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CSI: Coffee. Study. Interpret.

The Well
Detroit, Michigan United States
Leadership team

Dan Horwitz, Founding Director and Rabbi

Organization website
Prize category
Local/Regional
Operational
1 – 3 years
Target audience
20s & 30s, GLBTQ, Interfaith, Unaffiliated
Categories
Advocacy, Community Building, Jewish Education, Outreach & Engagement, Text Study

We've re-imagined the traditional "House of Study" and are hosting gatherings each month with attendance ranging from 50-125 people (overwhelmingly unaffiliated young adults -- without using alcohol as a draw!) at cool venues around Metro Detroit to hear from expert speakers and engage in relevant, rooted, small-group text learning on topics immediately applicable to our daily lives. From gatherings focusing on the Syrian Refugee Crises, to contemporary LGBTQ issues, to the Flint Water Crises, to Mass Incarceration, we provide the space to question, learn, challenge, grow and engage with one another and the Jewish tradition.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

The text packets that we put together at each of the monthly gatherings are filled with wisdom - much of it Jewish. From selections from Tanach to Midrash, Talmud to Rambam, Tony Kushner to Emma Lazarus, the wisdom and works of our people are being explored (in concert with other secular texts) by young adults in a way they otherwise simply would not be. More broadly, the overarching structure in which we convene these gatherings is inspired by Avot 4:1 -- "Who is wise? One who learns from every person."

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

By framing Jewish wisdom as part of broadly received human wisdom, we speak to the universalist outlook of today's Jewish millennials while simultaneously cultivating an appreciation for their own tradition. By convening the gatherings around subjects that are in the news / in public consciousness, inviting experts to share insights, and then creating the space for text-based conversation (the relevant academic literature has made it clear that millennials prefer to learn/engage via participatory conversation as opposed to lengthy lectures) that is informed by personal experience, we allow for the material and concepts raised to be digested and immediately related to daily life. Concluding each gathering by sharing potential action steps empowers attendees to make their (now more deeply informed) voices heard!

What impact has your program had on your participants?

From exclamations from a 24-year-old young woman such as (please excuse the language - it's her, not mine!) "Fuck Yeah, Torah!" to a 31-year-old non-Jewish spouse married to a Jewish person sharing that one of our gatherings was the first time she has felt truly comfortable in a Jewish communal space, the anecdotal evidence of our success has been tremendous. The fact that we have developed a significant number of participants who attend each month, regardless of topic, is further testament to our model of Jewish learning resonating with our target demographic. If you examine the "Nice Jewish Boy / Nice Jewish Girl of the Month" section of our website (we feature a young single person each month), you'll note that when asked to describe The Well, well over half comment as to how their participation in our gatherings results in them considering viewpoints different from their own, connecting with their tradition in a deeper way, and thinking about numerous current issues through a Jewish lens. And that's just a small sampling of those who attend!

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

In all honesty, in many ways the key to our success is what we playfully call "sneak attack" exposure. Given that the majority of young Jewish adults did not continue on with any sort of formal Jewish learning after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah (if they even prepared for and celebrated one), there simply is a complete lack of knowledge about the rich (and relevant!) wisdom tradition we are fortunate enough to have inherited as Jews. Most of our participants have never been exposed to "Grown Up Judaism" - the best and most valuable parts of our tradition! So - we pique their curiosity with incredible (and overwhelmingly secular) subject-matter-expert speakers on topics that will be of interest, and then find ways during their text-based discussions to weave in Jewish wisdom in ways that make it easy to understand, are relevant to the conversation, and are immediately applicable in daily life.