A community lover's guide to the Jewish community

By Russell Collins

Back in 2011, I became twitter friends with Tessy Britton – a Senior Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts who was running an action research project to test whether giving ideas, methods and tools to small groups of people can encourage them to start new community projects. 

We held one of these workshops with a group of Jewish community activists and heard about Tessy’s book – Handmade - which explored emergent, people led, community building projects from around the world.  When Tessy told us that rather than create a second edition they were planning on rolling out a whole series of books under the banner of ‘A Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe’, I jumped at the chance to edit the Jewish edition.  Thus was born The Community Lover’s Guide to the Jewish Community.

Fast forward 12 months and we were holding an initial meeting at JHub – who were to become the biggest supporters of this project.  The initial group that came together included representatives from some of the most innovative community initiatives – Limmud, Moishe House, Reform Judaism, CST, Tzedek, Mitzvah Day, Cartoon Kippah and the Jewish Volunteering Network.  

We decided that rather than select the featured initiatives, we would open up the discussion to the whole community.  We set up a Facebook group, twitter handle and a Tumblr site – and asked the community to share their photos, video clips, audio, drawings, ideas and written words – in fact anything that was inspiring them to ‘do community'.   We were quite specific with what we were looking for - initiatives that:

  • Challenged the traditional ways of doing things or have inspired people to do things differently 
  • Were people led, rather than organisation led
  • Involved 'hands-on' doing, learning or other types of creativity
  • Sought to include, involve and connect people
  • Were run resourcefully, re-using or re-imagining or sharing resources

Fast forward a further 12 months (yes, that long!) and all we needed was a launch event – and some printed books to show off.  Once again, JHub stepped in with a micro-grant to cover the food, drink and printing costs – and they also threw in the venue for free.

I set out not only to create a physical book but also to start a community conversation about the balance between people-led and organisational-community building.  I thought that there was so much energy and excitement in the Jewish community and in the wider civic sphere – but more than anything, I wanted to bring together both these narratives and test out the idea that the Jewish community had something unique to offer and share.  It was therefore fitting that we asked the Q&A panel at the launch event whether they could explain the curious dynamic between tradition and innovation.  As Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand explained in her foreword to the book, regarding Jewish innovation – Ein chadash tachat ha-shemesh – “There is nothing new under the sun” (Kohelet/ Ecclesiastes).

The Community Lover’s Guide to the Jewish Community is available to view online.

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