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God, Prayer & No Traffic from San Diego to Los Angeles

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Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 2.05.48 AMI’d love for this to be an instructional story about how to effectively request and obtain Divine intervention that yields a traffic-free journey between cities in Southern California. It’s not. But the trip between San Diego and Los Angeles did provide me with a fascinating experience of gratitude that wasn’t quite prayer, and yet, wasn’t NOT prayer. As it happened, I knew I had to write about it.

Luckily, one of my clients, ELI Talks (who is hosting FREE live, TED-style talks in NYC next week – see this link for all details and registration info), provided the inspiration with an online conversation on God that had me asking some questions about prayers and where they go, once uttered.

The result of that process of questioning is this piece, “Got God? Thoughts on God from a Sometimes-Theist,” which appeared in eJewishPhilanthropy this past Tuesday.

An excerpt:

Driving back from a social media training in San Diego to Los Angeles before the High Holidays, I felt something move through me. I turned down the radio and began to speak words aloud. “I am grateful,” I began, adding simple phrases until they became sentences of gratitude. Spontaneous, uncomplicated gratitude, so large that I had to speak it aloud even with no audience to listen and applaud, hadn’t happened to me a lot in my life. It sounded like prayer, albeit (my inner writer scolded) a not-so liturgically or poetically-compelling one.

 

 

But who was I talking to? God? My ancestors? A muse? Or, as many say in California, “the energy of the universe”? It felt like I had written an important letter, but had failed to address the envelope, or was sending to an email address that had been discontinued. Who would even hear this expression of thanks, this gratitude for things ranging from family to the completely appreciated lightness of traffic, from the laughter I received during my presentation to feeling the sunshine on my arm as I drove? Where was God? And did it matter? Or was it important to express the gratitude regardless of whether or not it was directed at anyone (or Anyone)?

Read the entire piece at eJewishPhilanthropy.com. And as always, please feel free to share any feedback…

 

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It’s Been A While, But I’m Back…

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Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 4.17.14 PMThanks for your patience while we worked out some technical challenges with EstherK.com – I’m looking forward to bringing you more writing, advice and food for thought in this space over the next few months, and hope you’ll be here to think, learn and laugh with me. Until the fresh content is fully baked, I wanted to share these two videos with you.

I’ve started working as freelance community manager for ELI Talks, a program designed to bring TED-style talks and weekly on-air conversations to people who want to explore Jewish engagement, literacy and identity. Most of the time, I’m behind the camera, live-tweeting the weekly conversations (you can see past editions at the ELI Talks website under the section for ELI Talks on Air). But my first run was as an intervieweee – I spoke about my writing on everything from Jewish singles to life after loss; and my next one was as an interviewer, as I spoke to the guys behind the Jewish video site Shmideo. (The links in the previous sentence will take you to MyUrbanKvetch, for the minute-by-minute breakdown, in case you’d like to see a part of the video without sitting down to watch the entire thing. :))

More content to come – looking forward to sharing with you in this space soon! (And a happy Jewish new year to those of you who are celebrating…)

Excerpt from the NY Times article, March 23, 2014

March Madness: Recent Clips

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Excerpt from the NY Times article, March 23, 2014

This week was simply mad – a personal essay in the JTA (commonly known as the AP of the Jewish world) about loss, focusing on a ring that was my mother’s; I attended my lovely and moving good-bye party at work; a new part-time job came together which enables me to shift into new styles of writing (more to come on that later); and over this weekend, was mentioned in an article in the New York Times about the Modern Loss site, to which I had contributed a piece titled “Deleting My Mother.” (As an extra bonus moment of glee, the Times referred to me as “founder of the blog My Urban Kvetch,” a mention I never would have imagined when I founded it ten years ago.)

Earlier in March, I read a piece about improv inspiring creativity at Jewish nonprofits, and decided to take it one step further with this piece, “Yes-And’ing Our Way to Organizational Progress.”

This past weekend was also the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is typically marked by celebration and comedic performances, including something called a “Purim shpiel” – generally this highlights the story of Purim in some way, but the spiritual community known as IKAR treats the “shpiel” time as an opportunity to lampoon the community itself. This is my second year on the writing team for the Shpiel, and one of my two contributions was a parody of pharmaceutical commercials, but treating IKAR itself as the drug. (The other one, a Yiddish-inflected parody of “Roar,” by Katy Perry, isn’t posted yet.) There’s a lot of inside comedy, but I think it still plays to others. Check it out!

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Speaking at TribeFest (Las Vegas) – March 26

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What happens in Vegas…is that I’ve been asked to be part of a session panel at TribeFest, the conference/gathering for young (and youngish) Jews that JFNA is organizing at the end of March:

Pitchfest! Jewish Stories Go Hollywood!

Join G-dcast’s Producer, Screenwriter, and a panel of celebrity judges in an interactive Hollywood style pitchfest. Each team gets a (very) colorful Jewish story that we promise you’ve never heard before and develops its own red carpet, scene-stealing pitch. (We’ll coach you on how the experts do it.) Then send your best rep up on stage to dazzle the executives and convince us why YOUR story should be turned into an animated film. Big sunglasses provided. (Session produced by Sarah Lefton, with supporting cast turns by Sean Mandell, Josh Walters, and Esther Kustanowitz)

Since I’m the “celebrity judge” who lives and works closest to Hollywood (geographically, Beverly Hills ain’t far), bringing the celebrity glamour will be my responsibility. You can check out my new TribeFest speaker’s bio here.

2011 – Quite a Year

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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.

More posts available at http://myurbankvetch.com

Fall Schedule and New Links

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More posts available at http://myurbankvetch.com

Greetings, readers. Apologies to you all for the delay in posting – my mother fell ill in April, and passed away in May. Since then, I’ve been making my way back, slowly, into a new reality, trying to get back to normal. So here I am, accepting offers for speaking engagements and setting my travel schedule for fall 2011. I’ll be in San Francisco and Berkeley (September); New York City, New Jersey and Oakland, CA (October); Denver, CO (November); and London, UK (December). Contact me for details, or stay tuned to this space or to MyUrbanKvetch.com for updates and details.

Also, I’ve published a number of pieces that might be of interest – most of the posts are from my own blog focus on my processing the loss of my mother, but one continues to explore the Jewish innovation scene.

Innovation at Any Age” (eJewishPhilanthropy)

Eulogy for My Mother” (My Urban Kvetch)

E-Ma’ariv: Contemplating the Evening Prayers” (My Urban Kvetch)

Marzipan and Meaning: Jerusalem Reflections” (My Urban Kvetch)

Recent Publications: Opinionated Jewish Women, Innovation and more…

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“ROI Lights”: Introducing a series of Hanukkah posts about innovation and creativity (ROI Community)

“Where Are All the Opinionated Jewish Women?”: An op-ed submissions imbalance at the Forward leads to a larger discussion about Jewish women and our opinions  (MyUrbanKvetch, reprinted in eJewishPhilanthropy)

“Young Professionals/Singles/Young Leaders” – What’s in a Name? (MyUrbanKvetch)

“The Future of Jewish Journalism, Or Anything Else” (MyUrbanKvetch, reprinted in eJewishPhilanthropy)

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New Jewish Year, New Work Opportunities

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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).

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Under Construction – Please Watch Your Head

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Hi all – there will be some repairs going on here at EstherK.com. Hopefully, this won’t interfere with posting, but just wanted to give you the heads up about the impending scaffolding. 🙂

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Casting Call – The Rite of Tashlich (Jewish Journal)

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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.

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