And the Best Jewish Idea Is...

A fast and furious competition for concrete ways to tackle challenges facing Israel and the Diaspora attracted a standing-room only crowd at Jerusalem's convention center.

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A Taglit-Birthright-in-reversal trip that brings young Israeli professionals to America to immerse themselves in Jewish community life in the Diaspora. A Hanukkah menorah chain that is passed around among Jewish families in different corners of the globe, allowing them to collect and share their stories. An accountability certificate that could assure investors in Israeli non-profits their money was not being used to fund organizations that promote racism, sexism, intolerance or anything else that contradicts their values. An organization that brings together young adults from Israel and other Middle Eastern countries for face-to-face encounters as a way to break down barriers to peace.

These were some of the hundreds of ideas being tossed around at a feverish pace Sunday afternoon at a special gathering of young adults attending the 2013 General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America. Titled “Shake up the Shuk,” the four-hour brainstorming session was designed to get young professionals to come up with ideas for projects that address some of the main challenges facing Israel and world Jewry today.

Unofficially, it was also an attempt to get twenty and thirty-somethings excited, or at least less cynical, about the Jewish organizational world.

More than 300 young adults from Israel and North America crammed into the standing-room only auditorium at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem to participate in the session, held hours before the official opening of the General Assembly.

Following a keynote “go-get-‘em” speech by Eric Fingerhut, the new president and CEO of Hillel International, the participants reconvened into breakout circles, in which Israeli and American experts shared their insights on the top issues concerning the GA this year. Among those leading these discussions were Mike Prasker, the founder and director of Merchavim – The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel; Raya Strauss Bendror, the Israeli philanthropist and former co-owner of the Strauss food giant; Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Haaretz; Kathy Manning, the former chairwoman of the Jewish Federations of North America; and Gidi Grinstein, the president and founder of the Reut Institute, a strategy group that focuses its efforts on effectuating change in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

Following these sessions, the participants reconvened in even smaller groups and, working against almost impossible deadlines, began banging out proposals for projects that relate to the five main themes of this year’s GA conference: how to improve Israeli civil society, how to strengthen ties between Israel and the Diaspora, how to turn Israelis into more charitable beings, how to upgrade Israel’s standing in the world and how to leverage its status as “start-up nation.”

They jotted down initial thoughts on index cards and then passed them around to other members of their group for further suggestions and feedback. Each group then had to choose its best ideas and, on yellow post-it notes, stick them on the nearby walls grouping them according to themes. Finally, they were instructed to narrow the list down to a small group of 10 finalists that would be pitched to a panel of experts.

The hands-down winner, in case you were wondering, was “Matching for Good” -- a project that encourages Israeli employees to contribute to non-profits by having their employers match them shekel-for-shekel.

Right now, it’s all for fun, and besides a few congratulatory handshakes with the panel of experts and photos for mom back home, there was no big prize for the winners." But as Guy Spigelman, the CEO of PresenTense Israel, an organization that promotes social entrepreneurship, noted: “From our experience with these sort of things, I’m pretty certain we’ll see one of two of these ideas take off in the next few months.”

The marketplace in Jerusalem. "Shake up the Shuk" was the name of a four-hour brainstorming session for young professionals, held right before the opening of the GA.

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