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"

No comments: