What Does Purim Teach Us?

Many a rabbi has pointed out the midrashic wordplay that indicates that Yom Kippur is, in fact “a day like Purim” (Yom haKi-Purim). Others have noted that some sources indicate Purim to be the holiest Jewish Calendar day of them all. At the heart of Purim does, in fact, lie the holiest deed that any human being can commit oneself to.

For all of us, Jewish or otherwise, the Book of Esther is a celebration of triumph against greatly unfavorable odds.

On the one hand, the King of Persia (whose name has perplexed people reading the text out loud in English translation for centuries) has a temperament that is difficult to predict and a personality that is very difficult to define. On the other hand, there is Haman, who deems himself very powerful, very worthy of respect and has step-by-step and concrete visions for a plan to kill all Jews in the kingdom.

In their midst to clandestinely thwart Haman’s efforts are Mordechai and Esther, who do not feel empowered by the circumstances at all and often speak between themselves in uncertain terms in realizing their plan to save the Jews (in contrast to Haman’s confidence).

Despite that, they always, ALWAYS act on a plan, even when the strategy or the circumstances may not be absolutely sound.The story is a very holy one because it indicates that paralysis from fear or over-analysis is the antithesis of divine vision, and that seizing the day, however the day may be, is a divine attribute, found in many other heroes of Hebrew scriptures such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and virtually ALL of the others.

Even when Esther thinks of the possibility of having herself and her people destroyed, she still presses onwards. Yom Kippur also contains very much a similar idea–that despite the numerous difficult circumstances created by our misdeeds–on a personal, communal and national level (if not in fact considering the whole human species)–we will nonetheless ask to move forward by being written and sealed in the Book of Life.

Purim is, above all, a celebration of risk taking, to which we as a species and Jews the world over (as well as other peoples) owe all of our accomplishments.

Purim and Yom Kippur also come at times of the year in which the seasons are waning away, in which winter despondency gives way to celebration and the mirth of the sun’s rays gives way to solemnity. In both holidays, despite everything, there is sadness and reflection on this sadness but never paralysis, and this reflects the type of determination that entrepeneurs, visionaries and resistors need to embody in 2018 and beyond.

As the head of my own company, I think of all of the ways that I have needlessly been hindered by my own self-doubt and limiting beliefs. Esther and Mordechai could have done the same, but then I wouldn’t exist and by extension the Jewish people would have been a memory.

On Purim I revel in the possibility that we will embrace who we truly are, with our primal optimism, and reflect the very best aspects of the human experience, unfettered by negative emotions weighing us down, that any Supreme God or human being would be very proud of.

Happy Purim to all you risk takers out there, and to all who have yet to take a chance. Go on, have the first bite!

Jared Gimbel teaches Jewish and Nordic languages and also sometimes works as a seasonal synagogue cantor. Having mastered 18+ languages spanning almost all continents, he also works as a translator from various languages into English. His new video game, “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, a cartoon adventure game set in contemporary Greenland, is set for release in 2018. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

Tu B’Shvat: The Jewish Holiday Intended for Everyone  

Most Jews in the U.S. today would associate Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the Trees, with something like the American Earth Day. Even Jews from outside of the U.S. are likely to associate it with ecological awareness and environmental protection (possibly due to global attention rightly paid to these issues). In antiquity, far before humanity was aware of its ability to damage the biosphere, Tu B’shvat occupies an intriguing place in the Jewish calendar as a day of everyday agricultural workers.

The Pilgrimage Festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) involved priestly ritual and the Temple in Jerusalem, as did the high holidays. Hannukah and Purim involve people in positions of power as the heroes. In contrast to these holidays, Tu B’Shvat is primarily a holiday about ordinary work and ordinary cycles, which is important to consider given that the priesthood and the royalty, despite being the Children of Israel along with everyone else, had a sense of detachment from the general populace. A lot of Jewish day school narratives, both when discussing Jewish history as a whole as well as the background for many holidays, focus on “big guys”, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and their families. Often what isn’t present is the fact that the entire story is usually, especially in the Five Books of Moses, on the Children of Israel themselves. Despite struggling with both their leaders and God, they are not just what makes the story, they ARE the story.

It is far too easy to lose sight of the fact that it is often the masses in Jewish history that have been the most important and influential, although seldom are any of them given a voice (as is the case in much of the world with any people group). In an age in which a lot of young Jews are clamoring for acceptance in communities, Tu Beshvat can help us think about how the Jewish experience has had many dimensions in which people of all trades were not only involved but very deeply involved. The Jewish story in the Bible isn’t only one about high priests and kings, nor is the one in the Talmud only about sages—it involves the whole of the people. While many other holidays may celebrate the Temple rites or singular Biblical heroes, Tu B’shvat is a holiday for those orchard laborers in Judah and Israel whose stories were never told.

From entrepreneurial standpoint, this understanding of Tu B’shvat is essential, especially now. Many entrepeneurs of contemporary times tend to focus on individual characters (such as CEO’s, bosses, well-known heroes and paragons of the craft) rather than big collectives that history may have not given a strong voice. But what about those lacking that strong voice? What can business leaders learn from partaking of a rite that resembles the life of the ordinary farmer?

Individualism and competition in the world, rather than collectivism, has sometimes been a toxic influence, and Tu B’shvat is about the wholesomeness of the human story as well as the agricultural and ecological experience. Above all, this holiday serves as a reminder that, despite our accomplishments, our ancestors were largely ordinary laborers and we owe a lot to them and need to learn from their example.



