L.A. federation: Sometimes ‘big’ ideas are inside the box


LOS ANGELES (JTA) — According to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, big Jewish ideas come in small packages — which will soon be delivered straight to L.A. area homes.

The federation recently announced that the winner of its Next Big Jewish Idea contest is local high school teacher Batsheva Frankel — for her “Launchbox” concept. Frankel’s winning idea, originally proposed as “Jewww in a Box,” is to create kits filled with thematic and holiday-based activities, educational materials and links to online content on Judaism, which will be mailed to area households.

Frankel will receive $100,000 in funding to develop her idea with the help of federation staff.

“The Next Big Jewish is about rethinking of what a federation needs to be for the next decade,” the federation’s president, Jay Sanderson, said.

“The best ideas and the biggest ideas are simple and they’re accessible,” Sanderson said of the choice. “They’re not complicated.”

In this way, he predicted, the Launchbox is like an iPad — it will “connect Jews in a different way, wherever they are in their Jewish journey.”

The Launchbox, Frankel said, will help people “not just be Jewish, but do Jewish.”

Over the next few months, Frankel will work with federation staff to translate the idea into reality. Still to be determined, according to federation officials, are the nitty-gritty details of how the boxes will be produced and distributed.

The boxes’ actual content will be decided in collaboration with “educators and thinkers to create a box that is really open-ended,” Sanderson said.

The contest was launched in January to coincide with the Los Angeles federation’s centennial.

Launchbox made it through multiple rounds, competing against more than 350 other ideas. Those ideas were eventually narrowed down to 10, and then one, by a panel of judges and more than 100,000 online voters.

For some critics, like Pini Herman, past president of L.A.’s Movable Minyan, the cost of the contest was too much and misdirected.

“$100,000 buys much more when channeled through a large existing organization than when its channeled through a start-up organization,” he wrote in a blog post for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.  “A lot gets eaten up in start-up costs.”

According to the federation, in addition to the $100,000 prize and staff time, the contest cost the organization about $40,000, including online advertising, videos and printed materials. Sanderson argued that the level of online participation made the contest a success — even before the winner was chosen.

The federation “engaged 100,000 people in conversation to say what they thought,” Sanderson said. “We received 400 ideas from individuals and groups, and we engaged them as well. From a marketing perspective as well as a content perspective, we engaged a new group of Jews. ”

Herman, however, argued that the contest placed an unnecessary onus on competitors. “This is the equivalent of displaying a bag of money in the street and making the needy fill out forms as they swarm to reach it,” he wrote.

Sanderson demurred when asked how the success of Launchbox will be judged.

He did say that thousands will receive the boxes, and predicted that from those will come a ripple effect.

“An individual will get a box, but in order to do Jewish, you need people,” Sanderson said. “You’ll have to bring people in.”

Recommended from JTA