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July 31, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 31, 2009 By Tamar Snyder New York Jewish Week The business of grooming and funding young Jewish social entrepreneurs and innovators essentially the search for the next big Jewish idea is now a big one. Incubators like Bikkurim. funds like Slingshot and Natan as well as gatherings in Jerusalem like the Presen- Tense Institute and the ROI Summit have in recent years helped to spawn a thriving cottage industry to support and mentor these big doers and thinkers. Surveys have revealed that there are more than 300 new Jewish startups in the U.S. alone in the last decade with operating budgets of under $2 million. These startups, a $500 million enterprise, are engaging close to 400,000 Jews. But this isn't merely an American-Jewish trend. "The Jewish innovation pipeline is alive and well in the United States. but there is also a growing interest in Israel, Europe, and Latin America in new community-building models." says Shawn Landres, CEO and director of research at Jumpstart. a think tank for Jewish nonprofit innovation. The ROI (Return On Invest- ment) five-day conference held last month in the Mac- cabiah Village in Ramat Gan, Israel, was proof of this inter- national phenomenon. The conference (600 applicantsvie for 120 spots) is the brainchild and program of philanthropist Lynn Schusterman and con- sidered the premier address for skill-building, professional development training and networking opportunities for the international community Picture of young innovators emerging of Jewish innovators under the age of 35. Participants included social entrepreneurs and do-gooders from 29 countries, including Uruguay, India. Belarus, China and Latvia. (This reporter was an ROI participant, with travel and lodging provided by the funders.) Despite the attention being given these innovators, little is actually known about them in terms of their politics, their cultural views, their views on gender, their priorities. Some of their projects most nota- bly the Moishe House, which features 28 Jewish commu- nity centers based out of the homes of 20- and 30-year-olds aroundtheworld have hada significant impact on the lives of young Jews. But a poll, though informal and unscientific, at the recent ROI Summit, is providing the first glimpse at who these innovators are and what they believe. And some of the results may be surprising. In a question about Jewish communal priorities in the current economic downturn. one-third of ROI participants believed that the Jewish community must focus on providing basic communal needs (welfare, food. shelter). One-quarter favored cultivat- ing innovation as the top pri- ority and about one-quarter preferred to invest in Jewish education. "I was with the 25.2 percent who favored the support of innovation." says Deborah Plum. a recent immigrant from New York who is the co- founder of Omanoot. a non- profit based in Tel Aviv that provides educational materi- als focused on Israeli music, film and visual art. "During a crisis, we can't freeze up. In the darkest hours, we should have the faith and the courage to support what is new and creative." This has been the mantra of major funders like Charles Bronfman. Lynn Schuster- man and others who have argued the point in Jewish Week op-eds. In fact, at the. opening of the ROI Summit, Schuster- man invoked the memory of her late husband. Charles Schusterman. "Dream big," she said. "The times ahead will not be easy; there will be fewer resources available. But Charlie always said not to limityour thinking by making it about limited resources." In reality, we don't have to choose among "innovation," "education" and "basic needs," says Jumpstart's Landres. "Innovation is not in and of itself an outcome; it's the way we identify new outcomes and come up with new paths to outcomes. It will be innova- tors of all ages, in all kinds of organizations, who will find solutions for meeting basic needs and advancing Jewish education in the 21stcentury." Justin Korda, director of Israel programs at the Center for Leadership Initiatives, an ROI partner, said the results of the question about priorities "reflect common sense rather than any conservative lean- ings of the group as a whole." The group's politics pro- vided something ofasurprise. A question about whether President Barack Obama is good for the Jews and Israel revealed thatnearly one-third believe he is not good for either. Fifty-five percent said Obama is good for the Jews and Israel. (Obama garnered nearly 80 percent of the Jew- ish vote in the U.S. in last November's election.) The polarization may be partially accounted by the fact thatone- third of participants hailed from Israel. where Obama's approval rating has fallen to 6 percent, according to a June" poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post. A question about gender led to some heated discussion. When it comes to being married by a female rabbi. 