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From Survive to Thrive: Maximizing Your Impact on Philanthropy Day

I’m a recovering helper. The one who brings the casserole dish, and the flowers. And who calls you at 2am when your boyfriend just left, your cat is in the pet hospital and your mother-in-law is nagging at you so relentlessly that your conscience feels the weight of a 1955 Brisket Pan (I happen to have one and much like guilt, it is *heavy*).

Having spent the better part of a year asking myself how I got this way, I’m reminded of Martin Luther King’s night-time prayer, which I’ve said to myself for sometime now:

“G-d use me, what would you have me to do?”

Unfortunately, for years, I confused G-d’s words with the whims of others, losing all manner of sanity, sleep and recently, hair, over giving every part of myself to everyone else. This is complicated for me on a faith level as much as it is on an emotional one. My religion calls me to be communally available, open and attuned and yet, too much of that medicine is proving, well, venomous.

Though many have chimed in about the so-called disease to please and the Plato’s cave-like tunnel of our own demons, I have become taken with the notion that the experience of being helpful is actually, often, disguising, life lived for the sole purpose of survival.

What I mean to say is that we so often extol the necessity of our giving, that we mask some of the more complex or difficult reasons that drive our essence to give. And that this veil is clouding our organizations as much as it is clouding the best of ourselves.

Take organizations that are run through shame and guilt, for instance. They are always engaged in a push to get others to give but rarely are they fueled by something other than that which leaves donors and members exasperated and as it happens, exhausted.

It is impossible to work toward mission and vision when you are starving the people you work with of a purpose other than to make ends meet.

Even worse, is when our mode of giving actually sets us up to be taken advantage of. By saying “yes”, are we saying no to what matters to us and even more, to the work that needs to be done? By serving as someone else’s objects, are we neglecting to make ourselves and others active and engaged subjects standing where the world and we need to be?

Perhaps this Philanthropy Day, we can look a little closer at our dearest projects and causes and gently pull apart the barriers of our egos. And once we peel away the unnecessary parts, we can start to look at how we function not only within ourselves but in our workplaces and teams.

Serial helper and recent conscientious favour selector/objector that I am…these days, when I work with others, I ask myself the following

Four Questions for Thriving Leadership:

1. My heart asks: Do I get to fully be myself here, with you or in this?

2. My head  inquires: Can I and we change the operating rules, developing our work, our world and ours selves together for good?

3. My soul yearns: By doing this, am I operating from self-preservation or self-growth and affirmation?

4. Tradition requires: Is this a relationship in which I and all those I encounter are subjects…or objects?

In a week that provided sobering wake-up call after wake-up call for every human being to take up the task of world’s mending, too many of us are consumed by the ongoing cycle of crisis to muster up the awareness to put a spoke on the wheel. We are living to survive and in so doing, we are neglecting to thrive.

Yet, as this People of priests, and scholars, prophetesses and artisans can attest, we know this to be true:

Searching for our true self has always been the beginning of finding G-d and as it happens, each other.

By putting our focus on the best of others and ourself, we can make our philanthropy a force for good on Philanthropy Day and each and every day of the year.

And that is a mitzvah (good deed) in which we should pour all our hearts, heads and souls.

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.
Jewish Innovation & Data

Data and “Jewish Urban Planning”

[The second post in The Nuts & Bolts of Jewish Entrepreneurship series]

As Jewish innovators, when we pilot, we learn a lot about our community’s hopes and dreams as we build.  Though, ideally you’d know how many are in your target market, where they are and how to reach them, before you launch your program,  that’s not always the case. Every pilot we launch provides us with feedback and data that helps us program more successfully. In a sense, we are “Jewish Urban Planners” or trailblazers at the very least. But is that enough to be successful?

Missing Data

Often, there is no research or data available. The last formal study of my community in San Diego was in 2003 when we learned over 85% of our population was not engaged in traditional Jewish life. We don’t know why or even if it’s better or worse today. No new study has been done. There’s been no analysis of what our community at large might want. Youth K-8 Jewish education is in particularly bad shape with only 8% of our Jewish children engaged in Jewish recurring education. The latter statistic is based on data we stopped collecting as a community in 2014 when our program supporting local Jewish educators closed. The lack of data, it turns out, is not uncommon. So where can you start as you begin your research?

