David Brown interviewed by Deborah Fishman

Deborah Fishman is a network weaver interested in new opportunities to create change in the Jewish world. She was most recently Editor & Publisher of PresenTense Magazine. She tweets as @deborahfishman.

David Brown is Social Action Coordinator atJHub in London, working on the Jewish Social Action Forum’s Big Green Jewish and Fairtrade campaigns. He is also the European coordinator of SIACH: A Global Environment and Social Justice network, and was on the core volunteer team recently for Limmud Conference in the UK.

What is a network?
I think of connections between people, projects, and organizations. It can be a group of people who happen to find themselves in the same space, organizationally or physically. Either a given area of content can attract people (I think about SIACH), or it can be getting people together and letting them define the content (like the ROI Community).

I come to the world of networks with a lot of stereotypes in mind. I always thought of it as very utilitarian and transactional – it’s schmooze, booze, and people talking while looking over their shoulders to see if they see someone more interesting to talk to. Continue reading


Punk, Pigs and Pushing Boundaries

Following attending the ROI Summit in June and developing my network, I had the pleasure of joining fellow ROIers Evan Kleinman (Punk Jews) and Jeffrey Yoskowitz (Pork Memoirs) at Limmud Oz Fest in Melbourne. This was my first Limmud experience outside the UK and the first where I was billed as an international presenter. Without wanting to be typically British and self-deprecating, I think the fact I was one of the international presenters tells you something about this Limmud! The organisers of this grassroots community want their participants to engage with new, alternative, inclusive and outward facing ways of being Jewish – not necessarily hosting the “experts” and “establishment leaders”.

So it was through this lens that I encountered a subset of the Melbourne Jewish community discussing and debating topics including ‘A Secular Humanist Shabbat: What it is and why it is a relevant expression of Judaism for the 21st century’ ‘Bathhouse, Twirling Chickens and Paganism: Jewish stuff that isn’t Jewish’ ‘Aboriginal/Jewish conversation on “The Dreaming”…and re-visit those immortal words “In the beginning”…’ ‘Jews in Strange Places’ and even ‘Glee: Puck is the better Jewish Role Model.

What struck me in general was the diversity of the group participating regarding age, affiliation and attitude and the variety of the topics being explored. What inspired me in particular was the creative, cultural and secular expressions of Judaism on offer. I think the UK does Jewish culture very well (UK Jewish Film FestivalJewish Book Week and our very own Gefiltefest serve as good examples) but I think Limmud Oz Fest had more philosophically grounded cultural Jews. Their critical and DIY approach to Judaism (very much in the spirit of the Punk Jews Evan was highlighting for us with his documentary – see the trailer below) is something I hope JHub can challenge the UK Jewish community to do more of – and support those who want to develop it.

Yet I was also left wondering if the type of Jewish innovation we tend to support, or be approached to support, still isn’t reaching the people and passions of these ‘Punk Jews’. We talk about innovation being sustainable, scale-able and transferable and provide space, resources and a community to foster collaboration with other innovators and the ‘established’ Jewish community. It’s possible that part of the essence of the Jews I encountered in person and on screen at Limmud Fest Oz is counter-cultural to this. They are sometimes pissed off, always doing it for themselves, often by themselves and not necessarily interested in engaging the mainstream or making sure other Jews (disaffected or otherwise)  can be offered this new avenue into Jewish identity and communal life. Part of me thinks that this is great and important on it’s own terms – I just wonder if and how JHub and others interested in supporting this type of innovation can reach out and connect the ‘Punk Jews’ with pushing the boundaries of Judaism for all of us.

Church and State: Getting the Balance Right

Being a dual citizen is usually quite easy – I love having both Guy Fawkes Day and Thanksgiving in my November diary. (Of course, July 4 is a bit tricky when I have to decide whether to celebrate American Independence Day or mourn the breaking away of the Colonies.) Yesterday, however, was one of those days when my dual identity forced me to think hard about which country’s policy is the one that best furthers the Jewish contribution to larger society. We had the pleasure last week of welcoming Andrew Stunell OBE MP to JHub for a visit with his staff. In the course of showing him around JHub and watching him interact with our residents, I began to question whether America’s insistence on a separation of Church and State is such a wise policy after all. Continue reading

Jewish innovation & the establishment: creating in ways that connect with what’s already been created?

The blog below is an adaptation of a piece I wrote for PresenTense. I was writing this around Tisha B’Av, which prompted me to consider whether Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai the first truly Jewish innovator?

There were many great leaders before him, but there are some defining characteristics about his actions during the destruction of the second temple that may add to our discussion about what is “Jewish” about Jewish innovation, and what role do Jewish innovators play within the broader communal establishment. Continue reading

Energy and Possibility: Empowering the Future of Jewish Life in Europe

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …. get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.
Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.
Abraham Joshua Heschel

On a recent Shabbat evening in Uppsala, Sweden, a group of over fifty Jewish young adults from across Europe gathered together to welcome Shabbat. A discussion ensued in the spirit of Heschel’s conception of radial amazement and how it might apply to them individually or as a group. As the discussion circled the room, one particular Romanian woman who had been quiet during much of the past two days spoke up. She looked around the room, at the faces of young, laughing and dreaming Jewish Europeans from London to Krakow to Istanbul (and every point in between), and then she smiled. “This” she said, “is amazing. There is energy in this room; there is possibility.” Continue reading