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
Jewish Innovation & Data

Data and “Jewish Urban Planning”

[The second post in The Nuts & Bolts of Jewish Entrepreneurship series]

As Jewish innovators, when we pilot, we learn a lot about our community’s hopes and dreams as we build.  Though, ideally you’d know how many are in your target market, where they are and how to reach them, before you launch your program,  that’s not always the case. Every pilot we launch provides us with feedback and data that helps us program more successfully. In a sense, we are “Jewish Urban Planners” or trailblazers at the very least. But is that enough to be successful?

Missing Data

Often, there is no research or data available. The last formal study of my community in San Diego was in 2003 when we learned over 85% of our population was not engaged in traditional Jewish life. We don’t know why or even if it’s better or worse today. No new study has been done. There’s been no analysis of what our community at large might want. Youth K-8 Jewish education is in particularly bad shape with only 8% of our Jewish children engaged in Jewish recurring education. The latter statistic is based on data we stopped collecting as a community in 2014 when our program supporting local Jewish educators closed. The lack of data, it turns out, is not uncommon. So where can you start as you begin your research?

Consult National Studies

National and International Jewish research is available to guide your work.  Read the Pew Research Center’s  report on Jewish Americans from 2013, as a baseline and get familiar with work from at least two researchers such as  Steven Cohen and Gidi Grinstein who have studied a variety of Jewish population segments and programs. Last week, the Jewish People Policy Institute released two informative studies, too: Family, Engagement, and Jewish Continuity among American Jews and Learning Jewishness, Jewish Education, and Jewish Identity.

Dealing with Realities

The national trends reflect that huge numbers of American Jews are not engaging in traditional Jewish life and institutions and that many don’t identify with denominations; instead, framing their Jewish identity in cultural or “just Jewish” terms. The newer studies also highlight our failure to engage youth in Jewish education programs. However, the studies emphasize the need for adult programs, because young Jews in America are marrying later, having children later and fewer of them. This delay and lack of creative Jewish social circles with which to engage can lead to a disconnect from the community for both parents and their children.

Using National Data

What can a Jewish innovator learn from these studies that might help? The studies encourage building new avenues for Jewish social circles for youth and for adults. They also encourage youth participation in multiple types of Jewish experiences through youth because, for many, there is no longer a central institution – synagogue or other center – that is a preferred gathering place. Camps of all kinds, even for adults, innovative after-school programs and creative Jewish education as a family experience are all winning combinations, resulting in successful Jewish identity and community-building.

Gathering Your Own Data

National research continually shows there is ample interest and enthusiasm in Jewish America for new ways to engage. These results should inspire us to pilot, test and build. Jewish innovators are trailblazers. We listen, we pilot, take feedback, and pivot, shaping new programs as we go.  To that end, we should look to our local Jewish Federation and/or Foundations to see if they have completed local studies, but, if they haven’t, we should charge ahead, conducting small focus groups, piloting new programs, and trailblazing, gathering and sharing the data along the way.