under the age of 30), I have to say it was a totally different world.

But behind the glitz and glamor, the opulence and spectacle was a clear purpose. The Federation was looking to do what it does best: raise money. The event hoped to bring in $300,000, as well as to encourage people to set up gifts to Federation as part of their estate, as something they are calling 'Legacy' gifts.

In the current economy, not only has Federation's fundraising take been down, the needs have skyrocketed.

And so, the Visionaries event was put together and, as productions go, it was nearly flawless. Sure, the community wanted to honor some of the largest philanthropists, but in doing so, the Federation is sending some clear messages that it expects other well resourced-families to step up and pull their weight. As a former student of psychology, I can appreciate the modeling effect. Not only do you encourage a behavior by rewarding it, you can also use this reward to socialize others as to what is expected behavior.

Whether or not the Federation pulls in quite as much as they initially planned for, the event will likely be seen as a huge success in the community and put the Federation back at top of mind for many of those present.
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nu Campaign Connects with Mattisyahu for Haiti Relief

While the initial outpouring of support for victims of Haiti's devastating earthquakes was immense, the world's attention span is short. And though the aid has decreased, the need has not.

One group that was on the ground immediately after the disaster was the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, which set up a field hospital to deal with the most pressing needs on the ground.

The Nu Campaign, which designs and sells shirts to raise awareness and dollars for Israeli causes has just launched a new shirt targeting this issue.

In a video clip launched by NU Campaign this week, Matisyahu explains his motivation to support ICTP: "It's not about Jewish or non-Jewish or where you are from. It's about human beings helping other humans".

"In the wake of the 250,000 deaths and a dire humanitarian situation, Professor Danny Brom, Director of ICTP and other staff flew into Haiti, working with parents and teachers, teaching them coping and resilience skills and providing support to the volunteers.

They are now in the process of launching a three-year therapy program within the Haitian education system.

Among their responses to global disasters, ICTP have sent teams to Sri Lanka in the wake of the Tsunami and the USA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."

David Kramer, the force behind the Nu Campaign, was a fellow this summer at PresenTense where we had the chance to work side by side. His shirts are unique in that, not only do the proceeds benefit non-profits, but the front design rarely explains the message, an intentional omission, due to the full message being contained on the inside of the shirt. As David explains it, the outer message is meant to encourage dialog, while the full message is carried close to the heart of the individual wearing the shirt. Learn more about the Nu campaign here
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Friday, October 1, 2010

Simchat Torah Asks, Why SO Serious?

The Jewish High Holidays are a rollercoaster of emotion. We are happy with the start of a new year, yet pensive and introspective as we reach Yom Kippur, reaching that spiritual high that only comes after a certain amount of emotional agony. During Sukkot, we again rejoice, while thinking about the temporary status of this corporeal life and the possessions we cannot take with us. And so, the sheer unabashed joy of Simchat Torah is a bit of a relief.

Simchat Torah, literally the joy of, or rejoicing in the Torah, is one of these holidays in which we seek to approach an ecstatically joyful state, without the 'on the other hand' which characterizes so many of our experiences.

Too often, we put restrictions on ourselves, on the degrees to which we will experience or partake of certain emotions, experiences, or opportunities. And usually this is a good thing. Unreturned love causes pain, so we feel out our partners to make sure we aren't somewhere they aren't. Overindulgence in food, alcohol, or just about anything else has both immediate and long terms consequences. Even on other festive holidays, we rejoice, but often almost cautiously, remembering the evil we had to overcome in order to survive (and thus be able to eat and rejoice). Simchat Torah, though, is different.

One of my first memories of St. Louis comes from 'parent's weekend' at Wash U my freshman year, which happened to coincide with Simchat Torah. I was still fresh on campus, but at Bais Abe, the modern Orthodox Shul on the Delmar Loop, I felt able to let my guard down and boogie. Joy is contagious in that way.

While many religious rituals are heavy, somber, and often beyond our powers of understanding, the simple joy of celebration is one of the easiest traditions to follow. Chag Sameach. Read More......

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Federation's Annual Meeting... A Live Blog

That's right, The St. Lou Jew will be in the building for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis' annual meeting and we'll be live bloging at twitter.com/thestloujew

Some might (appropriately) ask, "just what the hell are you doing liveblogging the Federation's annual meeting? Isn't it absurd to apply web 2.0 technology to a 1.0 organization's meeting?"

Yes. It totally is. But at least this way you'll get to hear an alternative, younger voice as we present updates through our perspective. Stay tuned. Read More......

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shanah Tovah, an Obligatory Reflection on the Past Year

This time of year, all Jewishly connected organizations are sending out there reflections from the past year.

Parents send out yearly wrap ups in mass-emails, facebook profiles are updated and viral Rosh Hashanah clips are passed around.

For me (and I rarely write as 'me'), this year has certainly been one of transitions, of building, and of stepping away from traditionally defined roles, even as I move closer to tradition.

