From the Professional Staff

Internal Exploration of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Jeff Tiell on February 6th, 2017

How do we as Jews authentically tell our stories to others and ourselves? How do we as Jews bring the relevance and meaning of Judaism—whatever that may mean to you—in our lives? How do we as Jews show up? These are just a few of the questions I have been asking myself, sometimes more explicitly, sometimes less, over the last few years. The noted novelist and writer, Zora Neale Hurston said, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” The answers to some of these questions have come to me in the form of practice and process; and in both personal and professional ways.

Personally, I was privileged to attend my first Moishe House Meditation Retreat in Southern California during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. There were roughly 35 other 20 and 30 somethings who showed up from across North America and across Jewish spiritual practice. Most of the retreat was held for silent meditation, a practice with which I had no experience and had never thought I would. The first half day was disorienting. Not talking, not even really making eye contact with others, essentially being in my own space with no outlet save for my own self and my thoughts led me to a place of restlessness. I ate dinner looking down at my food, focused on the act of eating and not any social conversation starter. I walked by people without making eye contact. I sat next to folks to whom I did not speak. And then gradually I came to a different place; a place more akin to peace and contentment with the rumblings in my head. Similar to a fast, I experienced a deep opening of space in myself that led me to self-discovery, contentment, and some challenge.

The Jim Joseph Foundation, over the last number of months, has been on an exploratory path, a process to determine how to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into both the internal and external work of the Foundation. Why do this? There are a multitude of reasons; perhaps, the most pre-eminent among them however, comes back to this question of authenticity and relevance. How does the Jim Joseph Foundation create and imbue for its beneficiaries places and opportunities for authenticity and relevancy as Jews? As a professional staff we are increasingly looking to our grantee partners—Hillel, Repair the World, Moishe House, Hazon, to name just a few—for their insight, their wisdom, and their expertise on this subject. Further, we are looking to others in the Jewish world who may not be present beneficiaries or partners for their wisdom and expertise, as well, knowing that the best place for the Foundation at this point is to be situated in a place of listening and learning.

Practice and Process. It is no surprise that that the personal and the professional collided for me at the Moishe House Meditation Retreat. What I came away with from this experience was an appreciation—a visceral understanding—of how the personal informs the professional and how a Jewish practice can shape and sharpen the contours and boundaries of a Jewish process.  It is what is internal—whether personally in one’s self or professionally in one’s organization—that determines the path forward. The Foundation is encouraged to be doing this internal work over the next number of months to learn more about DEI. Throughout this process, the Foundation will continue to be informed by a humble practice of listening and learning to lead to action as we continue to write our story as an organization, and help others’ to write theirs.

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.