First Annual Jewish Futures Conference takes place

Blake Senet


Post Evening

On April 6th the many hours put in by seniors and faculty became a reality when all guests gathered outside the Beit Midrash. The evening began with a 30 minute session from 7 to 730 to network their ideas to members of the Jewish community. Most students dressed in businesslike attire, and the balcony was setup with a bar and two plasma screen televisions.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity with some of the leaders of the Los Angeles Jewish community to market my project Kosho, a kosher college foos service. It really felt like a business environment and event, not just a bunch of students meeting,” Michael Rosenzweig- Bok ’11 said.

Following the meeting, participants gathered within the Beit Midrash and listened in on a short speech from Rabbi Bernat- Kunin. Afterward, every person went to a renewal seminar in six different classes. I had the opportunity to sit in on Bradley Friedman and Max Offsay’s business pitch regarding Facebook Chaveras, or small Jewish communities. These seminars were interesting in that listeners played an interactive role with the ability to ask questions and for clarifications. Presenters were really forced to think on their feet, as many of their listeners held experience with Jewish entrepreneurship and listened very closely.

“Presenting at the conference was definitely different from presenting in class. Having to explain a lot of different facets of the project definitely was not easy. It was a lot more difficult than presenting in class,” Bradley Friedman ’11 said.

Afterward, all conference participants returned to the Beit Midrash to hear six more proposals regarding innovation from Jewish Thought Honors groups.  These five minute proposals included were given before a panel and presenters also were required to answer questions. The leading vote getters of these projects were techanthropy, an innovative website that would connect Jewish philanthropists and entrepreneurs, and JewTunes. Ultimately, most agree that the Jewish Futures Project was wn interesting and important affair that could come to be a staple of Milken’s Jewish curriculum.

“I think it really represented an excellent culmination to my Milken Jewish learning and I was happy to be a presenter,” Robert Ravanshenas ‘11, valedictorian, said.

Prior to the Event

On Wednesday, April 6, senior students from Jewish Thought Honors and Jewish Thought High Honors will pitch their Jewish Futures Projects at the first annual conference. Students began their projects shortly after the end of first semester and have worked in groups to perfect their ideas. The conference which will be held in the Beit Midrash in front of an audience of students, faculty, and Jewish community leaders, will focus on the categories of Jewish renewal and innovation. Five selected groups from Rabbi Bernat-Kunin’s High Honors courses will speak about ideas regarding renewal, while six groups out of Rabbi Hoffman’s Honors courses will speak about innovation. The conference has garnered much excitement and anticipation from students involved in the conference, as well as students outside of the Jewish Thought curriculum.

“As a student interested in entrepreneurship and our future identity as Jewish individuals, I really look forward to the conference. I know that the seniors will probably come up with some excellent ideas for what will likely be their last high school Jewish project,” Jake Davidson ’13 said.

Student projects range from ideas as diverse as Zionistic labor renewal to kosho, kosher truck food services for Jews at college. Regardless of their ideas, groups were forced to make a webpage, teaser video, and a proposal of their concept. Student’s fine tailed their ideas through classroom discussion and through critique following a pitch to their class. In the end, only the groups that adjusted to all feedback and chose to stay in the project at all points will present.  For both levels, completing the entire process was rigorous, but most of the steps were the same. Rabbi Hoffman’s class differed slightly in that they focused more on marketing aspects and communication skills.

The conference will feature a five person Jewish innovation panel of members of the Los Angeles Jewish community who are active in developing leaders and rethinking Jewish learning projects. Rabbi Hoffman chose the five panelists with the help of the first panelist selected, Ms. Esther Kustanowitz, who works on initiatives within the Jewish Federation. Kustanowitz also acted as a consultant for the project, helping  to refine  ideas.  Some of the panelists are representing Jewish organizations and marketing firms, and each of them will have a well informed take on the ideas. Panel member Mr. David Singer will act as moderator.

“Right now we are very excited about the community leaders who will be joining us at the conference. However, what is going to determine the level of depth of the discussion in the conference will be the engagement and passion of the teenagers, that will be where the excitement stems from,”  Hoffman said.

Hoffman brought the idea of the conference to the school after taking students to the annual Limmud LA trip.  Hoffman discussed the idea with Bernat-Kunin, but had difficulty making the process of entrepreneurship in creating renewal and innovation part of the curriculum. After some deliberation, they decided on the current route, where each class would have a similar project except that High Honors would focus on renewal.  The hope is that this first conference will be held for many years, and extend in scope so as to involve many more teens and community leaders in the greater Los Angeles area.

“Our ultimate goal is to represent the larger community of Los Angeles. Hopefully, this event will become so major that people will realize the capacity of students to create change and become producers of Judaism. Milken will be the place to build this larger network,” Hoffman said.