27 December 2012

Working to Also Develop Employees' Jewish Identities

Since last summer, my approach to working with employees or others working with me was affected by reading a post on eJewish Philanthropy, which has changed my perspective on this matter greatly.  Previously, I thought that the staff/employees of an organization, such as a Hillel (as I work with) were there to serve, work with, and focus on developing & ameliorating the Jewish lives/journeys of the students.  (Of course, this can work in a variety of contexts, I'm just going with the example of a Hillel, since that is what I frequently see.)  However, after reading the piece, I realized that one can strive to help the employees in not only helping them along in their professional journeys (which directors and executive directors (and any other supervisors) should be doing anyways to not only be seeking to professionally ameliorate their employees while in their organization, but also since they want to help develop talent, which ultimately helps everybody in having more developed and aware employees), but also in their Jewish journeys.  
     Although this immediately manifested to me in working with our programming associate at Beach Hillel, I realized that this is true in other contexts, such as when I worked at a BBYO summer leadership program this summer, that the college students who were working there with us were not only fellow staff, but still very much on their own Jewish journeys who could use some shepherding in their own growth.  This is, by the way, totally not obvious.  In the way that the operations work there, all of the staff is focused on the participants. That's not a bad thing - it churns out great results!  However, why not take it a step further and develop those working in the Jewish organization?
      Okay, with all of the above, one thing that has struck me is that I wanted to simply link to the post in question.  However, I realized that my reading of the article (as I wrote above) was my take-away (my דרשה, if you will) of it (thus, why I'm writing this post, so I can explicate it).  The post was written by Jaime Walman, in the aftermath of the [shocking] closing of JDub (as part of a slew of posts on eJewish Philanthropy bemoaning its surprising demise (just search for JDub there)), describing some of her takeaways along the way working for JDub.  The piece, "Former JDub Professional Addresses Real Issues in Closing", includes her very important line, "JDub is an integral part of my own Jewish journey".  That line is important not only for Ms. Walman, but also in considering anybody's working with Jewish organizations, particularly for young adults (I know she brings up other issues, but I'm not getting into them [here]).  It comes at an important time in one's life for young adults, which is all the more true for emerging adults, many of whom - the Hillel world - work as engagement or even programming associates.  
     In sum, it is important for those working in Jewish organizations, especially those focusing on serving particular young people as their target audience/end-users to not lose sight of the bigger picture: developing and ameliorating the talents of the Jewish people.  If one has already hired someone (especially a young/emerging adult), then one is already committed to this person and believes in their talents, skills, and passion, not to mention investing the efforts of their organization in having this person work for them.  Moreover, the director/executive director (or whomever) are hopefully also endeavoring in seeking professional development and training them to be better professionals in their line of work. However, it is also important to invest in seeking to ameliorate that [young] person's Jewish identity in that process, since this person (it is fair to presume) chose to work in a Jewish organization because they appreciate what the Jewish communal world has to offer in ameliorating and helping them and other Jews along in their lives.

---- - On JDub's demise, see the pieces of Tamar Snyder in the Jewish Week, Jacob Berkman in the Forward, and Dan Brown in eJewish Philanthropy.
- Ms. Walman also brings up other issues at the end of her piece which are very important for Jewish communal organizations and Jewish communal professionals to consider.   She brings up "the question of sustainability of this type of work, and the aging-out that seems to inevitably be happening", continuing: "the salary, the hours, the lack of stability and the inability to have any separation between my personal and professional life … was not sustainable for me in the long run. The cost of Jewish living, if one chooses to do so, is astronomical and, at some point, the balance between my love and passion for my job was outweighed by the reality that I wouldn’t be able to support my family or have any time for them."  She pertinently queries: "How do we ensure that professionals working within these innovative organizations can continue to pursue their passions, inspiring other young Jews like themselves while also having sustainable careers?", concluding that "it’s an important point to consider as more and more founders move on from the organizations they started and staff changeover continues to increase."  I do not have the answers, but she raises deeply significant issues for the Jewish community to consider.

