Jewish Innovation Not Confined To U.S.
11/01/2010 - 17:00
James Besser

 Conventional wisdom has it that young American Jews are leading the trend toward innovation in Jewish life through entrepreneurial start-ups. There is also the widespread belief that European Jewry is on its last legs, the victim of an aging and shrinking population, and the rise of anti-Semitism, primarily from Arab Muslim immigrants.

But a survey of new Jewish initiatives in Europe concludes that per capita, young Europeans are even more active than their American counterparts in these social, educational, cultural and historical ventures.

The new report by Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based “incubator, catalyst and think tank for sustainable Jewish innovation,” found that “as much as, if not more so, than in North America, there is a European Jewish innovation ecosystem, an interconnected web of leaders and projects taking control of and responsibility for their own Jewish destinies.”

The report says that more than 200 organizations have been founded in Europe in the last decade and engage around 250,000 people of all ages, led by young people with strong Jewish education and identity.

“There is little doubt that they are the vanguard of Jewish life in Europe,” according to the report, “and will be contributing to the global revitalization of Jewish culture…both in Europe and around the world.”

It’s important for American Jews to be aware of this vitality bubbling up in Europe.

I would not have thought it possible had I not attended a program in Stockholm this summer, sponsored and hosted by  Paideia, the Swedish-based European Institute for Jewish Studies, and seen first-hand the passion and commitment among young men and women from Eastern and Western Europe striving to promote Jewish life in their communities, and beyond.

Joshua Avedon of Jumpstart called the findings “exciting and surprising,” noting the growing relationships among young people who have been involved in groups like Paideia, the ROI Community for Young Jewish Innovators and Moishe House, which identify and do programming for young Jews on an international scale. He attributed some of their successful networking to the technological age we live in today.

“It couldn’t have happened on this scale before,” he said, adding that Jumpstart and its partners, ROI and the London-based Pears Foundation, are looking for ways to support and connect these innovators with their American counterparts.

“The more likely they are to be in touch with each other,” said Avedon, “the more likely they are to thrive.”

More analysis is under way, but in the meantime, it’s good for young American Jew innovators to know they are not alone in their creative work, and to look to European colleagues for conversation and collaboration.

 

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