From the Foundation Team

My Non-Jewish Perspective Working at a Jewish Foundation

– by Amanda Leal

October 6th, 2023

We’re pleased to share reflections written before October 7th from the Foundation’s operations associate, Amanda Leal.

I told myself in July of 2022 that I would find a job that helps serve a greater purpose.

I had worked in the semiconductor manufacturing industry for a couple years, as my first “big girl job.” I acquired incredible experience and worked with people of all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and skills. I scrubbed the floors of a manufacturing floor in order to “5S” the place to create a more productive workspace. I loved it. It was fun and dynamic, but at the end of the day I felt like I did very little to better the world. Just a cog in the machine…you know all the sayings. I decided to begin a job search to work for a nonprofit organization that makes a difference to people’s live—even if I would not directly be hands-on in that work.

I was stoked to find out I had an interview for this “Jewish foundation.” Then after one interview… and another one.. and another one…I got the job! I felt incredibly happy and proud; my hard work had paid off, I prayed/manifested, and it happened. I admit, I was incredibly ignorant to Jewish culture and practice, but I knew that the Jim Joseph Foundation made a difference in the education of youth, and I loved that alone. Interestingly (or maybe not), I am a Christian and was incredibly honored that I would be able to catch on to little things here and there. However, beyond that, I did not completely understand what I was walking into. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in Central California and as a Christian where church is your whole world. You just don’t meet Jewish people, or even know such a community exists in your own backyard.

In fact, as I told family and friends back home about my new job, I was met with interesting comments from Christians and from self-identifying progressive, young left-leaning people. One interaction: When my parents shared with friends at church that their daughter would be working for Jewish foundation, one person exclaimed that I could be a “beacon of light” at the foundation and help convert every Jewish person there to Christianity. This statement never fails to make me laugh. Another person asked, “Why do Jews need a foundation?” Now listen, I went into this ignorant but not that ignorant. The fact that someone would ask that question truly threw me for a loop. Yet, as I  answered the question, I realized I had a pretty surface level response. I recognized that I needed to acquire more knowledge to answer this question to the best of my ability.

It’s been almost a year since I joined the Foundation team and I can answer this question in so many ways. I see how Jewish learning encompasses such a wide range of experiences and opportunities that help young people throughout life. I see how Jewish values inform actions to help others and to improve communities. I see the efforts being made to better welcome BIPOC Jews, LGBTQ+ Jews, and more marginalized communities into Jewish life. The way I think about it in my worldview is this: Some children feel forced by parents to go to their religion’s place of worship. I would have felt so much safer and more loved if I had the same kinds of safe spaces I see the Foundation’s grantee-partners create. I have friends on friends who would have been saved from a lot of misery and could still benefit from those safe spaces, at their big age. It’s all so important, and the journey of “learning how to human,” as I like to say so eloquently, is tough.

I also appreciate the culture of the Foundation, in which all members of the professional team are encouraged to learn about Jewish culture. As I learn more, I also have more questions. Thankfully, the Foundation enables any team member to participate in the Jewish Learning Collaborative, which is one-on-one personalized Jewish learning. I jumped at this opportunity and was thrilled to meet my teacher, Rabbi Dusty Klass. Dusty grew up in an interfaith home with one Catholic parent and one Jewish parent. In wanting to feel seen, I chose Dusty because of the interfaith background, and hoped that she would be open-minded when it came to my inquiries.

Dusty has made clear to me that no question is off limits (something I absolutely adore about Judaism) and provides beautiful responses that lead to about a thousand more questions. Some of the questions I have asked: “Under Judaism, how do we feel about the LGBTQ+ community?” (this was a major item I looked into prior to accepting the job) “How are young adults so involved in the Jewish community?” “What do y’all believe about the afterlife?” “What does Judaism/Jewish text say about periods?” Sometimes a question will lead to another question right out of left field. It is so fun and informative and endless. Most importantly, the JLC makes my learning possible and connects me even more to the work and beneficiaries of the Foundation.

Now, that was a ramble about many things and I hope at the very least, you are not offended by how ignorant I was and still continue to be. I am still learning! Bear with me. As my first year at the Foundation wraps up, I feel incredibly thankful. I feel blessed to feel embraced by my colleagues, and also to be learning about a community that I previously knew nothing about.  I am blessed to have coworkers that are patient with me while I pronounce Hebrew words or attempt to drum up excitement for a Jewish based meditation. And most importantly and not at all corny, I feel blessed to continue learning day by day.

Amanda Leal is an Operations Associate at the Jim Joseph Foundation.