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Saturday, August 30, 2014

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New-media conference focuses on Jewish millennials

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Video game designer William Robinson

An online-sharing interface designed to give “kosher” the same cachet as other trendy foodie experiences won $10,000 in seed money at the culmination of a three-day conference.

Developing new-media projects that encourage young people’s engagement with the Jewish community was the focus of the conference.

The winning team members are video game designer William Robinson, a PhD humanities candidate at Concordia University associated with its Technoculture, Art and Games research centre; Marley Sniatowsky, creative director at Tête Carée Films, and Alina Maizel, a project manager at the multimedia company Moment Factory.

The inaugural NU: Media Innovation Initiative conference, from March 17 to 19, was hosted by Federation CJA with ROI Community, an international organization supporting young Jewish activists. The 30 participants were Jewish new-media experts from Montreal and the United States, selected for their differing areas of expertise.

The conference convenor was Mike Savatovsky, director of federation’s A Bit Off the Top, a “venture social-capital initiative” launched in partnership with the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation, and supporting innovative ways of connecting young adults to their Jewish identity.

On his blog, Robinson wrote: “This event sought to answer one very strange question: what happens when you put money and 30 young new-media savvy people in a room for 50-plus hours and ask them to make Judaism relevant?”

On the final evening, nine teams of three had five minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, consisting of philanthropist Claudine Blondin Bronfman; Amy Friedman, senior adviser to Viacom’s MTV Scratch; actor Meghan Rath of the television show Being Human; Na’eem Adam, founder of Poutine Week MTL, and Dean Mendel, co-chair of the federation’s Gen J grants program.

The judges’ top three picks were then put to the invitation-only audience at Espace Reunion, which chose the winner.

Robinson describes the theory behind his team’s #kosh, which uses the microblogging platform and social media webite Tumblr, thus: “Jews today are losing ways to act Jewish, but if you can call Instagramming a fine meal ‘kosh,’ then you might find some ways of identity building around meaningful experience.”

The winning team intends to use the $10,000 to launch an online crowdsourcing campaign to “elevate people’s awareness for #kosh foods.”

Each team member also received $500 toward conference travel or professional training.

“Going in I was one of the least Jewish people there, but that experience was secularly Jewish and lovely, and I was surprisingly thrilled to be part of it,” Robinson blogged.

Savatovsky explained: “Gone are the days of young adults swearing allegiance to one-dimensional identities. Now is the era of unprecedented connectivity, flattening the world and bringing diverse cultures closer together while broadening global citizenry.”

The community, he believes, must be creative in how it uses emerging media to make being Jewish meaningful, especially to the technologically oriented “millennial generation” – those aged approximately between 18 and 30.

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