Shofar, So Good: Rosh HaShanah & Entrepreneurship

A year behind, and a year slated to almost immediately be beginning. While entrepreneurs appreciate and boast accordingly about their often non-traditional work schedules, the Jewish New Year is the same calendar date and time for everybody.

Rosh HaShanah translates into English as the “Head of the Year”. Head inferring the top, or start, where things flow from, like every new beginning does. While entrepreneurs often seek to drive and create change, serving a fish or ram head as part of the holiday meal is definitely a tradition where there’s not been much disruption. As entrepreneurs “eyeing a good opportunity” is what we frequently do best, and the experience of enjoying the symbolic concept of “thinking with your head”, “taking a bite out of the year to come”, “good thoughts for a good year”, or even the “seeing the year you want” can all be important takeaways that this reminder teaches us about “seeing things through”!

Throughout 5777/2017, my work with ReJews Recycling took many turns. Fortunate to receive and renew a number of corporate sponsors and inclusion by foundations and other nonprofits, we should be our own harshest critics, but also our own biggest fans. Reflecting on our work, the success, progress, and even failures that we’ve experienced in a year, it is a major Jewish teaching that we realize “all is for the best”, and “we are where we are supposed to be”, but neither of these pills is always easy to swallow.

Even throughout many of our happiest moments, many can identify what could have been better. The teaching here is “what we can do better”. When I founded the ReJews Recycling nonprofit sustainability and social entrepreneurship organization that is dedicated to helping promote recycling initiatives across the Jewish world, people thought and said many things of it.

Why not stop global warming? Why not save the polar bears? Why not save the rain forests? These were (and still are) questions I often hear, and the answer to any of them is not the point. Affirming your purpose, and working to achieve your goals is what matters. With ReJews Recycling often hosting events as co-hosts with other local community groups, I set out to welcome a number of major, globally recognizable brands to sponsor much of the programming. Incredibly inspired the by unwavering support that ReJews has received from Google, GoDaddy, MillerCoors, Glatt Mart, Sesame, Kold Kuts, the UJA, and the Schusterman Foundation, even I can still consider the question that we can all ask ourselves, “what can we do better”?

This idea is called Teshuvah. It’s often translated as repentance, but teshuvah is really more of a distancing ourselves from mistakes in the past. We all have the power to change our ways as we move forward towards how we go about our own decision making, and the true ultimate judgement.

Rosh HaShanah is the Day of Judgement. While there are an infinite number of deeply meaningful and spiritually moving insights on the significance of what Rosh HaShanah truly is, it’s celebrated widely with festive meals, and, across the world marketed with Happy Jewish New Year greeting cards and Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram posts. You can’t forget Instagram.

No matter the new beginning you pursue, how we connect with our goals should be about how our values guide us. The way that we represent our experiences lead us to, and in part even determine the types of problems we can solve, behaviors we can change, and connections we can build, so whether you want to start a new business, or just be better at networking, get out there, represent your goals, and build real connections when meeting new people. I suppose that’s why JSwipe connects with Instagram. You know what? Forget Instagram.
Pursue your beliefs, and spread the good that we may all be fortunate to be Blessed with!

L’Shanah Habah & Shanah Tova!
– Henry

The Year I Woke Up and Became a Jewish Entrepreneur

For years, it was drilled in to me to follow my strengths. With a spatial sense that was and remains virtually non-existent, I was told to focus on what I could do. So I went to drama camp, and Jewish camp, and became a camp counselor and then – before I knew it – I was a community developer,  a non-social work social worker, paid to be proficient in what I was really good at.

Unfortunately, I was running away from myself. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I could teach the class on how to transform, by which I mean dress-up failure. Faced with a series of doomed relationships, a litany of academic rejections and, at one point, the possibility of being homeless, I spent most of my time trying to seem okay with the next wave of devastation around me. Life wasn’t pretty, but I sure made it look that way – touting the learning experiences at my job and, yes, the next deceptive selfie, as the sort of positive turn-arounds that redeemed a world of unconfronted pain. Sure, I was showing parts of myself, but the rest of me was hiding.

And there was something else to this faux okay-ness. See, I wasn’t just failing, I wasn’t purposefully failing. While I was bragging about all the useful skills I accrued while being at various points abused, confused and removed from how I really wanted to be living, I wasn’t staking a claim on what I wanted. I wasn’t raising the stakes to the highest level, crying out from the bottom: “I may die or, worse, fail going after the truth of who I am…but that is worth everything compared to another moment living the lie of who I am not.”

I had to stop being okay in order to step forward. I had to stop confusing being useful with being purposeful because the conflation was not only antithetical to facing my sheer distance from living the life I wanted, but also pursuing the kind of spiritual proximity that only comes from honest failures, the spoils and toils en route to what one really wants to be doing. Failing in a direction of my choosing did not make the hard parts more bearable. Or even less rare.

But it did make me re-learn what it means to be alive.

It also brought me to learn Hebrew (I mean really commit, failing badly, outrageously, often) after years of being told I would never master a single language. And, as I continue to muck up on the winding path to mastery, I now understand why taking on this learning curve was the precursor to my decision to become a rabbinical student and then a poet and blogger. As my spatial sense grows stronger, so does my sight into my own soul. I have to continue failing at what I really want in order to end up in the places I desire most. And I have to forsake the failsafe of what is comfortable and okay to get there.

In a month where, according to the medieval work, The Zohar, Jews make the existential move from back-to-back to face-to-face, seeing ourselves for who we are and setting out on the tasks we crave to do could not be more pressing. For there is nothing more forward-facing and, as it happens, entrepreneurial, than failure when it meets the sincerity of a veritable purpose.