At last, the Jewish community has its very own version of TED — sort of.
TED, whose slogan is “ideas worth spreading,” began as a conference in 1984 that brought together people from the three disciplines in its acronym (Technology, Entertainment, Design), offering the best 15-to-18-minute talks and performances by experts in their profession or field of interest. Soon it grew to include a free website (www.ted.com), which now has more than 1,100 talks available on everything from science and philosophy to global issues and humor. These presentations are intended to inspire, educate and entertain, and have been seen by millions of people.
After several years of discussions and attempts in the community to launch a Jewish TED, the Avi Chai Foundation has jumped in, getting the effort started last January with six presentations presented and filmed before a group of 200 attendees at the North American Jewish Day School conference in Atlanta.
The project, dubbed “ELI talks” (for Engagement, Literacy, Identity), comes to New York on May 14, with five 10- to 12-minute talks presented at the JCC Manhattan by Etta Abramson, a Jewish educator, actor and singer; David Bryfman of the Jewish Education Project and an expert of Jewish adolescent identity; Daniel Libenson, head of a new Jewish think tank with an expertise in innovation; Nessa Rapoport, a writer and foundation officer who speaks frequently about Jewish culture and imagination; and Rabbi Ethan Tucker, co-founder and rosh yeshiva at Mechon Hadar.
“We are sure that their knowledge and passion will result in engaging talks that will inspire,” said Deena Fuchs, Avi Chai’s director of strategic partnerships. She explained that the foundation, which is spending down and going out of business in the next few years, wants to leave a legacy of ideas, with a particular interest in Jewish literacy, religious engagement and a sense of Jewish peoplehood with Israel at its center.
“We have the resources and wanted to get it started,” said Fuchs, who noted that Avi Chai is open to partnerships and collaborations that will help spread its core values.
She said the invited speakers were asked to come up with their own topics, as long as they deal in some way with Jewish literacy, religious engagement or Jewish peoplehood centered on Israel.
“Our goal is for the audience to leave saying ‘Wow, I never thought about it that way.’”
The Atlanta speakers included novelist Dara Horn, who offered a challenging take on anti-Semitism, arguing that ever since the destruction of the Temple, Jews have blamed themselves for others hating them. It’s time to stop blaming ourselves, she said.
Another presenter, educator Micah Lapidus, spoke of making Judaism a “burden” in a positive way, a value that is grounded, authentic and provides intense fulfillment.
The other Atlanta speakers were Ken Stein, a professor, on owning Israel’s story; new media expert Lisa Colton on innovation, revolution and tradition; educator Marc Baker on Jewish educational leadership with soul; and rabbi and law professor Michael Broyde on teaching Jewish law to elementary school children.
The Atlanta talks are online at www.elitalks.org, and the New York talks will be posted as well after next Monday’s event, the first steps in what is intended to be a large and active website.
For information regarding limited seating for the May 14 program, call Avi Chai’s office at (212) 396-8850.