How a historic Brooklyn synagogue raised over $80,000 in 13 days

A 100 year old Brooklyn synagogue has raised over $80,000 in just thirteen days on Jewcer. They have seventeen more days to reach their goal of $110,000. This synagogue is home to the Park Slope Jewish Center, a community that focuses on Tikkun Olam and inclusion. We checked in with Jeremy, a member of PSJC Capital Campaign Committee, who is running this campaign. We asked him some questions about his experience crowdfunding through Jewcer.

Why did your community choose crowdfunding to raise money for the synagogue?

We’re a dynamic and active shul, and our members work hard to build community within the walls of our building and throughout NYC. We wanted to offer them a new kind of campaign that they could really get invested in, rally around and build that community with. Crowdfunding seemed the perfect answer.

As you built your campaign, what piece of advice from the Jewcer team stuck with you the most?

Crowdfunding is a great tool but it won’t work by itself. Jewcer offered us a lot of advice and guidance along the way. One of the items they stressed was that you need to get out there, work your community and organize them to work their contacts. You need to be the driver of your own campaign.  I wish we could have done even more.

What preparations did you take before the campaign started?

We started to organize our community around the campaign a few days before it started through emails, a phone bank and announcements at Shabbat services. Jewcer also provided us with tutorials and check lists that would steer us in the right direction towards success.

How have you been promoting your campaign? What is the most challenging aspect of doing so?

We’ve been reaching out to members regularly at services and synagogue events. We send out a dedicated email every few days and have run two phone banks so far, with more to come. The most challenging piece has been getting people to give at a high level. We have a high goal, every donation counts, but we also need some big numbers to meet our mark.

Did you use any digital tools to manage your campaign?

We’ve run our campaign completely old school. Believe me, an online professional crowdfunding campaign was already very advanced for us compared to past campaigns but the members have really taken to it. When we run more of these campaigns in the future, and we definitely will, I anticipate them becoming even more sophisticated.

What proved to be the best way to get people to donate? What about the worst way?

Jewcer encouraged us to be honest. For us, this campaign is critical to the future of our synagogue as it involves structural repairs to the building to ensure we can continue to use it safely. Letting the members know what is happening and why this is so timely has been the most effective approach. Generic appeal language is not compelling.

What do you feel was your biggest mistake?

We’re trying to hit a big number and to do that we need constant attention and work on this campaign. We didn’t build a big enough network of volunteers at the onset to pull it off. But we are a close community and several members have stepped forward at a high level to help us reach our goal.

What would be your “one piece of advice” you would recommend other synagogues to know?

Crowdfunding still requires that you do the real work necessary to raise awareness and support, like you would for any campaign, but it’s a fantastic tool to build with.

Would you recommend that other synagogues use Jewcer for crowdfunding?

Absolutely, crowdfunding offers a real home for your campaign to live and helps build community around a common goal. Jewcer provided us with valuable feedback and expert advice that can really help, especially if you are new to crowdfunding. I’d recommend it to any synagogue looking to take its fundraising to the next level.



When The Cab Driver is Elijah the Prophet: The Accidental Jewish Entrepreneur (Part 2)

This story is the second in a series called the “The Accidental Jewish Entrepeneur“, profiling Jews in unexpected places whose innovations and ideas change their communities for good. The second story comes to us from a traveler in Los Angeles, California:

I was visited by three prophets this Jewish New Year. They were not the people pouring off the sheet of the Torah scroll – no. Nor were they the righteous and G-d-fearing ancestors I encountered in the pages of my siddur.

Rather, they were the unlikely prophets – cab drivers – who ushered me to and from the airport. And though I pined for self-serving redemption this season, I quickly got more than I bargained for.

For, as I listened to each driver, I saw that the world’s creation and destruction rests in the hands that one human being offers the next. The locus of this season is with others. It is not, nor has it ever been, all about us.

The drivers’ stories bear this out.

First, there was Hannah, sleep-deprived and strapped for cash, who offered free childcare to a single mother in her building, a woman her whole community had all but written off and maligned. She knew that, by being there as needed, she could ease this woman’s way and raise her community to everything it ought to be.

Then, there was Abraham who traded his corner office for an Elijah-themed YouTube series (spoiler alert: He has a brother named Kevin and a Jewish mother-in-law who venture with him around the streets of Los Angeles), gleefully peeling off his power suit after thirteen years of a legal practice that weighed like bricks upon his soul. He saw the state of the world and proceeded to dedicate his life to making others laugh and hearing their stories in his cab.

