Jewish and Inter-religious Work
When Jumpstart was founded, it was in response to specific developments in the Jewish communal landscape – developments that mirrored faith-based social entrepreneurship in other traditions. An explosion of creative Jewish social entrepreneurship starting around the turn of the century began to shape an emergent Judaism outside the walls of institutional Jewish organizations and beyond the labels of movement affiliation. The boom was driven by a new generation of leaders seeking and building dynamic, inclusive, and diverse new organizations and communities that reflect their personal identities and experiences in the world. Because of this, there are more creative, passionate, authentic, and compelling ways to engage Jewishly than at any time in history. Jumpstart was first conceived to harness the energy created by these new endeavors, sustain it, and empower new leaders to create new Jewish destinies for themselves and their peers. The goal was to foster this new flowering of grass-roots Jewish and inter-religious projects by providing direct support and helping to build the field as a whole. While our work has expanded to include realms outside of the Jewish and religious marketspace, we continue to have a strong presence there, and, especially in our fiscal sponsorship work, continue to play a role in fostering that type of innovation.
One of the clear antecedents to the Jewish startup boom was the Christian Emergent phenomenon which began about a decade previous. While Jumpstart’s founders (Shawn Landres and Joshua Avedon) were working at Synagogue 3000 they ran the first project that brought together Christian Emergents with their Jewish counterparts. (You can see a cool video about that first encounter here.) In fact, it was Shawn who coined the term “Jewish Emergent” in recognition of the parallels. His 2006 essay in Sh’ma magazine was the first to describe this relationship, and further, went on to talk about how the characteristics of Jewish Emergent in some ways go beyond the religious expressions inherent in Christian groups. The breadth of expression in Jewish Emergent mirrors the span of Jewish culture and history, which obviously has a religious component, but is not solely a religion. It is, in the words of Mordechai Kaplan, an “Evolving Religious Civilization.” That idea is more true now than ever. We live in an era when ethnic Judaism is turning into multi-ethnic and even post-ethnic Judaism. Modern Jewish community is becoming a mash-up of all the various historical strains of Jewish life, religion, and culture, including some that flourished centuries ago combined with elements from all the other cultures in which Jews have lived. We’re witnessing an accelerated phase in the evolution of modern Jewish life, and much of it has a spiritual component.
Many new Jewish initiatives also seek to move beyond the 20th century concepts of what “Jewish” is, especially the identity/institutional constraints of Jewish denominations or movements as they are called. The new Jewish landscape is increasingly post-denominational and sees movement identification as labels and ideologies which are rapidly losing meaning and resonance for individuals. The institutions of denominational Judaism still dominate the market, but personal identification with them is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The new reality is that everyone can be on their own unique Jewish journey and has a right to a unique Jewish identity, without the limitations of labels, categories, and preconceptions. Not only are the new Jewish organizations seeking to move beyond movement labels, they are also working to tear down the walls between the various institutional silos of Jewish life. They seek to find new ways to cooperate even among partners that in the old days wouldn’t even be in conversation. The organizations that Jumpstart works with are diverse in their missions and practices, but they share many values in common. They believe it’s in the nature of innovation to test boundaries; they believe in making Jewish life vibrant and relevant; and they believe that we gain strength and purpose by working together.
Lastly, these innovators are generally not interested in being part of a Jewish community that stands apart from the larger communities and cultures in which Jews live. They believe in a permeable version of what being Jewish means and what Jewish community is. Judaism and Jewish culture might have been created by the Jews, but it isn’t just for the Jews. The idea is that a strong Jewish community is an inclusive one – and that includes both Jews who traditionally have been marginalized in Jewish communities – as well as non-Jews, Jews-to-be, and those who want to be part of Jewish community – as well as those who are simply Jew-curious. The result is that the new approaches to building Jewish community are by definition experimental and are fully at home with risk and uncertainty. Jewish innovators believe in the literal definition of emergent, which is defined as a process whose outcome is not predictable from its starting conditions. Practitioners of Jewish Emergent are on a journey to discover 21st century Judaism – and they’re comfortable not knowing where they’re going.