Combatting domestic violence, combining texting with acts of kindness and exploring sexuality in Orthodox Judaism are the subject matter of just a few of the projects being tackled by this year's batch of Tribe 12 fellows.
David Zvi Kalman wants to spur conversation about Orthodox Judaism and sexuality. He may be the right person — with the right medium — for the job.
Kalman started an organization called Jewish Public Media that produces podcasts on Jewish ideas, including one he expects to release soon called The Joy of Text, which focuses on sexuality as seen through an Orthodox lens.
“We felt that podcasting is a good medium for this because it’s a kind of conversation which is very intimate,” said Kalman, “In that conversation you want to hear humans, you want to hear real people relating to the issues — not just read a book about it or read an article about it.”
Kalman is one of 13 recently chosen for this year’s Tribe 12 Fellowship, a social entrepreneurial program for young Jewish professionals.
Kalman is building the organization, which already has four other podcasts, at an opportune time. Serial, a spinoff podcast of the weekly radio show, This American Life, that traces a murder case over eight episodes, has become the most popular podcast in history and generated positive exposure for the entire industry.
“Serial is kind of the tide that lifts all boats, and I think it has been helpful for everyone who works in the industry,” he said.
For Kalman, 27, a doctoral student studying the intersection of technology and religious law at the University of Pennsylvania, the podcasts are just the latest way he is trying to get people to listen to Jewish ideas.
He recently published a new bencher, a book of post-meal blessings, “with a strong eye toward design and being aesthetically appealing” and also having it contain egalitarian, inclusive language.
He and his wife, Yael Kalman, are involved at Penn with Mechon Hadar, which promotes egalitarian minyanim that follow traditional Orthodox liturgy.
He said the goal behind The Joy of Text and other podcasts is taking the Jewish ideas that fill so much of his life and “getting them out to the larger world.”
Like his fellow fellows, Kalman’s business plan will be incubated at the Tribe 12 program, which has paired its participants with coaches and has organized seminars, workshops and networking events since its inception in 2011. This fifth class of fellows features a wide range of ventures, including a program to help survivors of domestic violence; an enrichment program for middle school and high school students; and a mobile app that challenges people to commit acts of kindness each day.
“Every year we really look for this diversity,” said Ross Berkowitz, the founder and executive director of Tribe 12, which gets some of its funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and individual philanthropists. The fellows “can learn from each other’s perspectives, and I think they can grow as individuals. It benefits their ventures to be able to look at things from many different sides.”
This year’s class will also feature a perspective not found in previous years: David Hunt, a co-founder of Prasad, the kindness app, is the first non-Jew to participate in Tribe 12 or any of the seven other business accelerator programs in North America affiliated with PresenTense, a global Jewish nonprofit organization that helps build socially conscious startups.
When Hunt “presented himself” at the beginning of the selection process, Berkowitz said, “he actually used a Jewish term — tikkun olam. That’s a lot of what his venture has to do with — turning random acts of kindness into a mobile game.”
As a Drexel student, Hunt participated in an eight-week course focused on Jewish ideas such as tikkun olam through Dragons for Israel, a student group. He has learned from Jewish friends and family that you “don’t just accept” problems in the world, he said. “You dive a little deeper.”
Prasad, which means a gracious gift in Sanskrit, is a for-profit venture that expects to offer people the app for free and to generate revenue through advertising as users participate in “a scavenger hunt to connect humans through kindness.” For example, a bottled water company could issue a challenge for someone to provide a bottle of water for free to a homeless person, providing directions on how to make that happen.
“The real central vision is to make people aware of humanity’s interconnectedness,” said Hunt, whose partner in the venture, Kyle Babel, is Jewish. They hope to launch the app in the third quarter of 2015.
A third fellow, Shana Weiner, is passionate about building Jewish community — she lives at the local Moishe House, a residence that hosts Shabbat dinners and other events for 20-something Jews — and about combatting domestic violence. As an attorney at a small law firm in Philadelphia, she focuses on family law.
With her nascent venture, Safe Haven, she is hoping to combine the two by helping survivors of domestic violence in the Jewish community.
She said the stereotype that Jewish people make great spouses can foster a hostile environment for “people who are suffering,” and give the impression that the problem is not as prevalent in the Jewish community. But Weiner points to a 2003 study from the Jewish women’s organization Hadassah that shows that one in five Jewish women are abused by their partners, a rate that is similar to the general population.
The 26-year-old is still in the initial stages of starting the venture but says, “My gut tells me that” the study “is probably speaking true to our communities here.”
Here are the other 2015 Tribe 12 fellows and their projects, based on descriptions provided by Tribe 12:
Rachel Bright — Bright Health Holistic Services
These services would be delivered to your doorstep.
Jess Edelstein — PiperWaiCosmetics
The project produces all-natural, sustainable, handcrafted cosmetics, including a natural deodorant. piperwai.com
Caroline Fortin — Mama Said
This project seeks to address the needs of pregnant and parenting women through particular products and by providing a space for dialogue and action for mothers.
Sara Goldfuss — Mommy Support Coaching and Consulting
Mommy Support provides guidance to parents with young children with sleep issues. mommysupport.net
Benjamin Hirsch — B Good Worldwide
B Good Worldwide seeks to match small groups of individuals from various cities and countries in an online leadership, service and international exchange team.
Beverly Socher-Lerner — Makom Community
Makom Community is a Jewish after-school program in Center City for children ages 4 to 11 that aims to instill a camp-like environment. makomcommunity.org
Ronit Tehrani — So2Speak
So2speak’s focus is to see an individual grow personally and academically through an enrichment program available to middle and high school students. so2speak.org
Natale Tsipori — Jouvenir
Jouvenir is a platform for artists from around the world who have been inspired by Israeli culture to pursue their passion for art and give back to the Jewish state. jouvenir.com
Ariella Werden-Greenfield — The Myer and Rosaline Feinstein Center for American Jewish History
The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History supports innovative approaches to understanding American Jewish life with a simple mission in mind: inspiring inquiry. jcla.temple.edu/feinsteincenter
Jonathan Wetstein — Parkside Learning Garden
The Learning Garden seeks to serve Camden residents as a place to gather, learn, organize and teach one another about improving the local food system. jonathanwetstein.com