Jared Gimbel teaches Jewish and Nordic languages and also sometimes works as a seasonal synagogue cantor. Having mastered 18+ languages spanning almost all continents, he also works as a translator from various languages into English. His new video game, “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, a cartoon adventure game set in contemporary Greenland, is set for release in 2018. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

CRMs for Nonprofits: Improve Your Constituent Relationships

The use of “Customer Relationship Management” or “Constituent Relationship Management” (CRM) systems is standard in for-profit businesses, however, many nonprofits are yet to embrace the power of CRM as a donor management tool. Many still rely on spreadsheets, or a loosely connected combination of various tools to track donor engagement, volunteers, campaigns, and other critical functions that sustain and grow nonprofits.

The benefits of investing in a good CRM—several of which are free—far outweigh the time and financial costs, as it simplifies daily operations and effective outreach.

Using CRMs opens up new ways of doing things more efficiently and more effectively. And as your organization grows, you can scale this essential nonprofit tech to suit current needs. These programs can serve both the small volunteer-based nonprofit to the multi-million-dollar international nonprofit organization. A simple spreadsheet cannot effectively handle such a scale of operation in a multiuser, multi-location environment.

Benefits of Using a CRM for Nonprofits

Coordinated Communication

Maintain an easy flow of information among volunteers, donors, board members and service recipients. Since nonprofits can have so many people to manage, using a CRM eliminates much of the complication and reduces the chances of mistakes in communications.

Efficient Processes

Time and money are essential to every nonprofit (and indeed, every business); streamlined processes available from a robust CRM help save both.

Preservation of Organizational Knowledge

As time goes by, your organization learns things about its supporters, its processes, and best practices. In most traditional settings, the knowledge exists in individuals. With a CRM, this knowledge gets preserved in the system, allowing the organization to keep running smoothly even when key individuals leave.

Visibility of Relationships

At the click of a button you are able to see all the relationship running across the organization. It shows a record of events, emails, volunteer contacts and donations, among other types of essential information. You don’t have to dig through tons of information (and cobble together multiple spreadsheets) to get to what you need.

Simplified Data Management

With a great CRM, you can create a new marketing campaign or plan an event with just a few clicks, even targeting specific people based on donation or participation levels. These tasks can be time-consuming if you work the “time-tested” way with Excel or Google Sheets, a separate email system and donation system.

In-Depth Knowledge of Your Benefactors

Using a CRM opens up a whole world of information about your donors, volunteers, and other contacts you track. You will get to know their interests, what they respond to, and even (with some systems) what they share on social media, so you can best appeal to them.

Features to Look for in a Nonprofit CRM

The landscape of online CRMs is getting crowded, with several big players and a lot of specialty systems created just for nonprofits. Whether you need all of the bells and whistles of the paid platforms or can use one of the free (and still powerful) ones depends on your needs.

Here’s a checklist of features to consider when choosing your nonprofit’s CRM:

Workflow Automation

A CRM that makes it easy to automate common processes like receiving donations, thanking donors, sending out mail-merge email campaigns to people who meet specific criteria, creating follow-up tasks, and sending weekly activity summaries can save the organization a lot of your most precious resource: time.

Collaboration and Sharing

It should allow all the employees to work on common projects and share both information and resources.

Easy to Scale Up or Down

A system that will grow with you, supporting a larger donor base, adding or eliminating functionality based on your needs.

Managing Overlaps

A good donor management application should be able to maintain and clearly show any overlap in the stakeholders. For example, a volunteer becoming a donor, a beneficiary becoming a donor, etc. Instead of spending hours sorting out duplications and comparing data, the organization can spend the time building relationships.

Simplifying & Unifying Processes Across Departments

Depending on what your nonprofit does (or wants to do on a regular basis), a centralized system for donor management, engagement, email, marketing, and even fundraising, allows the whole organization to work together seamlessly.

Access Control

Nonprofits rely on volunteers, interns and various staff members to keep things moving. Since many people might be working from the same database, the program should allow for restrictions to functions depending on the tasks and role of the user.

Data Integrity

Working from a decentralized (cloud-based) system can pose security risks, if your data is not properly protected. Some systems will allow you to install on your own server, but that could introduce added costs of hosting and maintenance.

Getting Your Nonprofit Started with a CRM

There are many options for CRMs out there, some more daunting than others. Choosing the right one for your organization depends on your current resources, technical expertise and, of course, your needs.

We rounded up a few top-rated platforms and outlined the uses, pros, cons and costs of each to get you started.

Civi CRM – Open source CRM, event management, donations/payments, volunteer management platform and more, for charities & nonprofits.

Neon CRM – Donor management, event management, donations/payments, volunteer management platform and more, designed specifically for nonprofits.

Salsa CRM and Salsa Engage – Powerful online, mobile and social fundraising software and constituent relationship management tool.

GiveGab – An agile platform specifically tailored for nonprofit donor and relationship management.

Insightly – CRM that allows you to organize and track your current and potential donors.

Hubspot CRM – A totally free customer relations management tool that allows you to organize and track your current and potential donors.