And finally, Isaac, witness to his daughter’s personal annihilation, who made the unspeakably gut-wrenching decision to stop giving to her at all. And mysteriously, what he gave her was the “gift of her own sobriety.” A year later, she had made a personal journey from g’nut to shevach (degradation to redemption).

The Jewish New Year brings out all the grappling of our seeking and striving souls. We are given license by our tradition to define our personal purpose, destruction, and road to redemption. But, though we may be tempted and – let’s be honest – mandated, to go full-blown self-referential when we experience time, this year, entrepreneurs can do more.

We can enter this time of reflection with a view to relinquishing the focus on ourselves. We can look around us to friends, to neighbors, and even total strangers, picturing our lives with others in it and being even more mindful of these people’s essential needs. Furthermore, we can take a greater leap, still: we can become so attuned to the lifespans and story webs of everyone else, that we stop utilizing the holiday to only make sense of our own worldview and experience.

Rather, we can use these times to encounter everyone else.

This New Year, consider:

1. How can you work with others in a way that goes above and beyond what you need from them?

2. How can you redistribute work and leadership to highlight other people’s leadership, capacity, and creativity?

3. How can you create a shared vision alongside others that widens the impact of your venture not only on employees, but on your community and even, more broadly, humanity?

Our Jewish lives, let alone our entrepreneurial ones, are not measured by the solo journey of a hopelessly longing self, but by the broader encounter with the unexpected one who arrives every so often and reminds us that being human should mean something and someone more than merely us.

Rarely are entrepreneurs, let alone Jews, awed and changed by what we do for ourselves but, rather, what we choose to give away.

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.

Technology Works Best as a Blank Communal Canvas

We are Jewish leaders caught in a paradox. The instruments and modalities we are using to reach people to whom we want to connect are becoming so ensnaring and so encompassing that leaders are becoming fixated on the tools, themselves. In all of our attempts to find outreach strategies that work, we are so hungry for “likes” that we are forgetting what feeds the human soul, including those who do not sit at our tables (the fact that we measure outreach by length of “our” tables as opposed to who is not seated at them bears just as much reconsideration).

Technology works best as a blank communal canvas

Technology, for all its attempts to include and speak the language of others, has become deeply rooted in mono-communication, our own communication, that we are trying to keep up an image of “looking” engaging versus keeping our eye on where the community is and isn’t. We try to successfully bring people to us through our Facebook and Instagram feeds, but we so often come up empty.

And yet there is meaningful work being done in many online communities to unhook us from the notion that we should merely be hooking people in. Take a moment and browse the online shelf of and access the multitudes of people’s prayers, intentions and holy reconstitutions of Jewish liturgy and life cycle. As a blog post was titled at My Jewish Learning recently, it is not only about the Jewish holidays, but celebrating “the Jewish intervals.” This provokes the question: what is the method behind our media or, perhaps, more Jewishly, what is the meaning?

I am pleased to not only be part of the RitualWell community, but to also belong to an online Jewish young professionals group, Kitchener Waterloo JUnite, that has gone from being curated by a group of dedicated (and, frankly, amazing) volunteers to being entirely open to all members posting and sharing their needs, as per these members’ requests. Recently, mothers have also reached out, sharing their photos and scheduling meet-ups while other young professionals, including singles, have sought out and found new roommates.

Right here, community is unfolding because we have let go of the tools and let people have a stake in – or, perhaps, merely self-define – a blank communal canvas, from which to create their Jewish life and the life of their community. Those amazing volunteers I mentioned will always be resources and welcome supports for our growing Jewish community, though we have fundamentally changed our response to people, by inviting their participation and input directly. This doesn’t mean we don’t have standards or roles or even ethical responsibilities, rather, we all share the journey of making our Jewish community blossom.

For those of us desperately seeking the right way to engage Jewish community members, the ultimate tool of Jewish communal survival, I’m afraid I can’t provide a solution. But I can share an anecdote from our tradition:

As it happens, the architect of the Tabernacle was neither prophet nor priest. Rather, he was descended from the House of Judah,  a house traditionally associated with Jewish leadership and, later, the monarchy. But this man was no monarch. He was a 13-year-old artisan named Bezalel.  And when Moses tried to construct the Tabernacle in a way that was inconsistent with G-d’s instructions, he kindly pointed this out. For this, Moses called him the “Shadow of G-d.” A 13-year-old showing the way forward to the greatest prophet who ever lived.

If this isn’t a model for meaningful social media use, than I don’t know what is.