Opportunities & Challenges for Innovation in Jewish Life: American Judaism is in the midst of a paradigm shift, as Jewish leaders look for new ways, and build new institutions, to engage American Jews in Jewish life. Fresh ideas and approaches seem to proliferate weekly: according to a recent report, more than 600 Jewish ventures have been created in the last decade alone. Organizations like UpStart Bay Area, Joshua Venture Group, and Bikkurim, exist to nurture and support these efforts. Established organizations are opening up to new approaches to creating and delivering Jewish experiences that more people find relevant and meaningful to their lives.
Sara Heitler Bamberger is the founder, director, and one of the educators for Kevah. Prior to her work at Kevah, Sara was the founder and director of the Religion, Politics and Globalization Program at UC Berkeley, and also the founding director of The Curriculum Initiative, an organization that supports Jewish students in private schools around the country. She was a founding staff member of Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in the Boston area.
Sara was born and bred in Colorado, and now lives in Berkeley with her husband Ken Bamberger, a law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, and their four children.
Barry Finestone is Executive Director of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.
Toby Rubin is ceo and founder of UpStart Bay Area. Toby's first career began as a civil rights attorney in Mississippi, advocating on behalf of students with disabilities in education matters. She continued this work in her own practice when she moved to San Francisco in 1981. At the end of eight years of litigation that included a favorable 8-0 decision of the Rehnquist led U.S. Supreme Court, Toby embarked on a second "career" in non-profit lay leadership.
Toby rose to hold the President or Vice-President position in eight local and national Jewish and secular non-profits and chaired the community-wide Teen Initiative of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.
In 2002, Toby joined the Bureau of Jewish Education staff to direct the ti-ke-a Fellowship for Educators of Jewish teens. While at the BJE, Toby conceived and established two groundbreaking projects for the Bay Area: the Jewish Service Learning Project, (dedicated to helping Jewish community professionals integrate service learning into their program mix) and the Jewish Professionals Co-op, the precursor to UpStart. From 2006-2008, Toby served as Associate Director of the BJE.
Kevah founder Sara Bamberger and JCCSF executive director Barry Finestone discuss the different origins of their organizations in meeting the needs of the Jewish community. While Kevah provides a singular, boutique experience in Torah study, Finestone explains the challenge at the JCC is to "not give a watered down array of everything."
Religious beliefs and practices of the Jews. One of the three great monotheistic world religions, Judaism began as the faith of the ancient Hebrews, and its sacred text is the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Torah. Fundamental to Judaism is the belief that the people of Israel are God's chosen people, who must serve as a light for other nations. God made a covenant first with Abraham and then renewed it with Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. The worship of Yahweh (God) was centred in Jerusalem from the time of David. The destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (586 BCE) and the subsequent exile of the Jews led to hopes for national restoration under the leadership of a messiah. The Jews were later allowed to return by the Persians, but an unsuccessful rebellion against Roman rule led to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the Jews' dispersal throughout the world in the Jewish Diaspora. Rabbinic Judaism emerged to replace the beliefs and practices associated with the Temple at Jerusalem, as the Jews carried on their culture and religion through a tradition of scholarship and strict observance. The great body of oral law and commentaries were committed to writing in the Talmud and Mishna. The religion was maintained despite severe persecutions by many nations.