D I Y


My heart is in the West; my turkey is in the East.

To be more precise, as I write these words, a man named Simon Feil is standing at the corner of 110th and Broadway in Manhattan with a flatbed full of freshly killed broad-breasted white turkeys, waiting for my brother-in-law to come pick one up for our Thanksgiving table.

This year I followed my conscience to Kosher Conscience, an upstart organization Feil, a 32-year-old yeshiva graduate and former mashgiach, founded to provide kosher consumers with a more humane source of dead protein.

Feil’s free-range turkeys live out their lives on a farm in upstate New York. Instead of being killed on an assembly line, they are slaughtered according to kosher law one-by-one, unaware of their quickening fate. If you had to end up on a dining table with wild mushroom and leek stuffing where your guts used to be, that’s the way you’d want to go.

Feil’s list of customers pay dearly for this extra care — about $7.50 per pound vs. just over $2 per pound for a corporate kosher bird.

The list of start-ups like this is growing: There is Mitzvah Meat, a Hudson Valley co-op raising grass-fed lamb and beef, and Maryland-based KOL Foods (for Kosher Organic Local). There’s also talk of a California-based kosher humane venture.

But the news here isn’t just about a new kosher food movement. It’s about a much larger change than that. Everywhere you look in Jewish life, people are taking it upon themselves to re-think traditional ways of doing things. The kosher humane movement is just one example of how, in our time, the structures of organized Jewish life are being reorganized.

And the powerful force behind all this: Just your everyday, garden-variety Jew — Joe the Jew, if you will.

It’s happening in synagogue life, where so many small, unaffiliated minyans are starting up that a national conference was held last month in New York to analyze and support them. Organizers counted dozens of these nascent not-quite-shuls — not just in New York and Los Angeles but also in the Midwest and Northwest.

Mainstream synagogues are still home to the majority of affiliated Jews, but those who don’t feel at home in a larger synagogue, now don’t feel they have to opt out of spiritual life — they are creating their own smaller structures.

In Jewish philanthropy, too, the one-size-fits-many federation model has veered to smaller, do-it-yourself groups that either raise and distribute funds according to more specific needs or follow a venture capital model.

Sometimes the money originates with a single, idiosyncratic wealthy donor, sometimes with a small group with a specific agenda.

Many of these new entities have decades-old roots in the Jewish identity and renewal movement of the 1970s, which started calling into question the way things were. But the process of change has accelerated and is now widespread.

Technology has helped. The Internet is an effective and relatively inexpensive organizing tool. Many of the new minyans forgo mailings altogether and rely solely on the Web to knit together their congregations. Blogs and online video collapse the distance between Jews, spread new ideas faster and even enable more cost-effective fundraising.

Where all this will lead, no one knows. A new generation of Jews, weaned on what’s new and cutting edge, is unlikely to settle comfortably into the boards and pews their parents once occupied.

Some of the changes are faddish and no doubt will be fleeting. Others, like Kosher Conscience, I would go long on. With the ongoing crumbling of Agriprocessors, it’s easy to imagine that a larger portion of the kosher-observant Jewish world will stop subcontracting their ethics out to the lowest bidders.

But the success of such small and independent innovations begs three questions.

The first is whether, amidst all this change and diversity, there is a way to keep a sense of connection to the larger Jewish community, even to a larger communal agenda. This isn’t just important in times of crisis, as when Israel is in danger, or the economy goes into freefall. There are good things we can only achieve together — if we can first come together. It’s not clear how we do this when 10 friends, some cash and a Web site are enough to create a Jewish world unto themselves.

The second is: How do we institutionalize radical change? Some of these upstart groups and ideas are too good to stay at the margins. It’s critical that larger institutions and synagogues pay attention to what’s new and incorporate or adapt what seems to be working. Some already have: Federations now have venture capital funds and directed giving, and many synagogues long ago jumped into the smaller minyan model.

But all this newness also begs this third crucial question: What will we leave behind?

The mission was clear for previous generations: They built the brick and mortar of the community. They funded all the parking lots, the classrooms, the social service organizations; they invested their time and labor in the boards and Roberts Rules and banquets — all that unsexy stuff that is the scaffolding of community. They bequeathed us not just some cool blogs or a minyan to bliss out in, but a community to physically inhabit, to rebel against, to improve.

That’s our job, too, not just to change and innovate, but to leave behind something better, something substantial.

It likely won’t be actual buildings, but it should be something the next generation can build upon.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Generation Next — a new vision for the Jewish future


This speech, by writer/editor/blogger Esther D. Kustanowitz, was delivered at the 2007 General Assembly convened in Nashville by United Jewish Communities as part of the “Next Generation” plenary. At the plenary, a range of young Jewish and Israeli activists, bloggers, an Oscar-winning filmmaker and others described their visions of community building and the power of the collective.

When I moved to New York in 1994, my community centered around my friends from Camp Ramah and the people I met in synagogue. We used e-mail, but mostly we relied on an ancient device known as “the telephone.” A few of us were experimenting with some new-fangled thing called “Instant Messaging.”