This article was originally published on dotOrgStrategy.com

Boris of dotOrgStrategy.com
Boris is the founder of dotOrgStrategy, a platform for teaching nonprofits how to effectively use technology to achieve and expand their missions, without over-stretching their resources; and Speed of Like, a boutique digital agency focusing on small businesses, startups, and nonprofits. A storyteller and entrepreneur, Boris is excited to combine his passions for technology, storytelling, and making a positive difference in the world by helping organizations increase impact locally and globally, through digital tools including websites, social media, email, advertising and crowdfunding.

Top 5 Business Ideas for 2018

Whether you are a serial entrepreneur looking for the next big thing, or you are looking to make a change and finally start your own business, we think this list can help spark that creative energy for anyone looking to make it big in 2018!

1. Kid-friendly apps

“Tens of millions of kids are using smartphones and tablets these days, and there’s money to be made. In fact, three-quarters of children have access to a mobile device. That’s big business if you know how to develop apps—or if you’re creative and know how to hire people who do. Focus on health and wellness-driven apps first to get the parents on your side. Big opportunity.” — Multiple Streams research

2. Virtual Reality (VR) 

“Virtual reality (VR) is an impressive facet of modern technology. With a pair of goggles and the right computer hardware, you can immerse yourself in a variety of fascinating worlds using VR. If you aren’t the most computer-savvy person you know, never fear — you don’t have to be a programming genius to create a VR-centered business. In fact, most VR-related business ideas have nothing to do with the technology itself. Rather, you can start your own VR industry update website, where you write about new tech, games, software, and more. You can sell creative cardboard headsets (like Google Cardboard, but cooler). If you are good at the programming side of things, you can create your own games and software . . . or you can help car companies and real estate agencies create virtual experiences. ” — Entrepreneur Magazine

3. Affiliate Marketing

“Affiliate marketing is basically the process of earning a commission by promoting somebody else’s product. There are two main ways most people do affiliate marketing: 1. Information products. Here, you promote products like ebooks, membership sites, video series, etc. This type of affiliate marketing can earn you up to 50% or more in commission, has relatively low barriers to entry, and it’s easy to find products to promote. 2. Amazon partners. Many affiliate marketers have success with Amazon. There are literally millions of products to choose from, and it can be quite profitable. For more information, you can check out the Amazon Associates Program.” — Website Setup

4. Website Rentals

“It’s 2016 — these days, everyone calls themselves a web developer. But do you know what very few people tend to say they do? Rent websites. You read that correctly: creating websites from scratch for specific companies is now the old way of generating revenue from Web clients. Instead, Web devs are creating several websites at a time for a certain niche, then renting customizable versions of each site to local businesses. The businesses pay monthly for a website the developer maintains. It’s a great way to make passive income and expand your existing Web dev business — as long as you know what you’re doing.” — Entrepreneur Magazine

5. Tiny Houses 

“They let you travel the country without paying for pricey hotel rooms. Even with full amenities, they cost far less than a normal-size home — Tumbleweed’s tiny houses start at about $10,000. They’re cuter and more practical than RV’s, and they’re (almost) fully customizable…No, tiny houses aren’t just a fad you see on HGTV; they also make up an entire movement and an awesome business idea. Though a couple companies already offer them, those companies don’t take advantage of the full range of possibilities. Very few tiny houses are stylishly decorated, and even fewer are optimized for pets. Maintenance companies tend to ignore the tiny house demographic, too — that’s another business idea, right there.” — Entrepreneur Magazine


There are endless opportunities out there for those of you who have the passion and the drive! If anyone has any creative ideas out there, feel free to share with us as Jewcer is always around to help! We’d also love to hear about your projects, whether they are Jewish-related or not, there’s plenty to learn from you and to teach the incredible entrepreneurs in our community!

Shani is a photographer and content creator from Los Angeles. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a Communication degree, which she puts to good use by connecting with all the incredible Jewish organizations and the people who support them. With a deep pride in her Jewish roots and an Israeli background, Shani hopes to share the power and potential of Jewish innovation and connection with the world.

Why Entrepreneurs Should Not Set New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

There are numerous research driven, fact based articles that outline why New Year’s resolutions don’t stick. There’s a ton of psychology stuff that explains this all, but I’m not going there right now.

We’re going to move forward with the premise that less than 10% of the population actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions for any significant amount of time.

And just to clarify here, I’m not talking about SMART goals, I’m talking about resolutions, about “lifestyle wants” and “should dos.”

So if resolutions are not the way to go, what’s the alternative?

The Concept of One Word

You’re an entrepreneur. I get it. Therefore, I bet you’re thinking “there’s no way One Word can encompass all I want to achieve in 2018.”

And I beg to differ.

I’m a list kind of gal. I like seeing down on paper what needs to get done and then crossing items off as I complete them. I actually have an actual bucket list and I still use a notebook to create a monthly budget and mind map my projects.

So you’d would think that writing out yearly resolutions would be right up my alley. And you’d be right.

However, this is my third year not setting New Year’s resolutions and not doing so has changed my business for the better.

Instead of listing out my “resolutions,” I chose a single focus word for the year. It was a word by which I would gauge all my actions when deciding whether a specific task would bring closer to my yearly goal or not. My yearly goal being that one word.


I first tried this in 2016 and my word was actually “Focus.”

I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit and while that means that I have an incredible vision for my business… it also means that I’ve got multiple incredible visions for multiple businesses. And despite liking to think that I can multitask… experience has shown me that having so many passion projects leads me to very little success in any one area.

