The Accidental Jewish Entrepreneur

This story is the first in a series called the “The Accidental Jewish Entrepeneur“, profiling Jews in unexpected places whose innovations change their communities for good. The first story comes to us from a woman in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada:

Diana was 50-years-old when she learned how to create a website. Working with her niece, she helped create her local JCC page, and her commitment to her community only grew. In small Jewish communities, communication can sometimes feel like a styrofoam cup and string. Leaders can be over-extended as they are under-resourced, running the risk of burnout as they try to make something from bupkis.

And then, there’s Diana: The technology maven, who texts and emails, paying attention to every detail, and when her community calls? She answers by learning and delivering exactly what it needs.

Take the JCC website, where Diana responds to many individuals who are looking to learn about the community. Recently, an Israeli family was in touch with questions she was able to answer about the city. There were further emails and then a telephone conversation. And then, a Shabbat dinner with the prospective residents in her city. Who knew that the distance between Waterloo and Israel could be filled by “lishmah”  doing a mitzvah (good deed) for its own sake?

You see, Diana does not have a fancy title and – believe me – she donates every speck of her time and resources in kind. She is not a professional Jew…but I believe she is a vocational one.

With so little, I wonder what could possibly motivate Diana so much? The answer I find is in the details. She writes that the Israeli family from her story decided to move from Israel to the community and are moving there this fall and as I re-read her words, I begin to notice, she never speaks in “I” but always…“we.”

Diana, all the leaders behind her, and all the ones she has helped touch, are grounded in connection. They live out the truth that they are part of the Jewish People and that their knowledge and experience – even the lack of it – constitute outstretched arms, the first points of contact that will reveal what the people on the other end have gotten themselves into, let alone the whole nature of this relationship.

But there’s more: Leaders like Diana not merely extend invitations, but rather, they are inspired to remedy what they don’t know, and they use this as fuel to reach the invisible places and, thereby, make institutions and all the individuals within them aware of and responsive to the unseen. This means filling in the gaps of technology, but it also means challenging the status quo when it puts people painfully out of reach. 

So often, entrepreneurship is bound up in the brand. Pitches, products, and positively prudent leaders who will tell you exactly why their enterprise is right for you. Not because it actually is right but perhaps beacuse they’ve researched it and they “know.” It’s sort of a rehearsed script leadership I like to call “We for Me.”  It looks good on the outside, but inside, it’s bereft of the kind of purpose that grounds people at the center of institutions. Purpose that led Diana at 50 to learn something that would change her small Jewish community forever.

Though she talks of her slow typing, I’m convinced Diana’s wisdom is so advanced, it beyond makes up for it. After all, here she is working to learn what she doesn’t know to create a community where all Jews, those inside and outside its walls, are completely and personally known.

If that authentic “we” is not a recipe for Jewish entrepreneurship, than I do not know what is.

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.