Today, you can forward an e-mail, a Web site or a YouTube video to hundreds of people, creating a network based on a shared experience or affiliation. The Jewish world has always operated that way — the community mobilizes to address an issue or to fill a need.

Today’s technology has altered the modes and frequency of connection, and today’s Jewish 20- and 30-somethings, perceiving gaping holes in the community’s agenda, are seeking each other out using the full power of technology. Web sites, blogs and social networking sites are thriving. It’s a grass-roots uprising.

There is a lot of concern over the development of this kind of vast online community network, largely because of the generational technology divide. But what’s clear is that Federation professionals, volunteers, donors, and publications that want to stay relevant to “Generation Tech” need to significantly increase their techno-literacy.

People also perceive the emergence of online life as a threat to in-person relationships and connections. But our online world does not replace our offline life. Expanding our personal and professional connections; cross-pollinating our projects with others, our initiatives emerge strengthened and energized, and new ideas keep us active and inspired, on- and offline.

Today, the “social” in social action, social entrepreneurship and social networking enables everything else. The power of the collective — not of one organization or charismatic leader — enables change. The collective transforms one idea into something more valuable.

Facebook, for example, had a simple concept: to create a Web site that replaced the traditional college “face book,” the directory of new students. The company, recognizing that the product could probably use a few tweaks, encouraged the users’ input. Call it a different kind of tikkun olam: Facebook users fixing the world of Facebook.

A friend recently remarked that Jews, particularly, are in love with Facebook-wondering who their friends know and which of their friends’ friends they’re already friends with. This is because this activity is a new, easy-to-read iteration of our favorite pastime: Jewish geography. (“You know David from camp? I went to college with David!”)

Jews, living in dispersed locations for thousands of years, have learned how to harness the power of the network as a survival instinct. You need a place for Shabbat? Or an in with David’s cousin Murray, the hotshot lawyer? Or maybe, you’ve got a nephew who’s just perfect for me or some other Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel or Leah? Jewish geography. The friend (or relative) of my friend (or relative) is my friend. Or a relative.

This is the power of the network. As Jews create communities online, large and small, political and social, community becomes more true to the word itself: call out the obvious “unity” at the end of the word, and you’re left with “comm,” which I like to think stands for “comm” communication and commitment. This enigmatic “new generation” is not any less committed than the previous one; we’re just communicating that commitment differently. And to be relevant to the new media generation, old-school organizations have to embrace new modes of communication and new models of commitment.

When I was asked to do this session, I was curious how many of us “new generation” types were on Facebook and attending the GA, so I formed an online group — “Going to the GA in Nashville and Under 45” — today, there are over 140 members.

My generation is not emotionally tied to the traditional structures that served as their parents’ main connection to Jewish community, because we don’t have to be. We are creating our own online and offline publications, initiatives and minyanim, in reaction to having examined what does exist and finding that it doesn’t fill our needs. For example, I’m on dozens of mailing lists and read about 50 blogs a day. I read lots offline too, but most of the programs and events I find out about through Facebook, blogs, e-newsletters, or e-mail. I can’t tell you the last time I attended an event that didn’t have a Facebook profile.

Online, I’ve become involved in opportunities I never would have known about otherwise. I am a team member for the Jewlicious Festivals, an celebration of all things Jewish attended by hundreds of college students each year. I’m involved in the ROI Global Summit for Jewish Innovators, an annual Jerusalem gathering of 120 Jewish leaders in my age cohort from around the world. And through my involvement in PresenTense Magazine, a content-laden magazine for Jewish 20- and 30-somethings, I’ve also been able to experience a broad swath of Jewish life in the here and now. I’ve also experienced new permutations of Zionism, through this summer’s PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism.

Today’s Jews in my generation aren’t connecting to Federation the way our parents did. And I know this relationship, or lack thereof, troubles you. So view yourselves through our eyes. Are there campaigns, events or initiatives in your community that do draw participation from our age cohort?

Our generation lives generously, but gives differently: in measure, in method and in means. We need to feel the return on our investments — of both time and money — in our hearts and souls. And for those of us who are single or not parents, the community needs to expand the definition of commitment beyond Hebrew school tuition: just because some of us aren’t engaged to be married doesn’t mean we’re not engaged in pursuing a Jewish life.

Because our ideas, our commitment and our initiatives begin online and bleed into real life, Jewish organizations that seek new, younger members must commit to it not only in mission, but in action, supporting and forming partnerships with younger, innovative initiatives, not hoping to subsume them, but to work together with them.

By managing these kinds of creative partnerships effectively, and mobilizing our global Jewish social network, we will forge a future that is strong, vital, and a source of creative inspiration.

Torah Outreach Develops Programs for Underserved


The Torah Outreach Program, an independent Placentia-based nonprofit organization, will attempt to offer educational programs for unaffiliated Orange County Jews without the stigma of a denominational orientation.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, the Torah Outreach Program’s first speaker, will discuss "The Committed Life — Priorities to Live By," on Nov. 10 at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. A child inmate of Bergen-Belsen, Jungreis is an author, lecturer and founder of New York’s Hineni Heritage Center.

