As much as I enjoy running into friends and colleagues at Jewish conferences, I’ve also missed the opportunity to have meaningful exchanges with new, Jewish innovators. Through Kenissa, I got to experience this joy of discovery again. Kenissa’s 2020 National Consultation was the first Jewish conference in more than a decade where I knew only one other participant in the room upon arrival.
Kenissa’s gatherings are expertly designed. Innovation and the exchange of ideas are incorporated into the sessions and into the group process as well. Usually at a conference, experts talk at the front of the room during sessions and networking is often reserved for downtime between sessions. Even then, a lot of “networking” is mostly social at the introduction stage, and you don’t often get close to discussing things like shared challenges and opportunities for collaboration. At Kenissa, WE were often the subject: people brought themselves and their projects into formal sessions and informal discussions, making new ideas and innovation truly omnipresent. This was not only exciting, but ultimately proved to be highly productive.
It’s been less than three months since my participation and I’m now volunteering with CareerUp Now, having stood next to the dynamic Executive Director, Dr. Bradley Caro Cook, during the first welcome circle. I was also delighted to make a shidduch (match) between The Gemunder Family Foundation (GFF), where I serve as Senior Advisor, and the talented artist, Eliana Light, who I met on my last day at the Consultation. GFF has since provided a small grant underwriting the creation of a Jewish curriculum and music video for Eliana’s fabulous “Lead Me Back” track on her new album, s*ngs ab-ut g!d. Finally, I created a new project involving Jewish visual art this month, with seed funding from the Gemunder Family Foundation. The idea for this project first came to me when talking in a small group with another Kenissa Network member, Danielle Levsky, who spoke passionately about the Jewish Theatre Alliance, where she serves as a board member.
It turns out that Eliana Light and I had both attended the same Jewish education conference last summer…but we never even met. Post-Kenissa, I wondered how many other inspiring people I’d shared conference space with previously, without sharing our stories and our ideas. Thanks to an intentional planning process undertaken by the Arts and Culture Track during a 2019 Kenissa Cross-Training, I benefited from curated experiences with artists in interactive exercises in 2020. At Kenissa, Eliana and I met in a small group where meaningful conversation could take place, leading to outcomes that are still unfolding in support of The G!d Project.
My experience with Kenissa highlighted for me that I’d previously had very little professional interaction with Jewish artists. For me, Kenissa was a setting where Jewish innovation and diversity were omnipresent. New ideas flowed freely, collaborations were encouraged, and potential permeated the room.
A successful FED Social + Jewish Veg collaboration!
Fellow Kenissa participant Jeffrey Cohan of Jewish Veg and I are pleased to report a successful collaboration on a Shabbat FED with the theme of Jewish Veganism!
In case the pictures below don’t say it all, it brought together a diverse group (in age and ethnicity), a mix of both our constituencies, at FED House, my loft in Harlem, NYC. The evening featured an interactive program we developed together which served as an icebreaker and got people talking about farm animals. Jeffrey also delivered a FED talk (like a TED talk in that it is inspirational/motivational, spreads ideas, and is at times a bit counterintuitive — but it’s over dinner) on the topic of Jewish veganism. I found it to be an eye-opening experience, especially as the subject of farm animals is one that I at least, as a city girl, don’t usually consider! Of course, I also cooked a delicious vegan meal, showcasing how amazingly delicious vegan food can really be!
This is basically the idea behind FED — to serve as a platform that spreads ideas that is built into an inclusive Jewish community — and encouraging and helping Jews to embrace plant-based diets as an expression of Jewish values is the mission of Jewish Veg. If you’d be interested in learning more about FED dinners and how they work or Jewish Veg and its important work and ways we could all collaborate, definitely feel free to reach out to Jeffrey and me, respectively!
Excited for many more fruitful Kenissa collaborations in the future,
I walked into the Kenissa Consultation shocked that I only knew a handful of the 50 participants gathered. For someone who happily resides professionally in the Jewish innovation space, it was incredibly humbling to have the chance to meet and learn from so many exceptional participants, many of whom were experiencing similar opportunities and challenges in their own work, and most of whom I had never crossed paths with before. One such person was Jon Adam Ross – a creative theater-type who facilitated one of the peer-led sessions I attended. I immediately appreciated his vibe, approach, and out-of-the-box way of thinking, and after sharing a meal together and diving deep into conversation, we knew that we would find a way to collaborate this year. The result was an avant-garde piece of immersive theater, inspired by the mystical Sukkot tradition of Ushpizin – welcoming deceased ancestors into the Sukkah. We popped up this original work in Detroit for three nights this past Sukkot to sold out crowds of young, millennial Jews and rave reviews, and are consciously now excited about making it available to other communities around the country next year! Without the Kenissa convening, it’s unlikely we would have crossed paths, and more unlikely we would have touched the hundreds of lives we did this past Sukkot with our collaborative imagination. (see full eJP article)
Rabbi Dan Horwitz, The Well, Detroit, MI
In 2009 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to start a new Jewish engagement program called Chai Mitzvah with the funding of a wonderful business and Jewish communal leader, Scott Shay. We have been developing the program with much success since then and now have over 4,000 people throughout North America who have completed the Chai Mitzvah journey. Even as the program has grown in scope and complexity over these years, we function without the expertise and support that many Jewish legacy organizations enjoy.
We were therefore thrilled to get an invitation to join the Kenissa Network in the spring of 2017. Since then we have participated in two more retreats and have seen Kenissa develop into a much-needed support network for so many of us who are running independent, mission-driven Jewish organizations, what Kenissa terms, “communities of meaning”.
Through these Kenissa retreats, we have collaborated with a number of people we met, from writing a Rap curriculum for teens with Bible Rapper Matt Bar, to changing our CRM system to Salesforce with Rachel Abramowitz of Philadelphia’s Tribe 12, to collaborating with Kenissa’s new Boomer Engagement Affinity Group for programming. In addition, we have benefitted greatly from the skills workshops provided by Kenissa including fundraising, scaling, data management, and marketing. We have been especially inspired and challenged by the many young people we have met who are redefining their personal Judaism in new and alternative ways. Where else could you attend a Jewish Priestess davening experience and a wonderfully spirited traditional service at the same retreat? Where else could you sit in a room in genuine dialogue with young people who are creating Jewish writing networks, music programs and Jewish farming with more established programs such as Melton, Mechon Hadar, and the Jewish Federation of NY?
Rabbi Sid Schwarz has brought his formidable visionary leadership in imaging and giving a name to this movement of exciting but fragile new organizations, most of whom are severely underfunded, understaffed, and isolated. We are grateful to have been included in the Kenissa Network and we know that we are better, more sustainable organization as a result.
Audrey Lichter, Executive Director, Chai Mitzvah