I chose 2016 as the year during which I’d narrow my active projects down to one and decide where I wanted to put the bulk of my efforts.

Fit Jewess was that one project I decided to invest in.

So, I officially closed down the clothing store I had owned for eight years. I disabled the educational website that had teen empowerment workshops that I had been working on as a hobby. I stopped pursuing online affiliate marketing as a source of passive income.


In 2017 I picked the word “Systems.” As per the E-Myth, I’m a great Entrepreneur, a pretty good Technician, but I’ve got zero Manager in me. It was time to develop systems that I needed so that my business could run like a business rather than a mom-and-pop shop.

I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned about myself and how my business has evolved as I began to apply this concept by filtering my actions through the lens of “will this help me develop a long term system that’ll benefit my business or will it add to the chaos?” I didn’t always make the right decision, but it was a start.


My word for 2018 is “Hustle.”

But enough about me.

Let’s talk about you. And you not making resolutions this year.

Three Steps to Choosing Your One Word

I’d love to invite you to choose your One Word.

This is no simple feat, and is not necessarily done in a single sitting (though it could be), but I’d like to break it down into 3 steps.

1. Consider what you want to accomplish in your business this year.

As an established business, you have a mission statement which is guided by its vision statement. These are both inspired by the reason you personally felt driven to start this business. Make sure that’s all up to date and if the direction of your business has changed at all, now’s the time to make any tweaks.

And as 2017 comes to a close and we welcome in 2018, I assume that  you have created a marketing plan for the new year and that you’ve outlined what you want to achieve in 2018.

Now’s the time to ensure that the goals you’ve listed are aligned with your Why, so take a few moments to review it all. To make sure that everything you’ve written on your goals list brings you closer to fulfilling your mission and bringing you closer to your vision. 

2. Narrow those ideas to a single word.

Your Why inspires your vision and mission which in turn dictate your goals. Now it’s time to sum up all of those goals into a single word. Look back and see where you struggled last year and look forward and see where you want to strengthen your business next year.

Your One Word will encompass all of your goals and will get to the root of what you feel you want to accomplish this year. Some ideas might be Loyalty (if you want this year to focus on customer service), Execution or Productivity (if you feel like that’s been lacking from you and your team in the last year), or Recognition (if your main goal is to establish your brand in the marketplace), etc…

Create a list of words that you feel match up with your goals/mission in Step 1 and speak each one out loud. Tune in and notice how you feel with each word. Does it just sound like you’re reading out of a thesaurus, or do you feel a little tug in your heart that seems to be saying, “this is it.”

If that last part feels a little too “lovey dovey” for you, that’s fine. Process it in whichever way you like, but your One Word should be one that resonates strongly with you and that almost feels like it’s yours.

When I first heard this idea, I thought it was kinda ludicrous. Well, not the concept, but the verbiage of having a word speak to you. But in my three years of doing this, each time, it’s like the word has leapt out at me and said “I’m yours for the year.”

And each time it’s only brought me closer to the business that I’m looking to build.

3. Commit to your One Word.

You and your One Word will be married for the year so make sure you’re comfortable with commitment.

Put your One Word up – in your workplace, at home, on the dashboard of your car. Let it be visible wherever you are and let that One Word be the filter by which you make business decisions. Ask yourself if the choice you’re about to make, if the task you’re about to do, if the relationship you’re about to initiate is going to support your One Word and bring you closer or further from your vision for 2018.

Let your One Word represent the year 2018.

Try it. It’s not like you have anything to lose. Besides for New Year’s Resolutions.

Sara Kupfer
Sara Kupfer, founder of Fit Jewess, is a fitness coach with the mission of empowering Jewish women worldwide through movement and fostering a community united through body positive and weight neutral fitness. She is a CrossFit L1 trainer and coaches girls and women in person and online. She encourages her clients to view exercise as a way to feel more confident by increasing energy, gaining strength and discovering how amazingly capable their bodies are.

Creating a Non-profit Content Calendar – the Easy Way

There are myriad reasons why your non-profit needs to be sharing content regularly on your website and social media. For staying top of mind, reminding people of the work that you do, getting your message out (and furthering your mission), and even basic SEO strategy, content is king.

But between all of the other seemingly more pressing, mission-critical (pun intended) things your team does every day, creating and sharing content seems like a last priority. So while many organizations are aware of the “need” to publish, few do. And even fewer do it with any sort of regularity.

1. Planning Your Non-profit Content Calendar

Creating a calendar is a simple, effective way of scheduling future posts, but, if done right, makes it a lot easier to actually generate those posts. Chances are that you already have a calendar that includes major events like galas, do-good drives, annual events and celebrations, among other things.

That’s actually a great starting point for creating your content calendar, since you know you want to be promoting these events before they happen, and talking about them afterward. Thinking of those events as “content-worthy” ahead of time will likely spark ideas of things you can do and share online well in advance. Put those things on your calendar!

For calendaring and planning, I love the free and powerful Asana, which can integrate with but the best tool is the one you are most comfortable with…even if it’s the whiteboard in your office.

I recommend keeping an ongoing 1-year, 6-month, 3-month, and 1-month calendar. The further away something is, the less detailed the plan has to be. For the sake of sanity, however, anything in the 3-month window should be in prep, anything in the 1-month should be in “production,” one way or another.

