Out-of-the-box Thinking Puts Judaism... in a Box

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Photo Credit: Daniel Ziegler

In case you thought Judaism was ossified in 3,500-some-odd years of ancient history, think again. Think out of the box, even. Because the people of the book are going digital.

I'm not talking about the direct flights now available between Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv (or Silicon Wadi, if you prefer). While Israeli startup founders like Noam Bardin of Waze may appreciate this bridge in the clouds (the meteorological kind, that is), there's a cloud connection more broadly applicable to every kind of lox-loving, matzah-munching, data crunching, modern millennial Jew who beams with secret, Semitic pride every time Jimmy Kimmel poses the question: Hipster or Hasidic?

I am talking about three successful startups: Hello Mazel, JSwipe and Jake TV. The founders of these digital dynamos are bridging the gap between past tradition and present innovation; they're planting an ancient Tree of Life in a permaculture-minded rooftop garden in Dumbo... or Williamsburg... or San Francisco.

While I'm sure many readers with grandparents named Ethel or Morty have already experienced the thrill of seeing little stick figures throw another stick figure up in a chair yelling "Mazal Tov" after matching with another member of the Tribe, Hello Mazel and Jake TV are slightly newer to the smart phone scene than the already ubiquitous JSwipe. Hello Mazel made waves as the most-funded Jewish project in Kickstarter history which, according to its site, offers a "quarterly box of Jewish stuff" sent to your door. Think Google Express goes Goldie Over-expressive (or some other over-opinionated relative who has very strong feelings about the temperature of the cheesecake... I'm not bitter).

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Photo Credit: Hello Mazel

Jake TV, on the other hand, is boxing up Jewish content as well, but in the form of digital entertainment rather than chewables or chachkas. It's a no-cost mobile app on iPhone and Android that aggregates short, snackable content (the Jewish mother in them wants to feed you somehow) in the areas of Jewish entertainment and wisdom. And they're un-packaging the hidden meaning in Judaism's myriad rituals with a new series called "Un-boxing the Jewish Holidays." It's intended to pull the rabbit out of the hat and unravel the mystery behind seemingly arcane traditions. But more than that, it's meant to pull together timeless information and modern audiences where the two most seamlessly converge: a handheld device.

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Photo Credit: Jake TV

Jake TV's founder, Moshe Unger, told me: "In today's information environment there is enormous value in sorting and aggregating, since there is so much out there. The feedback we are getting is much more than expected, and it's very exciting to develop this startup further."

Sorting and aggregating may sound very techy to you -- more Dropbox than gift box -- but don't be fooled; both the Jake TV app and the Hello Mazel care packages are chock-full of heartwarming fodder that rivals even the most seasoned balaboosta's matzah-ball soup. So, guilt-goading bubbies beware: Jewish apps and appetites are getting an update. And unlike ever before, that elusive status of "Good Jew" is just a quick download away.

Thank you Ross Buckley for the insight and assistance on this piece.

About the author: Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of Magenu.org, & President for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth.
Mr. Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.
Follow: @E_Verschleiser