“What do you want to do with your life?”
It was a weird question coming from a boss. But then again, he is also my mentor. He’s also the rabbi I talk to the most, who has influenced me the most since so much in my life has changed, from my decision to become “half modern orthodox” to my choice to start getting more political during and after the election. Each step of the way he’s been there for me, reminding me to moderate my tone or to look inward before I jump out with some passionate position. And yet, to always believe in myself… no matter how much he disagrees with me.
He was sitting in my office when he asked that question. It was because I had sent him a grant I was thinking of applying for for Hevria. The grant, we discovered, requires you to work full time on your project.
“Oh, never mind,” I replied in my email. I work full time for them. I started a year ago. I care deeply about this job, about the work of Clal, about helping it reach the next stage in its growth. This job means so much to me. And it is what has allowed me to work on my passion projects on the side with such passion and support. Stuff like Hevria.
“Well, maybe we should talk about it,” he replied.
I was confused when I received that email. Talk about… working on Hevria full time? Really? When I just started this job, when I care about it so much? But…
And yet something in me whispered, “Talk to him. Listen to him.”
And so now we were sitting together in my office. And he pushed me again.
“Do you want to work on Hevria full time? Is that your dream?”
Something in me turns on like a light. Yes, it’s the dream I dare not utter, the dream I dare not claim as my own until it happens. But yes, it’s the dream. My dream. This is my life. This is what I’m put on this earth to do.
“Maybe,” I replied tentatively, “One day. In five years or something.”
And I mean it. It’s a dream that needs to wait. We’re not there yet. Are we?
“Okay. I just saw the look in your eyes. And I saw you with your wife earlier, when you recorded your podcast together. Yes, this is what you want. You need to go for it.”
My heart just about exploded. It was like he was giving voice to what I really was thinking, really was dreaming, really was wishing. Something even I couldn’t face because it meant so much to me that I was scared of it.
We talked more about it. He convinced me I need to put my heart into it. I needed to commit myself to it. Throw myself into it. No more holding back, no more hiding. From myself least of all.
My friends, you may not be aware of it, but Hevria has been growing. Some of it has been behind the scenes, and some of it has been out in the open. But all of it is aiming towards the ultimate vision of Hevria: to create a home for all creative and out-of-the-box Jews. And, in so doing, to infuse the Jewish world itself with the creative mindset it so desperately needs.
In the last year alone, we’ve added a lot of stuff to our plate:
- We’ve created a leadership team (Matthue Roth and I as co-leaders, David Karpel as poetry editor and leader of our new culture team, Rivki Silver as community manager, Rivka Nehorai as project manager, and Yocheved Sidof as advisor).
- We’ve added four new regular writers: Peter Himmelman, Emily Zimmer, Ayala Tiefenbrunn, and Merri Ukraincik.
- We’ve started a new site for anonymous writing, Neshamas, which accepts (almost) all submissions.
- We’ve launched a culture section (for writing about creativity in the Jewish world, from new albums to book reviews to so much more) made up of an entirely new group of amazing writers.
- We’ve launched a podcast called HevriaCast where I chat with “incredible creative Jews.”
- We’ve launched a podcast for Neshamas where volunteer voice actors read the pieces our anonymous writers cannot say for themselves.
- We’ve made “creative farbrengens” a regular fixture in Rivka’s and my home, while adding art classes, writing workshops, and variety shows (coming soon!) to our home as well. All of this is happening quietly behind the scenes as we develop our programming with our audience here in Brooklyn. (And PS – There is word from one of our writers that she plans to launch her own creative farbrengens in Cleveland. I’ll let you guess which one!)
- We’ve run events all over Brooklyn, from Rivka’s “After Party” to my “Confronting Fear To Access Your Creativity” writing workshop in places from Limmud Toronto to Brooklyn Beit Midrash.
And all of this with hardly any funding (almost all the funding we get right now goes towards paying our regular writers, who even so have still not been getting paid what they truly deserve). It is through the passion of Hevria’s team and those who’ve volunteered for special projects that we’ve been able to do almost all of this.