Once you’ve got your major dates and content plans, you’ll likely need to add more items. So what do you add? Read on.

2. Create the Right Content for Your Non-profit’s Audience

This seems simple on the surface: Engage with your audience on the subjects that they’re interested in. The more value you provide and the more you show them that you share their interests and concerns, the more personally connected to you and your cause they will be.

The problem is that, most of the time, businesses and organizations focus on just talking about their work; or worse, asking for the sale or donation. Your audience is probably interested in other things, many of which indirectly connect back to the change you want to make in the world.

For example, if you’re a New York City theater company focusing on children’s theater, there are many areas of interest that overlap with yours, which your audience (parents of New York children) might be passionate about, or at least just interested in. New York arts festivals and arts funding news are an easy extension of news you want to share. Then there’s national and local education news, studies about the impact of imagination and storytelling, arts in education, or even that it’s a snow day!

Don’t worry about experimenting and getting it “wrong.” As long as you don’t offend or alienate people, trying different tacks may yield surprising results. With time, the more content you share, the more you’ll see what your fans respond to, with likes, shares, and website traffic. Spending a little time (and possibly sending out a survey) thinking of ideas that your audience will appreciate can go a long way and pay off greatly in the long run.

Sharing content about current events may seem like a full-time job on its own, but with a little planning, it may be easier and less resource-intensive than you might think. Which takes us to the “shortcut” in the next section…

3. Timeliness and Tie-Ins for Your Content Calendar

One of my favorite ways to generate quality, valuable content that speaks to audiences on multiple levels and isn’t all about “me” is by tying it into events happening in the world. As a bonus, people will already be thinking and talking about the subject at that time, so you may enjoy a viral boost. While you can’t plan for the latest news headline, you can plan for national holidays and, more apropos for nonprofits, awareness days, weeks and months. To make it easy to find and add these dates to your calendar, dotOrgStrategy has created a new non-profit awareness calendar feature, including links to websites with more information and hashtags you can use to join the conversation.

There are nationally-recognized philanthropic events like National Volunteer Week, and more specific ones for arts and culture. If you’re an organization dealing with health-related concerns, there is no shortage of awareness dates to tie into. For others, you may have to think a bit more creatively, but that can also be freeing and fun. For example, what’s your organization’s position on television, toilets, fathers, or the U.S. flag?

Whether you want to say something fun or poignant on social media, or to make a larger statement with an article or video, there are sure to be plenty of things to talk about when you keep track of awareness calendar dates.


This article was originally published on dotOrgStrategy.com

Boris of dotOrgStrategy.com
Boris is the founder of dotOrgStrategy, a platform for teaching nonprofits how to effectively use technology to achieve and expand their missions, without over-stretching their resources; and Speed of Like, a boutique digital agency focusing on small businesses, startups, and nonprofits. A storyteller and entrepreneur, Boris is excited to combine his passions for technology, storytelling, and making a positive difference in the world by helping organizations increase impact locally and globally, through digital tools including websites, social media, email, advertising and crowdfunding.

The Hannukah Story: A Recipe for Startups?

This year, the story of Hannukah has taken on a new dimension for me. As a company founder, I see the story of Hannukah as one of persistence and triumph in the face of adversity. But also, a flawed one, as is the case with many startups and businesses.

The Maccabees are admirable in the respect that, very much like many startups today, they managed to define their vision and carry it out despite the fact that it seems that the world may not deem it favorable or plausible. Contrary to what ordinary people would expect, they win. The story is, at heart, one of revolutionary projects. However, in recent times, some have branded the Maccabees as religious fanatics who forcibly converted people to Judaism.

I don‘t deem Hannukah or a celebration of the Maccabean triumph as a problem, but rather a collection of lessons for creative minds and entrepreneurs today.

I am grateful that we live in a time in which virtually every Biblical hero is reckoned with in terms of his or her moral shortcomings (not to mention dozens upon dozens of secular heroes in the Jewish world and beyond). The Maccabees were military heroes, while the purveyors of Talmudic Culture, which evolved into contemporary Jewish practices, were distrustful of secular power, empire and brute strength.

I too, much like the Amoraim who compiled the Talmud, deem military might and worship of war heroes as something to keep my distance from (all this while I am grateful for military campaigns that have prevented ethnic cleansing and genocide or at least stopped it from happening further).

In the same way that we hold Biblical heroes accountable for their shortcomings, we must also hold CEOs, world leaders, and business managers accountable for their actions. Biblical characters, themselves, find that their misdeeds impact their life stories and reputations long after the fact. The reason why is telling: because figures with any sort of power had – and continue to have – the chance to bring healing change to the world or raze it to its foundation. While the Divine element in today’s world, the one that brings about judgment and justice, is more hidden, we, as the human race, have the power to make it apparent and judge those in power favorably or unfavorably in accordance with our morals.

Antiochus Continues to Exist in Our World

As a child in Jewish school, the forces of Antiochus, as well as the culture he represented, stood for something very clear. In a sense, the “Yavanim” were purveyors of a worldview that sought to deal away with differences, to unite an empire through cultural conformity. Antiochus‘ offer was tempting, given that people throughout history have given up their traditional cultural distinctions in favor of one that is associated with power, status, and acceptance (and this continues to be the case all over the world).

Despite all of that temptation of surrendering one‘s distinctions and uniqueness for security, there were the Maccabees who flew against the stream, and – contrary to all expectation – they won against a superior military power.

