Big Ideas


“Nothing Helps (But This Might Help)” Intro (from LimmudLA)


A few weeks ago, I presented at LimmudLA a session titled “Nothing Helps (But This Might Help)” – the subject of the discussion was grief, mourning and coping with loss, and grew from my ongoing experiences in coping with the loss of my mother last May. This session – which I also presented at Limmud in the UK in December – is part of my process in creating a collection of writings about this year of mourning, the Jewish traditions that define it, and my personal reactions to this great loss in my life.

This is the intro for that session – what followed was a round robin of the people in the room, which I’m cutting out to preserve their privacy.

I hope to post more audio clips as I become more familiar with the audio editing software.

Nothing Helps intro

2011 – Quite a Year


2011 was quite a year, for some great reasons and one really sad one.

We’ll start with the sad first in this post, and hopefully build towards joy from there. As the Psalm says, “they who sow in tears harvest with joy.”

In May, my mother, Shulamit E. Kustanowitz, lost her battle with two serious illnesses. Losing her has been the most earth-shattering experience of my life, and I’m dealing with it every day in some way. My writing has changed, both in frequency and in tone, and I haven’t been diligent about updating my blogs and websites, because it just didn’t seem important and because I felt, for a while, as if I’d lost command of the words. So it’s taking me a while to return to posting about my publications and achievements, and to the daily business of musing on things social media- and technology-related.

But there have been moments, even within a year of mourning, which are worth celebrating. I was thrilled to be named to the Big Jewcy , a list of 100 Jews to watch, which this year also featured my brother (we were the first siblings to make the list the same year, and the piece about me was published on my birthday, by coincidence). I presented at the 2011 General Assembly in Denver, JHub (social entrepreneurship hub in London), and the UK’s Limmud Conference, moderated at the Jewish Federation’s Day of Jewish Learning and Culture, and made 2012 plans to present or moderate sessions at LimmudLA (next weekend), Jewlicious (the weekend after), and the ROI Summit in Jerusalem (June). A friend also made me laugh with his Gefilte Fish Invaders game/Rosh Hashanah greeting card, which got me quoted in the Jewish Week’s Jewish Techs blog. So life does go on.

I’m working on getting my writing going again, and some of that is happening in a longer chunk of text that I’m referring to as a “book” and which might just be one some day, tentatively titled “Nothing Helps (But This Might Help): Loss, Grief and Unintentional Comedy in a Year of Mourning.” Some of it is likely to pop up on the web in various places – on my blogs or on websites – and hopefully to be finished before the end of 2012. (At least that’s my current estimate.) But I’m also balancing that with some lighter pieces, some focusing on culture or comedy, or other such smile-provoking subjects, and will likely produce several other pieces about Jewish life and contemporary culture, because – let’s face it – I do what I do.

Like I said, 2011 was quite a year. Here’s to a 2012 of gratitude, productivity, health, healing, laughter and eventually, joy. Thanks for your continued support.

LimmudLA Sessions


This weekend, I’m presenting at LimmudLA – a number of the panels are through the “Future of Jewish L.A.” track, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and then there’s the “Improv for Jews” session, which is just for fun. (And education!)

Engaging the Next Generation Meaningfully in a World of Options

When it comes to social and community connections, today’s 20-somethings and 30-somethings are overwhelmed with online and offline options. How can we provide Jewish 20s and 30s with the online resources that they need and with in-person programs that engage them socially, communally and Jewishly? Hear from some of the people who are actively engaging this population in our community.

What’s the Next Big Idea for Jewish Los Angeles?

As we open a new decade, and Federation celebrates its Centennial, what does our community need most? Join Andrew Cushnir, Esther Kustanowitz, and other innovative and creative thinkers with big ideas for the Jewish future for an inside peek at some ideas from the Next Big Jewish Idea search. Then we’ll talk about our communal needs and how we can meet them through innovative community and cultural initiatives.

“Withinnovation”: Making Institutional Room for Partnerships and Innovation

People perceive Jewish innovation and Jewish institutions as two separate entities – but they don’t have to be. In our increasingly interconnected Jewish future, community institutions like synagogues and Federations are “withinnovating” – making room for innovation within their institutions, which can present challenges to innovators and institutions alike. Explore this emerging trend with some of LA’s resident innovation experts.

Improv for Jews

What’s so Jewish about basic improv comedy? This informal, participatory workshop introduces the basics of improv comedy within a Jewish community context – suitable for Jews and Judeophiles of all ages, and no comedy experience required.

People from VS 004 sleeping at JFK T4 on December 26 (via

Virgin Atlantic’s Snowpocalypse Social Media #Fail


People from VS 004 sleeping at JFK T4 on December 26 (via

When a blizzard prompted the cancellation of hundreds of flights on December 26 of last year, I was scheduled to be on VS004 from JFK to London. My Virgin Atlantic flight  – which had been cancelled on the 19th due to a blizzard at Heathrow and rescheduled for the 26th at 6:05pm  – was again cancelled after we sat on the plane for two hours because of a blizzard at JFK, was rescheduled for 6:05pm the 27th, then delayed to 7:30, then to a boarding time of 8:15 that didn’t happen, and eventually, after great protest from the passengers, finally took off after midnight on the 28th. During the entire experience, Virgin Atlantic continued to answer questions on its @virginatlantic Twitter account – except about our flight. There was no “stay tuned,” no “sorry we don’t have more information right now,” just silence. This is unacceptable in a social media world.

Nearly a month later now, Virgin Atlantic still denies that passengers were due any compensation for the experience, even as JetBlue once again proves its VIP status by giving their stranded passengers 10,000 points, scoring customer satisfaction points among its inconvenienced passengers. When it comes to all-star VIP customer treatment and stellar social media response, JetBlue turns around their bad situation, resulting in another social media win. In other words, JetBlue was able to take a blizzard and turn it into snowcones.

What’s the problem? Why won’t Virgin Atlantic make any compensation to the 250 of us who were on VS 004? According to USA Today, Virgin Atlantic (via spokesperson Greg Dawson) claims that “monetary compensation is not due” to the people on our flight – who “had to sleep in the airport terminal because all hotels nearby were booked” – because the snowstorm was an “extraordinary occurrence.” (The Virgin Atlantic staff also told us that the hotels they were offering us were two hours away in Long Island, and that buses would take too long to reach us, collect us and turn around and go back to Long Island.)

Travel writer and the main Twitter voice of our Virgin Atlantic experience Jason Cochran hasn’t given up on the idea of compensation, and continues to battle the customer relations and public relations departments via email.

But apparently, Virgin’s petulant behavior extends far beyond our particular flight – according to Bnet’s Brett Snyder, “Virgin Atlantic has decided it won’t pay Heathrow Airport’s owner BAA anything until an inquiry into last month’s days-long shutdown is completed. Virgin Atlantic is acting like an impatient child here, and runs the risk of making relations with its most important airport even worse.”

This preposterous experience just doesn’t seem to end. And least of all for writers. Because Jason is still on this situation – it’s his job to be. And as for me, while I’m not spending every day fighting about it, I definitely have more to say. Because all the elements of this experience combined into something resembling a psychological experiment in how far people’s patience can be stretched before someone cracks and goes postal. And while a Tweet here and there might not have alleviated our discomfort as we lay down for 40 minutes’ rest on the cold floor of JFK Airport, Virgin Atlantic should have been using its social media presence to reassure us, to apologize to us, and to make us feel accompanied on our difficult travel. That kind of attention could really have helped us feel like we hadn’t been quite so abandoned.

Here endeth the lesson. Except not quite, because Virgin Atlantic hasn’t learned anything.

“Globalizing the Shtetl” Presentation Now on SlideShare


I gave this presentation, “Globalizing the Shtetl,” at the 2010 Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California Conference, held October 28, 2010 in Malibu, CA.

jfedla logo

New Jewish Year, New Work Opportunities


113 degrees Monday in Los Angeles. I tell you, I’ve had it with this heat. Today, I’m working from an air conditioned office building where I’ll likely have to wear a sweater.

So I’m heading to that office building on Wilshire Boulevard.  And I’ll be there four days a week.

I’ve been a freelancer for eight years, enjoying a flexible schedule and not-always enjoying the instability of the work structure (or lack of health benefits). Being a freelancer has enabled me to become and stay involved in multiple initiatives and innovative projects run by some of the most creative people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. I’ve been a writer, an editor, a communicator, a relationship-builder, a collaborative spirit, a networker, a consultant, an advisor, and an instructor. I’ve worked with established Jewish organizations, media outlets and startups. And today, I’m taking that experience with me to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Effective today, I will be taking on the position of Program Coordinator for the Federation’s NextGen Engagement Initiative. This initiative, supported by a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, aims to strengthen, maintain and invigorate LA’s network of NextGen service providers, provide consultation and training to leaders of NextGen organizations, and improve communication about NextGen Jewish life in Los Angeles to that demographic, as well. And as 2011 marks the hundredth birthday of the Federation, I’ll also be providing input into the Federation’s Centennial Initiatives – a tremendous opportunity for me to make a creative impact on my (not-so-) new community of Los Angeles.