A year ago, I had just moved out of the Moishe House to help Next Dor get off the ground, the house was still undergoing renovations, and our ideas about Jewish community were about to be put to the test.

Now, looking back, our community has grown, with more than 300 people having stopped in to share a meal, learn, discuss, hang out, stretch, breath, etc. We've turned an idea into a movement which has gained the notice of many in the top echelons of the Organized Jewish Community. We've helped people feel at home in St. Louis, helped them find friends, roommates, community, and even jobs. And yet, I'm not satisfied.

We have so much further to go. Our commitment to an arts and culture component has yet to be realized, and our cohort is still underemployed. We are meeting so many people, that it has been a challenge to make sure we really build relationships with them and follow up on those relationships. We have to fight the temptation to be complacent and settle into cliques. We have to be vigilant for those individuals who have not been made to feel fully comfortable.

In this new year, I want to see the individuals who we've connected with be able to come together to create a community.

You might have also noticed over the last year that the St. Lou Jew as a blog has tapered from posts every day to a few per week, or even less. To some extent, this has been due to my success in other areas which have left me far less time to post.

On the other hand, this is due to a lack of other writers, so consider this an open invitation to put your name in the hat to be come a contributor.

As this holiday passes and we find ourselves in these days of awe and reflection, I hope we all have the courage to actually look at ourselves objectively, to identify what we've done well, and where we can and will improve. May you all be inscribed in the book of living to the fullest. Read More......

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Got the Office Blues? Maybe Co-Working is for You

In Tim Ferris' smash, "Four Hour Workweek", he argues that getting out of the office is the first step to becoming part of the live anywhere, do anything 'new rich'

At the same time, as more people take jobs that don't require them to be in a specific cubical in a specific office, many people are lamenting the lack of opportunities for social interaction that come with working from home.

Enter St. Louis Co-working, a new organization that has taken over the historic Shell building downtown.

St. Louis Co-working provides space for, "web designers, graphic designers, creatives, artists, bloggers, and even attorneys, CPA’s, architects, real estate agents. . . and the underemployed." The space is provided based on monthly or daily rental fees and provides various amenities and the opportunity to work in a more social environment, to help the creative energies flow.

New interesting projects like St. Louis Co-working are popping up all over the country in response to many of the new realities faced by workers in today's economy so it is extremely exciting to have something like this in St. Louis

Rosa Mayer, one of the MOT's involved in helping to open the space gushed about the sense of fun, community and creativity that she has already seen develop in the month that the space has been open.

St. Louis Co-working will be throwing a party on Thursday the 2nd to celebrate being open for a month. You can find out more about the party here.

Stay tuned for more exciting STL developments. Read More......

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


St. Louis.... Prepare yourself. Something so immense is about to take place, you probably won't know what hit you.

Ready? Cafe Natasha, The St. Lou Jew's favorite Kebab and Persian food spot is starting a Hummus Happy Hour.

That's right. You can now eat Hummus to your heart's desire.

Cafe Natasha, home of some of the best beef kebab in the city, and to the off-the-menu, and out of this world misa rhosamee eggplant is starting up an all you can eat Hummus Happy Hour, every Tuesday from 4-7.

If you remember our interview with David Lizzo, you'll recall just how important access to Hummus is as one of the main reasons people choose to live where they do.

See you there behind mountains of pillowy pita! Read More......

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Emerging Adulthood: Sense of Possibility

The NYTimes recently published an article looking at Emergent Adulthood, a 'new' developmental period characterized by continued dependence. For many young adults the article hits close to home.
As a result of the economic downturn, the ubiquity of college education, as well as some large cultural attitude shifts, a lot of us young adults aren't rushing into careers or marriage and family life as quickly as many of our grandparents and parents did.

In the Jewish community, this has produced a crisis, as many organizations are built around a now outdated family and life cycle. This is witnessed by the falling numbers of young adult representation in synagogues, Federations, and the collapse of more and more well established Jewish institutions.

While many in the organized Jewish world are kept up late at night worrying about the future of the Jewish people (or at least their beloved institutions), there may yet be a great source for optimism.

One of the pieces of this Emergent Adulthood phenomenon is a 'Sense of Possibility', an entrepreneurial and positive outlook that isn't beset by an acceptance of the harsh reality of life. If we look around us, we find young adults are already solving many of the problems and filling many of the needs they have identified for themselves. The independent Minyan movement is one such indicator of this, as are the number of interesting and innovative start up ventures popping up all around the country.

The challenge, at this point, is the cross generational cultural differences between young adults who are solving their own problems in unorthodox ways, and members of previous generations who are seeking to reinforce or maintain the status quo to which they have grown accustomed.

For many outside of the Gen Y and Millennial cliques, these innovative approaches don't make sense and seem redundant. Also, for someone who has been doing things a certain way, change can seem pretty terrifying.

