Judaism Unbound Episode 110: Glean - Elan Babchuck

Dan and Lex are joined by Elan Babchuck, Director of Innovation at Clal and founder of the Glean Incubator, a program that combines coaching and a course in entrepreneurship aimed at helping new spiritual initiatives develop compelling strategies for launch and sustainability. In their conversation, they compare and contrast the challenges of Jewish legacy institutions with those of Jewish start-ups, re-examine the metrics used to measure success in Jewish life, and ask how lessons from community organizing can apply to 21st century Judaism. In the weeks that follow, we will profile organizations that were part of last year's pilot cohort of the Glean Incubator.

(0:01 - 16:52): To begin the episode, Babchuck gives us an overview of how Clal's Glean Incubator came to be. [1] He then connects his work with his own story, beginning with his childhood in the Boston area and continuing through rabbinical school and business school. In telling his story, Babchuk emphasizes the loss of his father at an early age, along with a traumatic car accident that caused him extensive injuries. He explores how those experiences shaped him into the person he is today, as a rabbi and innovator. [2]

(16:53 - 29:45): Babchuck looks back at his time as a congregational rabbi. In particular, he questions whether rabbinical schools should still, in 2018, be treating the pulpit as the default position for students upon ordination. He goes on to consider the metrics that congregations tend to use in measuring their success. What does it reflect about Jewish life when our primary or exclusive metric is, for lack of a better term, "butts in seats?" [3] Babchuk then presents a framework first proposed by Vijay Govindarajan, called the "Three Box Solution," and explains how "box two" -- what we are going to stop doing -- can and must play an important role in helping Jewish institutions re-think their models. [4]

(29:46 - 48:52): In order to further understand the work that Glean does, Babchuck digs deeper into the distinctly different worlds of legacy institutions and new Jewish start-ups. He asks each group to consider the challenges of the other and empathize as they navigate these challenges. He also lays out a few particular strengths of many of the individuals who make up the Glean incubator, along with the problem of loneliness for those working in the field of spiritual entrepreneurship. [5] Babchuck then underscores the importance, as a spiritual leader, of deeply understanding the constituents that one serves. In doing so, he examines how simply showing up in a neighborhood coffee shop on a regular basis can have a major impact on a community. To close, he tells a cute but also profound story about his son Micah, that helps encapsulate many important issues in contemporary Jewish life. [6]

[1] Learn more about Elan Babchuck by checking out his full bio. Learn more about the Glean incubator by visiting its website.

[2] Engage further with Elan Babchuck's philosophy through the articles that he has written for The Wisdom Daily. All of his posts on that site can be found here

[3] Babchuck mentions Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown as a book that has greatly influenced his philosophy. You can purchase it by clicking here.

[4] Learn more about the three box solution by visiting www.3boxsolution.com.

[5] For a deeper dive into the question of loneliness, watch the video on the right, from the On Being Studios, featuring Babchuck in conversation with past Judaism Unbound guests Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile.

[6] This episode relates to many of Clal's ideas that we have engaged with other members of its leadership. For episodes featuring Clal leaders, past and present, see Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula Part I, Episode 54: Judaism's Job - Irwin Kula Part II, Episode 68: Rabbis Without Borders - Rebecca Sirbu, and Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg.