Like Harley Davidson, Wii, and Clinique who often ply their wares in customized 18-wheelers that transform into mini-circus-like event centers, Chabad is planning one of its own to drive excitement, knowledge, and pride into the lives of Jewish children.
From the creators of the Jewish Children’s Museum, the Great Jewish Big Rig, still in the planning stages, is starting to roll. With seed money provided by philanthropist David Slager, the project has kicked off its $1.6 million capital campaign that will turn the dream of project director, Rabbi Mendy Weg, who conceived the idea, into a plan on wheels.
“The Great Jewish Big Rig will bring an immersive, hands-on Jewish educational experience to every North American parking lot,” said the Brooklyn-based Weg. “It will bring the Hebrew school and day school chalkboard to life.”
Chabad’s latest push to tweak modern technological advances in order to strengthen Jewish identity and knowledge will begin with a truck trailer customized from the axle up. On the highway, the Great Jewish Big Rig will look like an ordinary 18-wheeler except for the head-turning custom graphics paneling the sides.
Once parked, operators will balance the truck and push a few buttons. With a hiss and whir of the onboard generator, the sides will slide out to become rooms; the roof will push skyward; steps will unfurl. When fully assembled—a process that takes about a day—the 18-wheeler won’t look like a truck anymore. It will be a 1000-square-foot imagination center ready to bring a Jewish experience to children at the far reaches of the North American highway system.
Motorized mobile museums date back as far as 1948, when Illinois State Museum’s “Museum Mobile” brought culture to underprivileged neighborhoods. A year later, the National Museum of Warsaw put some of its collection on a “museo-bus.” Drawbacks of the early museums and many of today’s trailer-based exhibitions are their static, touch-me-not displays.
Pumping up the wow-factor of the Great Jewish Big Rig with touchable, memorable Jewish content has the JCM’s creative minds in full brainstorm mode. “One million visitors to the museum has taught us what children like,” said JCM executive director Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson.
The Great Jewish Big Rig “will be infused with the excitement of a traveling circus, an immersive environment, not just videos in a truck,” said Rabbi Gershon Eichorn, JCM director.
The objective of the Big Rig, says JCM educational director Rabbi Nissen Brenenson, is that visitors should walk away understanding that Judaism is relevant, and feel empowered to work towards creating a better society.”
But will it work? Will Jewish children have a long term benefit from a visit to the Great Jewish Big Rig?
Stephen Woods, President/CEO of EMG3, a marketing group that created mobile marketing rigs for Wal-Mart, Olympus camera, and others, told Lubavitch.com that behavioral science has found mobile marketing effective because it builds connections. Studies have found an interaction in a mobile marketing environment to be “20-30 times more impact-full” than traditional promotions like news ads, jingles, and brochures.
Learning is more memorable when it is coupled with a novel setting, he explains. “When people learn and talk about religion in a synagogue, they may be receptive to what they hear, but they can be desensitized to the message. They always hear about religion there. If you put the same message in a non-traditional environment, it is more effective. Their relationship with the information is completely different.”
Rabbi Shea Harlig, co-director of Chabad of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, a place that’s no stranger to great spectacles, believes the Great Jewish Big Rig will appeal to his community.
“I think it’s a great idea to bring the Jewish Big Rig to communities that are not in the tri-state area and have no way to get to the Jewish Children’s Museum,” he said. His community is seeking spiritual connections, but to make an impression in Vegas, said, Rabbi Harlig, “the Big Rig would have to have a lot of lights.”
Bringing lights and life to the Big Rig is Rabbi Mendy Weg’s passion. A son of Chabad of Tulsa, OK, representatives, Weg, was 18 years old when he got the idea for the Great Jewish Big Rig. Mechanically inclined, the young Chabadnik saw an animation of a mobile marketing truck’s transformation. Entranced, he borrowed his father’s tie and met with the manufacturer.
In the intervening years, Rabbi Weg acquired a reputation for putting together big events. He’s worked on the Lag B’Omer parade, the “Taste of Yeshiva” multi-state tour, the Jewish Learning Institute’s National Jewish Retreat, and Chabad’s Super Bowl presence in Detroit.
“I firmly believe the Jewish Big Rig can surpass the mobile marketing trucks that are out there. We have the creativity. We have the passion.”