Steve Jobs once said, “to turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years requires a lot of discipline.” But, as any innovator knows, it’s not just discipline that’s required for game-changing organizations to succeed. Rather, it takes discipline plus solid mentorship. And, of course, a spark.
So let’s say a Jewish entrepreneur has the discipline and the vision—but perhaps they’ve reached the “proof of concept” stage with their startup and they’re looking for guidance as they grow their organization further. Where do they turn?
UpStart would be a good place to begin. “People who come to UpStart are committed to seeing their project succeed. It is the focus of their life,” says Toby Rubin, UpStart’s CEO and founder. “We have a strategy—which is reflected in our mission and work—to accelerate the best ideas that will contribute to vibrant Jewish living.”
“The word ‘accelerate’ is really jargon,” Rubin adds quickly. “What we’re doing is creating the opportunity for something to happen more quickly than it might otherwise without support. A supported idea can move from point A to point B faster, and point B is a place where we can determine if an idea is sustainable, or if it’s not.”
A multitude of sustainable ideas have already been proven through UpStart’s accelerator program since the nonprofit first launched in 2008. With alumni including G-dcast, Urban Adamah, Mishkan Chicago, Wilderness Torah and many others, the UpStart team has cultivated ventures that are changing the face of 21st century Jewish life.
So what’s the secret? To begin, each startup accepted into the UpStart accelerator is treated to four central benefits: product development, networking, community of practice, and funding. These benefits translate into training in practices tested and proven in the for-profit sector, a 2-day immersive retreat and several free full-day workshops, one-on-one coaching sessions with UpStart consultants who have expertise in areas including education, fundraising and organizational development, as well as access to the entire UpStart mentorship team for what Rubin calls “411/911 support.”
If an accelerator is struggling to set up a marketing plan, or has reached a fundraising roadblock, or isn’t sure how to manage the business infrastructure of their developing organization, the UpStart team is available to coach and guide members through that sometimes sticky morass of growing a venture. “Everybody has the number to call,” Rubin says. “We’ve got their back.”
In addition, being accepted into the accelerator program means access to a network of colleagues from current and former cohorts, which affords each member the benefits of peer coaching and the delivery of expertise, and ultimately serves to “accelerate” everybody’s project.
There’s that word again. Accelerate. And even if it’s jargon, it’s central to UpStart’s recipe for success. But ultimately, there’s another word that comes up just as often when talking to Rubin and others about UpStart’s work. That word is “impact,” and it’s what the UpStart team is tracking when they select each cohort for the accelerator program.
Quite often, says Rubin, it’s clear from the start whether a venture has the capacity to make an impact in the Jewish world. “There are certain indicators that an organization might not be successful,” Rubin explains. “Perhaps when reading an application we see that a startup hasn’t spent enough time figuring out why they should be funded, and has focused instead on just getting the funding itself. When this happens, it’s clear that they don’t understand what their own work is.”
Rubin knows that looking for funding is an integral part of any startup’s growth process, and she echoes the idea that a small amount of funding can yield great change for an organization. “But small or big,” she cautions, “the funding is misplaced if the organization doesn’t have the capacity to create an impact.”
In a recent blog post on their website, Maya Bernstein, an UpStart associate and Covenant Foundation Pomegranate Prize recipient likens the idea of making an impact and creating change to the debate about the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles. Namely, she writes, there’s a question in the Talmud about whether the mitzvah of hadlakah (lighting) is linked to the actual lighting or to the placement of the lit Chanukah candles—where they can be widely seen.
“If the candles are lit but not seen and shared, what is actually being accomplished?” Bernstein poses.
“This debate can be understood as a metaphor at the core of any program…attempting to create change,” Bernstein continues. “If the program is successful in inspiring or changing individuals, but is not effective in creating change within an organization or network as a whole, is it enough? Is it worth it?”
Bernstein doesn’t keep readers hanging. Ultimately, she shares, the Gemara concludes that “that the core of the mitzvah is the lighting. This is why we recite lehadlik ner shel Chanukah (to light the Chanukah candles) and not lehaniach ner Chanukah (to place the Chanukah candles).
“The first step, which is the most critical, is to create the light,” she concludes. “Once the light is shining, if it is a true light, it will inevitably be placed, and will inspire and ignite others.”
It seems that no matter which words one uses to describe the process of nurturing innovators toward making great changes in the Jewish world, one thing is irrefutable: it all starts with a spark.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project