This Hebrew word meaning together lies at the very core of our Jewish being. Judaism is not meant to be explored alone, but rather, it is meant to encourage bonding, community-building, and building a better world. There is always a Jewish people, not just a Jewish person.
Although Judaism includes time for silent meditation and personal prayer, it also calls for many collective customs. We have the silent Amidah, however it is quickly followed by an all-inclusive version led by the Hazzan. Certain religious practices cannot even be performed unless a Minyan (a group of at least 10 adult men) is present. It is in our Jewish nature to be together, as we are a people of community.
However, in recent years, synagogue attendance and Jewish communal life in general has declined. In San Diego, only about 15 percent of the Jewish population is involved in our Jewish community in some way or another. The very anchors of our Jewish selves — our people — are not as connected as we once were.
Local resident Jennie Starr wanted to make a change to this downward trend. In 2006, Starr founded the Tarbuton, a non-profit organization and cultural center. Tarbuton’s focus was to bring our Jewish community closer by engaging Jews of all ages and bridging the gap between American and Israeli Jewish families. Her idea was to strengthen Jewish identity in San Diego by bringing Israeli culture and language to people in fun and innovative ways. One such program, “Israeli Women’s Night Out,” was started by community members and supported by Tarbuton as a way for Jewish women from Israel who were new to the U.S. to come together and support one another. As the need for more Jewish community involvement grew, so too, did Tarbuton.
Recently, Starr expanded her endeavors by founding a new project called Startup18. Its focus is to encourage innovation and support the local, grassroots San Diego Jewish programming in town; complete with community advisors, group brainstorming, and a way to help organize donations and incoming grant funding for these projects.
“I know we have creative community members eager to build Jewish education and community engagement programs and if supported they can and will do brilliant things,” Starr says.
Startup18 has three core components: The first component is the Jewish Engagement Lab, which meets once a month to provide support to new project founders. Starting a non-profit endeavor can be a daunting process, but with the support and mentorship of Startup18 advisors, it can feel a lot less intimidating.
“The information Jennie and the StartUp18 project provide is invaluable,” Cheri Weiss, an Engagement Lab member, says. “Providing a forum for start-up entrepreneurs to share information with each other means we don’t have to reinvent the wheel on our own.”
Weiss is the project founder of “Hineni: Music for the Homebound,” one of the projects being guided under the mentorship of Startup18. Last year, she distributed close to 1,000 copies of her album, HINENI: Music for the High Holy Days free of charge to homebound seniors and others who were unable to attend synagogue services due to illness or other reasons beyond their control. This year, under the non-profit umbrella of Tarbuton, she is applying for grants that will enable her to distribute the album to 10,000 homebound people.
The Engagement Lab brings community members of all ages together to support members’ various projects. Another musical endeavor, KOL CALIFORNIA, is Engagement Lab member Gady Amour’s brainchild. Amour wanted to share Israeli music through internet radio to better connect people in San Diego who were craving the tunes of the Holy Land. Through his partnership with Startup18, Amour was paired with advisor Roey Kruvi, who has helped him to launch his program.
The very magazine you are reading is also a recipient of support from Startup18. CHAI5, founded by Diane Benaroya and Laurie Miller (L’CHAIM Magazine’s publishers), is a non-profit program whose objective is to bring the San Diego Jewish community closer through multiple projects targeting unique areas of Jewish life.
The first of the CHAI5 initiatives is Our Tribe, which utilizes the magazine as a jumping off point for community engagement. Members of the San Diego Jewish community are encouraged to publish their life cycle events in L’CHAIM Magazine free of charge.
“By getting the word about the actual people who live in our own community, it allows us to celebrate and honor our local Jewish brothers and sisters and pay homage to these special individuals,” Benaroya says.
The second CHAI5 project, Mensches of San Diego gives the community an opportunity to read about some standout personalities in our hometown. Instead of just thinking about our community as some vague entity, Mensches of San Diego puts the spotlight on true faces and stories of the Jewish people living right here in our own neighborhoods doing incredible things.
CHAI5 also supports the JPIX program. Today, social media, photos, and technology rule, so why not use that to our advantage to bring Jewish life closer in San Diego? JPIX is a project whose main goal is to share photos of local Jewish events inside the pages of L’CHAIM Magazine and on social media to spread awareness of what’s going on in the local Jewish community. It’s another way that we can all connect and become more involved with our local San Diego Jewish family.
But Startup18 is not solely about projects. Roundtables provide a platform for community members to talk about what they want to see happening in Jewish San Diego. The community gets connected through Jewish conference calls and Skype sessions to discuss what Jewish programs they would be interested in hosting, or attending.
Finally, Startup18 will bring San Diego its first ever community Hackathon next month. Scheduled for May 7, the Community Hackathon is an event where community members come together to discuss new innovative projects that will help educate and bring the San Diego Jewish community closer to each other. Not only will groups get to brainstorm new ideas, they will get to pitch their projects and have the opportunity to receive seed funding from Hackathon’s generous supporters. The Covenant Foundation will allocate $7,500 in crowd-sourced monies for projects that support the strengthening of our community’s education of our Jewish heritage, culture and Jewish identity. The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation will allocate $5,000 in crowd-sourced seed funds to projects that strengthen America’s ties to our Jewish homeland: Israel. Other supporters that were so graciously involved with this event include PresenTense, and it is co-hosted by the Jewish Federation of San Diego County and the Leichtag Foundation.
We, as a Jewish people, are stronger together than apart. Yachad, meaning together, actually comes from a much more powerful word, Echad, which in Hebrew means one. Now thanks to so many up and coming Jewish innovators, San Diego is coming up with new ways to connect and build stronger ties as a Jewish community; as “one.” It’s up to us to continue to help each other by brainstorming new ideas, kick-starting your own project, or just donating to a project that is already trying to get off the ground. It is in our Jewish nature to come together, so let’s get to it!
For more information on Startup18 and its programs and events, visit startup18.org.