But, as I say every year in an update to Hevria fans: this is only the beginning. We started as a blog, but that was never our end goal. The blog, our incredible writers, have laid the groundwork necessary to bring together the disparate, unheard or under-heard voices in the Jewish world and thus build our home for Jewish creatives. And every day that passes, we get one step closer to making that dream happen.
We try to do this all at no cost to our participants. From our creative farbrengens to our writing to our podcast, we desperately want the spirit of creative wellsprings to touch every corner of the Jewish world.
But there is only so much we can do with passion, only so much we can build with a dream.
And that is why I ask, this year, that you dream with us. Dream about what could be. You’ve entrusted us with so much. Just your attention, just your participation, means the world to us. I mean it: ask any of our writers what it means to all of us.
But we do have a dream, and if you share that dream in any way, I ask that you consider contributing to it.
Here’s where we’re going, step by step:
- Finally paying our writers a decent wage. A reminder: the ones who started this site didn’t even start getting paid until last year, 2 years after we launched.
- Having a budget for us to grow our special projects: videos, online community building (online creative farbrengens are now a thing!), and so much more.
- Me working full time on Hevria. No more hiding from this dream, no more pretending this is anything but my life’s mission. Hevria simply cannot reach the point of full growth without at least one person working on it with every ounce of their being.
- Hevria House… our ultimate goal. We have already gotten a $50,000 matching donation (!!!!!) for whenever we will be ready to buy a home for this dream (which I first told you about last year), where the events and classes we’re developing will be given full life, in partnership with other organizations and beautiful creatives in Brooklyn. With an even richer dream: building a Hevria House in other cities where there is a critical mass of Jewish creatives dying for a home to call their own.
- Building out the Hevria online community’s offerings to allow the people who don’t live in cities where there is a critical mass to feel as much as home as we can make them without a physical building.
As I wrote in a recent article for the Forward, there is no bigger dream for me personally than making this happen. Creativity is not a game to me, and not to our community. It is not something we consider extracurricular or consider separate from our spiritual identities. Just the opposite: it is an indelible, irreplaceable, essential aspect of our souls that has been forgotten by too many in the Jewish world (and the world at large) where industrialization of education and rational, left-brain thinking has so dominated that so many people are simply forced to choose between this part of themselves or acceptance from the world around them.
And, so, Hevrians, if you’ve read this far, it is time that I lay it out for you: none of these things is possible without your help. Even the very simple, straightforward goal of paying our writers what they deserve, the first step on this road, cannot happen without a dedication from you.
We’ve allowed a few options for you to help us on this road.
Membership: We’ve just launched a membership page. We dearly, dearly want to make sure this site never has to become paywalled. And so we’ve created what we hope will be a model for bringing in the money our writers deserve. It is with this money we will pay them, and we hope you can contribute even the bare minimum of $10/month. It is our goal to reach 100 members this month. This will allow us to pay our writers what they deserve.
One-time donations: This is, for the moment, the budget we use for special projects and events. If you’d like to contribute, please take a look at our donation page. On that page, you will see a beautiful list of “perks” (just like a crowdfunding campaign) our writers have offered in exchange for your donations. Anything from $10 to $500 will get you one of those perks. And every single one of those donations will make a difference to where we’re going.
The annual creative farbrengen: For now, we are not interested in doing dinners or galas or concerts or any of that business for our fundraising. We want the people who give to us to understand where we’re going, and what it will feel like as we grow. In the interest of doing that, we would like to invite you all to the annual creative farbrengen fundraiser. You can read more about it on our Facebook event page. But very simply: Rivka and I are inviting you to our home to experience Hevria distilled. With as many of our writers as we can gather, our regular farbrengen participants, and four beautiful featured performers, we want to bring anyone who commits to Hevria’s vision to truly experience it in as real a way as possible. And if you’ve read this far (you crazy person), you can get a spot for only a $25/month membership. Just email me to tell me you’re in, and I’ll add you to the list.
Thank you, friends. As I’ve said year after year, Hevria needs you. It needs you to take it to the next level. Because that next level is only the beginning of the ultimate, the highest level. The vision of Jewish creatives being so accepted into the Jewish culture that they then influence it in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.
Let’s come together, friends.
I can’t wait to see you on the other side.
Image credit: The Great Saul Sudin