26 December 2012

Tribefest 2012

With other rabbis at Tribefest
With 2012 almost over, I realized I hadn’t yet written about one of the most memorable events I experienced this year. Nine months ago, I attended the second ever Tribefest in Las Vegas and it was a great time. I remember thinking on the drive back, that it was sad to think that the event was already over, seemingly almost as soon as it had begun (especially since I had been looking forward to it for a while). However, another person in the car pointed out that there was so much going on that it seemed like it had lasted a whole week and not just the few days it took place. 
A.J. Jacobs speaking hilariously in the opening "main event"
      TribeFest 2012 was the second such event produced by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), with TribeFest 2011 preceding it, and, as much as it would be great for it to occur next year, it was announced recently that the next one will take place in 2014. But even though it was only the second such event, anyone there could tell it was well done, thought-out, and it had a sizable budget to match.  
     According to Jackie Menter, who wrote an article describing the first such Tribefest,
TribeFest is part of a profound shift in philosophy at JFNA toward engaging young adults in their 20s and 30s. Now, more than ever, a top priority at JFNA is outreach and engagement to maintain a steady flow of vibrant young Jews into the Federation movement. “JFNA has moved away from leadership development as a single agenda item,” Katz explains. Rather than jumping into leadership development, the new approach focuses on first attracting and engaging potential young leaders—a step in the process that Federations didn’t really have to work hard at in the past.
She continued: "JFNA realized that without the steady flow of new young adults being inspired to become Jewishly involved, the future of Cabinet, and Federation itself, would be bleak."  Basically, in order to have committed donors to the Jewish Federations, Jews need to not only understand what the Jewish Federations are and do, but also to understand the need and importance of giving to them and supporting them.  But, in order to do that, they need to appreciate the work of the Federations, which results from the appreciation and understanding of Jewish life and helping out one's fellow Jews.  However, before even that is reached, one needs to want to be involved in Jewish life and like being Jewish.  Thus, the work in reaching out to young adults: if these young adult Jews aren't connecting with Jewish life and/or Jewish Federations, it does not spell out a great future for Jewish Federations.  Thus, Tribefest is one such manifestation of this effort: exciting young adult Jews about Jewish life. 
With some other Long Beach folks
     The venue for Tribefest 2012 was the Venetian Conference Center, which was a very nice place and most of the attendees stayed in the attached Palazzo, which was also quite nice (and for all the people who had never stayed there before, were sure to look into staying there again and telling their friends about it). We've stayed there before, so we knew what to expect, but for those who hadn't been there before, were pleasantly surprised (it's amusing just to think about all the Jews who show up at a Jewish convention and are stifled in their complaining about the accommodations(!)).
Moshav Band performing one night during dinner
     Most of the elements of TribeFest were three: plenary sessions (which they called "main event" sessions), break-out sessions, and meals. There were also receptions and a service project, where attendees could read to young elementary school students. Of course, at nighttime, there were some parties, etc.   
      In the lunches, they had food, etc.; during dinners, they had musical performances on-stage along with booths of sponsoring organizations while dinner was served with open bars with quality spirits (vodka: Grey Goose, gin: Bombay Sapphire, tequila: Patron, Scotch: Glenlivet, Bourbon: Maker's Mark, etc.), which made for a great evening atmosphere.  What was really nice about the dinner schmoozing time was that it was a nice way to end the evening's activities as part of Tribefest, while allowing people plenty of time to go out and experience Las Vegas for the night.  Well done!
     In the break-out sessions, there were four time slots that offered ten different options as part of individual tracks. One of the tracks that was new was the clergy track, which was designed for rabbis and cantors. Although I initially was going to attend all four clergy track sessions (being a rabbi), I decided that the first couple ("Federations and Clergy: An Important Relationship" and "The Clergy's Voice") seemed lame, so I went to "Generation Change: How to Occupy Your (Jewish) Community Now!" and "NextGen in the Shark Tank" instead.  
David Cygielman, Miryam Rosenzweig and Stephen Hazan Arnoff
Shark Tank presentation with Sarah Lefton
      The first of these was really interesting, in which we got to hear from Stephen Hazan Arnoff of the 14th Street Y, David Cygielman of Moishe House, and Miryam Rosenzweig of NextGen Detroit speak about their respective organizations, which was great.  For me, Rosenzweig was really enthralling and I was shocked at how vibrant Detroit's Jewish Federation was for young people - that was inspiring to know that Jewish Federations can be relevant, exciting, and vibrant for young Jews!  The "NextGen in the Shark Tank" was okay: it featured organizations that were doing neat stuff, but I think it was mainly for people who hadn't heard of what they were doing, so it wasn't that fascinating for me.  I think the highlight for me of that session was seeing William Daroff tweet while being up on the panel.
     When I did attend the clergy track sessions, the first was  "Engaging those in their 20s and 30s" - no doubt, the perfect place to discuss this topic: amongst rabbis at a conference for 20s, 30s, and young 40s.  While I was expecting a discussion where mostly rabbis could get together and discuss challenges and opportunities with engaging Jews in their 20s and 30s, instead, the rabbis were a minority in the room, with a fair amount of engagement professionals there.  That was a shame - what I tremendously enjoy from rabbi-only conversations is that there is a higher level of discourse and a certain perspective that one seldom gets with non-rabbis. Moreover, the presentation was very synagogue-centric (by someone from Synagogue 3000, which makes sense) and there really wasn't much of a conversation about best practices for rabbis engaging with Jews in their 20s and 30s. So, I came away disappointed from that session, especially since part of the presentation was about how there was a young adults social group that got together and had some interaction with a rabbi and, on occasion, met at a synagogue.  One of the problems of making it synagogue-centric was that 20s and 30s are not only reticent to go to synagogues (unless they are married and/or have children), but that it didn't offer models for rabbis to go out and engage 20s and 30s nor did it offer some suggestions as to content to be discussed with them.  I was greatly frustrated with that session.
With Rabbi Jason Miller, who led "How To Get Our Message Out" session
      The other clergy track session I attended was "How To Get Our Message Out", which was primarily about social media: primarily Twitter, Facebook, and blogging.  It had primarily two groups of people in the room: people who were curious and/or newcomers to social media and those who used it a lot.  The conversation ended up taking place in two spheres: those who were curious asked questions, while those who used it a lot had a separate conversation on Twitter.  I think I was disappointed from the session, because I was hoping it could be about writing op-eds or other ways of really getting our message out there in the public sphere, rather than just social media posting.
      There really weren't many Orthodox/observant Jews there; I mostly saw them gather at davening, but most of those in attendance at the minyanim were the YU presidential fellows (which, by the way, was a good thing on the part of YU to send them, so congratulations to YU for having the vision to expose their fellows to a broader swath of young North American Jewry), which isn't a bad thing, but greatly reflects the lack of Orthodox attendance.  Obviously, one shouldn't expect Haredi, Yeshivish, or Hasidic Jews to be in attendance, but I would have expected more Modern Orthodox to be there.  I wonder what the factors are for the lack of my fellow Modern Orthodox Jews at Tribefest were, but I'm sure it makes for some great conversation....
A bunch of Long Beach folks at Tribefest
     My wife made a great observation: she noted that there was a noticeable lack of fellow Hillel staff.  This is particularly striking since not only are most Hillel staff members are perfectly situated in this age demographic, but they are also interested in the Jewish community.  Moreover, they could network with other young people serving in the Jewish communal world and the energy would have been perfect for them.  What serves to make this lack of Hillel staff attendance even more stark is that Hillel has made a big push for college students to be in attendance at recent JFNA General Assemblies (examples: 2010, 2009, etc.), but somehow the ball was dropped with regard to encouraging Hillel staff to attend JFNA's Tribefest, which would have been really tremendously helpful in recharging one's personal and professional batteries.  Moreover, why restrict it to encouraging Hillel staff?  We actually brought along two of our students to attend and they had an incredibly amazing time!  For future Tribefests, Hillels should be thinking about encouraging their older students and graduate students to attend.
Meeting a fellow tweeter in real life!
    I thought it was great having all of that Jewish energy there, albeit the tribal type, but one knew what one was signing up for.  It was entirely devoid of anything "Jewish" per se, content-wise, but I think that was to be expected.  Sometimes, it's nice to celebrate one's people.  Perhaps that's what also made it more enjoyable: it was certainly a lot less contentious than would it have involved discussions around Jewish content!    Also, there was some great weather – best that I’ve ever been there for, too bad we were mostly inside.  I am not usually given over to complaining about fabulous weather, but since we were inside for the most part, we could have had it any time of the year and, for that matter, it could’ve been anywhere in the country/continent.  Well, except that it wouldn't have had the Vegas excitement.  To be honest, Vegas is THE PLACE to have Tribefest - there's such a wonderful energy and there's always booze (which is great).  However, in speaking with someone else, she actually pointed out that having it in Vegas is strange with the gambling for two reasons: what does it mean that a Jewish organization is having an event take place where a lot of gambling takes place?  And, two, a fair amount of people leave the convention to take part in gambling or go there when not in the convention.  To be honest, I hadn't thought of these considerations (I don't care about gambling; I enjoy Vegas for other reasons).
     Lastly, it was also cool meeting other tweeters, some for the first time in real life and some to catch up with. It was good having parallel twitter conversations with the others there and beyond.  And, apparently, I enjoyed it so much that I ended up being one of the top tweeters there!
     I really enjoyed Tribefest and hope the next one is also another great experience!  It really fulfilled my high expectations :)

