36 Under 36: NEW MEDIA TYPES
by Jewish Week special report
Non-profit incubator, post-digital pioneer, creative Zionist
For Ariel Beery, Creative Zionism means the belief that Zionism is re-imagined in a new, post-digital age, and accomplished through an individual’s unique perspective and actions.
After graduating from Columbia, Beery founded PresenTense (www.creativezionism.com), an organization that includes a magazine and the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism, which trains new social entrepreneurs in Jerusalem. Currently participants study during a six-week summer fellowship, but plans are underway to have a full-time program for pioneering Jewish communal work by 2009.
“There’s a fundamental break [in the Jewish community] between the generations, just like with humanity in general. A break and fragmentation around Israel and what it means to be Jewish. We’re dealing with that. And with
Earlier this year, Beery was a finalist in Brandeis University’s search for a professor for Jewish Communal Innovation, which sought the next big idea in Jewish life. This month he and his partner at PresenTense, Aharon Horwitz, won the Avi Chai Fellowship. Beery says his greatest accomplishment thus far has been creating a magazine that was his “baby,” then allowing a team, which includes a new managing editor, to take control away from him, enabling his baby to “walk on its own.”
Favorite Job: Organic garbage collector at a festival in Israel. Meaningful Quotation: “Without [the State of Israel] the Jewish people is like a musical genius who lacks an instrument on which to play.” — Mordechai Kaplan. Claim to Fame: Named one of 10 “Jews to Watch” by World Jewish Digest, along with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
— Carolyn Slutsky
Daniel Sieradski, 29
Founder of Jewschool and Jew It Yourself;
Director of Digital Media for JTA
When Dan Sieradski founded Jewschool.com in 2002, he didn’t quite realize what he was getting himself into.
“We were the accidental roots for progressive Jewish communities,” he says. “We didn’t mean to start a movement. We were creating something that was obviously needed.”
The Web site, a blog with a variety of contributors covering Jewish topics from politics to tradition and culture, had 50,000 monthly readers at its peak and 80 international contributors. As with all variations from the norm, there was opposition, and in the age of the Internet, opposition is ceaseless.
“I’d get phone calls from ardent Zionists at four in the morning,” Sieradski said, recalling those upset by the blog’s critique of Israel policy. He’s had to abandon multiple email addresses due to pointed spam attacks by unappreciative readers. For now, he remains on the board of Jewschool, but has curtailed his blogging.
His new project, Jew It Yourself, an online network providing tools and resources to Jewish individuals and communities to help them engage in Jewish learning on their own, is on hold until it gets a visit from the funding fairy. Among the innovative ideas set for the site is Shul Shopper, a “Zagat meets Wikipedia” for Jews looking for a prayer community to fit their needs. Users would be able to input their criteria and Shul Shopper would match them to a searchable list of possibilities, where they could peruse reviews and ratings as well as a connection to Facebook, which would find other locals with the same preferences. The site would also include an open-source beit midrash, tools for learning how to read Hebrew, and voiceover IP chevruta for the entire spectrum of Jewish communities.
Inspiration: His mom, Jeanette Friedman-Sieradski, a journalist. “Her commitment to pursue justice and fighting for a Judaism that’s inviting, welcoming and authentic has given me a sense of obligation to pursue the same mission.” Strangest job: Working at a golf course as a “garage guy,” loading clubs from car to cart, washing both clubs and cart for the argyle-and-spiked-shoe crowd.
— Randi Sherman
Todd Schechter, 27
Technological uniter, global dialogue leader
After producing the most technologically up-to-date international documentaries, Todd Schechter decided to turn his professional focus toward the Jewish community.
Schechter founded and has been working full-time on The Jerusalem Project, a program that uses video to create dialogue-based learning experience that address what unites Jews and also what divides them. Through the project, Jews across the world are brought together using digital technology to talk about the issues that face young Jews, and what being Jewish means to them, on an international level. One piece of the project, The Jewish Reconnection Project, (jewishreconnectionproject.com), shows videos of American and Israeli Jews conversing and engaging in a process of Jewish self-awareness.