Torah Outreach Program’s aim is to serve as an educational resource that could be tapped for help by overly scheduled congregational rabbis and to develop programs for those who are underserved, such as the county’s Russian immigrant community, said Rabbi Ben Geiger, 27, Torah Outreach Program’s director.

Geiger, the former associate rabbi of Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation, said the inspiration to establish the program came from three congregation members, Michael Lapin, Basil Luck and Michel Hassan. The trio are the group’s founding board and its principle financial backers.

Five other U.S. communities are also affiliates of Jerusalem-based Torah Outreach Program. Grass-roots supporters independently fund each, Geiger said.

Geiger, who also teaches Tarbut eighth-graders about the early prophets, said he will continue to teach classes on the Torah portion and at lunchtime that were his responsibility at Beth Jacob. "We’re not looking to duplicate; there is a lot of room," he said.

For more information, please call (714) 996-7301.

L.A. Jews Send Aid Beyond Green Line


For the past three weeks, the theme of Rabbi Elazar Muskin’s Shabbat sermons at Young Israel of Century City has been the same. Thundering from the podium, he chastises his congregation for not doing enough to support Israel, and he urges them to pray better and give more charity in response to the horrors of the terror attacks.

Like many communities in Los Angeles, Young Israel of Century City has taken upon itself the support of a large number of charities in Israel, specifically those that fall between the lines; causes that are neither affiliated with the large Jewish fundraising bodies such as The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, nor supported by the Israeli government, despite the urgency of the cause.

Across Los Angeles, grass-roots fundraising are raising money organizations to provide Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line with emergency medical equipment and facilities, first-aid kits, bulletproof vests and buses and armored cars and to help different families who have been affected by the terror attacks in one way or another.

"Unfortunately we have had to make appeals for all sorts of things," said Rabbi Yehoshua Berkowitz of Congregation Shaarei Tefilah in Hancock Park. "Security, bulletproof vests, first-aid kits for the shtachim [occupied territories]. In the past year or two we have raised about $100,000 for these causes, and it has been very gratifying, but we are paying a very small price compared to what the Israelis are paying."

"I did try to get some help from the UJC [United Jewish Communities], but I had no success," said Efrat’s Mayor Eitan Golan, who was in town last month to raise money for an emergency medical center in his city. "And from the government, the situation is not better," he said.

Although Efrat is only 9.5 miles from Jerusalem, its location beyond the Green Line means that the main road leading to Jerusalem is often sealed off for security reasons, forcing residents to travel on alternative routes that can take over an hour.

Golan, who was amazed at the deplorable state of the Emergency Medical Center of neighboring community Gush Etzion, which is located in the garage of the fire station, said that a medical center in Efrat was necessary to save lives as the first hour is critical in stabilizing the life of the patient.

The cost of the center is $1.6 million, and together with Los Angeles expatriate Harvey Tannenbaum, Golan has been knocking on doors in Los Angeles, approaching different communities for money. They made appeals at Beth Jacob, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, Young Israel of Century City, Sinai Temple and Beth Am, among others.

"For me it is very difficult to go and ask for help, it is not my education," Golan said. "But now the situation is too serious to play honor."

"This is not an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform cause," Tannenbaum added. "We all bleed the same blood and we all need the same attention. When they attack or shoot they don’t figure out if he or she is Orthodox, or Reform or atheist, but they know that it’s a Jewish person they injured."

Steve Berger, chairman of Religious Zionists of Los Angeles, senses a similar urgency. Berger raises money for such causes as Zaka, an organization that outfits members of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) with bulletproof vests so that they can safely enter the territories to clean up after a terror attack, and Hatzalah Judea and Samaria, an emergency medical organization that provides medical volunteers in the settlements with $1,800 and $3,400 first-aid kits.

"L.A. started the ball rolling," Berger said, noting that with the help from the L.A. community, Hatzalah Judea and Samaria’s volunteer staff has grown from seven to 400, all trained and ready to help in an emergency. Berger estimates that the L.A. community has raised at least $1 million to help causes in Israel in the past six months.

"This is nothing to do with politics, but it is simply the protection of fellow Jews," he said. "While the state of Israel continues to support Jews living in settlements beyond the Green Line, we have to go along with that."

Glen Rosencrantz, director of media relations at UJC, would not comment on the UJC’s policy with regard to the various charities mentioned in this article, except to say that , "UJC does not fund projects beyond the Green Line."

John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, a member of UJC, said these groups have not approached the local Federation for help. But, he added, the current dire situation necessitates the Federation be, “creative and thoughtful in an overall communal mobilization." The Federation supported a walk for terrorist victims in which at least some monies raised went over the Green Line, Fishel pointed out. "This Federation believes that Israeli victims of terror on whichever side of the Green Line are deserving" of a communal response, he told The Journal. "We are open to sitting with any group and hearing what they do."

Golan said, "We say in Hebrew, ‘Yeshuat Hashem ceheref ayin’ — God’s salvation will come in the blink of an eye. I believe we will get the help we need."