Consult National Studies

National and International Jewish research is available to guide your work.  Read the Pew Research Center’s  report on Jewish Americans from 2013, as a baseline and get familiar with work from at least two researchers such as  Steven Cohen and Gidi Grinstein who have studied a variety of Jewish population segments and programs. Last week, the Jewish People Policy Institute released two informative studies, too: Family, Engagement, and Jewish Continuity among American Jews and Learning Jewishness, Jewish Education, and Jewish Identity.

Dealing with Realities

The national trends reflect that huge numbers of American Jews are not engaging in traditional Jewish life and institutions and that many don’t identify with denominations; instead, framing their Jewish identity in cultural or “just Jewish” terms. The newer studies also highlight our failure to engage youth in Jewish education programs. However, the studies emphasize the need for adult programs, because young Jews in America are marrying later, having children later and fewer of them. This delay and lack of creative Jewish social circles with which to engage can lead to a disconnect from the community for both parents and their children.

Using National Data

What can a Jewish innovator learn from these studies that might help? The studies encourage building new avenues for Jewish social circles for youth and for adults. They also encourage youth participation in multiple types of Jewish experiences through youth because, for many, there is no longer a central institution – synagogue or other center – that is a preferred gathering place. Camps of all kinds, even for adults, innovative after-school programs and creative Jewish education as a family experience are all winning combinations, resulting in successful Jewish identity and community-building.

Gathering Your Own Data

National research continually shows there is ample interest and enthusiasm in Jewish America for new ways to engage. These results should inspire us to pilot, test and build. Jewish innovators are trailblazers. We listen, we pilot, take feedback, and pivot, shaping new programs as we go.  To that end, we should look to our local Jewish Federation and/or Foundations to see if they have completed local studies, but, if they haven’t, we should charge ahead, conducting small focus groups, piloting new programs, and trailblazing, gathering and sharing the data along the way.


Jennie Starr
Jennie Starr practiced Law and was a Director of Product Management for several high-tech startups, before founding Tarbuton and Startup18 Jewish Engagement Lab. She has a BA from Northwestern, MA from the University of Illinois, and a JD from Washington University in St. Louis. Jennie believes Jewish entrepreneurs can transform Jewish San Diego, and Jewish life at large and established Startup18 to offer a welcome address for program founders. Jennie’s a Chicagoan, and Israeli-American, living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two children.

5 Eli Talks Every Jewish Entrepreneur Should Watch

Navigating the world of innovation and entrepreneurship is quite the challenging landscape. What makes you unique is that you are navigating this world within a world–the Jewish world. There are many great resources out there to learn from. So today we bring you five great Eli Talks for all you innovators and change-makers of our community.
 

1. Lisa Lepson—Dreams, Risks, Patience: A Recipe for Jewish Philanthropy 

“The waiting is the hardest part. But, argues Lisa Lepson, that’s often exactly what world-changing ventures need to make their impact. Blending Jewish history and text with personal stories and insights from the field, this talk encourages philanthropists to rethink the constant drive for metrics and deliverables and have a little…patience.”

 

2. Daniel Libenson—The Jewish Innovator’s Dilemma

“Dr. Daniel Libenson discusses how patterns of disruptive change affect Judaism, and how we can harness those patterns to improve areas of the Jewish community.”

 

3. Lisa Colton—Innovation, Revolution and Tradition

“Lisa Colton shows how Judaism works as an ecosystem, and discusses the importance of when and where we align ourselves, considering the extreme rate of change in today’s world.”

 

4. Rabbi Josh Joseph—Failure, To Launch: The Upside of Falling Down

“Our fear of failure is holding us back, argues Rabbi Josh Joseph. We need to look at failure as the price of pushing for growth and development, he says. Linking ancient Jewish sources with Michael Jordan, Rabbi Joseph asks us to think about what we would do if we weren’t afraid to fail.”

 

5. Felicia Herman—Empowered Philanthropy

“Give strategically, and you’ll have more impact. Give together, and that impact is amplified. Felicia Herman of Natan Fund shares the model for better giving.”

 

As a Jewish entrepreneur you have an additional layer of meaning and purpose to understand in your endeavors. The content of these talks will aid in your progression towards your goals. Whether it’s learning patience, transforming with change, conquering your fear of failure, or embracing collaboration in giving, you will gain a better understanding of how to succeed as an entrepreneur in your Jewish community.

 

Shani
Shani is a photographer and content creator from Los Angeles. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a Communication degree, which she puts to good use by connecting with all the incredible Jewish organizations and the people who support them. With a deep pride in her Jewish roots and an Israeli background, Shani hopes to share the power and potential of Jewish innovation and connection with the world.