Rabbi Noa Kushner and Yoav Schlesinger know that prayer and worship aren’t the only pathways into Jewish life. That’s why the rabbi and executive director of The Kitchen — an indie Jewish community in San Francisco — are betting that, for some people, a box of Jewish goodies will lead the way.
Inspired by the subscription box craze (in which people have everything from rabbit food to Japanese snacks delivered to their homes), an uptick in spiritual Judaism and a cultural interest in classic Jewish foods revamped, The Kitchen has launched “Hello Mazel.”
Subtitled “Jewish Delivered,” the box-delivery project is “Hipster-curated, bubbe-approved,” according to a headline in the Forward.
It certainly has created quite a stir online, raising more than $100,000 in the first six days of a Kickstarter campaign (thanks, in part, perhaps, to a video featuring an adorable bubbe).
“We’re trying to get Torah to as many people as possible through as many doors as possible,” Kushner explained. “We think it’s worth it to do things that are unconventional if it taps into a certain zeitgeist and might have success.”
Delivery will occur once every three months, though what will be inside is still something of a mystery. What is known is that each box will be filled with Jewish foods, texts, ritual objects and what Schlesinger calls “conversation starters.”
All of the contents will be designed to encourage subscribers to “do Jewish.”
Hello Mazel is already an out-of-the-box success. When the project was posted on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter on Feb. 12, it listed a goal of $18,000 — which was reached in the first six hours.
By the end of day one, it had raised more than $45,000, and the figure kept growing. As of J.’s Feb. 17 deadline, 913 backers had pledged $101,134.
According to Hello Mazel’s Kickstarter page, that makes it the most-funded Jewish project in Kickstarter history … with many days remaining. The campaign doesn’t end until March 4.
The previous holder of the top spot was a blech (a hotplate for use on Shabbat), which raised $67,141 from 706 backers, according to the Forward. The publication also pointed out the oddity of “non-certified Jewish goodies for even the most secular of Jews” knocking from the top spot a “solution for the halachic ban on cooking on Shabbat.”
Average Hello Mazel donations topped $100, and though some donations were just a few dollars, most backers gave at least the $45 necessary to receive the first box. A full year’s subscription is going for $180.
“Finally, Jewish delivered! We’re picking the best Jewish stuff and sending it. With love, fromus to you,” reads The Kitchen’s posting on Kickstarter. “You’ll get carefully selected Jewish awesomeness, hand-picked and crafted by our team of Mazel Stars. Think habanero horseradish dill pickles for Passover or single-origin chocolate gelt for Hanukkah (no promises on that, we want to surprise you).”
With funding in hand, the inaugural Hello Mazel box will ship in time for Passover, which begins on April 22 this year. An online teaser notes the box will include “a seder plate that is not a seder plate,” and a hagaddah “like none you’ve ever used.” What exactly will come in that initial box, Schlesinger can’t say. Or more precisely, he won’t say.
“Part of the model is that it be a surprise,” Schlesinger told J.
The idea for the box took shape after The Kitchen partnered with Ideo, a global design and innovation consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco, a couple of years ago.
“We brought to them the premise of this product, i.e., Torah, that is extremely valuable and meaningful,” Kushner said. “How do we get it to more people? How can we increase our distribution channel? For them it was a really juicy project, and that’s where this idea became real.”
Though intended primarily to help Jews and the Jew-curious to better explore Jewish life, Hello Mazel is run like a business. The team includes branding experts Josh Levine and Alison Pincus (co-founder of the online e-commerce company One Kings Lane), product manager Kaitlyn Kreiger and media entrepreneur Randi Zuckerberg, former director of market development for Facebook, the company co-founded and run by her brother, Mark.
Together they worked to create an elegant, two-toned blue box in which the goods will be shipped.
With up to 1,500 boxes projected to land on doorsteps in mid-April, the Hello Mazel team already has an eye on a national market, with JCCs, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions seen as potential customers, as well as individuals.
Schlesinger also hopes that, in time, the Hello Mazel model may diversify, with boxes targeted for children or young adults or kosher consumers. For now, it’s one box fits all.
According to a press release, Hello Mazel is “to be incorporated as a nonprofit, supporting organization of The Kitchen.” If the project makes money, those dollars would be earmarked either for supporting The Kitchen, funding other innovative Jewish enterprises or growing Hello Mazel.
“It’s important to us that Hello Mazel benefit a range of Jewish visionaries, who are all working to inspire and engage the next generation,” Pincus said in the release.
But even if it simply breaks even, Schlesinger and Kushner would be overjoyed. “I think of this box as an invitation,” Kushner said. “You receive it and try something, bring people together, have a conversation, engage in a ritual you maybe wouldn’t have. There’s nobody watching, no pressure. We’re looking for things that will delight and spark that interest to try something new.”
Added Schlesinger: “As a mission-driven organization with the goal of helping people live Jewishly, we always had this hypothesis that people want Jewish content. After so much work and effort, with Hello Mazel, this hypothesis has been proven.”