Thank you to those of you who came to my LimmudBoston 2013 presentation “Open Source Judaism 2.0.” Click the image below to download the presentation in PDF format:
It’s also available in ODP (LibreOffice Impress) format: Limmud Presentation.odp
Finally, I also mentioned kevah.org as an online way to connect with Jewish learning.
The Jewish Publication Society’s (JPS) venerable 1917 English translation of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) was the standard American Jewish Bible for most of the 20th century. Don’t let a few archaic words fool you: this is not the King James Version. It was a modern translation for its time and is still highly readable. After over 2 years in the making and with help from the Open Siddur Project, I am happy to present a preliminary complete version of a new digital edition of this text you can read online and reuse in your own projects.
Today is Tisha B’Av, literally the ninth of (the month) Av, the Jewish holiday for mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem from ancient times.
Recently two Jewish institutions that had a formative influence on me closed, and I realize I’ve needed to mourn them. One is Koach, the Conservative Movement’s college outreach program. The other is JESNA, the Jewish Education Service of North America, an organization which helped me find me first full-time salaried job, which was for USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), Koach’s parent organization, which is not doing so well either.
When I think about it objectively, these organizations may indeed have been structured best for a different generation. But they were part of my own history. We take one day a year to lament the destruction of the Temple—but only one day a year that we obsess about it. So, I’m going to mourn today, and then move on.
Having worked in a behind-the-scenes role at USCJ, a major twentieth-century Jewish organization, I think I have a unique perspective on these issues. First, I probably do feel some more loyalty to the central-agency model than others my age. But I also see these organizations for what they were: big mail servers, sitting on prestigious New York City real estate, replaced by an e-mail server now sitting on an anonymous rack somewhere. These central organizations had big offices with executives, but really, these executives were thought leaders. The may have been good at that, but it’s a different job. The main physical, operational parts of USCJ in the 90’s were as a place to sort mail—literally—so that the ideas of our movement could be spread in a time when communication of ideas was, hard as it is to believe, much more expensive. We had some great thought leaders, but what I’m not sure even the people who work there (well, I didn’t when I was younger) realize is that being a director of some program is not the same as being a director of some actual large organization. At large organizations, whether public corporations or otherwise, senior management is truly responsible for a large operation, and its staff and budget. USCJ did a little of that maybe in its summer teen programs, but for the most part an executive at USCJ most decidedly did not have responsibility like that over synagogues. An executive a JESNA, even if he helped place me in a job, was unlike, say, a regional manager of a chain of stores. He did not have the staff of religious schools around the country report to him, nor did he have authority over all their budget. He was a though leader and influencer, which is really an entirely different job.
I was wrong about one thing: I expected more consolidation. I expected that just as locally-owned bookstores and hardware stores were replaced by chains, we’d see local organizations lose their identity to national ones. I guess the nonprofit religious institution world is just more different, because we’re seeing just the opposite.
Of course, the real story of the Jews is that we don’t actually have a Temple that was sanctified by God. We sanctify, and constantly re-sanctify, our own institutions. We have a holiday (Chanukah) about re-dedicating the Temple, an act that is one the timeline of human history. When I’m done mourning for the Temple this evening, I’m going to put aside mourning for other sacred institutions of recent memory, and work on building new ones.
I welcome your thoughts on these issues.