Profiles of 2008 PT Institute Fellows
The PresenTense Institute (PTI ), a six-week intensive social entrepreneurial bootcamp in Jerusalem, brought together 16 socially-minded young Jews this summer. Operating under the motto “If you do it, it is no dream,” they pursued projects embodying their visions of how to impact and inspire the Jewish people worldwide. The individuals’ projects highlighted here are each connected to religion in a different way.
Chari Pere www.charipere.com
Chari Pere, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, is the manifestation of light out of darkness. Valedictorian at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and a graduate of the Yeshiva of Flatbush, she takes her foundation in Jewish values, merges it with her intuitive ability to transform murky gloom, and overlays her art to create inspiring, witty cartoons and comics that convey some meaningful messages.
“Judaism gives me a sense of security and appreciation that permeates my daily life,” says Pere. She is comfortable with her spiritual path and seeks to achieve unity and respect among Jews. One of the objectives of her work is to bridge denominations and generations. Her art has a universal appeal for Jews; we can appreciate it regardless of whether we go to synagogue.
The experience of losing her beloved survivor grandfather recently has not shaken her resolute belief that “moments of immense pain are an opportunity for bringing brightness to the world.” Pere credits her comedic father for shaping her resilient nature, as well as “bringing fun to everyday Jewish living.” She wants the next generation to experience the wholesome yet edgy wit that underlies the Jewish ability to overcome adversity.
Pere’s Hey Yiddle Diddle Productions will develop a series of children’s books that bring this legacy to today’s kids while integrating core Jewish values. Pere intends to captivate the cool, young reader with her modern delights and buzzy, fun artwork, already exhibited in her calendar “A Yearly Shpritz of Jewish Bits.”
JT Waldman www.yavnet.com
JT Waldman is like a super-focused electrical storm. An intraprenuer, one who reorganizes an organization from within, he is challenged with improving business for the Jewish Publication Society, a successful, century-old publishing house. Waldman is creating YAVNET, a metadata tagged Tanakh platform for the Torah, in an attempt to present thousands of years of Jewish perspective in an interactive, connectable way.
The last time he had an idea, Waldman moved across the world, tackled a new language, learned to analyze and debate Torah, and studied ancient Persian art. The impetus came from hearing the story of Megillat Esther from a traditional Jewish perspective. The result of merging his “religion of comics” with this foundational Jewish text was his Megillat Esther, published by JPS.
Waldman wants to “bottle this type of experience for others to drink.” Tagged Tanakh is the Web 2.0 engine of YAVNET that can enable this vision. Similar in design to Del.icio.us, tags enable users to mark, store, retrieve, share, and link information that they find online. This use of tagging has the potential to create an organically-grown, personalized, relational database.
Waldman believes this innovation has great potential. “However we choose to interpret our millennia of Jewish thought, or whatever we individually observe as Jews, it all points to the Torah, our common reference point, the core asset of our people.” He also notes that “the more we engage in it collectively, the more we build our connections and unity.”
Rafi Gabbay Odeka
Rafi Gabbay’s Hassidic maternal grandfather cut his payess and moved to Israel to be a Zionist, thus escaping the Holocaust that claimed the lives of the rest of his family in Poland. In Israel, he met and married a woman who was actually from his same hometown in Poland. Gabbay's paternal grandparents fled persecution in Iraq to arrive on the shores of New York. Later in life, his father became observant and relocated to Israel, where he and his siblings were raised.
Just as he is the synthesis of worldwide cultures, Gabbay aims to “synthesize his loves” of Jewish living and industrial design. Inspired by Jewish theology and philosophy, he sees himself as a spiritual person who understands we live on a material plane. He works to maximize those experiences as an industrial designer. His project, Odeka, designs products that facilitate everyday Jewish life using the optimal materials and cutting-edge aesthetics. Gabbay “connects with machines,” yet acknowledges their limitations. “I cannot change someone through objects. I can enhance their experience and make it more profound, but someone will not connect the first time to Jewish observance through an object.”
Gabbay strives to design innovative products, and it works: people gravitate to his designs. When viewing one of his products at the PTI, a guy standing next to me asked Gabbay right away, “I want one. When can I get it?” The “it” was a tefilin bag with a retro-techno feel that provides padding and temperature protection for the sacred item inside, yet is priced competitively with the typical tefilin bag.
Shai Davis www.oorim.com
Award-winning filmmaker Shai Davis is passionate about Jewish education, and is expressing his passion through Oorim.com. “People are empowered in their Judaism not through inculcation, but by taking ownership. The most effective pedagogical method is enabling the learner to be the teacher by providing a forum for them to ask questions, provide answers, and enter dialogue in neutral territory. Today’s Jews are not looking for a stamp of approval for their Judaism, but rather meaningful engagement.”
Oorim.com provides the forum and knowledge base for participants to reference the vast array of information housed in leading Jewish institutions. “[It will] enable the behemoths to talk to the everyday Jew that they are always trying to reach by equalizing the voices and providing peer-to-peer interaction,” says Davis. Bringing pluralism to life, anyone can post a question, and everyone can post their answers.
Envision a freeze frame on Oorim.com: “A soccer mom in Teaneck is discussing the science of religion with a college student in Berkley, also giving her a great recipe for charoset, while a fifth-grader in North London is answering the marketing question of a foundation executive in Jerusalem, who is considering a grant proposal for a project to educate elementary school children in the Diaspora about Israel.”
So what did Shai get most out of being with other fellows at PTI? “Being with people passionate about Jewish community, people who want to enable it, empower it and grow it to be the light unto the nations it can be.”
Laura Chizzali is a management consultant and writer living life in 3D in Israel: Jewish Unity Rocks!