Amplify Our Strengths

Shema (listening), Mission, Mentors, Malleability

Amplify what we already do well to further strengthen the professional experience.

These include listening, focusing on mission, providing mentorship and promoting workplace flexibility.

INTRODUCTION: We have just journeyed through twelve Blessings, each with big ideas and strategies that we can now try out on our staff. We also have a thirteenth narrative that explores an emerging picture of success, a bright spot, in which we see many of these blessings in action. This produces a large benefit not only for Evan but for the whole field. The individuals, we have encountered bared their hearts and souls, including sharing their many frustrations with their Jewish professional experience. If we Sh’ma , or listen, closely, to their stories, we find that there is so much to celebrate about how we already motivate, value and bestow blessing onto our Jewish professionals. 

Amplify Our Listening:

One of these ways includes how we listen, which is core to who we are as Jews.

We say the Shema every morning and every evening:

The Shema, (Shema Yisrael Ado-shem Elo-keinu Ado-shem Echad)

Hear O Israel The Lord is Our God the Lord is One.

It is our most sacred prayer and perhaps an emblem of our greatest strength. The prayer describes our community as being part of one included whole. In recalling what we learned from Aliza Kline in Blessing #6,  we could learn from this text to amplify our work to make every member of our team feel included, part of the Oneness of our community. Working to achieve such oneness can include a commitment to seek out and forge partnerships under ONE larger goal and a desire to scale our own successes through working to achieve the successes of others. The Shema implies that when we listen, people are and feel heard, included. At least among the people we connected with in this book, it is clear that many supporting and nurturing Jewish community professionals can be pretty good listeners. 

Each of those profiled has gotten to where they are because there was someone – a mentor, a clergy, a teacher, a supervisor, a colleague– who was paying attention to their talents, dreams, ideas and challenges, and then took action. Morris Squire listened to David before he offered his challenge. Alyson’s youth advisor in high school listened and paid attention to her in high school before encouraging her on her path to becoming a Jewish educator. Miriam’s clergy team paid attention to her, noticing not just her singing talents but her inner voice of passion, and planted the idea to pursue serving Jewish life. We could note an example of listening and consequential mentorship from nearly each of our blessings.

We say the Shema, whether during a prayer service or when we wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night, not only offering a blessing to God, or to whatever your concept of God or a higher being or sacredness may be, but as a reminder to ourselves:  when we listen, when we shema, we give ourselves the presence of mind to act on these words, which take actions that can benefit those around us, helping steer each of them in the right direction.

Amplifying our listening strength means really listening, asking the deep questions we asked to each of our Jewish community professionals in this book, which can be found in the appendix, to our staff, colleagues, supervisors, and our lay leaders. We have to remind ourselves that, as a Jewish community and as non-for-profit professionals, we are generally pretty good at listening, paying attention, and acting when there is a person searching for direction. We pay attention to those less fortunate in our society, whether in poverty, crisis, persecution, or affected by disaster, and we are often among the first to provide assistance and support. We pay attention to the latest technologies and innovate. We can also pay attention to the human talent around us and then act to amplify this practice so we, and they, can feel blessed and steered toward success.

We can focus on what is working within the network and do more of it. We feel less threatened and exposed when we focus on the positive. We are proud of what we do well – and are often enthused when we are charged with doing more of what we love and what we are good at – when we “strengthen our strengths.” 

Adam Simon, formerly of the Schusterman Network and currently President of the AVIV Foundation, talks about this in his ELI Talk about managing talent. In his talk, Simon advises us explicitly to build teams to focus on each team member’s respective strengths and, in the performance review processes, work on strengthening each other’s best qualities as opposed to trying to improve what professionals may not be able to do as well. Athletes and professional sports teams practice this. A great pitcher in baseball works on his pitching and doesn’t focus much on his hitting.  To get even more granular, a Closer, a pitcher who comes in to try to earn the last few outs of a game when their team is winning by a close margin, may only try to focus on perfecting his super-quick fastball, and maybe one curveball or off-speed pitch, and that’s it. He is not bothered by other pitches, hitting, or any other positions and their related skill sets. He focuses on what is working and how to do more of it to become an exemplary.

We as leaders and managers can more deeply listen to our professionals, understand their strengths, and further help them grow in areas where they already are excelling. As a result, we can be equally incredible at how we are already blessing our workforce by doing more of it. By amplifying what we already do well, some of the other problems we encounter may become less of an issue over time. A few issues may even resolve themselves, overcome by the strengths that we have perfected.  

Amplifying Our Mission

The Leading Edge Leading Places to Work Surveys deliver a clear message that Jewish community professionals are highly motivated and inspired by our organizational and communal missions. In fact, the Leading Edge report in 2018 identifies that 87% of our employees are motivated by mission. Our narratives reinforce this, and many of their motivations directly point to this. 

Our employees are already inspired by what we are trying to achieve. Much of the workforce on this continent, whether in the corporate sector, government, or other non-profits, are not nearly as inspired by the mission and values of their employer as they are in the Jewish world. According to, 60% of Millennials, the generation found to be most motivated by a company mission, are motivated by the mission of their company. We can compare this to the 87% of all Jewish community professionals who are motivated by their mission.  This is a gold mine for us, and we need to make the most of it. 

Using Marc Fein in Blessing #11 as an example, he was often frustrated by the lack of validation he receives as a youth professional but is incredibly inspired by the mission of NCSY. This is a disconnect with a clear remedy. To limit these types of frustrations we should follow this simple schematic: Listen, Validate and Connect, Honor:

  1. Listen to our Jewish community professional, so they know that we recognize their frustration 
  2. Validate and Connect their work by expressing gratitude and congratulations (or even just a thank you) and then connect explicitly to the overall organizational mission that their efforts have helped achieve 
  3. Honor by nurturing their own strengths and develop further the skills that have helped them advance the mission so they can accomplish even more 

Perhaps, in amplifying our mission strengths, we take the time to make the mission clearer, simpler, and more evidently connected to our professional’s work. For them to know why we do the work we do and see it in their work every day has the most powerful effect. A prime example again is with Rachel in Blessing #10, who feels blessed each time she observes her young staff members make the connections between what was occurring during the summer and what Rachel had taught them at the beginning of the summer. Let us make a commitment to amplify our Jewish professionals’ mission awareness, turning up the motivation.

Amplifying Flexibility 

The more flexible we can allow our Jewish community professionals to be so they can be fully present during their work hours, the more appreciation they have for the supervisors and organizations Jewish community professionals support. We can no longer go back to the rigid work hours of the 20th century, especially now after all that we are learning during COVID-19. It is no longer the society we live in and, in fact, as our narratives shared plainly with us, job flexibility is already a key reason they feel motivated and valued in their jobs.

Certainly, many of those profiled who have reached senior executive or creative positions have an enormous amount of flexibility, working several days from home even before COVID, such as Rabbi Laura Baum in Blessing #8 , Alyson Bazeley in Blessing #2, and Carine Warsawski in Blessing #12. 

We are becoming more comfortable and proficient at promoting flexibility in the Jewish professional space in part because we have to be. It is clear from the individuals we have met over these pages that Jewish community professionals are committed to getting the work done. Yet they are not committed, and actually sometimes frustrated, when they always have to be on someone else’s schedule or at their workstation at the same hours on the same days, sometimes to the detriment of doing their job well. Using the language of Blessing #7 and in getting to know Graham Hoffman, we might say that following rules that prohibit us from doing our best work is a form of nonsense, inefficiency, or BS.

Certainly, there are roles that require in person coverage at specific hours, and it is important to have face time among the staff. Fostering collaborations and building relationships within a workforce does require people to build meaningful relationships with each other, as we learned from Ezra Shanken in Blessing #3. We can and should require certain times, whether some are in person and some over video conference, for fostering such interactions. 

Yet this shouldn’t take away from the need and desire for flexibility among Jewish community professionals today so they can get their jobs done in the manner that speaks to their strengths. Since our professionals are largely motivated by the foundations of internal motivations outlined in Blessing #1 — autonomy, competence, belonging, and purpose — to give our professionals as much as flexibility as possible fosters their sense of both autonomy and competence. The purpose is reinforced with the amplifying of our mission discussed just earlier, and the belonging can come from the innovative manner that we foster relationships. 

Amplifying Our Mentorship

There is also significant belonging to be nurtured in the relationships that got us to where we are and continue to guide us, which leads us to the third amplification that we have been highlighting all along, the use and practice of mentors and coaches. We have encountered repeatedly how the Jewish community professionals have been challenged, inspired, and nurtured by mentors. When most folks were telling Carine NO to Trybal Gatherings, her mentors from the Wexner Graduate Fellowship were showing support that helped her eventually get to the YES she’s needed. Ezra learned the power of relationships from the mentorship of former head of UJA-Federation of New York Jon Ruskay. Mentors can be our partners too. Aliza Kline’s mentor coached and supported her through the growth of Mayim Chayim, to the point that she was ready to succeed at a new challenge, creating and expanding OneTable. The Jewish community is so darn good at mentorship; we can be more explicit about assigning mentors to our staff, taking more advantage of this strength in order to bless our workforce!