So how do we come together and leverage the experience and resources amassed by those with a few more years under their belts with the new ideas, approaches, the 'Sense of Possibility' that we as 'Emerging Adults' bring to the table?

The solution lies in not seeing ourselves as pitted against one another but to realize that we are looking to solve the same issues, and have complementary resources that we bring to the table. Seeing this as a balanced yin-yang situation is as (hopefully) easy as not focusing on the two parts, but on the whole which they combine to form.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Well, a New Group for Women

As part of our efforts to showcase new and exciting things in the Jewish community, we give you 'The Well'.


The Well: New Women's Group at CRC

Central West End - August 10, 2010

This exciting new group will explore topics such as body image, female rituals, Jewish baking, our connection with nature, celebrating our creativity, moon cycles and the Jewish calendar.

Additionally, this Rosh Hodesh group will be an opportunity for women to learn, discuss and grow together through Jewish teachings and rituals.

Each month on the evening of the new moon we will laugh and learn together while building a network of women who can support each other through different phases of life.

First New Moon: Tuesday, August 10th from 7:30p-9:00pm in the CRC library

Elizabeth Tucker
elizabeth [at] alivemag [dot] com Read More......

Monday, August 2, 2010

Interview with Yaniv Rivlin, co-founder of Comtribute

Sometimes an opportunity creates itself to take advantage of some powerful forces and use them for a good cause. In this interview with Yaniv Rivlin, co-founder of Combtribute, you can learn about a fantastic new way to support your favorite non profits. In a shameless plug for Next Dor, you can help out by visiting here

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reflections On Israel

It has been a while since we were able to update the St. Lou Jew. Between the intensity of the last week in the PresenTense Institute, as well as the difficulty of trying to cram in time with everyone before I left Israel... well.. you get the picture. Readjusting and Re-acculturating always helps you to appreciate the differences between where you were and where you are. Read on for a few thoughts about Israel and what St. Louis can learn.

Israel has a way of changing people. The country makes secular people religious and vice versa. The problems are both mindblowingly complex and maddeningly simple. The culture can make you want to scream in frustration (that no two cab rides between the same points are ever the same price) and cry in appreciation. The smells, sights, sounds, and tastes are all more vivid, and everything is often in sharper focus. But can an experience in Israel change St. Louis?

After 6 weeks in Israel, learning how to write business plans, executive summaries, how to navigate public transportation, sharpening my Hebrew and soaking up the local culture, I have a few ideas about what the tiny nation-state can teach St. Louis.

1. Transportation
In Israel, you can get nearly any where without the need for a car. Sure, you are reliant on a network of buses, shared cabs, and trains which may not arrive on time, may not be clearly marked, or make much sense to the casual traveler, but once you master them, they are quite powerful and mostly convenient. St. Louis used to be the street car capital of the world, and while those days are long gone, the city has finally made some small strides in reinstating public transportation funding. The bigger issue is that most people in St. Louis view public transit as a people mover of last resort. We take for granted the relative affordability of cars and gasoline and look at the Metro and buses as less dignified or convenient way to get around. Because of the range of our cars we move further and further from the urban core, making public transit even less relevant. If young adults took the lead in starting to ride the bus around the city, more people would be convinced of the safety and convenience of this form of transit, it would go a long way towards reviving activity in the city. See, on public transportation, we are forced to interact with and acknowledge each other, something from which cars conveniently remove us. In a city like St. Louis, the most precious resources are the young creative people who will create jobs and opportunities, but without a density of these people, their talents will merely dissipate. The Jewish community can take a leadership role in championing expanded use of public transportation and can encourage community members to stop moving to the exurbs.

2. Hospitality
A few weekends ago, I stayed with two different families, each of whom implored me to feel at home. In Cincinnati I'm close with the parents of almost everyone of my good friends from growing up. In St. Louis, although I know a lot of people whose parents live in town, I have barely met (let alone know) anyone's parents, and rarely get to experience home hospitality. Granted, in Israel, I'm a visitor, and I'm fortunate to have a large network here, but the hospitality is unreal. I've been offered places to crash by people I've met once and invited to more dinners than I have time to attend. Hospitality isn't just a matter of meeting parents, though, it is also how you treat people, how you welcome them into your space, and make them feel at home.

If St. Louis wants to be a comfortable and welcoming place for Jewish young adults, people need to start making extraordinary efforts to make them feel comfortable and welcome. Did you just meet someone new? Invite them over for a meal with friends, introduce them to your crew, make them feel like St. Louis is a place they fit in. One of the primary purposes of the Next Dor house is to provide that home for people in St. Louis and to tap into that hospitality.

3. Innovation
Israel has more start ups per capita than any other place on earth. The country has fostered a sense that there are no barriers. St. Louis is known for a conservative culture that tends to smother new ideas. There is a certain way that things have been done and a certain order that people wish to maintain. In order to create the jobs that will bring people to St. Louis, and entice them to stay, that culture has to change. The easiest and lowest cost way to do this is to simply be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. If organizations can align their massive connections and resources behind innovative ideas and people, both the old and the new will win. St. Louis can also start community innovation funds (like PresenTense's CEP model, or giving circles) in which young adults with ideas are connected to resources like seed funding and advice from business professionals on how to launch their ventures. Individuals can share business connections and help people network and everyone should be helping to showcase young adults who are doing interesting things and make sure their ventures are supported.

4. Local fresh food
In Israel, you don't have to go to the shuk to find amazing produce. Not only can you find fruit stands everywhere, but even the supermarkets carry high quality local produce.

St. Louis has a number of farmer's markets, including Soulard and Tower Grove but what about putting pressure on Schnucks and Shop 'n Save to include local produce and other products in their selections? How many people are growing mint on their windowsills or tomatoes in their backyards? A people with roots in the land is a people on more firm ground.

5. Local solutions to local issues
Israel has no gas or precious metals, scant supplies of fresh water, and is surrounded by hostile neighbors. Due to this, Israel has always relied on its most valuable resource, the intellect and creativity of its citizens to come up with innovative solutions to its problems.

St. Louis has continued to squander its most important resource, its young people. The city has done little to attract or retain this talent and between larger market cities, and the suburbs, the City of St. Louis is getting its butt kicked. For St. Louis to succeed, and for the Jewish community to be viable and vibrant, it must look to its young adults and empower them to create the future.

The Jewish Federation of St. Louis has recognized many of these issues and is beginning to align resources around young adult programs like Next Dor and Moishe House, as well as to look to national and international models of Jewish social entrepreneurship. For these efforts to succeed, the Federation will need to not only put money into the issues, but also be willing to change their modus operandi in order to encourage young adult innovation and participation.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kutiman Live in Tel Aviv

For those of you who haven't heard of Kutiman, he grew famous for remixing clips of individuals playing their instruments on YouTube and slicing them into full songs. Last week, I had the chance to see his band play as openers for DJ Shadow in Tel Aviv. Check out the 'Mother of all funk chords' Live... and excuse the camera movement from my uncontrollable dancing.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Drive By Weddings

Friday night in Jerusalem is a time of peace. The city shuts down, buses stop running, the decibel level decreases and a quiet descends on the streets. But sometimes, the quiet is uneasy, and is broken
Yesterday, we were going about our pre-Shabbat routine in Jerusalem. Knowing that the shuk would be shut down (as are most grocery stores), we stocked up on a few essentials. Once back from the heat of the Mediterranean sun, we cleaned up and got ready for our evening. I, along with several other fellows, and a friend from Wash U, had made plans to attend the Jerusalem Challenge, a bid to get together Jewish young adults from across the religious and national spectrum for a night of conversation and shared experience.

As my roommates and I sat in the common area of our apartment, we suddenly heard concussions, first one, then more, each louder and closer than before. Now, I haven't served in the army, but I certainly know what gunshots sound like. When my roommate Noah peered out the window and saw flashes, I told him and Madeline to get in the bomb shelter room and lock the door. We heard a few more booms and sat, breathless. I called the police and they asked if I was calling about the gunshots and that they were already looking into the matter.

As we moved back towards the windows and looked outside, everything seemed to be proceeding as normal. Just as the tension grew, there was a knock at our door.

After looking through the peephole, I found Dave, my Wash U friend, having finally made it after a long trek from the States.

We let him in and, as I introduced him to my visibly shaken roommates, asked him if he had heard the shots.

As it turned out, he had seen the whole thing transpire. There is a tradition at Arab weddings that guns are fired into the air in celebration. It just so happened that this particular wedding party thought it prudent to fire in the air while driving through the city, which might be marginally acceptable in the outskirts of Afghanistan, but is understandably upsetting in a place with a history of unrest and tension like Israel.

Our fears allayed, our breathing returned to normal, and Dave and I even managed to make it to the end of services at Kol Haneshama
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Birthright Israel Brings Israel to St. Louisians

There's no place to meet Americans like in Israel. Particularly during the summer, the Birthright trips stampede through the country. I was able to catch up with Jason, a St. Louis native and participant of a recent Birthright trip to hear his thoughts mid trip. Check out what Jason had to say, and excuse his exhaustion, Birthright works you pretty hard.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Driving Electric Cars at Better Place

It isn't enough just to hear about electric cars. The proof, as it is said, is in the pudding, or in this case, driving the damn things. So here, in an exclusive video, is Manny Waks, founder of the Capital Jewish Forum, test driving the electric car at Better Place. Also, near the end, you we learn about their infrastructure and watch how quickly a battery change takes place.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Electric Cars, Laila Lavan, and Living it up in Israel

This was a huge, immense, anak week. We not only learned about how the world will be saved, I pulled my first all nighter since college, and had a family reunion of exceptional quality.

With the PresenTense crew, we visited a number of Venture Capital Firms in Tel Aviv, with a final stop at Better Place, Shai Agassi's bid to change the world through electric car infrastructure. We learned about the infrastructure, road in the cars, and were all thoroughly impressed. Beyond figuring out the infrastructure, what is so amazing about Better Place is that the cars will serve as mobile energy storage for the grid. What that means is that we can finally invest in renewable energy generation on a large scale because the cars will provide the means to store and harness the energy in an effective way.

The weekend started in earnest Saturday night with Laila lavan in Tel Aviv. Laila Lavan translates to white night, but means all-nighter because many of the museums and attractions are open late, there are concerts and performances up and down the boulevards and on the beaches, and there are people out everywhere until the sun comes up. We made it to Tel Aviv on the later side, it was probably close to 11 by the time we hit Rotchild, one of the main streets in Tel Aviv. Before we took in all the craziness, though, I had a nice reunion of sorts with Dor, a friend from my time in Israel as a student, and his brother. After catching up with a few St. Lou Jews including Michael and Noa, we made our way down the street, passing a wireless headphone rave, in which all of the dancers wore headphones so that only they could hear the music from the DJ, and a host of Elvis impersonators, before ending up at a concert of a Beatles cover band, which was fantastic. As we made our way South, we heard some funky music and happened upon a group of highschoolers getting down on the boulevard. We hung out there until they finished and caught up with Ariel, a friend from Wash U, and her boyfriend. We hung out drinking champagne on the street, people-watching and taking in the mayhem, before hopping over to a restaurant that made some of the best burgers I've ever had in Israel.

By the time we made it back to our crash pad, it was 6 am, and we had seen the sun rise over Tel Aviv.

Friday, we took our time recovering and I finally was able to see my friend's mom, who had been like an adopted mother to me while studying in Israel. I joined them for Shabbat dinner and was able to catch up with nearly the whole of the family.

Shabbat was spent mostly in Gan Hapa'amon (Liberty Bell) park in Jerusalem with a friend from Philly, although tonight, while watching more of the World Cup, we struck up a conversation with some Brazilian and Spanish kids who were doing their version of Birthright. They invited us out dancing afterwards and proved to us that Americans aren't the only ones who go crazy in Israel.
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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And Now, for Part 2 of our interview with David Lizzo. In this piece, Dave discusses living here, the Flotilla, and Gaza.

Read More......

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where is Yokne'am, What is Perma-culture, And More

This past weekend, I went on a bit of an adventure. I hit three cities, a few villages, and a co-op. Where did I go? What did I see? How did I end up playing darbuka under a passion fruit vine? Read on to find out.

I made the trek up to St. Louis' Sister City, Yokne'am - Megiddo. For those of you who don't know (which is nearly everyone), Yokne'am is a small city of 20,000 located in Northern Israel, located a bit south of Haifa. I had been put in touch with Shachar, a resident of Yokne'am who has been organizing a community of young adults, and thought he'd be a great person to speak to and learn from. There is no central bus station in Yokne'am, and so I got dropped off on the side of a main road, next to a mall.

Shachar picked me up, and I was a bit relieved to learn that he had actually be born in the US, which made me feel better about speaking to him in English. He and his wife, Yamit, and their 5-month-old, Ma'ayan, live in an apartment block with a pretty amazing view of the surrounding area.

We spent the afternoon talking about the area, the neighborhood, and the community. Below is a video of Shachar talking a bit about Yokne'am

After a nice Shabbat dinner at the apartment of one of the other young families in the community, Shachar and I went to a house party in Zichron Yakov. There, we found people doing what is called 'Playback' in which one person tells a story and then actors act it out. It was a little weird, but also pretty interesting. Along the way, we met some great people.

On Saturday morning, we went to a permaculture coop which is based around sustainable design. The coop was having an exchange event in which people brought clothes and books and could take things that others brought. In addition they had music, dancing, and some great food. Israeli hippies do it up right.

Saturday night, I stayed with Yogev and Noa, two St. Louis Israelis who were back in Tel Aviv for work. While out watching the US/Ghana soccer game, I ended up sitting next to Zach, who had just finished a year in St. Louis as a Koro fellow.

