Monday, March 18, 2013

Can You Do Chavruta En Masse and Online?
A Conversation about B'nai Mitzvah

I was reading the February issue of Fast Company which focused on all kinds of conversations and how they can drive us and our culture forward. It was actually quite interesting to see different takes on the idea - from Lena Dunham/Judd Apatow to Steve Jobs/Ed Catmull to Mark Zuckerberg and a high school buddy named Adam D'angelo. It was all about the art of dialogue and how the best, most creative ideas come out of dialogue.

Applying my schmaltz-colored glasses (my wife's term for my looking at everything through a Jewish lens), I see the chavruta all over this issue of the magazine. The idea that Torah was not meant to be studied on your own - like a poorly prepared student cramming for a final - but with a partner, a friend. "Find yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend..." says Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Perachya in Avot 1:6. The whole idea is that the sum of the wisdom of people in dialogue is greater than the sum of their individual ideas. I like it. I get it.

One of the dialogues in the section is "The Long And Short Of Creative Conversations" and takes place between world-class interviewer Charlie Rose and the founders of Twitter, Ev Williams and Biz Stone. It is a great piece and you can watch the entire, much longer interview on the Charlie Rose Show. I would love to have a dialogue about the topic of dialogue. Maybe later.

Williams and Stone are the guys who gave us the 140 character elevator speech. Some have called it the death of communication. Others sing it's praises (I do). They talked about a new app their company had developed called Branch. The idea is look at long-form conversation. Here is a part of their dialogue:
Photo by Christian Witkin
Williams: One (of our new projects) is Branch, which is an online conversation platform, and the concept there is very simple. If you want to have a good conversation around this table, you can't just say, "Whoever wants to show up can show up," and, you know, say two words and leave, as if it's just a free-for-all. That's essentially what online conversation has been for the past decade, and there's a beauty to that. The openness is great, but it doesn't lead to quality conversations. What Branch does is allow people to host dinner-party-like conversations and say, "Pretty much everybody can watch, but we're limiting who's actually invited to sit down at the table."

Stone:
Somebody begins by inviting people to discuss a topic on Branch. In that way, it's almost modeled after what we're doing here.

Rose:
Indeed. There have been I don't know how many efforts to create conversation around a dinner table for a television program, using a table to bring people together, and having somebody host it because you need someone just to kick it off.

Williams: And also to be able to end it. To say, "Thanks, everyone, I think this is the summary of what we've learned. . . ."
So I went to the Branch site. And I started my own dialogue last Friday afternoon, asking people to consider what we can do to make the process of becoming a Bar/Bar Mitzvah more meaningful to the student and family, to deepen connections with the congregation and the larger community and to enhance the entire experience. And then I invited my tweeps (folks I follow and/or who follow me on Twitter) to join the conversation. So far five have done so. You are invited as well. If you missed the invite, no worries. If I didn't send one, I am sorry. I either neither of us follows the other (please rectify that - I am @IraJWise) or your name didn't pop up. The interface for accessing your Twitter list could be a bit more elegant.

Check it out below or at http://branch.com/b/b-nai-mitzvah-and-what-it-could-be.

Jump in! The water is fine!



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