It’s about making it easy to open the door for each other,” says Joshua “Red” Russak. As founder of one of the biggest groups on Meetup.com — New Tech Seattle, which has more than 8,000 members — a very interesting door opened for Russak: the door to the White House. Russak was invited to Washington, D.C., to attend the first White House Tech Meetup in April, where he shared his latest venture, the Cannabis Tech Meetup.
“We built this group to provide an opportunity for folks interested in the cannabis industry to share their skills with folks already involved, and vice versa,” Russak says. “It shows what’s possible and inspires folks to play a role in the emerging industry.”
The Meetup already brags around 700 “cannapreneurs.” Russak is also an organizer behind the Appy Hour and Audio Tech Meetups, the latter of which he runs with his wife, Rachel, a singer, audio engineer, and founder of EarthPop Studios. The rest of the time Russak works as a sales manager for the local tech startup Apptentive. He and Rachel live in Seward Park with their two dogs.
The White House Tech Meetup got Russak thinking about the Jewish community. Russak, who studied in Israel and at Yeshiva University in New York, applies lessons of Jewish leadership to his desire for building communities, like showing respect and avoiding derogatory speech.
“While visiting the White House, I was representing technology while wearing my yarmulke,” says the 30-year-old, who gets his nickname Red from his flaming hair. “The challenge facing those who get transplanted here is that there’s so much to figure out. Which community do I join? Where do I live? Where do I find the things I need? The amount of time you have to spend on this is huge, and the stress of it can actually deter people from being closer to the community.”
Jewish Tech Meetup, which Russak started in 2012, is an example of how Meetups can build community. “There are a ton of new Jewish transplants that moved here to work at Amazon, Microsoft, or a startup and have no idea about the Jewish community,” he says. The Meetup was acquired by the Federation and relaunched this summer.
Russak believes Seattle needs a “Jewish community concierge,” which would help people find what they’re looking for. “It worked incredibly well for the tech and startup community,” he says. “I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for the Jewish community as well.”