This story comes to us from NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation, dedicated to creating opportunities for Birthright Israel alumni to continue to experience the best of their trip even after they have returned. NEXT is partnering with Natan, an organization that inspires young philanthropists to engage actively in Jewish giving by funding innovative projects that shape the Jewish future, in sponsoring Natan/NEXT grants for social entrepreneurs to enhance Jewish life. Russell Gottschalk is the director and founder of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (www.atlantajmf.org, @AtlantaJMF). He can be reached at [email protected] or through various social media forums (@ATLRusky).
It’s a great time to be Jewish. It’s also an ideal climate for entrepreneurship, and it has never been easier to get connected to others as it is today. As I’ve learned through opportunities that helped me bring my project, the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (AJMF), to life: There is no limit to what you can contribute to Jewish life if you discover your passion and purpose while leveraging the support that the Jewish community offers. Today, there are plenty of opportunities for 20-something Jews. Through Birthright Israel, I went to Israel for free and connected with my peers and our homeland in what was truly a transformative ten days. After returning home, I continued to explore what it means to live a fulfilling and engaged Jewish life and came up with the idea of starting a Jewish music festival in Atlanta, where I currently live.
With my passion and purpose guiding my progress, the opportunities around me became more clear. I discovered philanthropic support through the Natan/NEXT Grants for Social Entrepreneurship. And with a team of passionate, dedicated volunteers who also strive to better Southern Jewish living, we were able to bring the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival into existence. A few years later, I took part in the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s ProteJ project, which pairs Jewish entrepreneurs with seasoned business leaders, and gained the visibility, validity and training needed to impact more of Atlanta’s Jewish community. It appears that the supply side for Jewish entrepreneurialism shows no sign of abating; the Schusterman Foundation was overwhelmed recently by the international outpouring of #MakeItHappen grant applications, and Natan/NEXT have recently launched a new round of applications for their Social Entrepreneurship grants.
These days, entrepreneurs can also access new technologies. Our ability to instantaneously share information helps our ideas develop faster than ever. Of course, this also means that people expect new and exciting forms of engagement. There is no longer the “build it and they will come” (or FODS, Field of Dreams Syndrome), but now, if you dream it, you can build it. From 3D printers to 4D appreciative inquiry, we have the tools to create the world we want to live in. Now is the time to bring this entrepreneurial spirit to the Jewish community. We have reasons to be optimistic (94% of Jews in America are proud to be Jewish!), but our affiliation and engagement continue to decline. As more in my generation move away from organized religion of all colors, we must leverage the many other facets of Judaism—such as culture, tradition and community—that will keep our ways of life relevant and appealing.
Fortunately for us young Jewish entrepreneurs, our traditions support questioning the status quo. Admittedly, I have confronted occasional resistance pushing AJMF’s progressive voice to the forefront of Atlanta’s (and now the South’s) cultural conversation. But most in our community and AJMF’s family know that progress should be celebrated and fostered. We must also take advantage of the many personal connections we share in order to collaborate, cross-promote and celebrate together. I’m proud that AJMF is the first organizational sponsor of Judaic Mosaic, a new, free, teenage songwriting and recording camp for Jewish musicians in Atlanta. I’m equally proud that I remain connected with the first cohort of ProteJ mentees (shout out to Patrick Aleph of Punk Torah, Chaim Neiditch of Jewish Student Union, Ana Fuchs of Jewish Kids Groups, Adam Griff of Adamah Adventures and Marcy Levinson of AtlantaJewishNews.com) and am working with Federation leadership to develop the next cohort of entrepreneurs/ventures.
I ask that you, the reader, connect with someone or some organization in your community and explore what unique value you can contribute to Jewish life. Or, apply for a 2014 NEXT/Natan grant and make your own dream community project a reality! Our possibilities are infinite if we continue to support each other and grow as a community together. I welcome anyone or any organization to connect with me to discuss AJMF, your brilliant new idea or anything else Jewish/entrepreneurship/Atlanta-related. Please be in touch, and I hope to see you at the 5th Annual Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (March 20-29, 2014)!
The Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.