The Great Big Jewish Food Fest: A Platform Model Native to This Moment

Originally published in eJewishPhilanthropy

By Lisa Colton and Aliza Kline

You may be noticing – and perhaps feeling energized or exhausted by – the huge amount of content coming your way. Organizations big and small are creating new online content in an effort to keep you feeling connected to the organization and to each other. Everyone is trying to pivot what they used to do to fit the new reality.

But is there another way to do it? How might we offer cooperative approaches that celebrate our community’s diversity and deepen our bonds, all while allowing us a moment to catch our breath?

Great Big Jewish Food Fest logo

The Great Big Jewish Food Fest, a fully online festival announced today, is a great example of big, juicy, positive, and collaborative initiatives that can be born out of this moment. It embodies the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that investing in a platform model can create opportunities for easier, deeper partnership.

Just this last weekend, Arianna Huffington wrote in her weekly newsletter, “We have an opportunity to emerge into a world that is not merely new, but better, fairer and more compassionate than the one we leave behind. The pandemic has made it all too clear that we cannot continue to live and work the way we have – breathlessly and always on.”

As CEOs of Jewish nonprofits, we know only too well how it feels to work breathlessly. While dealing with difficult decisions about the future of our organizations, we’re also looking to adapt and transform – better addressing the changing needs of our populations for this moment, and for the long term. This is our opportunity to learn why a platform approach is strategically important for each of us, and for all of us together.

What’s the difference between a program and a platform? A program model uses organizational resources to design and market programs to attendees, where organizations create meaningful events and expect people to attend them. A platform model uses organizational resources to empower emergent leaders who design and organize for themselves and engage their own networks. The organization provides inspiration and support, and the “hosts” bring meaning and relationships with their ‘guests.’

Platform models:

  • Surface, catalyze, and empower emergent leadership (‘hosts’);
  • Design to support hosts with tools and expertise to achieve shared goals, uncovering barriers and solving for them, anticipating hosts’ needs, and helping hosts do the same for their guests;
  • Leverage the networks of the emergent leaders to engage more people and strengthen relationships.

Organizations such as OneTable and Moishe House were born as platform models. At OneTable we’ve seen the number of young people hosting (virtual and with roommates) Shabbat dinners on our platform rise each week since March 13. Last week there were 312 separate dinners hosted by and for young adults in 180 cities. In our current constrained moment, functioning as a platform affords us opportunities to adapt where needed and actually do new things that might not have been possible in our previous “normal.”

Thus, we’re excited to announce The Great Big Jewish Food Fest – a 10 day festival by and for people who love Jewish food, celebrating the diversity of our culinary tradition, from its rich global history to its religious and cultural foundations, its diversity of flavors and identities to its intersection with modernity. All events are free and open to the public thanks to generous funding from foundation donors, and festival attendees will be encouraged to donate to direct service partners focusing on supporting small food-related businesses and food insecurity.

Festival programs include cooking workshops and demonstrations; conversations among thought leaders and industry professionals; discussions around recent research on the role of food in Jewish identity and community; social events such as happy hours and Shabbat dinner gatherings; activities for kids, and more.

The festival functions as a platform on three levels:

  • Empowering organizational partners to bring what they do best and contribute to this global celebration, including, for example: preserving your family’s culinary history with the Jewish Food Society; kids’ programming with PJ Library; happy hour and roundtable events with Foodish, a new initiative from Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot; and an online film series with the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.
  • Using OneTable’s white labeled platform, the festival’s social layer invites anyone to host a virtual happy hour or Shabbat experience, to gather with their own network, alumni community or friends, or to create an experience open to any festival participant like a ‘taste of’ (pun intended) your organization or programs.
  • Engaging the top talent in the field for a series of Mainstage Events, including for example:
    • Shabbat cookoff with Michael Solomonov (Executive Chef/Co-Owner at Zahav, the 2019 James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurant), Adeena Sussman (bestselling cookbook author) and Einat Admony (chef and owner of Balaboosta, Kish-Kash and Taim), hosted by Gail Simmons (Top Chef);
    • Ruth Reichl (author and former editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine) and Joan Nathan (celebrated Jewish cookbook author) discussing Jewish Cooking in America Past and Present;
    • Restaurants and Chefs During COVID-19 with Mitchell Davis (James Beard Foundation), Grace Ramirez, Naama Shefi (Jewish Food Society);
    • Getting Your Shabbat Table Instagram Worthy with Jake Cohen (Editorial and Test Kitchen Director of The Feedfeed);
    • Millennials, Food and Engagement: Millennials, Food, and Engagement: Implications and Opportunities Based on New Research with Rella Kaplowitz (Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation), Aliza Kline (OneTable) and others;
    • And many more (brilliantly designed the Festival program team, which includes Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern of The Gefilteria, food journalist Devra Ferst and Sarah-Kay Lacks from the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan).

We invite you to share The Great Big Jewish Food Fest with your networks. Find events that resonate with your mission or interests, and use it as content for your audiences. Feeling motivated to create your own gathering? Find out more about how to propose an event here. This is a platform. You’re invited to come play.

Right now all the rules and norms in our lives are being renegotiated. Hopefully we will carry some of these new platform-style skills and culture back into the new world we are all building, whenever that may be.

Lisa Colton is the president of Darim Online and Darim Consulting. She is the Co-Executive Producer of The Great Big Jewish Food Fest. Aliza Kline is the CEO of OneTable. The festival registration is built on a white label version of the OneTable digital platform. You can also find and share The Great Big Jewish Food Fest on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.