Starting one‘s own business takes extreme bravery, much like Judah the Maccabee and his family had. There is sacrifice of the routine as well as a significant amount of discouragement and temptation to give up from the outside and the inside. There are deep setbacks as well as moments that seem to require miracles.

In the contemporary world, there still is that path of least resistance, the one to constantly do the safer thing, to become more like everybody else, to give up one‘s culture or identity in exchange for a group‘s acceptance. Backed by media, advertisements, and multinational corporations, the temptation to follow the Antiochuses of today is stronger than anyone living in Judah the Maccabee‘s time could have ever thought possible.

One of the first things I ever remember hearing when I began designing my first video game was that “different always does better in the store”. Having investigated many fields of study and subcultures throughout the world, it is evident to me, if not all of us, that remaining personally as well as culturally distinct (while still acknowledging the good of other cultures and people) is the key to finding a fulfilling life, rather than surrendering it in the name of the “safe path”.

The Maccabees didn‘t take the safe path. The most successful entrepreneurs tend not to either.

When I light the candles this Hannukah, I will do so not only for the miracle that a culture was saved, but also for the many miracles that world-changing projects have experienced. Ones that made innovation possible and continue to make the world a place of constant surprise and betterment, despite the naysayers and challenges.

Jared Gimbel teaches Jewish and Nordic languages and also sometimes works as a seasonal synagogue cantor. Having mastered 18+ languages spanning almost all continents, he also works as a translator from various languages into English. His new video game, “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, a cartoon adventure game set in contemporary Greenland, is set for release in 2018. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

The Story of MI POLIN: Being a Jewish Entrepreneur in the Contemporary Poland

MI POLIN is the first Polish Judaica company since World War II. It was founded by Helena Czernek and Aleksander Prugar in 2014 to design and produce contemporary Judaica from Poland with the mission of making Judaism tangible.

 Katia Kobylinski talked with Helena and Aleksander about what it means to be a (Jewish) entrepreneur in the contemporary Poland.


How does it feel like to be a Jewish entrepreneur in the Poland of today?

Aleksander Prugar: First of all – MI POLIN is a way of preserving and reinforcing our ”Polish-Jewish” identity, which gives us strength and inspiration. The question should be – how to be an entrepreneur at all?  I don’t think that being an entreprenur means that you have to be stress-resistant and work much more than 8 hours per day. Entrepreneurship is a matter of attitude. It can be described as being ready for change, creating values and a market. This is what we do.

At MI POLIN we create Jewish stories that emphasize Jewish symbolism. Behind this activity is pure freedom. We create objects based on the principle that the ideas behind them must be tangible. Nowadays, customers want to be told a story not just own a”nice” product. Therefore, we do not sell mezuzot, chanukiot and so on. Our products are the memory and the history with the aim to enrich Jewish life and strengthen Jewish identity.

Helena Czernek: The pre-WWII Poland was home to many companies and factories producing Judaica. The famous Norblin’s factories were producing gorgeous items. With the end of the war and the death of three million Jews, these companies disappeared as well. What is important to us is the fact that we come from here and that we offer judaica from Poland. This is how we show to our customers that Poland is once again a place of Jewish creativity. Moreover, it is important to us to send a message to the Jews living abroad. We are demonstrating that Jewish life in Poland is working and developing. Many people who have not visited Poland are not aware of this rebirth. That is why we called our brand MI POLIN, Hebrew for “From Poland”.

Is there anything that makes Jewish entrepreneurship unique?

Aleksander Prugar:Yes, interpretation. Interpretation is at the very essence of Judaism. For centuries interpretation was done through writing. We interpret Jewish tradition and symbolism through our contemporary objects. We observe hiddur micvah, the biblical commandment ordering that ritual objects should be beautiful.

Helena Czernek: To me, it is a constant and ongoing pursuit of the dialogue between tradition and modernity, and the reference to history. We bring together cultural content and symbolism through which we create new meanings.

Your company MI POLIN is the first Judaica company in Poland since WWII. What does this fact mean to you personally and to the business itself?

Helena Czernek: It’s both a challenge and creation of something new. At MI POLIN, references to tradition and history are important but everything we do is given a local context. The very fact that we are working here [in Poland] is actually important to many of our customers. They are often descendants of Polish Jews and as such feel a sentiment for their former “home”. They would like to transfer part of this world to themselves, to other countries or to other continents. But at the end of the day there is one meaning – Poland. Therefore, we feel like we give a continuity to the world that vanished, but which we are bringing alive, not allowing it to sink into oblivion completely.

Aleksander Prugar: When we first sent our offer to US retailers, they were surprised and shocked. They had no idea that someone was designing, producing and offering Judaica from Poland. This market is nowadays dominated by Israeli products. We had to answer many questions about ourselves but in the end, everyone was very excited.

Your project ‘Mezuzah from This Home’—bronze casts of imprints of mezuzah cases from around Poland—links the past and the present in a very deep and meaningful way. How did this idea come to you?

Helena Czernek: I was walking once in Cracow and noticed mezuzah traces on old town houses. It is much more difficult to notice them in Warsaw. 80% of Warsaw was completely destroyed by the Nazis during the war. Mezuzah traces are the witnesses and the evidence of the existence of that ancient world. These traces are disappearing quickly due to home renovations. I ask myself: how can these traces be preserved? Photographs are a form of documentation, but not of preservation. Alexander and I created the idea of preserving these traces in a tangible way with the aim of reviving them.

