Speaking at SXSW


Laura Baum is currently the Associate Vice President of Learning and Engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston's Jewish Federation.  She is a connector and innovator who has built her rabbinate outside the box. From 2008-2015, serving as one of the rabbis of Congregation Beth Adam, an independent congregation in Cincinnati, OH, and of OurJewishCommunity.org online, Laura reached hundreds of thousands of Jews.

I had attended SXSW twice before, but what made SXSW 2015 more special was that I was able to present a session thanks to a 'Go Speak!' Micro Grant from ROI. Dr. Vic Strecher and I co-presented a provocatively titled talk, “Tech & Purpose...With a Dung Beetle, Prof, & Rabbi." (I was the rabbi!) Dr. Vic Strecher is a University of Michigan professor and author of "On Purpose," a book and app that help people determine their purposes in life.

While Vic and I may seem like an unusual combo - a public health professor and a rabbi - we both care about helping people to lead lives of purpose. And we both see the value of using technology, including apps, social media, and online streaming, to bring our message to a broader audience. Some of the topics we discussed were:

  • Can we build communities online around purpose? Around religion? Peoplehood? Faith? Values? And why should (or shouldn't) we?
  • In a modernized world where organized religion is on the decline, can technology assist people in finding and monitoring their purpose in life (whether they consider themselves religious or not)?
  • How can empathy lead us to healthier behaviors and to being more responsible citizens of our world?
  • How can technology help us meet these challenges?

Speaking at tech and interactive events like this is always a great way for people to learn about OurJewishCommunity.org; over the years, it has certainly helped to raise the profile of our organization.

As always, SXSW was fun and informative - and a wonderful way to connect with colleagues from around the world, including many ROIers and others in the Schusterman network with whom I shared a Shabbat dinner. I spent a few days learning, interacting, dreaming big, and thinking through new ideas. Thanks, ROI Community, for the opportunity!