Learning How to Live (from Ourselves!)
When screen-writer Nicola Behrman’s grandmother died, she raced around her grandparents’ home looking for a letter, something that documented who her grandmother was, anything that offered a glimpse into her life experiences, feelings about her family and the world.
The closest she came was finding one of her grandmother’s day-planners from 1964, with a mundane entry about an appointment for Behrman’s mother, “Susan Dentist.”
“It was as though for all the experiences we’d had together, for all the meals she’d cooked us, there was no real written record of her inner landscape”, Behrman commented. “So I was left with just my memories of her from the outside, rather than her own memories of herself, in her own voice, and I found that devastating.”
She became obsessed with the concept of “ethical will,” a record of values, hopes and beliefs.
A few months later, she met Ben Greenman, an editor at the New Yorker, and Amelia Klein, program director at Reboot, a non-profit that seeks to reinvent Jewish traditions and rituals. Together, with the support of Reboot, the three of them conceived of 10Q, a way in which people could create a written record of their inner thoughts, feelings and values.
Ten answers to pass on
The 10Q project asks participants to stop, reflect and answer ten questions over ten days during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The answers are then locked away in a digital vault and returned 12 months later.
The project has, in its short life, become a national sensation. The 10Q site garnered more than 30,000 visitors over the ten days in 2009, two articles in the New York Times, and countless responses from the thousands who saw it on the PR Newswire Jumbo-tron in Times Square, including the governor of New York and the president of New York University. This year, the questions will again be projected in Times Square as well as on PR Newswire’s digital billboard at the Fashion Show Mall on the Las Vegas Strip. Reboot is also partnering with the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation on the occasion of their 100th Anniversary and reach out to people in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and the North Bay via a mobile billboard projecting the day’s questions.
The ten days between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are often considered a perfect period of reflection, an opportunity to look at where you’re at, where you’ve come from, and where you’re heading. 10Q is for anyone interested in pondering their world. The questions are not religious in nature. They are about your place on the planet, and the planet’s place within you.
“It has a broad appeal because everyone needs time to pause and think,” Greenman said. “The timing was originally designed to reflect the Jewish New Year, but it’s also a back-to-school project — September is a good time to set aside the laziness of the summer. We want people, all people, to reflect on the present because that will help to bring the future, everyone’s future, into focus.”
Not just for Jews – at all
10Q attracts an ecumenical, multi-generational audience with participants ranging from teenagers to grandparents. Although the project is rooted in the Jewish idea of ethical wills and reflection, it has attracted people of all backgrounds and denominations, including Catholics, Episcopalians and Buddhists. One participant commented: “I’m Jewish, but more culturally than theologically and so I found this resonated perfectly with my trying to draw meaning and significance out of the rituals in ways that apply to my life.”
“Going through the public entries from this last year, you realize that 10Q is the complete antithesis to Facebook,” Behrman said. “Instead of trying to prove that life is wonderful, that everything is going great, people were incredibly honest in their 10Q entries.”
Fears about work, sense of self, loneliness all come out through the answers to the 10Q questions, she said.
The idea is for participants to answer the questions year after year and to build up an archive of sorts. For Behrman such a record from her grandmother would have been priceless.
“Just seeing the little detail of the dentist appointment for Susan scribbled in her grandmother’s handwriting was strangely comforting”, she said.
“I just wept. Susan is my mum. And clearly on that day, my grandma was taking her for what I imagine was a pretty mundane, routine visit to the dentist,” she said. “But somehow reading this innocuous little detail from her life, scribbled in her own hand, I got to hear my grandma’s voice. In two words, proof from the inside that she had existed.”
In its first year, the 10Q project resonated with a wide variety of people, including a documentary filmmaker, who asked the 10Q questions as a transformative exercise for death row inmates (and their families) before they were executed, and a social worker with a clinic mental health group.
Reboot Program Director Amelia Klein believes that the project can also facilitate intergenerational dialogue. For 10Q 2009, one family answered the daily 10Q question and then organized a daily conference call to discuss the answers with family members each evening. This resulted in the family contacting 10Q HQ to say that this was “the greatest period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur since the family had all lived in the same house together.”
This year’s questions range from “Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?” to “Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year? How? Why?”
How it works:
For those who sign up on the 10Q website, a 10Q question lands in their inbox daily along with a link. They are taken to a private and personal space to answer the question. The answer will be stored. The next day, they receive another question and a link. And so on, for 10 days.
At the end of the 10 days, there is a day or so of pause, post-Yom Kippur, to reflect on the answers. Each day participants are asked if they would like to share their answers with the 10Q editorial staff and/or a wider audience, either anonymously or attributed. Then, when they hit the button to finalize the process, the answers are sent either to a digitally locked online vault. The next year, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the answers will are returned to their inboxes, full of revelations.
Tanya Schevitz is Reboot’s National Communications Coordinator
Reboot is a growing network of thought-leaders and tastemakers who work toward a common goal: to “reboot” the culture, rituals, and traditions we’ve inherited and make them vital and resonant in our own lives. Reboot’s fellows (dubbed “Rebooters”) comprise a network – now 350 strong – made up of the country’s leading young creatives, activists and entrepreneurs— founders of the websites Flickr.com, Moveon.org, and Friendster; creators and senior writers of the television shows such as Weeds, The Office, Gossip Girl, and The United States of Tara; presidents of record labels; journalists from national newspapers like the New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle; community organizers; creative Jewish academics; non-profit leaders; and more. Together with Reboot, they have been responsible for producing some of the most influential and innovative Jewish books, films, music, Web sites and large-scale public events of the 21st century.
By Tanya Schevitz, Reboot