25 December 2012

What I Enjoy Most About Visiting Las Vegas

In Las Vegas with Eiffel Tower replica behind us
Before moving out to Southern California, my wife and I had never been to Las Vegas. After spending the majority of our first year here, we finally ventured out to Vegas. Although the temperatures were 100 degrees and above, it was still a great time. It wasn't the gambling though: we did play the penny slots, but we actually broke even (or came out ahead (ended up $2 ahead from the penny slots, but used each of those dollars for tips for drinks from the waitresses who came around to the penny slots)). 
        We've been there several times since then, including four visits within the first eight months of this year (but none since).  Since neither my wife nor me are interested in gambling, the question comes up in conversation: what do we enjoy about visiting Las Vegas? 
       I can pinpoint three primary reasons: 1) The energy, 2) The aesthetics, and 3) The alcohol. There is such a great energy in Las Vegas and one can feel it just walking around. Perhaps some of it is carried with someone as they think back to the movies and television shows they've seen, and perhaps some of it is "in the air".  The aesthetics need very little description except to say that there are so many wonderful looking hotels and malls around - it's a great place just to look at the architecture.  Needless to say, these buildings add a great deal of energy to being there.  
Holding a really excellent bourbon-based cocktail
     Lastly, since I am not into gambling, nor do we go to the clubs (I've only ever been there as a married man (and a father) and have always gone to Vegas with my wife), nor do we go to shows much there (which cost a pretty penny), I enjoy Las Vegas for the alcohol.  While the alcohol there is no different than anywhere else, there are three primary things I look for: 1) I play a game called 'Find the Cheapest Booze' - I am not into finding just any alcohol, so let's look to see what competition does and see how it can benefit me, the customer.  2) It's nice to look for fun alcohol containers, such as the half-yards, yards, etc.  3) Lastly, Las Vegas is the place to go for new and exciting cocktails.  On our last trip to Vegas, I discovered a really excellent cocktail.
      Although I am missing going to Las Vegas, my wife says she is tiring of it, but there will be a time when I get to return :)

13 December 2012

Philanthropic Considerations #4: Ruth Messinger Believes We Should Discuss Our Giving

Last week, I had the opportunity to hear Ruth Messinger speak at a conference, where she spoke initially about the new direction of American Jewish World Service.  In the question and answer session that followed her speech, there was a point when she shared her observations about the lack of discussion amongst people about where they give philanthropically, even bemoaning the lack of discourse about this important topic.  I was glad she brought it up, since I had previously brought up the topic of the lack of conversation about it and was glad someone with the stature such as Ruth Messinger discussed it.  Here are her remarks:

10 December 2012

Pirsumei Nisa in the Babylonian Talmud: Who Uses פרסומי ניסא?

With today being the second day of Hanukah, one of the terms tossed around at this time of year is "פרסומי ניסא" (pirsumei nisa), "publicization of the miracle".  Last year before Hanukah, I was befuddled, when looking at the section in the Babylonian Talmud and discovered that none of the Tannaitic texts discussed the purpose of candle-lighting for the holiday!  And I looked at the amoraic texts that followed and still didn't uncover a reason.  When I mentioned this befuddlement to some other rabbis, they said that it was brought up on Shabbat 23b.  I realized I had missed the statement of Rava there querying about a halakhic matter, wherein he mentioned that miracle publicization seemed to be the function of candle-lighting.  I thought (and still) thought it was a bit strange that only in a by-the-way mention in the Talmud is the purpose of candle-lighting brought up for Hanukah.  Nevertheless, it's there and by one of the most significant Talmudic rabbis.  
It is still worthy of consideration to see how frequently and who uses the term in the Babylonian Talmud.
The first time פרסומי ניסא is brought up is by Ahi, a tanna at Rabbi Hiyya's school, inquiring of Rabbi Hiyya with regards to interrupting either reciting Hallel or reading the megillah (Berakhot 14a).  
However, after that, Rava is the primary mentioner of פרסומי ניסא.  He, too, uses the term with regards to reading of the megillah (Megillah 3b).*  He also is the only person in the Talmud to use the term with reference to Hanukah.  He uses it in regard to lighting the Hanukah lamp  (Shabbat 23b), which is particularly remarkable since there is no other mention of this principle in the Babylonian Talmud with regard to lighting the Hanukah lamp.  There were people in his generation who inquired whether or not to make mention of Hanukah in the Grace After Meals and Rava was able to respond to them, quoting Rav Sehora, in turn quoting Rav Huna (Shabbat 24a).
The one other time the term is used in the Babylonian Talmud is by the one of the stammaim in reference to the four cups of the Passover seder (Pesahim 112b)

* In this reference, Rava asks a מהו question, weighing up two different possibilities, eventually deciding on one of the possibilities.  In this vein, the Talmud uses the term הדר פשטה.  This term is used in reference to a question (בעי usually) eighteen times throughout the Babylonian Talmud.  Of these eighteen times, the Talmud uses it twelve times in reference to Rava (BB 175a, BK 53b, BK 105a (2x), BK 110b, BK 96a, Gittin 29b-30a, Gittin 83b-84a, Zevahim 98a-98b, Megillah 3b, Menahot 7b, & Sanhedrin 10a).  So, it would seem that, for whatever reason, Rava is found commonly to be asking a question and going back over it and making a decision.  The other six mentions are used with Rabbah (BK 27a), Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (Kiddushin 9a-9b & Kiddushin 48a), Rabbi Elazar (Zevahim 105a), Rav Oshia (Hullin 126b), and Rabbi Abba (Gittin 82b).

02 December 2012

Reflections from My Experience at the 2nd AJWS RSD Alumni Institute

Today, I am heading up to Brandeis-Bardin Institute for the third ever American Jewish World Service's Rabbinical Students Delegation Alumni Institute.  Having attended the second ever Rabbinical Students Delegation (RSD) in January 2005 to El Salvador, I am eligible to attend the Alumni Institute (AI).  I have also attended the previous one, which was held in February 2011 at the Pearlstone Retreat Center.  I realized that I had not yet posted about my experience at that RSD AI (unless you consider writing a piece about it in my work newsletter), so even though it took place 21 months ago, this is a good time to finally do so.
Ruth Messinger speaking
     Let me start off with the facilities: it was my second time at Pearlstone and, once again, I enjoyed it and the food.  As I mentioned after having attended the 2010 IRF conference, it "was a very lovely facility - I would definitely like to return there for any conference, it was just that pleasant."  And, thanks to the folks of AJWS of selecting the location and the financial enabling by the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust which sponsored the institute (including our travel (I was, however, frustrated that our travel was provided for, but not our luggage)), we were able to enjoy Pearlstone.
     For me, it had been six years since I had gone on the trip when I attended the institute and it had seemed like a long time had passed (many things in my life had changed).  And even though I had remembered some elements of the trip, it seemed like it was fresher in-mind for most of the attendees, who had attended in the previous few years.  
     I found some of the demographics to be interesting:
           - Obviously, the Orthodox attendees were in the minority, but that's more of a given at AJWS events, so it really wasn't noteworthy, per se
           - Most of the attendees were women
           - Many were not only married, but parents, as well (I wonder if that's because we're rabbis)
           - For many, social justice was an assumed value (it might have been thoughtful to have a discussion on its importance – unless that was too basic)
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda speaking
     I mentioned earlier my giving props to the AJWS staff for selecting the location; I also have to add that they were great, as usual.  I must say that AJWS hires not only great people, but also very enthusiastic and spirited folks.  Now multiple that: you've got a cadre of some cool people with great energy and that's always a great asset to any conference!
     Okay, now on to more substance!  There were a several speakers on multiple topics, which were helpful, such as AJWS' development* fundraising officer, Leah Weinstein, speaking on fundraising, which were tremendously helpful to me (and my work).  My primary take-away that people give very seldom for an ideological connection, but rather give mostly for emotional connection and personal connection to the recipient.  Another speaker that was particularly excellent was Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, of the Rozaria Memorial Trust, which was great from whom to hear, since we got to hear first-hand from an AJWS grantee.  Being from Zimbabwe, we (or at least I) found it fascinating to hear about the changes in Zimbabwe since Robert Mugabe took power (especially that he did good things for the country for years, before it went downhill).
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky speaking
     But the headliners of the AI were the two scholars-in-residence and they were excellent!  The first of the two was Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky and it was great to hear from him.  For me, I particularly enjoyed hearing another liberal Modern Orthodox rabbi speak and have around as I am seldom around people of similar ideological bents, let alone someone who is so knowledgeable, not to mention passionate.  Beyond that, his talks were good and a highlight was hearing from him how his synagogue got involved helping out in the nearby area – it could’ve just been an obvious thing that that was something he just did, but it took work.
     But it was the other headliner that stole the show for me.  
     By far, the highlight of the conference was hearing from Dr. Erica Brown, who I had never heard speak before, but I found that she had such amazing wisdom to teach that I found myself hanging on every word of hers!  I, however, am not the first person to be amazed by her: she was written up about in the New York Times only two months previously!
Dr. Erica Brown speaking
     She spoke on "Difficult Conversations", "Creating Board Effectiveness", and "Tikkun Olam: Creating A Language of Change", all of which were utterly fantastically amazing.  Needless to say, I took copious notes, running over multiple pages!  What was so impressive wasn't just Dr. Brown's speaking on the topics themselves, but that she could’ve spoken on anything tremendously well – she was well-read on the topics under discussion, even offering a few books to read for each topic.  She was such an engaging speaker – I remember even trying to listen specifically for any filler words she used and couldn't detect one!
      Furthermore, on the topics of which she spoke, she had not only concrete information to teach us, but great explanations of them.  It was totally helpful.  In fact, as one student who thanked her at the end (not me) said, this stuff is not only important and helpful now, but it will probably be material we will find helpful twenty years now down the road.  I now wonder when I will be able to hear her speak again!
      In conclusion, I enjoyed my time at the second AJWS RSD AI and am looking forward to the third one starting today!
*I'm not a fan of calling it "development"

30 November 2012

Philanthropic Considerations #3: What About Young Adult Jews?

As a young person (I'm 31), I get the sense that not many of my peers are into philanthropic activities (at least those who are working (as opposed to those in graduate school or who are between jobs)).  Our culture is not given over to discussing our philanthropic activities openly, so I really don't have a good sense of whether that's true or not.  Nevertheless, my sense is that many young people consider philanthropy to be the realm inhabited by old people, especially empty-nesters and retirees.  They probably don't understand this obligation and privilege of contributing to the Jewish people extends to any amount and to anybody earning money.
     This sentiment was recently featured in last week's Jewish Journal, in an article written by Danielle Berrin about Michal Taviv-Margolese that even though she had been giving money here and there, she hadn't realized how much she really could be giving until her mid-30s.  Since attending Tribefest this past March, I have been heavily desiring to encourage my fellow young Jews who are working and earning money to be philanthropic. 
      Although one can fantasize about young adult Jews going into the workforce and immediately begin making financial donations to the community, this fantasy is far from reality.  Of course, one reason is that young people have so much of their lives ahead of them and not only need to save for financial distress or being in between jobs, but also for building their families and futures.  However, another reason is that many (most?) young adult Jews do not understand the importance nor significance of financial giving. 
     This conundrum is certainly not going to be fixed by one person, but perhaps I need to be engaging in a more concerted effort of encouraging my fellow young adults in financial giving....

29 November 2012

Philanthropic Considerations #2: Curiosity About How & Why Jews Give (or Don't)

As I stated yesterday, my wife and I make financial donations every year to numerous organizations because we are fulfilling our obligations as Jews to make financial contributions to our people.  Working in the non-profit world, however, I have come to realize that this notion of obligingly giving is not common.  In the last several months, my curiosity as to how Jews consider philanthropy has been greatly piqued.  Granted, Jews think about many things in quite a variety of ways, so I imagine that there are myriad ways in which Jews consider their charitable donations.  Nevertheless, I imagine there are at least groupings one can generally sketch outlines of to better grasp how and why Jews give. 
      One interesting way of hearing about how Jews consider their giving came last month while I was attending an educational forum run by the American Jewish World Service and Shawn Landres made a side comment that some Jews with whom he has interacted bifurcate their giving.  They consider their synagogue dues, Jewish school fees, etc. as tzedakah and all their other giving as philanthropy.  I don't know how widespread such sentiment is, but I imagine it hints at complicated notions of Jewish giving.
      Because I have to raise funds for my operational budget in my current position, I thought other people would give as I do: giving to organizations they either have benefited from in the past (or currently) or on account of ideological affinity.  I further thought that people would see what I was doing and would realize that my work was worthy of receiving donations (Jews do have to give, after all).  However, that absolutely did not occur.  A better way of understanding this is, as stated by Stephen Donshik, that "an agency’s purpose and programs are not enough to guarantee the closing of a gift". 
      I also had been baffled as to why I was contacted for a  small donation I made to a local Jewish Studies Program, not only to be thanked for my donation, but even to be asked out to coffee by someone in the fundraising (I refuse to call it 'development') department to chat.  I had just given them some money (not even much, at that), so what does meeting up with me accomplish?  I can understand voicing some interest to them that I might be interested in giving, and then they would want to meet with me to try to explain what the cause is.  However, I had already given!  Moreover, it made sense as a place for us to give (especially since I had enjoyed a couple of talks and symposia there), but I didn't have any need to chat with someone or be recognized for my gift.  But, as Marc Chardon and Hal Williams have written,

Today, individuals have a driving need to be connected, to be engaged, to participate in a conversation around their lives and experiences, to drive the conversation from wherever they happen to be. To engage them, nonprofits need to take a broader view. The back office must leave “donor management” behind in place of creating and cultivating a far more complex and interactive supporter journey. Donors need to be cultivated and thanked. Supporters need to be engaged.
It may sound strange to me, since I am not that type of donor, but I realize that many people do need to be thanked and have that more personal touch. 

28 November 2012

Philanthropic Considerations #1: Personal Excitement

With yesterday having been "Giving Tuesday", I realized I had some thoughts I would like to share about giving.  However, I have not a little to share.  So, I have a few posts coming out soon (including this one) in which I will be discussing philanthropy.
     When I came out to California a little over three years for my job, I was excited not only to have a job and to go out and serve the Jewish people, but I was particularly enthralled to be philanthropic and to make financial donations.  It is a Jewish obligation that when one earns money, one is supposed to give a portion of it back to the Jewish community.  For me, that was something particularly exciting about owrking: to do my part in supporting Jewish institutions and organizations to enrich Jewish life.
     For me, I do what I call "planned giving", where my wife and I set aside a certain amount of money for that year that we will donate.  It is my responsibility (and honor) to divvy up where the money is going to go.  While I plan to give money for certain organizations, I also set aside some leeway in case of certain disasters or memorial funds, etc.
     Most of my giving is to either organizations from which I have benefited or am ideologically committed to.  At the top are our local Jewish Federation and my rabbinical school, followed less by my local shul/Chabad, then behind that comes both the Hillel and Chabad I frequented during my four semesters at IU and also two Modern Orthodox organizations doing good work: the Institute for Jewish Ideas & Ideals and the Center for Modern Torah Leadership.  Following those seven organizations, I have a larger number of organizations to which we give smaller amounts of money, some of which I have also benefitted from, but there are several to which we give that I feel do beneficial things and have never received any benefit from them. 
     We give because we understand the importance of the Jewish obligation to financially contribute from our earnings and it is encumbent upon us to make sure we give that money away - we just need to figure out where to give it and how much.  Granted, I enjoy fulfilling this obligation :)

30 October 2012

Realization: I Prefer Quality

A realization I realized a few months ago is that I prefer quality over quantity.  Although one could probably extract that to describe my liquor preferences, this preference primarily pops up in my mind regarding Jewish matters.  
     The first example was what I wrote up earlier concerning the need for qualitative data versus simply having quantitative data.  It's not enough just to know how many people are coming to events, it's important to know how much they enjoyed it.
      The second example is my preference/desire for Jewish groups to have Jewish content programming rather than simply social programming.  Anybody can have a party, but how about significant Jewish content to be involved in order to enrich attendees, especially if it's for younger Jewish folks? 
      The third example is that I am not concerned generally about the decreasing numbers of Jews in America.  Granted, I believe that Judaism has something rich to offer to Jews and that they are missing out on something very valuable for living their lives by not exploring their ancestral heritage.  Nevertheless, our numbers will continue to get smaller, but that, in and of itself, does not bother me, as it's not about how many Jews there are, it's about the richness of Jewish life.  (I have a feeling I may need to elaborate on this sentiment in a separate post.)
      I am not sure whence this preference of quality over quantity came, but I know that it has been growing more prominently in my mind in the last couple of years.    

14 September 2012

A Cocktail for Rosh HaShanah?

I figured out a recipe for a Rosh HaShanah cocktail!
While wondering what would be good for a cocktail for Rosh HaShanah, which is only three nights away, I figured that apple liqueur and honey would be certainly necessary.  And, since I'm a whiskey guy, it should have that, as well.  Also, instead of simply squeezing in some honey, I should include honey syrup in the recipe.  
   So, I tried making one tonight initially with bourbon, honey liqueur, and honey syrup, but I didn't think that was a good fit.  However, I came up with the following recipe which I really liked:
     Mix the following in a glass with ice: 2 ounces of Jameson Irish Whiskey, 1/2 ounce of Berentzen Apple Liqueur, 1/2 ounce of honey syrup (1/4 ounce of water and 1/4 ounce of honey stirred together), and a dash of Angostura aromatic bitters.  Then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Voila - a cocktail for Rosh HaShanah!
     Below, you can see a video I made showing how I made this cocktail:

15 August 2012

15 Reflections from Hillel Institute 2012

Theme of the conference
Just as I did last year after Hillel Institute, I felt that one way of mentally unpacking is to reflect upon my experience there. Although I wrote about ten aspects of it last year, I have fifteen this time. There's a lot on this post and I totally understand if no one in the world reads this lengthy post (seriously, feel free to let me know if you read this post in it's entirety, as I doubt more than a few people will actually read it). Also, don't forget to check out my list of ten expectations for this year's Hillel Institute.

1) I love going to Jewish conferences; it's one of the reasons I entered the rabbinate (and, more broadly, serving the Jewish people). With Hillel Institute convening so many people who are there to serve the Jewish people, there is such a great energy about thinking about ways of serving such an important segment of our people.