“My historical uninvolvement gives me a different perspective,” says Schechter of growing up without a denominational affiliation or strong sense of religion. After college he planned to enter advertising or public relations, but wanted to do something socially relevant.
“We don’t have to agree with each other to be ‘a people,’ but we do have to
understand where each other are coming from,” says Schechter of the universal need for Jews, no matter their views or background, to connect and grow to understand each other.
As for why Judaism matters, a question that runs through his work and vision of the Jewish community, Schechter says, “I don’t think many people can answer that question unless they know why it matters to them.”
Guest Lecturer: Schechter taught a one-week course at the Kaos Pilots School in Aarhus, Denmark. Dream Vacation: Visiting Bhutan – “I like it here, but it’s about as far away from here as I can get.”
— Carolyn Slutsky
Ben Dreyfus, 28
Stuyvesant High School physics teacher by day, Jewish community
organizer by night
Think of him as the Jewish Superman. From 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, he teaches physics to the brilliant young minds at Stuyvesant High School, who consider him “cool, quirky and funny” and say he looks like “like a young ZZ Top,” and “a hippie, techie, nerdy Harvard grad [who] makes physics interesting.”
When the school day ends, he spirits away to his other life of Jewish blogging and communal organizing. Since 2005, he has been an avid blogger, starting his own blog, Mah Rabu (mahrabu.blogspot.com), which hosts the Hilchot Pluralism series, and serving as a contributing editor to Jewschool. Dreyfus founded Kol Zimrah, an independent Upper West Side minyan in 2002 and is a member of the board at the National Havurah Committee since 2004, where he is currently working on a scholarship program to make the NHC’s Summer Institute financially accessible to anyone.
The three faces of Dreyfus — teacher, blogger and communal organizer — have a way of merging. While he is quick to point out that he keeps his educational and religious work separate, he points out that teaching grew out of his Jewish identity. His work with the NHC and blogging will come together in Sefer Ha-Bloggadah, a project that will begin with this year’s NHC Summer Institute. Individuals and communities will embark on two years of studying Sefer Ha-Aggadah. Sefer Ha-Bloggadah, which Dreyfus organized, will feature a variety of voices posting about each reading. The project will end with a public event in 2010.
Both Kol Zimrah and NHC “represent a significant trend in independent grassroots Jewish communities,” he said. “They are an important part of a revitalization that has taken place, bringing a different style of minyan, reaching a different demographic. I’m excited to be part of that transformation.”
Strangest job: Late night grill short-order cook at a Harvard dormitory. Favorite snack: Twizzlers Pull-and-Peel.
— Randi Sherman
Sarah Chandler, 29
Synagogue educator by day, blogger by night
For the past year and a half, Sarah Chandler has been serving as education director at the Upper West Side’s West End Synagogue, where she organizes Hebrew school courses and works with lay leaders to plan programs for the entire community.
After earning two master’s degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary, she applied for the job and was told that she would be the perfect candidate — in five years. But persistence paid off and Chandler proved that her seven years of part-time teaching experience qualified her for the position.
“I had never run a school, but I had a lot of specific ideas of what I wanted to do,” she said. “I have a lot of creative energy and passion.”
This past February, Chandler led a group of teenagers on a volunteer mission in rural Jamaica under the auspices of the Sid Jacobson JCC in Plainview, L.I. She enjoys empowering students and mentoring teachers, she says.
Chandler also volunteers as the director of programming at Zeek – A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture, where she heads a staff of interns and organizes six to eight events per year in New York City and Boston. Since 2002, she has been blogging for Jewschool.com, where she currently serves as a senior editor.
“Once you get into it, it’s kind of like a compulsion,” Chandler says of blogging. “It’s in my blood.”
By immersing herself in “New Jewish Media,” Chandler hopes to provide disaffected Jews with convenient, virtual options for involvement in Jewish activities. Both Jewschool and Zeek ignite a “do it yourself” attitude toward Jewish education and strengthen Jewish identity across the country, she says.
Does Broadway beckon? Chandler choreographed the play “Shalom Birdie” while studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2005. Location, location, location: Since she was a graduate student, Chandler has periodically lead services at a small synagogue on the island of Saint Croix, in the Virgin Islands.
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