Sunday morning I made it up to Ra'anana to interview Joseph Gitlers, founder of Leket, an amazing non profit. You'll have to stay tuned for that video.
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Interview with David Lizzo Part One

David Lizzo is a native of St. Louis who moved to Israel and lived for 4 years, getting citizenship and going into the army. Find out why he did it, and what he learned.
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tel Aviv

A friend told me about Tel Aviv that there are many more beautiful than her, but none quite as beautiful like her. The city, Israel’s biggest, is located on the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the country. Considered the first ‘Modern Jewish’ city, Tel Aviv’s history spans back over 100 years. Known for its beach culture, night life, and shopping, Tel Aviv is the place to be… and after a week and a half of VIP meetings, skill buildings sessions, lectures, workshops, etc., I was ready to be there.
Intercity travel in Israel is a breeze, assuming your Hebrew is decent. Buses run from the central bus station in Jerusalem to that of Tel Aviv every 10-15 minutes. I instead opted for a bus that let me off a short walk from Azrieli, a large corporate tower and mall, to meet Shiri, a close friend of Kinneret Nahamani, who moved from Israel to St. Louis seven years ago. At the Azrieli mall, you are immediately struck by…how similar it looks to any American mall. Sure, the people are skinnier, the music favors techno over hip hop, and a few stores have unfamiliar names, but other than that, we are talking about the same terribly over-stimulating consumer experience. I did, however, have a big Shawarma, which helped sooth my aching senses.
From there, it was pretty easy to hop a bus over to the beach, where I met Mike Simmons, a Cincinnati native in town for a Krav Maga seminar. Krav Maga is the fighting system used by the Israeli army and Mike, who started a Krav Maga studio in Cincinnati, was there to advance his training and bring new innovations in the field back to the 513. Mike and spent the afternoon on the beach, soaking up the intense sun, sipping Goldstars, (Israel’s Budweiser) and playing a game called Matkot. Matkot is a game that can be used as an analogy for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Basically, two people hit a ball back and forth between each other using paddles. You don’t keep score, and when someone misses the ball, you just pick it up and start smacking it again. In short, it is pointless, but everyone is obsessed with it.
After the beach, I dropped by Ariel’s place. Ariel is a friend from Washington University, where we studied Hebrew together. She moved to Israel after college and has been living in Tel Aviv with her boyfriend for a few years now. We went to her boyfriend Eran’s parent’s house for Shabbat dinner, where I was stuffed with food by an Eran’s mother. To be fair, the watermelon was potentially the best I’ve ever had in my life.
We managed to take our leave before any weird family moments could occur, and back at Ariel’s we caught up with a few of the other PresenTense fellows who had decided to make the jaunt to Tel Aviv. As we sat enjoying drinks on Ariel’s rooftop patio, it was hard not to imagine how much fun it would be to live there. Around 12:30 we made it out on the town, walking down Rothchild, a famous street with a pedestrian boulevard down the middle. We ended up at a champagne bar, where we listened to some amazingly remixed music that combined Balkan horn riffs with pounding Electronic drum beats. By the time we got to bed, I didn’t at all mind sleeping on the couch.
Saturday morning, I met up with Lee, a friend who had been a soldier on the Birthright trip of a few good camp/NFTY friends. We had kept in touch and she accompanied me down to the beach to connect with Noa and Yogev. Noa and Yogev are Israelis who work in St. Louis for AmDocs, an IT company. They just happened to be in town for a few weeks. This time, we went to a totally different beach, much further North, with a more young adult population. It is worth saying at this point that Israeli women are devastatingly beautiful, but even more so on the beach.
We actually went in the water, but quickly left after hearing that there were ‘medusot’ (jellyfish) nearby. Noa and Yogev convinced me to stay another night (not that much arm twisting was involved), and over the course of the night, we managed to eat some amazing ice cream, catch up with St. Louis native, David Lizzo, see a Michael Jackson impersonator, and make a stop at Tel Aviv’s best Shawarma place.
Tel Aviv is in many ways, worlds apart from Jerusalem. You see far fewer Haredim (ultra-orthodox), or Kippot at all for that matter. Far more people have tattoos, there are more bars, and far more Hebrew is spoken. At all hours of the night there are people out on the street, usually sitting at cafes.
Also, there is a totally different energy. Whereas Jerusalem has a spiritual energy, a holiness, and a piousness, Tel Aviv has a young frenetic energy, a more visceral energy.

A trip to the white city is highly recommended
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What's Good in Jerusalem?

With so much media focus on the negative, along with a blurred view of reality, many people forget that Jerusalem is a functioning city with supermarkets, restaurants, bars, and a little nightlife thrown in. So just what the hell am I doing in Jerusalem?

It seems fitting that, given the parameters of Jewish Geography, Jerusalem, and jetlag, that my very first night in Israel should be spent at a wedding. Finding my way there was not an easy task, as Jerusalem is not at all laid out in a grid, a fact predicated along the hills and valleys that make up its topography. Luckily, after running into a friend at the bus stop, and combining forces (and Hebrew skills) we were able to find our way and move on up (literally) to our destination.

This was my first Israeli wedding, so it is, perhaps, worth it to recount the experience. First, there were several hours of appetizers and drinking, followed by a very short ceremony in which the groom gave the ring to the bride, the Rabbi said the Hebrew bit, followed by the Shevah Brachot aka the Seven Blessings, gave a quick speech about how important it is to create a Jewish home filled with joy and not distrust, as this distrust and lack of love between Jews was what caused the destruction of the second temple, the glass was broken and then the ceremony was over.