Aleksander Prugar: For four years we have been traveling throughout Poland, preserving the mezuzah traces we found in bronze casts. We have made 78 casts so far. By inserting a klaf (a mezuzah scroll with the Shema Israel prayer on it) that has not existed here for years, the bronze-cast mezuzot get a new life. The touch of such a mezuzah symbolically takes us to back to that ancient Jewish world. Part of this project is a historical research about the places where we found the mezuzah traces. In the cooperation with the Department of Genealogy of the Jewish Historical Institute, we reconstruct the fate of the former owners of these mezuzot. Our mezuzot are cast in bronze. They are indestructible and eternal.

Why a mezuzah?

Helena Czernek: MI POLIN designs not only mezuzot, we also offer a candlestick that combines chanukiah (a Chanukah candlestick), a menora and a Shabbat candlestick, a Havdalah set for besamim, and jewelry. We are also working on more ritual objects. Yet, the theme of the mezuzah truly inspires us somehow.

When it comes to the project “Mezuza from This House,” our special interest mostly comes from the fact that the mezuzah traces have not yet been developed in any way. Since they are not worthwhile to the conservationists of historical monuments, they are disappearing fast. However to us, they carry a great sentimental value, and are to some extent proof of the Jewish life flourishing here. Every time we find a mezuzah trace in a town that was once home to a flourishing Jewish community, I ask myself – “How can this be everything that remains?” Mezuzot were placed on almost all Jewish homes, on the doorsteps of all doors in the apartment. Sometimes we fail to find something. Time blurs the traces. Our project is in a sense a race with time.

What are your favorite Jewish sources that you derive motivation and support from on the days when you feel like you need it?

Helena Czernek: There are some parts of the Torah that affect both MI POLIN and myself. Shema Israel is certainly one of them, the part that is inscribed on the scroll inserted in the mezuzah. We are paying attention to the memory and passing it onto the next generations. This gives me the strength to work further and supports the sense of a kind of a mission that I see in MI POLIN.

Aleksander Prugar: History.

What’s the business plan for 5778?

Aleksander Prugar: This year we are heading for Belarus in search of more mezuzah traces. It will be a long journey. We want to tour all important Jewish places such as Pinsk, Homiel, Mogilev, Słonim, Dawidgródek and others.

 Helena Czernek: This year we are also changing our approach to design by expanding the scale of our operations. We are going to focus on a few selected Jewish issues and create an exhaustive collection of several products.

Favorite Judaica piece and why?

Helena Czernek: It is impossible to hide that it is the mezuzah, for sure. Perhaps it is the peculiarity of the Shema Israel prayer as well as the touch of the mezuzah itself but it is also about the personal. The mezuzah is inseparably connected with home, private life and the individuals. In the past, mezuzot were not placed on the doors of synagogues. The mezuzah immediately points out that the house is Jewish. Attached to the doorframe, it leaves a trace even after the home changes its owners. It is part of the house.

Chamsa is another symbol that is very important to me although it is difficult to claim it as Judaica. Yet, it is an important element of the contemporary Jewish symbolism. It is a symbol that keeps on inspiring me and that I am trying to develop it in different ways.

About Helena & Aleksander

Aleksander Prugar (b. 1984, Gliwice) studied Journalism and Mass Comunication at Warsaw University, Social Sciences at Katowice School of Economics and film course in National Film School in Łódź. For 5 years he worked as a photojournalist with the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. In 2009, critics, art historians and photo-editors associated with the Month of Photography in Krakow included him in the top hundred of the most significant Polish artists of the decade working in the field of photography.

Helena Czernek (b. 1985, Warsaw) studied Product Design at Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and Hebrew Studies at the University of Warsaw. Combining her interests in design and Jewish heritage, her work is concerned with representing the relationship between the past and the present. Her project (a collaboration with Klara Jankiewicz ) a crosswalk in a shape of pianokey was awarded 1st place in a competition for designs promoting the 2010 “Year of Chopin” in Warsaw.



Katia Kobylinski
Katia Kobylinski is an avid brand strategist & social entrepreneur. To merge her passions for causes, stories and arts, she founded ‘creative: for good’ – a virtual ad agency that connects millennial artists and nonprofits for advertising for the good – at JCC Chicago’s start-up incubator Seed613. Katia loves city life, hummus & company.

This Thanksgiving, Notice the Good

Many of us, who have dedicated our lives to non-profit work and social entrepreneurship, have spent the past year in perpetual state of frustration. Our country’s deeply divisive political climate and the innumerable losses progressives have suffered can make the practice of gratitude during Thanksgiving a bit difficult.

What is there to be grateful for? Reduction of essential services is squeezing the poor, climate change is being ignored, increase in hateful incitement against minorities is causing anxiety, healthcare coverage is in disarray, and sexual impropriety by men in power seems ubiquitous. The atmosphere of uncertainty makes it especially hard for social entrepreneurs to take risks and forces non-profits to focus more on direct service projects, setting aside innovative programming.

