Minyan of Thinkers and the ConnectGens Fellowship

The deadline to apply for the 2013 ConnectGens Fellowship, powered by PresenTense, is Sunday, November 4th.  To learn more about getting involved as a Fellow, mentor or coach, attend the ConnectGens Fellowship Open House on October 24th at 7pm.  For more details about the Open House or to apply online visit www.shalomdc.org/fellowship.

A piece of paper with some ideas jotted down: that’s a scrap of paper.  Too many scraps of paper you’re bound to lose some.  To keep your ideas organized you need a notepad.  And when you want to feel like your ideas matter, you put that notepad in a portfolio.  That’s the symbolism of the new portfolio The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington gave me as part of the ConnectGens fellowship.  It’s symbolizes what the ConnectGens fellowship did for my ideas. And for me.

And I definitely have some ideas.  Crazy ideas.  That being a part of a faith community does not mean leaving your brain at the door.  That we can be logically consistent in everything we do.  That we can say prayers we mean, and practice rituals in a way that makes sense in our contemporary lives.  That challenging our religious traditions and practices through genuine intellectual inquiry only makes our community stronger.

I have been thinking these ideas for a long time now, and a lot of scraps of paper accumulated over the years.  I want to create a community of Jewish thinkers who could have critical, thoughtful discussions about major contemporary Jewish issues such as rationality and faith, intermarriage and assimilation, Jewish rituals and modernity, spirituality and Jewish prayer, Zionism and liberalism.  The community could confer on inter-denominational harmony, halachah and feminism, Israel as a Jewish state, the inclusivity vs. exclusivity of kashrut, etc.  I am calling it the Minyan of Thinkers.  A traditional minyan harnesses the power of ten individuals for Jewish public prayer.  I want to harness the brainpower of ten bright, young Jews in the DC area to dialogue on a monthly basis about our community’s challenging issues.  We will write reflection pieces that synthesize our arguments for others to use as a way to approach a topic they might otherwise find too overwhelming, complex, or contentious.

One year ago these were just ideas on scraps of paper.  Being a part of the ConnectGens fellowship gave me a system of resources and support to turn those ideas into a reality.  The resources and support came in many forms.  First, the fellowship gave me a group of peers who were also committed to using their entrepreneurial spirit to give back to the Jewish community.  They are all very special to me, and I enjoyed being on this journey with them.  Second, I was matched with a caring, creative mentor, Esther Safron Foer, who took time to guide me along the way and help me refine my vision for the group.  PresenTense also matched me with a sharp, business-savvy coach, Jeff Chod, who helped me come up with an executable plan of attack for every task related to the minyan.  I am incredibly grateful for their encouragement and guidance as the Minyan of Thinkers came into existence.  Third, the leadership team from PresenTense and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington taught me an unbelievable amount about starting a business and making it grow.  The fellowship was really a jump start to my venture; I went from having an idea to having a name, website, logo, business cards, business plan, etc.  This was my first experience with both PresenTense as an organization and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and I made meaningful connections with the leadership team from both organizations.  They are good people as well as being competent professionals.

Being a part of the fellowship affirmed that my voice matters and my ideas can make a positive difference in our community.  At launch night this year, each of the fellows received a portfolio but I did not think about the symbolism until today.  It is not a perfect analogy, but I think it makes my point.  I really appreciate the new portfolio, and everything that came along with it.