Two Jews with ideas venture forth with new capital

Amy Tobin had an idea. A hub for young, emerging Jewish artists could be invaluable to performers like herself. But as the manager of cultural arts and community development at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, she didn't exactly have the time or resources to make it happen.

Enter the Joshua Venture. The S.F.-based program founded to encourage the leadership of young adults within the Jewish community announced its first group of fellows — Tobin, 26, among them. And with a retreat that took place last month, the organization is priming them to make their mark on the Jewish world.

Out of some 90 applications nationwide, 17 finalists were interviewed, and then eight fellows and one alternate were selected, two of them from San Francisco.

"We were overwhelmed, in a positive way, with what is clearly a renaissance in new thinking and leadership coming from Jews in their 20s and 30s," said Brian Gaines, executive director of the Joshua Venture.

The 90 applications received were "three times as many as we were expecting," Gaines said, noting that many were from people not necessarily affiliated with the Jewish community. "We hit a real nerve. There are a lot of young people who are interested in creating new and innovative programs."

In addition to Tobin, Sam Ball, 31, filmmaker and associate director and co-curator of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, was chosen to launch the New Jewish Filmmaker Project for teenagers.

Ball plans to train 10 to 15 teens to be independent Jewish filmmakers. Those who are selected for the project will create films on Jewish subjects from start to finish by researching, writing, producing, directing and marketing them. Upon completion, the films will debut in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in 2002.

In its 20-year history, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has "devoted much of its resources to looking back and giving a history of an entire movement that Jewish film represents," Ball said. "Now it's time to look forward and to concentrate on our young people."

With his project, Ball said, "we are planting the seeds for a body of new Jewish filmmakers, and I hope this will start an exciting dialogue for organizations working with teens."

What Ball and Tobin will receive from the program is seed capital — $60,000 over two years — intensive entrepreneurial training, mentorships, technical assistance and health benefits.

Sponsored by a group of various philanthropists, the Joshua Venture chose its first group of fellows in December, and held the retreat for them in Sonoma in February.

Calling it a "magical week for us all," Gaines said the retreat wanted to offer an opportunity for fellows to develop entrepreneurial skills, learn nonprofit management and fund-raising techniques, share ideas and create a sense of community.

While staff organizers did their job in providing the fellows with all of these things, perhaps one of the best resources they had to learn from was one another, Gaines said.

An online discussion board has been set up among them, where they will keep each other monitored on their individual progress. There is also a place where they can communicate among themselves, without the staff being able to participate.

Now, post-retreat, the fellows are involved in looking for mentors. They left with a plan of what they're going to try to accomplish in the next three to six months.

At the next retreat, Gaines said he hopes all the mentors will be able to attend, as well.

Some of the fellows' projects can get started immediately; others will take longer to get off the ground. Tobin's Young Adult Initiative in Cultural Arts is one that she hopes to begin as soon as possible.

Now on a mission to find the highest quality of performers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Tobin hopes to begin an intercultural dialogue among artists.

Beyond the training, which she found invaluable, Tobin described her peers in the program — who include an Orthodox rabbi and a self-described feminist "Valley Girl" — as "an incredible group of people."

"They found a group of people who have optimism, who are a really forward-looking group, and who wants to change the face of Jewish community."

Ball said in addition to his filmmaking activities, the program was allowing him to do more teaching, something he has been wanting to do for awhile.

"A teacher I had in grad school once said, 'It's not real until you get your first money,'" Ball said. "The Joshua Venture has made it real."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."