Being caught up in the current news cycle is like being beat up by a relenting swell of ocean waves; just as you get your grounding after being hit by one wave of disturbing news, another one comes smacking you in the face. Perhaps the only way to get any clarity and perspective is to get out of the ocean. Thanksgiving is an opportunity, built into our busy calendars, for an intentional break we all need to be present in time, outside of time. We don’t have to slow down for long; just long enough to contemplate those things that are worth appreciating.

In the Mussar tradition, a teaching on Jewish ethical living, the practice of gratitude is called hakarat hatov. The term literally means, “noticing the good.” It is true that there are many things for which we cannot be grateful.  However in every moment, we can notice the good. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is my list of things I am grateful for.

  • I am grateful that I live in a country where my disagreement with the way the government is operating is not a punishable offense. Having grown up in the Former Soviet Union, I do not take this privilege for granted.
  • I am grateful to have met countless people who take a stand and heed their calling to make the world a better place. Whenever I get despondent or my efforts feel futile, I turn to a network of mentors who remind me that any service work is a long-term project and there are few immediate gratifications.
  • I am grateful to be living in Atlanta, a racially and culturally mixed tapestry of life. My encounters with people with unique cultural narratives make me stretch and grow. I am learning so much about the importance of building bridges with local communities, because ultimately we should all be helping to take care of each other.
  • I am grateful for the blessing of living in a Jewish community that does not take its Judaism for granted. The Jews of the South have grown up in communities with far fewer Jews than those in major coastal cities. Their joyful participation in Jewish life is refreshing and their generosity of spirit translates into an active culture of volunteerism and grassroots philanthropy.
  • I am grateful that my family comes together for Thanksgiving and Shabbat the day after. After all, the Hebrew word for Jews, Yehudim, can be translated into a Grateful People. As immigrants, my parents and I had never celebrated Thanksgiving until my husband’s family included us for our first taste of the American tradition exactly twenty years ago. We always stay together through Shabbat, which allows us to celebrate our hyphenated identity of being Jewish-American.    

This Thanksgiving weekend, take time outside of time, to notice the good in your life. What are you grateful for? To what or to whom do you attribute the blessings in your life? What are the silver linings of your difficulties? In what ways are you fulfilling your calling? Who are your mentors and benefactors who make your work possible?

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom.

Marita Anderson is a chaplain, freelance writer, educator, and parent.
She currently lives in Atlanta.

From Survive to Thrive: Maximizing Your Impact on Philanthropy Day

I’m a recovering helper. The one who brings the casserole dish, and the flowers. And who calls you at 2am when your boyfriend just left, your cat is in the pet hospital and your mother-in-law is nagging at you so relentlessly that your conscience feels the weight of a 1955 Brisket Pan (I happen to have one and much like guilt, it is *heavy*).

Having spent the better part of a year asking myself how I got this way, I’m reminded of Martin Luther King’s night-time prayer, which I’ve said to myself for sometime now:

“G-d use me, what would you have me to do?”

Unfortunately, for years, I confused G-d’s words with the whims of others, losing all manner of sanity, sleep and recently, hair, over giving every part of myself to everyone else. This is complicated for me on a faith level as much as it is on an emotional one. My religion calls me to be communally available, open and attuned and yet, too much of that medicine is proving, well, venomous.

Though many have chimed in about the so-called disease to please and the Plato’s cave-like tunnel of our own demons, I have become taken with the notion that the experience of being helpful is actually, often, disguising, life lived for the sole purpose of survival.

What I mean to say is that we so often extol the necessity of our giving, that we mask some of the more complex or difficult reasons that drive our essence to give. And that this veil is clouding our organizations as much as it is clouding the best of ourselves.

Take organizations that are run through shame and guilt, for instance. They are always engaged in a push to get others to give but rarely are they fueled by something other than that which leaves donors and members exasperated and as it happens, exhausted.

It is impossible to work toward mission and vision when you are starving the people you work with of a purpose other than to make ends meet.

Even worse, is when our mode of giving actually sets us up to be taken advantage of. By saying “yes”, are we saying no to what matters to us and even more, to the work that needs to be done? By serving as someone else’s objects, are we neglecting to make ourselves and others active and engaged subjects standing where the world and we need to be?

Perhaps this Philanthropy Day, we can look a little closer at our dearest projects and causes and gently pull apart the barriers of our egos. And once we peel away the unnecessary parts, we can start to look at how we function not only within ourselves but in our workplaces and teams.

Serial helper and recent conscientious favour selector/objector that I am…these days, when I work with others, I ask myself the following

Four Questions for Thriving Leadership:

1. My heart asks: Do I get to fully be myself here, with you or in this?

2. My head  inquires: Can I and we change the operating rules, developing our work, our world and ours selves together for good?

3. My soul yearns: By doing this, am I operating from self-preservation or self-growth and affirmation?

4. Tradition requires: Is this a relationship in which I and all those I encounter are subjects…or objects?

In a week that provided sobering wake-up call after wake-up call for every human being to take up the task of world’s mending, too many of us are consumed by the ongoing cycle of crisis to muster up the awareness to put a spoke on the wheel. We are living to survive and in so doing, we are neglecting to thrive.

Yet, as this People of priests, and scholars, prophetesses and artisans can attest, we know this to be true:

Searching for our true self has always been the beginning of finding G-d and as it happens, each other.

By putting our focus on the best of others and ourself, we can make our philanthropy a force for good on Philanthropy Day and each and every day of the year.

And that is a mitzvah (good deed) in which we should pour all our hearts, heads and souls.

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.