The ensuing dance party was pretty fierce and I was thankfully thoroughly exhausted by the time I got back to my apartment in Baka.

Thursday was our first day of Orientation at PresenTense and included a deluge of information on web-based tools and ideas. My coach (like a mentor), tipped me off to something called 'boogie' going down that night at a local community center so I went to check it out.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera because somethings just need to be seen. The room, which had been converted into a club, replete with sound and lighting, was filled with slightly hippied out Israelis, moving to the incredibly diverse and well mixed musical selections. After about 20 minutes, one of the women assembled everyone together to lead in a sort of yoga/tai chi stretch routine that was pretty amazing and out there at the same time. Once the beats got bumping, though, it became a hot spot pretty quickly. Combinations of reggae, electronica, hip hop, and African beats. Apparently this goes down every Thursday night. I assume I'll be back.

Yesterday morning, I was able to sit down with Esther Kustanowitz aka EstherK, one of the queens of the Jewish blogosphere and social media scene. It was great to see a her in person, as her digital resume stretches to all corners of the internet. We spoke about how she ended up as the writer she is today and the evolution of bloggers in society and culture.

As I mentioned earlier, Jerusalem is a pretty hilly city, and some streets are at an intense angle. Going running here destroys you pretty quickly. I took a video while walking to a Cincinnati friend's apartment to showcase some of those steep grades:

Coming up this weekend will be a trip to Tel Aviv, the happening party capital of the Jewish state. Stay tuned.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Farmer's Market Vs. The Shuk

Perhaps one of the glimmers of hope in our time is a renewed focus on the sources and contents of the food we eat. Many cities have seen renewed interest in their farmer's markets, but in Israel, the shuk has been a focal point of shopping for a very long time.

Cincinnati's Findley Market and St. Louis' Soulard Farmer's Market (and now Tower Grove) have long been known for being a produce lover's paradise, replete with more affordable produce, often brought to market by the farmers themselves. There is no atmosphere quite like that produced by a produce-heavy market; people inspecting each piece of fruit for blemishes, trying not to lose their children, bumping into each other in the confined spaces...

Now imagine all of that color and sound, only bigger, fresher, cheaper, and filled with one of the most ridiculous groups of people on the planet, known affectionately as 'Israelis'. This is Mahane Yehuda.

Located in Central Jerusalem, Mahane Yehuda is the place to get everything from fresh produce and breads (challah and pita are a must), to spices, meats, cheeses, and pastries. Patches of fire-truck red explode (no pun intended) from bunches of peppers, deep purple plums draw you in, while whole sacks of 20 spices you can't even name (zatar?) fill the air with pungent aromas. And then there is the rugelach..... most Americans swear by the rugelach at Marzipan, and it is cheap enough to be really deadly.

For the real experience, though, you have to see Mahane Yehuda on a Friday afternoon, during the pre-Shabbat shopping crunch. Everyone and their grandmother is there buying food for Shabbat dinner. Black hat, Ultra-Orthodox Jews are grabbing a few final avocados, secular Israelis are grabbing Challahs, Americans on Birthright are getting in the way, literally everyone is there.

We took a quick and dirty video to show you some of the sights and sounds:

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

First Post From Israel

Arriving in Israel is always something of a homecoming and this trip has already proven that Israel is the center of Jewish geography.

Not only did I share the flight with a friend from youth group in Cincinnati, I was picked up at the airport by the brother of a friend from St. Louis, who drove me to Jerusalem. I was then able to take a 10 minute walk to the apartment of a friend who studied with me at Washington University, followed by the wedding of a friend with whom I studied at the University of Haifa. At her wedding I ran into a former camp counselor, a graduate student of my father's who is married to another youth group friend, as well as another friend from St. Louis.

As I continue this trip, I hope to provide video of some of these individuals, particularly those who have some connection to St. Louis. The idea behind the video will be to transmit interesting stories, ideas, and experiences by to the St. Louis community with the hope that this content sparks further discussion and innovation.

The video below is Ariel Beery, one of the founders of the PresenTense Institute, speaking about the importance of community support, amongst other things. I thought it a fitting way to start

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Flotilla Fadicha - Expanded

Now that the international and digital world is on fire about the 'Gaza Freedom Flotilla', it is worth distilling and discussing the main points of the crisis/uproar/etc. In my opinion they are:
1. is the Israel naval blockade of Gaza illegal?
2. is attempting to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal?
3. is stopping those who attempt to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal?
4. is attacking those who are stopping those who attempt to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal
5. is defending against activists attacking troops stopping the attempt to subvert or bypass the blockade illegal?

If you haven't already heard about the flotilla, start here.

The crux of this issue really lies in the fact that the Israeli navy is enforcing a maritime blockage of the waters around the Gaza strip. I understand that even amongst law experts, there is much disagreement about the legality of this blockade, based on whether or not the territory is Israeli and a few other details.

