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Aaron Katler
CEO at UpStart

Democracy is the oxygen for Innovation

As an incubator and accelerator of Jewish social innovation, UpStart is deeply committed to the principles and values essential to a thriving democracy. We believe that freedom to associate and freedom of expression are essential for creating a just, vibrant, and inclusive Jewish community and for enabling all Jewish social entrepreneurs to thrive and flourish.

We are deeply concerned about the threats to democracy both in the United States and in Israel. These are not partisan issues but rather issues that affect all citizens regardless of political affiliation. A healthy democracy should have a range of political viewpoints and an orderly system for electing leadership, passing laws, and maintaining checks and balances. As relates to the work of seeding and supporting Jewish social innovation, this framework provides the stability and security necessary for Jewish social entrepreneurs to do their work.

At UpStart, we believe that all expressions of Judaism are worthy of support and nurturing. We recognize that our work is critical and urgent and that it does not operate in a vacuum. We must not remain silent in the face of these threats to democracy.

The challenges facing Israel today are complex and multifaceted. However, we believe that there is a direct correlation between a healthy democracy and a robust, thriving Jewish world. The message from Israel to Diaspora Jewry in 1948 was that we are all one people, and our struggle is your struggle. Today, our message back to the Israeli government is exactly the same. 

UpStart has several commitments that are consistent with its mission and expressions of this position.

Firstly, we strive to be a forum of ideas that presents a range of responsible viewpoints on issues of interest and importance to the community. Secondly, UpStart is dedicated to creating an atmosphere of inclusivity and does not tolerate any forms of discrimination or bigotry. We are committed to neither accepting nor granting funds to individuals who have engaged in discrimination, harassment, or assault. Thirdly, UpStart aims to create a pluralistic and diverse space for Jewish expression, welcoming people of all persuasions to celebrate Judaism in connection to community. 

Finally, UpStart acknowledges and honors the significance of the origins of the traditions of Judaism being rooted in and around the present-day State of Israel. The organization takes no formal stance on political issues related to Israel. However, UpStart will not work with an organization that has an implicit or explicit policy denying Israel’s right to exist. Criticism of specific Israeli policies alone does not warrant exclusion.

We firmly believe that democracy is the oxygen for innovation. Without it, our work would be impossible.UpStart stands with those who believe in the importance of a healthy democracy. The UpStart Network is the greatest representation of this belief. These leaders and ventures cover the spectrum of perspectives and are all equally committed to a democratic process as the means for change. 

This public statement about the threats to democracy and democratic values in America and Israel is motivated by a desire to express our values to those we serve. By making this statement, we hope to inspire other organizations and leaders to engage in the conversation and empower them to take a stand for what they believe in. As a leader, we see it as our responsibility to exhibit active and engaged leadership and demonstrate that we stand with those who rely on us to feel safe to speak their own truth. We encourage everyone to speak up for what they believe in, as we believe it is crucial for preserving democracy and democratic values.

We will continue to support and nurture all expressions of Judaism and remain active in the face of threats to democracy. While we have guiding principles for UpStart, we also know that even amongst our staff and board, there is a range of thoughts and emotions on this issue. We encourage everyone on our team to express themselves freely in that regard. We hope that everyone reading this will feel encouraged to do the same on their own and in their workplace. 

Our mission is clear – to build a more just, vibrant, and inclusive Jewish world across the ideological spectrum, and we believe that only a healthy democracy can make this possible.

The above was co-authored by Aaron Katler (CEO), Aliza Mazor (Chief Filed Building Officer), Mark Achler (Board Chair)

About the Author
Aaron serves as the CEO of UpStart, an incubator and accelerator for Jewish social innovation.
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