By Liz Schuman
I confess. When a colleague at a former employer once suggested that I consider working for a Jewish organization, I waved the suggestion away. Too confining. Too insular. Too, well, Jewish. Never mind that I was spending copious amounts of time connected to my synagogue. Never mind that my son was completing his confirmation year and my daughter preparing for her upcoming bat mitzvah in little more than a year’s time. Never mind that we chose our very neighborhood because of the Jewish factor. I never imagined myself as a Jewish communal professional.
As my grandparents used to say, “A mentsh tracht und Gott lacht” – A person plans and G-d laughs.” This means, of course, that I landed at THE ASSOCIATED.
Clearly, I bring a decided non-Jewish communal perspective. I’ve worked in health care, higher education and as a professional writer, interviewing people in countless industries. That range of people and experiences gives me pause when I think about working at this faith-based organization. Sure, it’s lovely to have days off for Passover, Shavuot and the High Holidays. But, it’s about more than time away.
It’s about what happens when we’re here.
To start, there are a lot of meetings. A lot. While some are the standard project-of-the-week variety, many aren’t. Frequently, we hear and discuss issues that define the local, national and international impact of our work.
Sometimes we watch videos of our work on the ground or hear directly from people in the field. More than a few eyes well up, including mine. Maybe we’re all softies. I never imagined being a part of an organization that changes lives in so many places. Recently, we heard about the life-changing work we do in places as far flung as Israel, Odessa and Budapest. Children, seniors, families – many of whom have nowhere else to go – are fed, housed and cared for because of the work we do.
Closer to home, this summer, many of us in the fundraising department had a firsthand look at some of our 14 agencies as a refresher course on what the dollars accomplish. One place we visited was Camp Milldale. My children went to Camp Milldale. I went to Camp Milldale. I still remember the bus ride, the huge grass hill we climbed to get to the pool, the arts and crafts, even the bug juice. What’s not to love?
But, here’s the thing: Some 25 percent of the children who attended Camp Milldale this summer received financial assistance. No big deal, I guess, unless you are one of those youngsters who would not have that kind of summer – with outdoor activities, swimming, hiking, simply playing. It’s no big deal, unless you are one of the parents, struggling to create the best possible summer without the bankroll to do it. And it’s no big deal unless this is the only Jewish experience that camper has.
That same day, we also heard from a childhood incest survivor. Too many of her summers (and her years), were spent absorbing the pain of sexual molestation – acts to awful to write about. But, somehow, this brave woman tells her story to groups like ours. You could have heard a pin drop when she spoke. Thanks to CHANA: Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women and the Shofar Coalition, she’s begun to heal. I learned that one of four females, and one of six males, has been sexually abused in some form during his or her life. CHANA and the Shofar Coalition care, are creating a safe place, both psychologically and often physically for women, children and, yes, men. CHANA does tough work. Honestly, I don’t know how the staff does it, story after heart wrenching story.
The days are different here. Have you ever looked at a corporate values statement? Often, it’s mind-numbing. Here, our values statement is simpler with concepts such as tikkun olam (repair the world), hiddur p’nei zaken (respect for the elderly) and kol Yisrael avevim zeh la zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another). These Jewish values inform our day to day.
This summer, I moved into another office and needed a mezuzah on the door. So, our operations manager offered several options. My choice? A plain, wooden case with clear glass covering the scroll. We affixed it to the door and said the prayer. Then we went back to work.
My grandparents were right of course. You just never know where you’ll land or what’s ahead, no matter how much you plan. I’d like to think that my grandparents are watching from afar, nodding about my role here and saying, “It’s beshert.”
Learn more about the work of THE ASSOCIATED at www.associated.org/whygive.