When traditional Jewish sources, stories, and spirit are given a boost by technology and the creativity and enthusiasm of 120 young Jews, plenty of good things happen.
Outside Tel Aviv last week, the ROI Summit for Young Jewish Innovators provided both a showcase and an incubator for the new ideas and visions that are percolating among Jews in Argentina, Belarus, India, Sweden, El Salvador, and a host of other Jewish communities around the world.
The mission of the ROI global network, philanthropist Lynn Schusterman signature project, is to provide critical funding, training, and support for a variety of new ventures that have the potential to strengthen Jewish communities, deepen Jewish commitment, and build a better Jewish future.
Since its launch in 2006, ROI has helped support new Jewish ventures such as Challah for Hunger, Moishe House, PresenTense – and Jewcology, a web portal for Jewish environmentalists.
“Jewcology means that if you’re one of the only Jewish environmentalists in your community, you don’t have to be alone,” says Evonne Marzouk, founder of Canfei Nesharim, which provides a Torah based approach to understanding and acting on the relationship between traditional Jewish sources and modern environmental issues. Marzouk, in Israel from Silver Spring, Maryland, and her 17 global partners received a $50,000 ROI grant to create a virtual hub where Jewish environmentalists can share ideas and resources inspired by Torah – and build a self-sustaining community that can affect real change.
The faces of ROI creativity and social entrepreneurship: Mathue Roth; Evonne Marzouk; Sarah Lefton and baby Levi. (Photos: Adi Cohen)
“We live in a fast-paced world and tend to address short-term problems,” says Marzouk. “But Torah wisdom has us thinking longterm.”
That eternal wisdom is also what inspires Sarah Lefton and Matthue Roth, producer, and editorial director of G-dcast.com. Their ambitious mission: to raise worldwide Jewish literacy by making Torah texts accessible to all using entertaining media, including animated video shorts that explain and interpret the weekly parshah.
Launched in 2008, G-dcast has had hundreds-of-thousands of video views, all earned without any marketing campaign. This means word-of-mouth is drawing the crowd.
“My mother’s friends, who still wrestle with email, are telling my mom about it,” says Roth, who lives in Brooklyn. “So I call it a success.”
Impressed by G-dcast’s accomplishments to date, ROI gave the project a grant in April to support new videos about the Jewish holidays. They are also working on a DVD and curriculum guide for teachers, and a crowd-sourced project to translate G-dcast videos from English into Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, and Italian.
“We believe that substantial learning can and must happen through online media,” says Lefton, holding her six-month-old son, Levi.
ROIer Ziv Maor is a newscaster on the newly established radio station Galei Yisrael, based in Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem.
“I did some research,” says Maor, a passionate Zionist, and a member of ROI’s global network. “I studied 30 Israeli movies made between 1988 and 2008, and only two of them were pro-Zionist, while 13 of them were critical of Zionism.”
Why do Israeli tax dollars, which flow through the Israeli Film Fund, help support movies that bash Israel? “Because the people who control the money – the cultural elites here – believe in this message,” says Maor, expressing his personal views.
In response, Maor is trying to develop movies of his own that deliver a positive message about Israel. One, called Otot, is about Israeli pilots who battle aliens from outer space. He calls it the first Zionist sci-fi flick.
In the autumn, Maor is setting up Mahar, a Zionist College in Kibbutz Reshafim, near Bet Shean, with a curriculum of political science, Zionism and Jewish values. Instead of paying tuition, students will work the land.
“There’s far too much self-loathing in Israel,” says Maor. “But there’s a renaissance too. The Zionist movement is still alive, and so is the dream.”
At the ROI Global Summit this week, it certainly seemed that way.