Funder Diary: JFN Conference 2017

This conference was a first for me. I’m not sure why it carried so much weight, but flying overseas to focus on philanthropy with a foreign community of people intimidated me.

Feelings of inadequacy surfaced and a sense of being “ill-prepared” and insufficient percolated. One of the first people I met before the actual start of the conference inundated me with new language—impact investing, capacity, and scalability—what did it all mean? Like every new experience, I felt small amongst over 400 philanthropists and related professionals from four continents, as they all seemed to be so much more informed, and to know each other. 

As the conference rolled along I had opportunities to meet with various people and to listen to motivational speakers. My cohort from Israel became allies and people started to make sense to me. I slowly started realizing that I know more than I think and that my confidence gauge needed adjustment. My inner voice needed to get quiet… STOP BEING SO HARD ON MYSELF.

I’m grateful for Maxyne Finkelstein’s partnership. [Maxyne is president of the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation. The author is chairperson of the same foundation.] I felt like I had an angel to clarify terms, provide me background on people and history of programs…context. I slowly started realizing that philanthropy is not so much a science but rather a creative journey that is rooted in empathy and team work.

The rabbi of the oldest congregation in Atlanta, Peter Berg, opened the conference with some Jewish insights on why we were gathered in Atlanta. “To finish G-d’s work and to bring order from chaos.” By doing ordinary tasks in an extraordinary way we were doing G-d’s work. He spoke with passion about what the Jewish community had done in the South during the civil rights era and reminded us of our continued responsibility to all nations. This reminder grounded my angst.

“Wise is one who learns from everyone” - Ben Zoma

We learned from Sherry Turkle, who wrote a book called Alone Together, that in our crazy, connected digital age we are no longer getting the solitude needed for our souls, nor the nourishment of meaningful conversations. We desperately need to disconnect digitally. We need to make the time be with ourselves, alone, free of connectivity to be able to create conversation with others and to actually “hear” someone else. For many reasons, we are busy texting. It is incumbent on us to teach our children to learn how to be alone and how to have the courage to address sensitive issues through speech; otherwise they will suffer with a lifelong feeling of loneliness, hiding behind digital dialogue.

Paul Bennett from IDEO, a design thinker, closed the conference by highlighting that each of us is a designer in our own way, using our eyes, ears, and hands to imagine a better way to get through the day. Our Judaism is relevant and the beauty of design is a wonderful tool to help us revitalize our Jewish tradition. He stressed that in order to achieve positive outcomes of engagement we first really need to understand the human essence of our Jewish needs. 

“It is not enough to be up to date but up to tomorrow” - David Ben Gurion

Joshua Foer, author and founder of Sefaria—a living library of Jewish texts, challenged us to own our Jewish texts and to make ourselves “Jewishly literate”. It is our collective inheritance, and we should be ashamed of our Jewish illiteracies as “the people of the book”. Daniel Septimus, executive director of Sefaria, also spoke, and he asked us to recall the first and last actions in the Torah. While many could recall what happens first few could recall that the burial of Moses by G-d is the last act of the Torah narrative.  It took a lot of courage to call us on it!

After two and half days of intensive conversation, networking, and learning I realized that I am  fortunate to belong to this newfound community of JFN that is rooted in our traditions and teachings. I realized there is a place for my contribution as diaspora girl living in Ranana and giving globally. 

“The ending is just the beginning”…

Shawna Goodman Sone is a trustee of the Shawna Goodman and Todd Sone Family Foundation and the chair of the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation.