The Jewish Tool in the Freezer

The Jewish Tool in the Freezer

Any Jewish professional or lay leader knows that sometimes you have to field complaints.  The optimist in me believes it’s because we come from a culture that thirsts for goodness, raised to believe we have the power to create the best scenario possible.  But do we have the tools we need to get us there?

In the past few years at GW Hillel, residing in a temporary space without an oven, I often heard complaints about the cancellation of the beloved Thursday night challah extravaganza.  Each week, stage one of the process involved one or two volunteers arriving to make the dough in the morning. Stage two involved many friends joining them later that afternoon, cramming into the kitchen to braid and kill time while the challah baked.  Our students missed the camaraderie and couldn’t find a creative way out of this loss.

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Embrace the Value of Failure

Embrace the Value of Failure

“What can you tell me about your failures?”

This is a topic I commonly bring up with an organization before we consider making an annual gift to them. In asking about failure, I am hoping the organization can share specifically what didn’t go as well as they had hoped and what they are learning from this experience.

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Strive for Distinction and Be Courageous

Strive for Distinction and Be Courageous

As we merited to make the journey, yet another year, from slavery to freedom, from the constraints of Egypt to the open desert, it is incumbent upon us to find the relevance of Passover in our lives.

There is a remarkable piece in Gd’s method of preparing the Jews to leave Egypt. Gd commands every Jewish household to take a lamb into the home for a few days, then slaughter it and mark the doorpost of the house with its blood. Imagine being in that place for a minute. Take a lamb, the very animal that is worshipped as a deity in the hostile society in which you live…care for it, then risk your life to kill it so that its blood will protect you from Gd’s final devastating blow. To take this action required such a deep trust in Gd, that most of the Jews didn’t do it. Most assimilated and were lost and only a minority followed Gd’s word and left Egypt.

This marking on the doorpost – it was the first mezuzah! Jewish Egyptians were challenged to distinguish their homes, not with a subtle mark, but with a bold, emphatic and risky statement. Gd clearly had an eternal message in this and it applies to us today.

As educators and investors in Jewish education, we are partners with the holiest institution since the beit hamigdash stood – that is the Jewish home. Many Jews, I would guess, the vast majority, have no idea that the holiest place is in fact, not the synagogue, but the home. Some even think, “I am a bad Jew because I don’t go to synagogue!” When in fact, every Jewish home has equal potential to instill the Jewish identity and values that sustain the Jewish people. The Jewish institutions that we devote ourselves to are extensions of the home. School is not a substitute for, but an essential limb of the home. When families choose to entrust their children’s education and direct their dollars to Jewish day schools, they expect an experience that, like their homes, is distinctly Jewish.  Distinction is in our DNA and has enabled our survival throughout the ages. Scattered to all four corners of the Earth, distinction is the unifier that has made survival possible. Gd said, “mark your houses” because the values that you hold inside, are the hallmark of the Jewish family that will distinguish you for all time. When Gd commanded us to make ourselves distinct, it was by the unit of the home, not the individual.

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You Can't Outsource Responsibility

You Can't Outsource Responsibility

It behooves all leaders, and certainly those who are new in their role or are in a new position or organization, to inventory their performance regularly with regard to taking responsibility. 

Whether you are in charge of an organization, a department, a team or a project, one of the most important things successful leaders must do is accept responsibility. You will rely heavily on your team to get things done, to be sure, and you will need to stay open to others’ ideas, since they frequently will be better than your own. And yes, there are always unexpected bumps in the road that are totally out of your control. But if you are to be an effective leader you need to start and finish with the premise that the one thing you carry above all is ultimate responsibility. 

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Shaping a Better Leadership Story

Shaping a Better Leadership Story

I often ask people to write their personal leadership story in six words. This condensed leadership memoir forces people to focus hard on either the few key moments that have shaped their leadership or the leadership principles or behaviors they most value. The idea is to get people to surface something deeper, more elemental and distinctive about the way they lead, in the spirit of what author Octavia Butler observed about herself, “Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.”

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Rich Jewish Content: Releasing Divine Power, Transforming Lives

Rich Jewish Content: Releasing Divine Power, Transforming Lives

I had the pleasure of attending a gathering of Jewish funders dedicated to supporting “rich Jewish content,” in one form or another. Initiated by our friends at the Aviv Foundation and co-sponsored by the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, the event was held in New York City under the auspices of the Jewish Funders Network.

Given the Mayberg Foundation’s dedication to the proliferation of Torah wisdom and values in the contemporary world, it was gratifying for me to have the opportunity to share and learn with others who work in this space daily. In advance of the half-day gathering, attendees and noted practitioners were asked: “What does ‘rich Jewish content’ mean? What is the value of engaging more deeply with Jewish text, tradition and values?”

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Philanthropy and Nonprofits: One Sector, Not Two

Philanthropy and Nonprofits: One Sector, Not Two

I have had the dual privilege of making my living working in the world of Jewish philanthropy and, previously, putting in substantial time raising funds for and managing Jewish nonprofit organizations. The work -- and the work environment -- can be so incredibly different between philanthropic foundations and charitable organizations.  It seems we often lose sight of the fact that the funders and the funded are flip sides of the very same coin, all pursuing the same public good with private resources and voluntary actions.

The philanthropic and nonprofit sector occupies a unique place in civil society, one that addresses the many unmet human needs that neither government nor commercial activity can adequately fulfill. In pre-American, European societies, these needs were frequently met by state religious institutions. Today’s nonprofit and philanthropic world is characterized by a sometimes uneasy balance of the unbridled passions of volunteerism and the attempted efficacies of institutionalized and professionalized organizations. We can rightly take credit for many great accomplishments even as we plead guilty to recurring charges of inefficiency, waste, amateurism and occasionally out-and-out fraud.

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