Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and founder of The Webby Awards. Her recent films are “The Science of Character,” “The Adaptable Mind” and “The Making of a Mensch.” She has received more than 75 awards and distinctions for her films and work. Her film studio, Let it Ripple, in San Francisco hosts a global event called Character Day (September 22, 2016) that explores the social science and neuroscience behind character development -- shaping and developing who we are -- with screening and discussion events around the world. Tiffany is currently directing a new film called “50/50,” about the past, present and future of women and power that will be released this fall.
City: San Francisco
1. Has Judaism had a direct impact on what you are doing in your life today?
Being Jewish has definitely filtered into everything I am doing today. As a filmmaker the first “Jewy” film I made was directly inspired by the first Reboot Summit in 2002--I wanted to bring this conversation about American-Jewish identity in the 21st century to a wider audience. So Ken Goldberg (collaborator, husband, Rebooter) and I wrote “The Tribe: American Jewish Identity through the history of the Barbie Doll...in 18 minutes.” It came with a discussion box including the film, conversation cards, and a book called “Guide From the Perplexed” (based on Maimonides book from the 11th century “Guide For the Perplexed.”) Ten years later, in some ways the “follow-up” to that film is my recent “The Making of a Mensch” (2015) - with a discussion kit about reviving an ancient Jewish philosophy (Mussar) about living with meaning and purpose. So 10 years ago I was wrestling with “What does it mean to be Jewish?” And today, as a married mother of two, I’m asking “Okay, I’m Jewish, what Jewish ideas can help me live with meaning and purpose, and help Ken and I raise mensches?” (And yes, I want to reclaim mensch for both men and women.)
“The Making of a Mensch” is one of the three films being shown on Character Day on Sept 22, 2016, when people all over the world watch films and engage in discussion materials that focus on character development in the 21st century from different perspectives. There are 20,000 screening events planned at schools, companies, congregations, organizations on who we are and who we want to be in the world. We’re working with Jewish educators to expand our “Making of a Mensch” materials and resources this year which will be available online. We also have amazing thought leaders both Jewish and secular experts in the field on Character Day on our online Google hangout that unifies all of these screenings. I’d love for anyone reading this to bring Character Day to their kid’s school, congregation, alternative shul, work, or home. It definitely seems like the news today is calling for us to think, rethink and focus on who we are and who we want to be in the world. It’s all free -and you can check out a one-minute trailer and information here.
2. Traditionally, there is a day of rest to help us recharge. How do you keep a healthy work/life balance?
Since my father passed away in 2009, my family and I have turned off all screens from Shabbat until late afternoon/early evening on Saturday. We started doing it that first National Day of Unplugging. We are now on our seventh year and it has been one of the best decisions we ever made. Friday morning, I make challah with the girls. In the afternoon we make the table gorgeous with fresh flowers, Ken cooks an amazing roast chicken. We always have people over for dinner. All screens (phones, iPads, computer) go off. Then we go to bed, unplugged. Saturday morning we wake up to a whole day to just hang out, no screens, reading, daydreaming, in nature, connecting. It resets everything each week, and I value this ritual/practice above all others in my life.
3. What’s your favorite bagel topping?
I like the whole megillah. Cream cheese, lox, tomato, cucumber, dill, salt & pepper, avocado. That sounds excessive as I write this….but it’s true.
4. What has been your most impactful Jewish-ish experience?
Ken and I helping to rethink, plan and experience our daughter Odessa’s recent bat mitzvah.
5. How has Reboot helped shaped your Jewish identity in new ways?
See answers 1 and 2.
6. What is your favorite Jewish text (text defined loosely as film, book, poem, graffiti art…)?
“The Sabbath” by Abraham Heschel. I love the way he talks about Shabbat as being “a sanctuary in time.” As I move through life, I keep understanding more layers on why it’s so important to truly take one day off and place your mind and soul into a different mode. It’s amazing for creativity and connection.
7. If you could unplug and spend time with a Jewish/Jew-ish person or several people for an hour, who would it be and what would you do?
I’d like to take the following people to Burning Man: Einstein, Queen Esther, Abraham Heschel, Hannah Arendt, Mel Brooks, Gilda Radner, and Louis CK...in one airstream.
8. How do you think Judaism is evolving in today’s world?
Our greatest strength as Jews is to ask questions, and questioning is the lubrication for innovation. It keeps us exploring the best parts of rituals and ideas and then rethinking of how they can be updated for the 21st century.
9. What is your Six-Word Memoir on your Jewish Journey?
Jew. Jew-ish. Ish. Shh.. Jew. Jewess.