The Story of WISDOM TRIBE And How I Became Its Chief Executive Integrator

If You Build It, They Will Come

University of California Santa Barbara, 2006.

At the age of 20, I threw a music festival. It was called ChillaVista and it was awesome. Pulling off this “Interactive Celebration of Community” was the happiest day of my life.

For years I had struggled to find my true self.

I seamlessly progressed from pre-teen in the punk scene to high-school serial stoner, wannabe freestyle rapper “Keg-master J” to psychedelic socialist, serial academic, psychosomatic yogi… believe me, the list goes on.

Ever the traverser of worlds, I was as comfortable schmoozing with the International Relations professor as I was with the Mexican Mafia.

ChillaVista gave me a new handle. I formed a group studies class and recruited 15 of my friends to join me in determining best practices in festival throwing (can you still get away with this?). In the end, over 100 students received credit for organizing the event.

It was monumental. Over 2,000 people attended. We implemented 0-waste principles. We had two stages for performers; one ran on bio-diesel and one on solar. We had our own festival currency, an organic farmers market, live glass blowing, and various other delectable accouterments (medicinal cannabis tent on University property anyone?). The festival continues to this day, now in its 9th year.

Finally, I had an identity to rally around. I was a producer of transformative experience. I was going to change the world. Arts, music, and events were my routes of administration. I had found my true self.

From Dreadlocks to Sidelocks

Or not. My career as an event producer came to an unexpected halt. Turning down an offer from the UCSB’s Chancellor to work on ChillaVista full time, I headed out to London, ostensibly to obtain an MA in Global Studies from the London School of Economics. However, hindsight reveals that it was a spiritual, not academic, transformation lay ahead.

In London, I became acquainted with an Orthodox Jewish community for the first time in my life. They were full of life, full of wisdom, and full of selfless service to humanity.

I had always been a spiritual seeker. Judaism, however, had never been on the menu.

I danced with the Hari Krishas, breathed pranayama with the yogis, blissed out with the Sufis, and fired up incense with the Daoists. In these ancient rituals, I experienced the zeal of authentic life, fully lived.

Judaism on the other hand, was that stale air that had asphyxiated me through seven unrelenting years of Hebrew School. #badtrip

The world has a strange way of working out. In the end it was a non-Jewish friend from high-school, who after fleeing from a hit placed on his life by the Mexican Mafia, set me on the path to exploring my roots. While seeking refuge at my house in Santa Barbara, “Big Bad Brendan” was walking through a field one day and encountered a Rabbi planting trees in a field on the Jewish eco-holiday of Tu Bshvat.

I know I know, the old “crack-dealer-flees-from-mafia-bumps-into-orthodox Rabbi-planting-trees” meme is a well-worn cliché by now. But believe it or not, it’s the story of my life.

A year and a half after Brendan had introduced me to the Rabbi, I was now ready to trade in my dreadlocks for side locks. I moved from London’s swanky Soho neighborhood to the northwest Jewish suburb of Golders Green. I completed my masters at LSE, another masters at the University of Vienna, and then traveled to Jerusalem to attend a yeshiva (institute of Jewish study).

Discovering My Tribal Roots

I was always a global soul. My parents began taking our family on world adventures when I was just 11. By the age of 20, I had been to 45 countries and spoke proficient Mandarin Chinese. My thirst for knowledge had iterated successive inquisitive branches over the years, expanding into a plethora of diverse knowledge-ecosystems. However, I always remained estranged from my own spiritual roots. Born Jewish, I had never traveled to Israel, spoke no Hebrew, and had zero interest in Judaism.

“Some are leaves, some are branches, I and I are the roots” — Bob Marley

My journey to Jerusalem in 2008 was the tale of a global soul tapping into his tribal routes. For the first time in 5 years, I was back living in a dorm. And this time I didn’t even get thrown out 6 weeks in! I limited my cell phone and Internet usage. I woke up at 5 in the morning to pray at sunrise. I spent ten hours a day engaging in ancient texts in Hebrew and Aramaic. In my all men’s learning institution, contact with girls was little to none.

