Think smart, invest in our Jewish future

It’s time to stop whining about the Jewish future — that the young people aren’t affiliating, they don’t care about Israel, they’re not interested in Jewish life.

That’s a load of hooey. There’s more creative Jewish energy in the Bay Area than you can shake a lulav at. From music to digital animation to Torah study to environmental activism to LGBT outreach to food justice, young and young-at-heart Jews are finding new ways to express their Jewish values and spiritual yearnings, and they’re attracting hundreds of their peers.

Where do you find these cutting-edge folks? Try the sixth floor of 332 Pine St. in San Francisco, home of UpStart Bay Area, a consulting firm and incubator for innovative Jewish organizations and entrepreneurs, and the subject of this week’s cover story. In the past six years, UpStart has helped some two dozen Jewish entrepreneurs take their big ideas to the next level, translating them into sustainable operations.

Julie Wolk, co-director of Wilderness Torah, said it best: “We came in with the excitement and the energy … and UpStart helped us create an entire structure with an accounting system, a fundraising plan.”

Talk about teaching a woman to fish.

UpStart came about because, as CEO Toby Rubin puts it, the established Jewish community wasn’t nurturing the Jewish talent of the next generation. And many young Jews, in turn, weren’t connecting to the established community.

But they weren’t checking out of Jewish life. They were creating their own version, right under their parents’ noses.

Local funders got the memo: Instead of trying to convince all young Jews to join established institutions, why not find those who are creating their own Jewish future and help them do it better?

Nearly $1 million in initial funding for UpStart came from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; since then, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund have stepped up to the plate, along with other generous donors.

We congratulate these forward-looking funders on making a great investment in the Jewish future.