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    An Open Letter to Joshua Venture: Doing Jewish Ritual is Being Jewish

    I submitted ModernTribe to Joshua Venture this year. We made it through the first stage but got cut before the interviews.

    There are likely many reasons why we are not a good fit for Joshua Venture. Looking at the recipients versus ModernTribe is like an easy game of "which one of these is not like the other?"

    Joshua Venture gave me feedback on my application today and what direction ModernTribe should go in to make a social impact. I'm sharing this feedback and my response because I believe the it reflects a misunderstanding about Judaism, human behavior, psychology, Jewish identity, and what we do here -- big picture "do" -- at ModernTribe.

    Here is the substantive part of the feedback from Joshua Venture. The emphasis is mine.

    Innovative Jewish products have the potential to resonate with consumers in a new and exciting way, but their long-term effects can be difficult to measure. The educational component alluded to in your application was intriguing; however, readers were looking for more substantive demonstration of what this may look like or how it could contribute to Jewish identity-building. If the ultimate goal of selling contemporary Judaica is to achieve social impact, then we encourage you to further develop and optimize the educational piece of your venture.

    And my reply (names removed)

    Thank you!

    I appreciate your feedback.

    Just one counter point I'd like you to consider about the long term effects of making Judaica exciting, desirable, and fitting for a broader reach of people, that the effects of such are "difficult to measure," and that the educational piece is necessary to achieve social impact. I disagree.

    An important component of Judaism is doing. So if a Jewish family lights shabbat candles, hangs a mezuzah, hosts a seder, does havdalah, lights the menorah -- they are being Jewish -- they are practicing Judaism. They are behaving Jewishly. Providing ritual items that people want, enjoy, display, and use is an end in itself. Just like providing a meal to satisfy hunger is an end in itself.

    Are there other, farther reaching long-term effects one could measure (such as a stronger Jewish identity)? Of course! I'm a psychologist: if there is one thing we know is that behavior both affects and reflects beliefs. But, I argue, especially in Judaism where action is more important than beliefs, more people using Judaica = more people being Jewish = end in itself, period.

    Just like one wouldn't say to a food bank-- yes, you gave out 4500 meals this year -- but what is the long-term effect of those meals? Are people really less hungry, more nutritionally healthy? Of course they are.

    If more people are buying, enjoying, displaying, and using more Judaica, are they really more Jewish? Of course they are.

    ModernTribe's ultimate goal of selling contemporary Judaica is to achieve social impact: and we are already achieving it.

    Thank you again for the feedback. Even though I don't agree, it shows that I didn't do a good job of explaining the link between practicing Jewish rituals and being more Jewish.

    I got an immediate reply with an explanation that food banks are amazing and necessary but it's a band-aid fix -- maybe what ModernTribe is doing, by inspiring more Judaica and Jewish themed "stuff" is an immediate fix but not systemic? Here is my reply:

    If the systemic change desired is stronger Jewish identity then more people buying, enjoying, displaying, and using more Judaica, achieves this systemic change too.

    What psychologist would debate otherwise? In fact, I bet "lighting shabbat candles" is a measure of Jewish Identity on many surveys. What a great operational definition of Jewish Identity!

    Unlike food that is "consumable," and in a few hours later, one is hungry, the deliverable of ModernTribe is durable (yes, the object is durable, but I don't mean that): behavior affects beliefs in durable ways. Lighting shabbat candles "stays with you" -- in a psychologically understood way.

    Maybe the real issue is that the Jewish Identity ModernTribe supports is in home (vs. community) and centered around ritual practice (vs. ethical)?

    Community and ethics are important (and sexy!). But, I'd argue in home ritual practice is a necessary (but insufficient) part of Jewish Identity. I also argue it is more necessary (for Jewish Identity -- not in an absolute sense) than feeding the hungry, organic farming, meditating and art. I know that may make you wince. But please consider that it may be more necessary for Jewish identity: to continue being Jews, not just good people. Plus, this necessary part of Jewish identity will not be championed outside the Jewish community, ever: there will never be secular organizations exciting American Jews about Judaica. It is only something that Jews will do for Jews.

    What do you think? Am I full of sh*t, on target, or meh?