As some history, When Hamas violently wrested power from the PA in Gaza a few years ago, Israel began the blockade with the reasoning that Hamas is a terrorist organization that has dedicated itself to destroying Israel and that it would attempt to smuggle weapons via the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians have indeed done this before, and with the rise of Iran's role in providing weapons and tactics, this is of increased strategic importance. For a legal perspective on the blockade, click

The second question is obviously tied to the first. If this blockade is in accordance with international law, then it is totally illegal and violates the territorial sovereignty of Israel to subvert it, but in the same way that drug smugglers from Mexico to the US are subverting US territorial sovereignty. If this blockade is illegal, then subverting it is not.

Next, the Israelis have consistently warned that any attempt to subvert the blockade would be met by the Israeli Navy, who would force the ships to turn around or board the ships, tow them to Israeli territory, detain, and deport the passengers. This is perfectly within their rights if the blockade is legal, as well as if the blockade is illegal, so long as they have evidence that the ships attempting to subvert the blockade are carrying weapons or other contraband. Additionally, the flotilla claimed to have been a humanitarian mission focused around providing aid to needy people in Gaza. Both Israel and Egypt offered to deliver the aid to Gaza directly, just as they have done with all previous aid shipments. The flotilla organizers rejected this, wanting specifically to challenge the Israeli blockade. Israel has subsequently transfered all of the aid from the flotilla to Gaza.

Now, do those passengers aboard the ships have the right to self defense? Sure, if there were clear evidence they were being threatened. However, from the accounts, it appears as though all of the other ships were taken without incident, and only on the flagship did violence break out. From the videos, the activists aboard the 'mother ship' were clearly violent. You can see in the video posted yesterday, that the Israeli commandos boarded the ships with paintball guns in their hands. Could those have been perceived as threatening, sure. Were they? No.

Finally, from video, it is clearly apparent that the commandos were attacked by a mob wielding some type of rods or sticks, there are videos of knife attacks, and one of Israeli soldiers being fired upon by guns. Under these circumstances, did the Israeli soldiers have the right to defend themselves with deadly force? I believe the answer to be yes. By calling this a massacre, and demonizing these commandos for responding with live fire (even though this appears to have been a last resort), we take what was clearly a tragedy, and distort it for propaganda purposes.

For the timeline of events, click here
To view some of the weapons used by the activists, click here
To read some opinion from my least favorite news source, click here
For a view from an Israeli soldier, click here
For the STL JCRC's experience, click here

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Flotilla Fadicha

If you have been following the news lately, you might have heard about the planned flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Yesterday, the flotilla made good on its word to proceed, and the Israelis made good on their word to stop them from illegally entering Israeli territory.

The activists, who claimed to have peaceful intentions, reacted violently to the boarding of their ships by Israeli special forces. Many attacked the Israelis with metal pipes, some with mace and even knives. The Israeli forces boarded the ships, but left 9 activists dead and tens more injured. See first hand footage of the Israelis boarding the ship and being met with violent resistance.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Only We Can Make Fun of Ourselves

I know, you come to the St. Lou Jew looking for insight into being a Jewish young adult in St. Louis and you just get a youtube video. If it makes you feel any better, it isn't just any video. It happens to be a great video from Israel (with English subtitles). In a style described as the 'SNL Oh Really' of Israel, the reporters cover some of Israel's biggest issues in a way that calls out the sheer absurdity of it all. Check it out!
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Press Coverage in the Huffington Post

Looks like Next Dor isn't the only game in town getting some great press coverage. We were recently tipped off to this great story in the Huffington Post about Aaron Woolf, which cites our interview with the documentary film maker.

Click here to read the full HuffPo article, and here to read our full interview Read More......

Monday, May 17, 2010

This week in the Lou

So you looked into your magic 8-ball and it came up cloudy for the week... never fear, The St. Lou Jew is here to make sure you know what is happening in St. Louis

Here is some light reading before we jump in about why young Jews don't affiliate and the failure of the American Jewish Establishment (our favorite discussions topics).

Now on to the main events:

Tonight, be sure to catch Aaron Woolf's new film, entitled "Beyond Motor City" which is making its local debut at the Tivoli tonight at 7 PM. Aaron will be in the house along with Congressman Russ Carnahan, so be sure to stop in and meet them.

Tomorrow, catch Twilight Tuesdays at the History Museum followed by Shavuot, which pops off with Yoga at the Next Dor House, headlined by a brief prayer by Rabbi Susan Talve at 8 PM.

On Wednesday, TriYoga will be at Next Dor at 6:45, with Moise House holding a Movie night at 7:30.

Thursday, Autiomadic will be performing with the Hood Internet at the Gramophone. Show up early for free PBR.

Friday, 3rd Friday's is back at Next Dor, bringing a meal fit for a king at a price fit for a pauper (free!). This month, Melody from AIPAC will be in the house to talk about her work. More information here

As if you didn't already have enough to do, right?
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