Let me tell you about one of my mentors, Jane Slotin. I call Jane my professional angel . Jane has been an exceptional mentor for me for over 15 years. She Identified my potential and pointed it out to me while I was a young coordinator, gave me permission to be creative and practice leadership, thought of me for roles I hadn’t yet identified for myself, and gave me courage and confidence to tackle new challenges. She then went out of her way to celebrate my success so I wouldn’t feel alone in celebrating them and that I wouldn’t undervalue my own achievements.

When I was in my first role at the 92nd Street Y  as a recruiter in the Human Resource Department, I worked with Jane to help her hire new staff, which eventually led to her hiring me part time when I was in graduate school. That was the identification.  I was then working for Jane as her community service coordinator, planning volunteer events for younger Jews in their 20’s and 30’s. I was nervous programming my first social events for these volunteer groups. I remember clearly walking into Jane’s office one day with my questions and trepidations. Jane simply said back to me, “you are the director of this program, you create and lead this, and I’ll simply give you some feedback, but I am not going to answer all of your questions about how to do this.” Jane was giving me permission to be an autonomous, entrepreneurial, and creative leader. 

Many years later, Jane and I had both left the 92nd Street Y but kept in touch. In fact, she made it a point to support me through a somewhat challenging time in my career. She took personal care of seeing me reach my long-term potential, which included returning to the Jewish professional field. It was Jane who identified the program coordinator position at JTS that would eventually change my life and transform my career – and it was a job I might not have noticed, and more likely I wouldn’t have even gotten an interview for, if it weren’t for Jane thinking of me, and promoting me as ideal for this position.

As the years progressed and I advanced in my roles at JTS, I would continually hire Jane as a mentor for my students. As a member of my faculty team, Jane wouldn’t hesitate to provide me with constructive feedback. Yet, each comment was always couched with sincere compliments about my work and leadership that, especially coming from a mentor like Jane, gave me the courage and confidence to continue to lead and design feeling motivated, positively challenged, and valued, and with an ambition to achieve at levels beyond what I had achieved previously. 

Today, although elements of the first four of these steps still come in to play in our conversations, she mainly ensures that I have someone to celebrate my successes with.  In fact, I make sure that I pay it back and celebrate in her successes as well, and provide feedback and thoughts when appropriate.

I share again here a bit of my own narrative to complement the journeys we have gotten to know in this book in the hopes that most readers will have similar stories of mentors or coaches who have helped them in similar ways. As we look at our supervisors within our field, let us consider how to amplify the power of mentorship that already exists in our Jewish professional environment, notably how we can provide our talent with:

  1. Identification – to ensure Jewish community professionals see what they are capable of and the talents they can nurture in their current or future positions.
  2. Permission to Lead – Providing Jewish community professionals a feeling of autonomy and competence, assigning projects and otherwise couching them in a way to give our employees the feeling of a directorship of all or part of our project so they can shine
  3. Thinking of our Jewish community professionals first – Connecting back to our success schematic in Blessing #2 (Happy Staff ->. Happy Camper -> Happy Camp), thinking less of solely what is best for the organization and more about what is best for our staff now and in the long-term, which we have come to learn is actually best for the organization too. You may have a great staff person in a role fit for them, yet they may now or soon be ready for a new great challenge – and as a coach or mentor thinking of them and encouraging them to go for this new challenge.
  4. Courage and confidence – at all stages of a Jewish community professional’s career providing them with the positive and constructive feedback that gives them the courage and confidence to excel and do what they are doing better, capitalizing on their strengths.
  5. Celebration – Acting as the cheerleader, champion and number one fan for each of our Jewish community professionals, so they don’t have to be alone in celebrating their successes.

CONCLUSION: – One of my favorite but also least known songs from The Beatles is “It’s All Too Much,” written by George Harrison on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. It is a loud psychedelic track with many instruments played at once. I enjoy listening to it, yet it is also very cacophonous and sometimes when the amplifier is turned up too high and all the time it can be overwhelming.

That is all to say for us, we have a duty to amplify what we are already doing well to best motivate, value and bless our workforce. We are excellent at listening, inspiring others through our organizational missions, providing job flexibility, and as mentors and coaches who can transform careers. A word of caution though, not to turn these practices up willy-nilly like in “It’s All Too Much.” If we do, Jewish community professionals may feel it to be inauthentic.

Therefore, as we begin to play with these ideas in our organizations, we must also consider how to strategically and authentically make our missions more apparent, provide flexibility, and embrace the concepts of mentoring each other within and among our organizations. Let’s just be cautious not to turn the amplifiers up too much more than we already are.