I’m a relationship builder by nature. At my core, I love nothing more than to be in deep relationship with others – to get to know each other in a way so that our vulnerabilities become assets and our flaws are afterthoughts. I have sustained friendships from childhood, high school, college, my early career days, and well into my 30s. I am in touch with some colleagues from 10-15 years ago. People are my most valuable currency – and their richness in my life is priceless. It is this inherent inclination towards partnership development – and genuinely knowing people – that has led me to where I am in my career. My superpower is creating and leveraging relationships to co-create substantive projects and ultimately meaningfully impact the work at hand.
After university I worked in the corporate world for a number of reasons, and I always felt like I had someone else’s perfect job. The heart wasn’t there – or moreover, my heart wasn’t in it. I was doing the work but missing the people-centric element. I ended up traveling and working abroad, returning to the US for the ill-timed housing crash fallout in 2009 and into 2010-2011. Ultimately I found my way back to grad school – and to my surprise as much as to anyone else’s – pursued a master’s degree in Jewish education. I say all this to explain that what I do now – how I show up in my work – is an extension of a decades-long process of pulling together the threads of what I do well and who I know myself to be.
I am honest (sometimes so honest that there is a consequence to it). I work with integrity. I ask earnest questions. I care about people. I care about the Jewish community. And sometimes, that caring so fervently has its drawbacks. As of late, the emotional and pragmatic investment I have put towards caring for the people of Israel and the mission of what Israel as a nation represents has been costly to me. It clouds my judgment. It makes me sloppy and untethered. And I cannot wonder if others in my field are experiencing the same kind of foggy headedness.
Recently I was supporting an immersive experience happening on the ground in Israel from afar. Even though I wasn’t there, I felt so incredibly invested in what was happening – perhaps disproportionately so. I wanted it to be so very successful. So much is out of our control when it comes to the situation in Israel and Gaza, this felt like my chance to be in control (which, as I write that, sounds absolutely insane). In wanting the work to be purposeful and wanting the group to carry forward the lessons afterward, I came on way too strong. I felt it – I knew it – I was over-producing. I was over-extending. I was far too familiar with people I had never met. It was uncomfortable for me because I didn’t feel like I could pull myself back. I was operating under this misguided assumption:
If I can support this trip in being effective, if I can help this group in cohering and producing events of impact back in their home communities then that very small effort may in some way support the Jewish community in sustaining itself through this crisis – then people may actually see that being in Israel is very different from witnessing it through the lens of vicious news-mongers and biased social media influencers. Dare I say, people may actually consider giving Israel a fair chance on the world’s stage.
My intentions were good, but as we all know, the road to hell is paved with those good intentions.
I ended up feeling terribly about my anxiety-fueled actions. I owe myself and my future partners the benefit of self-reflection. I share this openly and vulnerably because I hope it can serve others in their work of loving what they love and wanting to do good work in the world. And so in retrospect, I made 3 crucial and humbling missteps when trying to ingratiate myself with the group, and I see it all clearly now:
1/ I had no social capital, but I wanted to believe that I did.
Every immersive learning experience should be constructed so that it is social by design and the efficacy of that framework depends on the practices that the group puts in place – ie. rituals around mealtimes, inside jokes, consistency in tradition and knowing each other during the in-between spaces. I wasn’t in Israel with the group, but from 7 hours behind in my time zone – through the WhatsApp group – I tried to participate. I wanted to chime in, to be charming and friendly. I meant well, at least I think I did. But it was forced, and I did it out of a sense of destabilization with myself – because the wilderness of the Jewish landscape right now is too unmooring. I wanted to matter because I want the work to matter so very much. I wanted everyone else to think it matters too, a lot.
2/ I was a bit creepy (when it’s essential specifically to be NOT creepy).
One of the mainstays of relational engagement is to avoid being creepy – bypass gimmicks, be sincere, no hard sell – because people can smell that a mile away. And its odor is not pleasant. In this scenario, I definitely tried too hard – specifically with one participant who I thought I would hit it off well with. I went above and beyond to engage him, to know him even when I didn’t know him. Again, this is not what I know to be successful in my work nor in my personal life. I am well aware of “best practice” – but again, because of the desperation of the unfolding events in Israel, especially hitting day 100 with the hostages still in captivity – I started to feel increasingly chaotic internally. And that manifested in my attempts to connect even more with these people. My desperation was palpable, even to myself.
3/ The personal touch is so essential, except I didn’t have one and I tried to manipulate the circumstances.
All outreach should be personalized when attempting to build relationships, especially with people you don’t know well (or at all). But in this scenario, I used the pre-existing WhatsApp group to try to create momentum within the group to persuade them to do what was needed on behalf of the work: complete the post-program evaluation, attend an upcoming meeting on next steps from the trip, attend an upcoming program on anti-Semitism. Instead of finding gentler and genuine ways to approach people 1:1, I kept reaching out to the group – generally encountering crickets along the way. Additionally, I treated them all as consumers instead of co-creators – and that is another hard “don’t” of relational-based engagement. The answer should never be “yes” or “no” but something more along the lines of “and how will we do it together?”
There are many comparisons here to the experience of dating and to pursuing love. When we put ourselves out there, we have to be brave. This is a time to be brave, to fight for the love of Israel. Love is not tidy nor well-explained. Some say the same of Zionism. The Jewish community – frankly the entire global population – insists upon us being courageous and even ferocious in our beliefs both at the individual and collective level. I am authoring this because I want to be impassioned but not emotionally unhinged, I want to be effective in my work but not desperate in my efforts, I want to know (like really know) the people I meet and am privileged to work with – and to develop that knowing through steady and reciprocal means. I want to make sure that my personal outrage over what’s happening in Israel and Gaza – and elsewhere – doesn’t stand in my way of knowing when to turn down the heat on my own behaviors.
Frankly I want to make sure that love doesn’t make me do crazy things – at least not too crazy.
I’m a fiery woman. I come in hot often, and it’s just right. I read the room. I lock eyes. I make jokes. I laugh hard. You’re the next person I haven’t met yet, and I am excited to talk to you when I do. I mean it when I do it all. Next time, I’ll make sure that my hot isn’t the wrong kind of hot. Next time, I’ll make sure I keep my heart and my head where they belong so I can keep the work at the center. Israel deserves that of me, at the very least.