Episode 20: Jewish Without Walls - Beth Finger

Beth Finger, founder of Jewish Without Walls (JWOW) joins Judaism Unbound for the third episode in our "New Platforms in Jewish Life series." We learn about the successful strategies JWOW uses to engage Jewish families and talk about issues ranging from contemporary denominational divides to the role of the internet in the Jewish present and future.

(0:01 - 11:41): Finger begins by explaining what Jewish Without Walls (JWOW) is, how it came to be, and who its seeks to serve. [1] She compares and contrasts the role that JWOW plays with those of traditional Jewish organizations, such as synagogues. We also discuss the financial and programmatic reasons that JWOW's mission is to exist "without walls."

(11:42 - 23:36): We examine various challenges involved in forming, maintaining, and growing a Jewish start-up. [2] Finger also explains why JWOW has chosen not to identify as a "religious" organization, along with the importance that Big Tent Judaism's philosophy of "Public-Space Judaism" plays in JWOW approach. [3] 

Image Credit: Jewish Without Walls

Image Credit: Jewish Without Walls

(23:37 - 34:29): Finger describes her own background and reflects on what led her to found a Jewish start-up, focusing on her trans-denominational Jewish upbringing and early professional experience as a JCSC (Jewish Campus Service Corps) Fellow at Brooklyn College Hillel. [4] She also discusses the crucial importance that social media and the internet play in JWOW's work, and Lex adds some thoughts on the central role that Facebook can play in Jewish lives. [5] [6]

Passover in the Matzah Aisle is one of Big Tent Judaism's most prominent "Public Space Judaism" initiatives. Image Credit: Boulder Jewish News

Passover in the Matzah Aisle is one of Big Tent Judaism's most prominent "Public Space Judaism" initiatives. Image Credit: Boulder Jewish News

(34:30 - 46:04): Finger gives some specific examples of what JWOW programming looks like. We then delve into how JWOW not only positively affects not the children who come to its programs, but also can deepen their parents' Jewish identities and knowledge as well. [7] [8] Finger emphasizes the importance of empowering people to create their own Judaism, as opposed to insisting on a top-down model.

[1] To learn more about JWOW, check out its website here, and watch to Beth Finger's JDOV Talk here.

[2] Finger mentions a few organizations that exist to support Jewish start-up efforts. To learn more about them, check out the following websites: Slingshot, UpStart, Natan, Joshua Venture, and ROI Community.

[3] To learn more about the philosophy of Public Space Judaism, check out Big Tent Judaism's resources here.

[4] The JCSC Fellowship no longer exists, but a new program recently launched by Hillel International -- the Springboard Fellowship -- plays a similar role in cultivating early career staff. Learn more about it here.

[5] You can join JWOW's Facebook group by clicking here. If you're interested, you can check out a few other Facebook groups mentioned in this conversation (JEDLAB and Jews for Decolonization).

[7] Dan talks about the impact that PJ Library had on his family, and about the potential of a "PJ Library for adults." To learn more about that initiative, check out its website.

[8] For more on Judaism being meaningful not just for kids, but parents as well, check out this Kveller article, entitled "I Am Jewish For Me, Not For My Kids."