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Written by Staff on February 11, 2014 [Jewcer]
Ayo Oppenheimer is the founder and editor of Jewrotica.org A serial project creator and modern day wandering Jew, Ayo downsized to 25 feet of simplicity and spent three years full-time RVing around North America, energizing Jewish communities, volunteering with local nonprofits, piloting new projects and connecting with the underground circus community. Prior to launching Jewrotica, Ayo worked in strategy and operations for Deloitte Consulting, created and released a documentary film, lectured at 300+ universities and institutions as a subject-matter expert on religion and state issues in Israel, and directed an international summer camp. Ayo most recently trained in silks and trapeze, sang with a black gospel choir in Austin, TX and danced with several performing arts companies. Just this past month, Ayo relocated to Jerusalem where she will work on Jewrotica, teach acrobatic yoga and partner with the local shelter systems to fight domestic violence in the Orthodox community.
Tell us about your project.
My project, well one of them anyway, is Jewrotica.org. Jewrotica is a website that explores the intersection between sexuality, relationships, gender and Judaism at large.
What are you working on that you are passionate about? What is your initiative’s impact on the Jewish community?
At Jewrotica, we believe in the innate holiness of intimate relations but we also believe that hiding it away in a misguided attempt to promote modesty often results instead in the promotion of ignorance and dysfunction. We also love how we can use the vehicle of sexuality to promote greater Torah and Jewish literacy. As such, our initiative has had a broad impact both on Traditional Jews as well as the lesser affiliated and everyone in between.
How did you come up with your initiative? What inspired you to do it?
It seems to me that traditional Judaism has been affected and influenced by certain social and religious norms that are actually foreign to Judaism. Of course Judaism has a reverential approach to sexuality but that is often forgotten in favor of puritanical, almost Victorian notions that have nothing to do with Jewish values.
Who is the person or cause that motivates you? What makes them inspirational?
One motivation is the desire to integrate the diverse facets of my personal experience. I grew up in a traditional Jewish household and was always drawn to a rigorously intellectual approach to Judaism and Jewish studies. I have also explored alternative and fringe lifestyles and communities and have always been open to the world at large while remaining true to my core values.
I am most motivated by the desire to do good, to share whatever knowledge and perspectives I have and to, as much as possible, make the world a better place. I am also inspired by my family. Everyone in my family is exceptional in some way and my parents provided a tremendous amount of encouragement and loving support. My younger sister Jessie is the savant of the family, having worked in NYC neuroscience research labs, taken command of East Coast emergency rooms and singlehandedly provided urgent care to hospital patients in Botswana – all at the age of 21. A graduate of Yale University, she is making aliyah to enroll in medical school at Hebrew University and join the IDF to specialize in trauma treatment in Israel and worldwide. Doogie Howser, much? That girl is a powerhouse.
Share your 3 favorite online or mobile tools (apps, websites, etc) that people should use to strengthen the Jewish community and why you like them so much.
1. Google Drive: allows for shared documentation
2. Google Hangouts: allows for simultaneous video conferencing between multiple parties
3. Doodle: a neat polling program that allows for easy group scheduling. I believe that Doodle offers a free survey option.
What book or TEDTalk would you recommend aspiring Jewish innovators read or watch? Why?
“A Broken Body Isn’t A Broken Person” by Janine Sheperd
“It wasn’t until I let go of the life I thought I should have that I was able to embrace the life that was waiting for me.” – Janine Sheperd
Translation: Stay focused and be mindful, but also be open to the opportunities that are waiting for you to find them.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a Jewish Innovator? What did you learn from it? What would you do differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?
Being an innovator is often a very solitary pursuit. That’s just the nature of innovation – your idea or project is innovative because no one else has thought of it before or no one else is as passionate about it as you are. As such, recruiting and retaining a team to help you make the project come to fruition can be difficult and challenging.
Add a question of your own that we did not ask and give the answer to it.
Question: “How do you motivate yourself and achieve success?”
Answer: Life is short. Act now. If you’re unhappy with things in your life, make changes. Set deadlines for changes that you want to make, or they won’t happen. Take mini-retirements throughout your life. Don’t wait until your 60s to enjoy the moment. Passionately work and passionately play. Spend as much of your life as you can embodying love. Truly. And every now and then, think back to that famous Mark Twain quote and let it move you: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I need to take my own advice on these things some time.