All this required immense dedication and commitment, something I had struggled with in my privileged millennial lifestyle. I was always a doer, and I could “achieve” things, in the parlance of our times. But try to pin me down for more than a few days in one place- hah! My 6 years in yeshiva trained me to appreciate focus, to embrace consistency. My free flowing branches and shimmering summer leaves were finally growing roots.

“Life’s been good to me so far”

In November 2012, I married my soul-mate Rachelli Lehman. We now live in a quaint village enveloped by the lush Judean Forest. We have been blessed with beautiful baby daughter named Sarah Nechama.

The Dance of a Chief Executive Integrator

The most profound proclamation of Wisdom I have heard during my tenure here in Jerusalem came from a mentor of mine named Gidon Levinson. Reb Gidon, as I call him, is a full-blown Chassidic Jew. He is a devout follower of the Rebbe of Amshinov, perhaps the most eclectic and otherworldly spiritual master in the Jewish world today. When not reveling in the meditative melodies of a Chassidic tish, Reb Gidon is a senior lecturer and professor of music composition at Bar Ilan University. He’s also a brilliant chef with an enigmatic palate. This cosmopolitan Chassidic mentor of mine once remarked to me the following:

“The true spiritual path is not one of dogmatic religion, but of graceful dance.”

Those words continue to ring true to me everyday as I navigate the sweeping polarities of life experience.

On several occasions, the Torah refers to humankind as trees. With roots digging into the ground to secure foundation, and branches stretching up to make their influence felt far and wide, humans are a composite of dialectics. We unite past and present, heaven and earth, the spiritual and material realms.

It is this all-encompassing motif of the tree that inspired me to found Wisdom Tribe. Thus, the new position of Chief Executive Integrator was born.

But enough esoterics, let me tell you about this exciting new start-up.

Ancient Wisdom Optimized For The Digital Age

According to the latest draft of our mission statement, Wisdom Tribe is

“a collective of Jewish educators and creatives delivering ancient wisdom to a global audience.”

Or is it

“delivering digital and experiential learning opportunities to the tech/mindfulness movement”

And sometimes I like to think of it like this:

TED marries VICE. MOSES officiates.

The Jewish people have inherited a 4,000-year-old treasure house of timeless wisdom. For millennia, these teachings remained in the exclusive domain of a privileged few. Aside from the initiated scholar fluent in Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, this body of life changing knowledge lay outside the sphere of influence of the majority of Jews, let alone citizens of the globe.

“Wisdom Tribe seeks to translate and adapt this timeless wisdom, making it accessible to everybody, anywhere.”

Our first step was assembling a team of authentic, world-class teachers steeped in this Wisdom tradition. Some were leaders of communities, others reclusive mystics. And still others oversaw multi-million dollar businesses. What united them was their mastery of Ancient Torah wisdom, and their ability to communicate these skills with Digital Age sensibility.

We paired these masters with a team of high-end creatives, seeking out top animators, designers, filmmakers, web developers, writers, and other wizards of web 2.0. Though the parchment and quill will forever remain ingrained in the Torah tradition, a Digital Age necessitates a digital expression for these timeless teachings. With the launch of our prototype website, WisdomTribe.Global, we have produced all original content exploring the Jewish concept of “Chochma” or Wisdom in 10 social media platforms.

The Forest Sessions

In December, 2014, we gathered together a group of diverse souls for a truly extraordinary event. Religious and secular alike, we met at a beautiful location nestled in the Judean hills to receive wisdom from our tribe’s most prolific educators.

The FOREST SESSIONS was born. It was a day of harmonizing ‘opposites’: the Torah world and Start-up nation, nature and technology, the Jewish people and global citizenry. Half of the day was dedicated to 15-minute lectures on the subject of “Chochma” or Jewish Wisdom. The other half of the day featured a hike in the forest, capped off by a serene Tai Chi workshop at sunset.

<Insert Video Link>

The day had two objectives:

1. Local: To cultivate a socially driven outdoors learning environment comprised of high performance individuals from a wide range of Israeli society. From Tel Aviv’s Start-Ups to Jerusalem’s Yeshivas, we targeted individuals seeking open access to practical Jewish Wisdom.

