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

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.