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I’ve had my fair share of issues with Dan Sieradski, former publisher
of the progressive blog Jewschool. He’s one of those guys who tries to
have it both ways, harshly and unfairly criticizing Israel and
traditional Judaism while flaunting his Rabbinic pedigree and his love
of the Jewish people. While we’ve obviously had our fair share of
disagreements, one could always at least count on Sieradski to be
consistent. Sieradski was once a very active blogger with regular
posts on Jewschool and the now completely defunct Orthodox Anarchist,
but now he confines himself mostly to twitter where his tweets are
lapped up by self styled Jewish progressives and Jewish community
professionals seeking out what they perceive to be the voice of young
Jewish America.

Thus it was with little surprise that I read one of Sieradski’s tweets
on May 27th, 2010 where he stated that he was “Seriously considering
whether to cancel my trip to Israel this summer since the state now
considers my community its enemy.” See, Sieradski has been a virulent
critic of the both the Israeli government and the organized Jewish
community, yet he has lived in Israel on a Dorot Fellowship, has been
employed by the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency – the voice of the
Jewish establishment) and Repair the World (funded by establishment
Jewish Philanthropists), and he was even given the honor of addressing
the United Jewish Federation’s General Assembly Plenary Session!

The trip in question was to attend the 2010 ROI Summit, a 4 day
extravaganza that reunites young Jewish innovators from around the
world. Sieradski had recently received a $6,000 grant from ROI to
further pursue his longstanding Jew it Yourself project – a sort of
social networking hub for Jews. ROI, which stands for Return on
Investment, is a project of the Schusterman Foundation. Lynn
Schusterman, one of the principal funders of Taglit-Birthright Israel,
created this project in part to highlight the accomplishments of young
Jews in the Birthright Israel era.

As what some consider to be a leading innovator, it was no surprise
that Sieradski received a token grant. What was surprising was that he
received a grant despite his performance, particularly at the 1st ROI
Summit in 2006. There as a member of the Technology track, he
presented his Jew it Yourself project which was already in development
thanks to a $40,000 Dorot grant. Afterwards, the members of the
technology track began discussing the possibility of redoing the
Birthright Israel Web site. Many felt it would be a good idea to
incorporate social networking elements that they were all familiar
with thanks to the popularity of facebook. Sieradski however felt that
what they were doing in fact was stealing his ideas for Jew It
Yourself without giving him credit as the inventor of social
networking for Jews.

Sieradski even loudly confronted Lynn Schusterman herself with his
accusations. He felt that the only reason he had been invited to
attend ROI was so that the Schusterman organization could steal his
ideas. Little came of this until a little over a year later. Sieradski
had by then left Israel, resigned his position at Jewschool and was
preparing to begin his new job as director of digital media at the
JTA. A friend of his had attended the 2007 ROI Summit and wrote a
humorous but scathing post on Jewcy about his experience. Sieradski
linked to the post from his Orthodox Anarchist blog and originally
wrote the following:

“Last year I participated in an event called ROI 120, a Jewish
entrepreneurial clusterfuck sponsored by birthright israel and funded
by the Schusterman Family Foundation. I had an awful time, as anyone
who was there can tell you. I won’t bother to recall precisely what
sucked about the experience for me other than to quote Raekwon the
Chef in saying “Niggas tried to rob my gate.”

Sieradski was in effect saying that birthright israel and the
Schusterman Foundation attempted to rob him! He later removed the
quote from Raekwon and added an apology to the Schusterman Foundation.
Why? Well it seems that only after he authored his post did he realize
that the Schusterman Foundation was very involved in the JTA, his
future employer, and fearing for his job, he retracted and eventually
deleted his post. Luckily, the Internet never forgets and I have
screen caps of both the fierce first post and the snivelling second
post.

Fast forward to 2010 and Sieradski, who had already received his grant
from the Schustermans for Jew it Yourself (as well as another project
– Haggadot – that he was involved in), was now contemplating making a
grand gesture and refusing to attend the ROI summit because he felt
marghinalized by the State of Israel. Of course, Sieradski never met a
hand out he didn’t like and so he attended the 2010 ROI Summit. There
he distinguished himself by convening an Open Space session whose
topic was “Opposing the Occupation as a Zionist Imperative.” Later he
tweeted about his experience at ROI:

“#roicom ’10 was a vast imprvmnt over ’06. had a great time, saw good
friends, made new ones, gained new skills & am looking forward to
more.”

Looking forward to more? I’m guessing that since some of the ROI
participants received $50,000 in grants from the Schustermans for
their projects, what he’s looking forward to more of is cold, hard,
cash. And he’s going to need it! After 6 years of working on Jew it
Yourself, all he has to show for it is a twitter account, a facebook
page, an unused domain name and shulshopper.com, a site that hasn’t
received an update since September 2009. I don’t know what sort of
screening the ROI organization does for its grant recipients, but one
has to really wonder!

Perhaps they were thinking that now that he has an important job and a
wife, that he’s left his craziness and bombast behind? That he is in
fact a reliable innovator, capable of improving the state of the
Jewish world with his fresh, 6 year old projects? Given what happened
after ROI the prognosis is poor.

Sieradski was forced to cut his trip short because his father in law
had passed away and he naturally wanted to be with his wife to offer
her solace and comfort. His tweets however reflected the frustration
he had in getting his ticket with ELAL rescheduled for an earlier
departure. His first tweet on Staurday read as follows:

my wife’s father jst died & i’m trapped in israel until sunday because
kike airlines is beholden to haredi fascists & won’t answer the phone

Then after getting in touch with the haredi fascist beholden ELAL on
Saturday afternoon, he noted:

kike airlines wants $720 to change my flight to 10:40am tomorrow —
$200 less if i can fax them a death certificate. wtf?!

followed by:

@elalisrael @elalusa hi! my father in law is dead & you’re charing me
$770 to go home early! but you keep shabbos! such tzadikim. FUCK YOU.

and:

that $770 charge? it was to “upgrade” my ticket from economy
to…economy. seriously: fuck you @elalisrael @elalusa exploiting the
bereaved.

as well as:

@elalisrael @elalusa FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK
YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU

Later he added an apology that sounded a tad insincere:

dear fellow jews: i apologize for referring to el al by a derogatory
slur in a moment of extreme anger & frustration. will they apologize?

What’s really funny is Sieradski’s use of the term kike. When Eastern
European Jews started flooding into America, the more established
German American Jews referred to their grubby shtetl cousins as
“kikes” in reference to their last names that contained the suffix
“ki” or “ky” – names like… like Sieradski! Thus a derogatory term
aimed at Jews and created by Jews was adopted the world over by
anti-Semites. With Tisha B’av just around the corner, commemorating
the destruction of the Jewish Temple occasioned by baseless hatred for
one Jew over another. Sieradski’s use of the term “kike” – even in a
moment of anger and frustration – shows not just contempt for fellow
Jews, but also self-hatred. Coming during the current three week
mourning period, one has to ask, is this man really representative of
the new generation of DIY Jews? Is he really one of the top young
Jewish innovators who are going to resucitate Judaism and bring it
into a new era? Do ROI, the Schusterman Foundation and the people
behind Repair The World really want to be associated with this sort
thing?

Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’d like to extend my sympathies
to Sieradski’s wife and family on their loss and I pray that Sieradski
learns the true meaning of the idea of love of one’s fellow man.