BY RABBI PATRICK ALEPH /AJT //
In my next several articles, I’m going to write about three businesses that inspire me to live “Jewishly,” and that I think are great models for Jewish engagement: Starbucks, Chipotle and lemonade stands.
I’ll start with Starbucks.
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One afternoon, while studying for rabbinical school, I started to marvel at how well put together Starbucks is. The colors of the building match the employees’ outfits. The drinks have elegant but simple names. Starbucks has all the consistency and continuity that any corporate entity dreams of.
Yet at the same time, Starbucks is not a soulless behemoth that is out to destroy humanity. Starbucks gives their employees health insurance. Starbucks was the leader in Fair Trade and sustainable business relationships. Starbucks supported gay marriage in a counter protest against Chick-Fil-A.
I have come to realize that Starbucks actually has a lot to teach us about religious community, not by doing anything new, but reminding us of who we as the Jewish community are, and what we have done in the past.
It’s called the “Third Place Experience”.
There are two places where people spend most of their time: home and work. Third places are someplace else. Third places are social anchors. They are the gathering places where, according to Ray Oldenburg who coined the term, are free or inexpensive, easy to get to, involve people who regularly congregate, are warm and comfortable, where friends old and new can be found, and ideally that involve eating and drinking.
Sounds like Starbucks? That’s because Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, is a big believer in third place experience and has modeled Starbucks after Oldenburg’s concept.
So what does any of this have to do with Judaism? A few things.
First, the mishkan, the portable tabernacle the Hebrews used as G-d’s dwelling place, is a lot like a Starbucks. It’s close by; it’s a third place that people want to go to; and lastly, the kohanim (priests) who served the mishkan actually dressed like the building! Employees who look like their place of work? That sounds like a Starbucks to me!
Secondly, the Starbucks model of business is the idealized model of the synagogue. Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, suggested that the synagogue be a center for Jewish communal life beyond prayer, with an emphasis on art, music, theater and community gathering.
The synagogue as a place where Jews naturally go, irrespective of religious ideas, is a lot like Starbucks. Some people go there to study. Some go to conduct business meetings, spend time with friends, and believe it or not, study Torah!
Finally, Starbucks reminds us of the key success factor of religious community: hospitality. Abraham invited strangers into his tent, and from that comes our spirit of hospitality as the Jewish people. This extends not just to our co-religionists, but to everyone in the world (ahavat ger). Starbucks may be hospitable to you because they want to sell you a Frappuccino, but it is hospitality nonetheless.
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