The assignment was simple: working in pairs, take a widely circulated ad and instead of using it to sell (fill in the blank with any material good), adapt the ad to create an ad for G-d.
The results were powerful:
Only after we shared our adaptations did we introduce ourselves: including a description of one thing that we have done because of G-d. As we went around the room, any barriers, or perceived barriers, that exist when a group of individuals meet for the first time (whether gender, religious affiliation, or the grantee-funder dynamic) diminished. Instead, we were twelve colleagues ready to discuss the topic that brought us together that day, namely, how can Jewish day school teachers and teaching help foster Jewish student spiritual development and a relationship with G-d. My colleague, Holly Cohen, Executive Director of the Kohelet Foundation, had achieved the goal that she set out to accomplish and set the stage for the entire day. Our barriers were down and we were ready to get to work.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells us, “Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?” This past Fall, The AVI CHAI, Kohelet, and Mayberg Foundations came together to support three initiatives that explore these existential questions. By supporting Ayeka, Jewish Learning Institute and Pedagogy of Partnership – each designed to enhance the classroom environment – we hope to strengthen the spiritual impact of Jewish day schools, including the social, emotional, ethical, and spiritual/religious development of students. Through the collaboration, we also hope to provide opportunities for both funders and program providers to deepen our own understandings of this work in a holistic way.
The purpose of this first meeting was for representatives from the three foundations and the three projects to get to know each other and begin to form a learning community. After the ice-breaker, the day proceeded with several activities, including brief presentations about each project and a critical friends group (https://depts.washington.edu/ccph/pdf_files/CriticalFriends.pdf). Throughout each activity, there was a feeling in the room that we were onto something unique. We were there together to tackle and hopefully solve a dilemma that confronts Jewish day schools community-wide.
At the beginning of our work together, we set out just a few indicators of success. These included: an increased awareness in the field about these program providers and their work in schools, an increased awareness in the field about ways to enhance the “Jewish” in Jewish day school, and more conversations in Jewish day schools about the Divine.
I realized, though, at the conclusion of the initial meeting, that there was something missing from our original thinking. You see, as much as foundation professionals try to work around it, there is an embedded dynamic that exists in our work with our most important partners, our grantees. The dynamic is that one group has access to the funds and the other group needs those funds, which makes true trust and collaboration (and vulnerability) very difficult.
At this meeting, however, the barriers that often exist between grantees and funders were broken down. The grantees did not feel like they needed to prove their worth to us. We were there to approach the challenge together.
So, I would now add another indicator of success to our collaboration, which is in fact a precursor to the original two indicators originally built into the work. Success should also be measured by the extent to which the lines between the foundations and grantees blur and we develop and share insights about what works together.