Jessy Tolkan is the head of labs & executive director of Here Now at Purpose, a creative campaign agency headquartered in New York City. Day-to-day, she helps build cutting edge campaign labs of innovation to solve some of the world's biggest problems ranging from climate change to the refugee crisis. Currently, Purpose Labs is all about defeating Trump with a Super PAC effort entitled, Not Who We Are. Jessy is co-founder of Youth Climate Movement in the United States and former executive director of Citizen Engagement Lab. Rolling Stone Magazine named her one of the 100 “agents of change” in America in 2008.
City: New York City & Washington, DC (Wisconsinite for LIFE)
Has Judaism had a direct impact on what you are doing in your life today?
I get to spend my days trying to change the world. From combatting climate change, to supporting an anti-Trump Super Pac this election cycle, to working on the refugee crisis - I'm literally in the business of trying to mobilize everyday people to transform the world around them. In retrospect, I think I learned the values of "Tikkun Olam" at a really early age at Jewish summer camp and it just stuck with me in a pretty proud way.
Traditionally, there is a day of rest to help us recharge. How do you keep a healthy work/life balance?
I have been totally blessed with the greatest community of friends I could have ever imagined. My balance in life is ensuring time for awesome meals in my two cities of DC and NY, hosting dinner parties, and making sure that when all is said and done, I'm willing and able at the drop of a hat to be there as much, if not more for those I love, than for the causes and work that I also love.
What’s your favorite bagel topping?
Not so Jewish on this one, I LOVE a toasted bagel with butter.
What has been your most impactful Jew-ish experience?
No question, 13 epic years at Camp Interlaken JCC, and of course two unforgettable weekends on the mountain at Reboot, the closest I've come to feeling that spirit of the Machaneh since my last summer at camp in 2000.
How has Reboot helped shaped your Jewish identity in new ways?
Reboot has breathed new life in how I get to show up as a Jew in my everyday life. It’s the new friendships I've made that give me opportunity to discuss being a Jew more regularly, it’s the way I proudly incorporate being a Jew into my work more visibly than I had before, and it’s my deeper appreciation for what a creative, multi-disciplinary, community of people we are as Jews.
What is your favorite Jewish text (text defined loosely as film, book, poem, graffiti art…)?
Curb your Enthusiasm would've been my answer for years, but there's just no question that Transparent has taken the spot as my #1 all time favorite and most beautiful form of art celebrating our people and culture.
If you could unplug and spend time with one Jewish/Jew-ish person for an hour, who would it be and what would you do?
I have to go full political nerd on this one. I think I'd have to say, the former (and soon-to-be) Senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold. He's been an inspiration for me throughout my political life and went out on a limb and endorsed me for the Madison City Council when I was only 19 years old. He is running one hell of a political comeback fight to rejoin the Senate this Fall. We'd sit on the terrace in Madison, drink a beer, and plot the Progressive takeover of America.
How do you think Judaism is evolving in today’s world?
I think Judaism is evolving in beautiful and kind of sad ways at the same time. We are a people and community changing with the times, more accepting and welcoming of all types of people, families, and ideas, and at the same time - our numbers, our rates of total non-affiliation worry me. We've for so long had a quite beautiful outsized influence on culture, innovation, politics, and more...we are a people that has endured so much - I want and hope we evolve forever, and never cease to be the small and mighty people we are.
What is your Six-Word Memoir on your Jewish Journey?
Family. Tradition. Values. History. Strength. Stamina.
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