2) Once again, I thought having the conference in the middle of the country was a smart move. So often, national Jewish organizations have their conferences on the east coast and so the attendance also happens to clump very east coasty. Fortunately, the conference folks at the national office have had a great vision with placing it in the middle. Also, I must add that the weather in years past was in the 90s and around 100, so it was nice that this year's temperatures were only in the 80s. 

Most of the YCT rabbis at the conference
3) It's always great to see my fellow YCT alumni (as I've mentioned before)!
4) Reducing the number of track sessions and increasing professional network sessions: The main aspect of the conference, as in years past, were the track sessions, where several Hillels come together and think about where their Hillel is and where they are going. I was happy that they reduced the amount of track sessions, as they somehow are never as effective as one would hope. In the opposite direction, they increased the number of professional network sessions, which was good, as I have gotten more out of them than the track sessions. 
The well thought-out interwoven curricula

5) Interweaving of track sessions and professional network sessions: Despite my gripes about anything regarding the track sessions and professional network sessions, they pulled off a very smart move with intertwining the curricula of the track sessions and professional network sessions. Furthermore brilliant was the interweaving of Wayne Firestone's plenary session speech. It was an incredibly smart model for any professional conference and it will be hard to top! 

6) The food: WOW! I seemed to have forgotten (and never previously composed words regarding the cuisine at this conference) that the conference food was fantastic! They hit a homerun, foodwise. It was really impressively good and I hope they keep the conference there. 

Rabbi Dan Smokler sharing some excellent tips to teaching
7) The highlight of this conference for me was an afternoon session on the last day of the conference with fellow Jewish educators. Called "Deep Dive Conversation", it was a session led by Rabbi Andy Kastner and Rabbi Daniel Smokler, in which they shared some tremendously helpful insights. The most important morsel of wisdom for me (and where I am at professionally at the moment) was to hear about the need to inject some agitation into our interactions with students and not simply building relationships with them {tweet link}. Rabbi Smokler was especially impressive, who kept coming up with great lists. What particularly made this session so great, in my mind, is three-fold: 1) the personalities who headed it up (which I've just discussed), 2) the didacticness of it (which is, IMHO, a perennially sorely lacking component of the conference), and 3) the lack of specifically-designed rabbis(/Jewish educators) sessions.

8) The energy at the conference, once again, was nice and refreshing. It's something I am not sure is even something that I particularly discern, but was reminded of it when I saw a new Hillel staff member mention it to me as well as tweet it. 
City Museum now has an aquarium [with a boat]

9) Our visit to City Museum was once again mind-blowing. Even though I've been there the last two years as part of the conference, I get more impressed with each time I experience it. While part of that is their continued development and building, some of it is just further examination of previously existing elements. One totally new area of City Museum was their aquarium. At least that's what they called it. While City Museum is quite post-modern, they have shown an excellent example of a post-modern aquarium. For instance, they have animals that are entirely non-aquatic, such as an armadillo, a sloth, and guinea pigs. They have some other weird elements to their aquarium, as well, but suffice it to say that one needs to experience it in person to fully have one's mind blown by it. 

Water bottles from the three Hillel Institutes from left to right
10) It may sound utterly mundane, but I was disappointed with this year's water bottle. Yes, I know that sounds so petty, but it's important to me. However, the last two years' water bottles had the Hillel name on it, which, if one takes it around with them (on campus or elsewhere), people can identify you as having a connection with Hillel.  This year, we got a water bottle that had nothing to do with Hillel - how can we use it as an engagement tool?

11) It seemed as if, almost out of nowhere, Ask Big Questions took over the Jewish content.  Not only had Ask Big Questions (ABQ) seemingly taken over the Jewish content, but also it was heavily promoted, including even training for facilitating ABQ conversations.

12) I liked that there was a gathering for Orthodox professionals.  I think we deal with unique issues contrasted versus our colleagues.
Me with my girls by the playground

13) Kids at the conference: With both of us attending the conference, we couldn't just leave our children at home. Although last year, we were able to leave our older daughter with family last year, this year, it was not possible. Hopefully, next year we will have some family around to take care of the girls while we come to the conference. So much of the professional and social networking occurs at meals and most of the meals we had our kids, so we missed out on a lot of that. Furthermore, since our room was on the exact opposite end of the hallway as the babysitters, someone had to be with our girls when they were asleep. Usually, that was my wife, though. The one night we went out, we took our daughter with us to City Museum and had to hire a local babysitter for our younger daughter. I must say, though, that this year's babysitters were much better than they were two years ago, and better than last year's, as well. So, I will say that the babysitting was improved. If the quality of the babysitting is lacking, so will the attention of their conference-attending parents. 
Wayne Firestone giving his annual plenary speech

14) It was strange and a greatly-missed opportunity that there was no goodbye/farewell event/speech/anything.  The conference starts off with a great amount of energy and what-to-do, but then us professionals just quietly leave to catch our flights.  It's a very strange situation.  I think it largely has to do with the students arriving and some professionals staying on for the engagement institute, but it would still be nice to mark it in some way, rather than just letting the energy dissolve....

15) Lastly, I enjoyed how Wayne Firestone was introduced by someone who had spoken to a friend in Germany, who said she had read that he was known as the "Jewish Steve Jobs" - I felt so great, since I was the one who had first given him the moniker following his plenary speech two years ago and last year.  (Although, it was unclear why, after two years of giving speeches while walking around the stage (and owning it), this year he stayed behind the lectern in giving his address (a bit less Jobs-like).) 

Yet another great conference and I applaud Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life on putting it together! 