40 percent of ROI participants said they would feelcomfort- able while an additional 40 percent said they wouldn't be comfortable (the remaining 20 percent were still figuring it out). "Hesitation to be married by a woman rabbi is not a conservative view for someone from a community that has never had one or met one." says Yonatan Gordis, execu- tive director of CLI. noting that female rabbis are a very American concept. "They were given five seconds to answer, so I would not read terribly much into this other than the fact that some defi- nitely feel connected to 'old school' religious habits." (The poll was carried out at the conference's opening event using real-time technol- ogy. Participants answered 30 multiple-choice style ques- tions simply by clicking a number on their individual remotes, which corresponded to responses posted on a big screen.) Some participants bristled at the wording of the woman rabbi question, which they say was unfair."I may notbe com- fortable getting married by a female rabbi because of the way I was raised," says Chaim Landau, an ROI participant who grew up in the Orthodox community in Elizabeth. N.J.. and whose organization. Perspectives Israel, aims to educate about the complex- ity of the challenges facing Israel from a wide variety of viewpoints Within the Israeli- Jewish spectrum. Landau continued:"I firmly believe, however, that women need to be included in Jewish leadership roles." When asked which Jewish environment best positively nurtures Jewish identity and community involvement, 32 percent chose "homefamily life." which was followed by 'youth movements" (21 per- cent). Only 6 percentanswered "day schools." "The participants are most likely speaking from their personal experiences, and my guess is that few ofthem went to day school," said Gordis. Youth movements figured very high, more than 50 percent for participants from Europe and Latin America, places where youth move- ments are very popular. The fact that Jewish day schools were favored by only 6 percent is "upsetting, but not surprising," says Plum. "Not every Jewish family or every Jewish home is affiliated or knows how to be," she said. A question about cultural tastes may have yielded the most surprising answer of all. Asked to choose "the great- est Jewish movie," a third of ROI participants picked "Fid- dler on the Roof." "Schindler's List" (which garnered 21.9 percent of the votes) and"Defiance" (not one of the choices),"are much more interesting to me, and present a more truthful history," says Jeremy Applebaum, a Kansas native and real estate entrepre- neur who is running a series PAGE 19A of events aimed at introducing Kansas City Jews to the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Yes. "Fiddler" is"a super film, with fab songs," says Samuel Green, a Geneva-based Zionist rapper."Bit depicts a real lowo point in Jewish history; the 'old Jews,' the shtetl Jews, beaten by the pogroms, not standing up for themselves. And then it celebrates assimilation and intermarriage. It's certainly not something I'd like to hold up as a shining example." Other Jewish film choices included "Exodus," "The Ten Commandments." "The Chosen," "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," and "The Jazz Singer." Although there was no write-in ballot, shouts of "where's 'Yentl?'" could be heard within the crowd. No matter what the politi- cal or cultural views of those she is helping groom, Lynn Schusterman. the sprightly 70-year-old chair of The Charles and Lynn Schuster- man Family Foundation. is clearly pushing the value of innovation. Schusterman is the sole funder for ROI, a partnership between CLI and Taglit-Birthright. ROI, now in its fourth year, has seen its budget grow from ap- proximately $600,000 in 2008 to nearly $1 million this year. "The idea for ROI came from my realization that I was see- ing something that others had not," she told the crowd at the opening ceremony, held inside a circus tent inTelAviv.'Tours is not a generation of apathy. You care about so many things." Tamar Snyder is a staff writer for the New York Jewish Week from which this article was reprinted'by permission. Readers can reach Snyder at Quest to unlock secrets scientific and spiritual Altered Energy Metabolism Directed technology, but he gives ultimate credit to a higher source. "Hashem." he said. has graced him with the scientific and en- trepre.neurial gifts needed to develop products that ease suffering. The only achievement for which he credits himself is his Torah learning. He is as interested in "nat- ural" remedies as allopathic ones. and his companies produce both. "My only con- cern is whether something works and is good for the patient." he said. Shorr hasn't had cancer himself but he does know what it feels like to be given a "death sentence." Seven years ago, he sat across the desk from a doctor and was told the benign tumors on his spine would either kill or cripple him. He was also diagnosed with Sj ogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease. "I told the doctor I was happy to meet Hashem, but I wanted him to come here," he said. Some rabbis told him about a holistic doctor in Brooklyn, who showed him that he was allergic to high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and yeastu "overything that tastes good," he said. He cut them out, gradu- ally got into more exercise, and now--100 pounds lighter--he said he feels-as strong and healthy as he did at 18. As he .talked on the tele- phone with NJ Jewish News recentIy, his three grand- children could be heard in the background, playing with his dogs. Shorr ex- plained that three of his four grown children happened to be staying with him and his wife. Pearl. in their home in Edison. N.J.. in various stages of transition to new homes. He was home that day prior to a meeting in Man- hattan but usually he works at the company offices and laboratories in Cranbury, N.J. It also has premises in Stony Brook. N.Y. At work, he fits in at least two To- rah learning sessions on the phone with his study partners. On Sundays, Shorr teach- es students of various ages at his home, and he is busy expanding the house to ac- commodate a beis midrash or study center. Shorr grew up speaking Portuguese, as well as Yid- dish and English, because his mother came from Brazil and the family lived there for a while when he was very young. His father was a well-respected rocket scientist, and his work took the family from one part of the country to another--as well as to other countries. The family was Conserva- tive aad intensely commit- ted to spiritual values, but they were not very obser- vant, he said. He found that inconsistent with the teach- ing he heard in synagogue, and it bothered him from an early age. Despite all the moving, Shorr finished high school 18 months ahead of sched- ule. but he was regarded as emotionally troubled.At 16, he found college--SUNY Buffalo academically un- challenging and socially overwhelming. His grades declined. H says one ad- viser told him he should think about working in a supermarket. He did for a while, and also worked as a short-order cook. a bar- tender and as a guitarist with a rock band. Then he was introduced by a matchmaker to Pearl. From that meeting on. his studies were on an upward trajectory. The young couple went to London for three years at the behest of one of Shorr's professors. Pearl halted her own studies and worked as a journalist to pay their bills, while he earned his doctorate and diploma in biochemistry at the University of London Imperial College of Science and Technology. When the couple settled in Philadelphia, Shorr began studying Torah. He studied with rabbis there and in Lakewood and, he said, received his ordina- By Elaine Durbach New Jersey Jewish News As a student, when he was praised for thinking "outside of the box." Rabbi Dr. Robert Shorr's response was. "What box?" His outlook is just as wide open as he speaks now. at 55. about the in- novative anti-cancer drug his company is developing. Shorr. who has Orthodox rabbinical ordination as well as a Ph.D. in biochemistry, is the founder and CEO of Cornerstone Pharmaceuti- cals as well as a number of other companies. The company's new drug, CPI-613, works by masquer- ading as a substance needed by pancreatic and other cancer cells; instead it kills them but has no effect on healthy cells. The drug is currently undergoing clinical trials to determine its efficacy. Shorr doesn't claim the drug "cures" cancer. "I would love to achieve a cure for cancer, but if we can make the disease more man- ageable and help someone continue to lead a produc- tive life, that's a worthwhile goal," he said. Shorr, who has been in- volved with a number of oth- _ er medical breakthroughs, gives full credit to his col- leagues who developed the new approach, known as ........... ,  ,, iii iiii',::  i,, . , ....,:.:.f". .'.?  .%e..i . ::i... .. Rabbi Dr. Robert Shorr studies Torah and teaches He- brew in addition to developing and marketing medical and nutritional health remedies. tion at a yeshiva with a presence in Lakewood and Jerusalem. "When our old- est children were born, I felt very strongly that you can't teach what you don't know," he recalled. He studied Hebrew, Ara- maic, and Talmud. Along {he way, he took the ordination test of the Israeli rabbinate. He became increasingly observant but--saying he is averse to constricting definitionsudeclines to limit himself to any one denomination or congre- gation. He and his family belong to a few synagogues, and he davens with various minyanim. When his scientific and religious studies conflict, Shorr attributes the'con- fusion to his own inability to understand, not to any failing in the ancient texts. "I believe we're likely to find absolute truths in the Torah long before we find them in Science," he said. Elaine Durbach is a bu- reau chief at the New Jersey Jewish News from which this article was reprinted by permission.