Both of these projects fall under Partnerships and Innovation, so I’m looking forward to working with the department team, and mobilizing my networks and experience to highlight Los Angeles-based creative and innovative programming for the benefit of all who consider themselves “NextGen” – in body, mind, heart and spirit.

In addition to my time with the Federation,  I will be spending a good portion of my “off-time” (nights and the remaining 2 non-Shabbat days per week) continuing my work on behalf of the ROI Community (I’m off to Tulsa next week to meet with my ROI team) and finishing up some separate-but-related outstanding projects (including work on a fun event at the JFNA GA in New Orleans in November – details to come).

This is my first close-to-full-time job in a while, but one that values my experience and honors the opportunities (like presenting at this December’s Limmud in the UK, or returning to Israel this summer for ROI’s 6th Global Summit of Young Jewish Innovators) that come my way. The first few months will be an adjustment as I try to do it all, but I’m looking forward to what promises to be a period full of creativity, innovation and growth.

So I’m going into a new office, with new co-workers, and hoping to make a palpable impact. So point me toward the coffee machine and the water cooler, and let’s get to work.

(Said work may also include making more films that look like this one, a result of an NEI iMovie workshop several months ago).

"Writing My Novel" - photo by

“Write It Down”


"Writing My Novel" - photo by

This Sunday, I had two separate, long conversations with friends who I don’t often have long conversations with. Each of them was processing something major – one of them a business betrayal and a major life transition, and the other a longtime breakup and a loss of faith in community. While mourning the changes (mostly by not thinking about them or diverting into other pursuits – I mean, these are men we’re talking about), they both seemed a bit stuck as to how to move on. “Write it down,” I said, to each of them, separately and with the suggestion of a different context.

I have no idea whether they’ll actually take my advice, but I really believe in the power of written (or typed) articulation of feelings, analysis of desire to move forward, steps for progress, and getting through something emotional by naming it – and owning it – verbally. It’s kind of like a contract for change:  you write this down, making it real and tangible where it was previously amorphous, and create the legal structure for your own progress.

For the one who experienced a business betrayal and disappointment, i suggested what is referred to as a “post-mortem” – an after-the-fact analysis of what you’d intended or expected to achieve, what actually happened, how, and what lessons you learned for next time. And for the one who was experiencing some discontent with the community and a breakup, I suggested he write down some thoughts, maybe as an op-ed piece for the local Jewish paper, or perhaps just for himself – to outline what his thoughts about his situation really were, what kind of challenges he was experiencing and how they could be fixed or improved by community engagement.

Writing it down almost always helps me process. What about you? What are your tricks for processing life’s disappointments?


Casting Call – The Rite of Tashlich (Jewish Journal)


Casting Call: A Tashlich Meditation
(The Jewish Journal, September 8, 2010)

My shoes slip off, my feet sink into soft sand and then approach the sea, where they submerge and are washed. But even freshly emerged from water, they remind me that just because you’ve washed something doesn’t mean it’s truly clean.

Rosh Hashanah marks the world’s birth — a new year, a new circle of Jewish holidays about to begin. The 10 days of repentance, which create the structure for apologies to self, neighbor and to God. Tashlich, the ritual in which bread is cast as sin and then cast out of us and into the water, is part of the preparation for Yom Kippur. It is Tashlich, this opportunity to make physical the act of rejecting iniquity, that draws me to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, steps away from the frivolity and fun of the Santa Monica Pier.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Wishing all my friends and readers a wonderful new Jewish year.

“Disconnect to Connect” – Unplugging for the Sabbath


The Jewish Standard recently asked for my comments about whether people are too technology-reliant these days, and how it can impact Jewish connections and community.

People first used e-mail, for example, to keep in touch with others they wouldn’t otherwise reach, Kustanowitz said.

“It was a way to mass-produce these kinds of communications that were still about continuing a relationship and adding value to a relationship,” she said.

Such developments have led to what Kustanowitz called an over-reliance on technology, without a sense of deliberation or thought. Just as Jews are supposed to have a certain amount of kavanah, intent, when they pray, she said, so, too, should people have a sense of kavanah when sending out e-mail and posting to social networking Websites.

To read the entire article, visit the Jewish Standard online.

“Social Media Basics” Now Online!


In April, I did the first of a three-part social media webinar series for the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California. Our focus in this session was an overview of social media and to begin the discussion of how social media can help Jewish non-profits strengthen their public profiles, promote their projects, and enhance their relationships with their clients/consumers/communities. I’m uploading finished presentations to Slideshare – feel free to check them out.

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