2. Global: To film the lectures and release them to a universal audience, including major tech and mindfulness professionals across the world. The ten lectures are being released as part of the Wisdom Tribe prototype (launching in February) which I will be taking on tour across 15 communities in North America on my way to the Wisdom 2.0 summit in San Francisco Feb 27-March 1.

The FOREST SESSIONS was a smashing success. Participants and presenters alike continue to reach out to me, expressing how refreshing and significant they believe this voice to be. Click here to see full photo highlights of the event.

Tribe of Ancient Thought Leaders

For nearly 4,000 years, the Jewish people have seeded humanity with ideas and innovation that have caused our species to flourish. Amongst cultures worldwide, Judaism has perhaps the longest track record of generating positive impact upon global society.

In the axial age, Jews provided the monotheistic doctrine and ethical framework that would eradicate widespread practices like human sacrifice from the face of the earth. Abraham became the father of the 3 main monotheistic faiths, providing guiding-inspiration to more than half of the world’s current population.

In the middle ages, Jewish travelers paved an early neural network of global intelligence. They cross-pollinated humanity with genetic strands of knowledge, technology, capital, and best practices culled from the four corners of the Jewish diaspora.

From Cochin India to Marrakesh Morocco, Frankfurt Germany to Sanna Yemen, Jewish communities preserved their tight tribal bond through harrowing distance and unsavory oppression.

In modern times, our tribe has produced everything from Bob Dylan to Jerry Seinfeld, Stored Program Computers (Von Neumann) to Second Wave Feminism (Friedan), Psychotherapy (Freud), Relativity (Einstein), Woodstock (Wavy Gravy et al), TED (Wurman), BuzzFeed (Peretti), Google (Brin & Page), Facebook (Zuckerberg), Whats App (Kour), and WeWork (Neumann).

It’s been quite a ride.

A Global Calling

Just a few decades into the 21st Century, we are seeing an unprecedented convergence of the world’s polarities. Yes, we can now travel from one side of the earth to the other, arriving before we left. Yes, we can seamlessly Facetime our buddies from the Western Wall while they lounge about at an isolated medicinal farm in the woods outside Grass Valley, CA. But it’s more than that.

The ethereal and the material are converging. The 1960s and ‘80s represented epochal extremes of these two disparate cultural trends. “Turn on, Tune In, and Drop Out” was the battle cry of a generation drenched in the heady air of the revolutionary ‘60s. The ‘80s were dominated by the tight-fisted industry postures of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. Corporate takeovers and mergers dominated global consciousness. The old directive to “free your mind” was relegated to the dustbin of history.

Or was it?

One cannot help but note the fusion between business and spirituality born in the 2010s. The emerging Mindfulness movement has made a tremendous influence on global society. In an era where our attention spans are inundated with tweets, pings, shares, tags, texts, and updates, it appears our mental bandwidth is capitulating under the pressure. The effects are widespread, and people are waking up with a need to do something about it.

In January 2015, Anderson Cooper released a 60 Minutes special on the explosion of Mindfulness in America, and the hard science backing it up. The US Military, Davos World Economic Forum, even Super-Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks have all embraced mindfulness as a clinically proven means to preserve quality of life in the digital age.

Wisdom Tribe, Just In Time

Delivering “Ancient Wisdom, Optimized For the Digital Age” the newly launched WisdomTribe.Global website is filled with a boatload of all-original content produced in 10 social media platforms. You can find animated videos, black and white image galleries, longform blogs, TED-style lectures, exclusive interviews, infographics, podcasts, pins, vines, and flips galore.

The revolution will not be televised. It will be curated through a cohesive branding strategy, using an array of humanity’s most powerful communication tools to reach and engage an audience, guiding them through an authentic, high-end experience of Jewish wisdom. It will be positive and forward-looking, embracing and benevolent.

The time has arrived. I hope you are on board as well. Consider this your official invitation to join the Tribe.


Yaakov Lehman is Chief Executive Integrator at www.WisdomTribe.Global