09 August 2012

Some Thoughts on Reactions to my Call for Qualitative Data in the Jewish Community

Moishe House's response on Twitter
After last week's post, "Qualitative Metrics for the Jewish Community?", I got compliments as well as other people telling me that they've been having similar ideas and was glad that I shared their sentiments.  However, not having seemed to have generated much discussion with it, I realized with such ideas that are widely relevant for Jewish organizations, I needed to have further distribution of it.  As an avid reader of eJewish Philanthropy, I knew that that was the place that would get the piece not only a wider audience, but also an audience that would care about the discussion.  So, up went my piece on that website two days ago.
    I got a lot more responses!  Here, at the Hillel staff conference, Hillel Institute, I got a number of people mentioning it to me, which was great to be in a community of people concerned about it!  A number of people in-person, via e-mail, twitter, etc. thanked me for asking the questions about qualitative data.  I also got some responses that were not so warm to what I wrote, but I think some of those did not fully understand where I was coming from nor did they understand precisely what I was writing.... 
     I also got sent data reports from a few national organizations, such as this one and this one, which was not only interesting, but also great to sift through.  I hope to offer my thoughts on them at a later point, but it was flattering that I was receiving such material.  I hope, however, that discussing these data reports will be a two-way street and that I can be seen to be someone who can be involved in these conversations in a substantive and thoughtful way.
      I certainly feel that my primary goal of getting the public discourse to be considering qualitative data was achieved, especially since there were two pieces included in today's eJewish Philanthropy that were in direct response to my post from the other day.  One is here and the other is here (which starts off with the line "Drew Kaplan is right"!!).  
      However, a funny thing happened after posting the article and receiving feedback, I realized i was developing ideas and sharpening up some angles and elements of considering qualitative data for Jewish organizations.  It is my hope to write up my thinking on this to continue the conversation going and into ideas that will benefit us all.

06 August 2012

Hillel Institute 2012 Begins: 10 Expectations

Having arrived yesterday here in St. Louis for the third annual Hillel Institute, the staff conference for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, it is exciting to be here once again amongst colleagues!  As I did last year, I wanted to share some things I am expecting here.
1) Exciting to be in an environment with hundreds of other Jews committed to serving the young emerging adult Jews in North America and to help them grow in multiple ways.  The energy that my colleagues around the continent bring to conferences such as this is very exciting to be around and helps recharge us professionally.  Very few work in this area without a sense of hope for our people and this also adds to the energy!  (It's also one of the reasons I decided to become a rabbi.)
With fellow YCT alumni at Hillel Institute 2011
2) Re-connecting with my fellow YCT alumni, which is always special, no matter the context, for a variety of reasons.  Also, it will be doubly exciting to see - based off the past two years - how the YCT representation is, as it has been great!
3) Although I may have known about a fitness center last year, I didn't take advantage of it.  This year, I packed clothing and plan to use it every day (if I can), which depends upon the schedule and the following:
Twitter conversations are an important part of HI
4) We are bringing both of our daughters this year, which is a first for us.  Two years ago, we brought our older daughter (although she was an only child then) and discovered that the babysitting the conference provided was woefully inadequate. Last year, we brought our then 4-month old and it seemed to have been fine.  Since we are not able to leave both of our daughters at home, we're bringing them with us, so we shall see how this will work out.  I have my doubts that it will go well, but I am open to being happily surprised.  However, I hope I do not get sick from getting a lack of sleep from having them sleep in our rooms....
5) Great Twitter conversations, just as in years past.  I noticed that last year's conference had more tweeting going on than the first one, and I hope that this year has even more.  It's also worth noting that Hillel did not come up with the hashtag (#HI2010) for the first one (I did, actually), but they were proactive last year in setting one up (#HillelInst) and have done it again, this year (#HillelInstitute).  It is worth noting that it's changed every year!  (And, yes, two years ago, Hillel had done an atrocious job of tweeting, but they have picked it up since then, which has been very nice to see.)
Wayne Firestone owning the stage at HI 2011
6) Encountering challenging ideas and/or being pushed to deal with new ones.  This was something that has arisen for me each of the past two Hillel Institutes; whether it was thinking about guiding questions in our work, being reminded about what we were told in rabbinical school about charisma, or thinking about measuring the impact of the work that we do.  I hope I can grow from some new ideas this year!
7) Once again, I am looking forward to another engaging plenary talk by Wayne Firestone.  He has spoken tremendously well, owning the stage, and discussing some great ideas.  He gave a great speech at the first one and another great one last year.
The rabbis sessions have been the highlight for me at HI
8) I am looking forward to the sessions with other rabbis.  Last year, it was the highlight of the conference for me and I am stoked for them again.  Inasmuch as there is a lot of talk at the conference (or, at least the last two years) about the importance of strengthening Jewish identity amongst young people, there is very little discussed about it, per se.  When the rabbis get together, we are able to discuss this central topic in depth and with substance.  It is very exciting :)
With new colleagues at City Museum
9) I am hoping for three special events that have gone well and taken place each of the past two Hillel Institutes: being in the audience for the smoothest awards ceremony I've ever experienced, the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Awards and Milestones; beer hang-out one night (always chill); and going to the funky City Museum, which is just weird.
10) Lastly, it is always great to not only re-connect with people that I've met previously, which is so fantastic, but also to meet new people.  Not only is it nice to professionally network (which is great, by the way), but there are some really cool people there, and it's a pleasure meeting them!