Field of Dreams
So there I was, onstage, singing an extremely out-of-tune, “Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika…” all while tickling the ivories in an enthusiastically amateurish manner.
I was, thank goodness, the only one who sensed how bad it all was.
In fact, my audience of seniors at the JCC in Northeast Philadelphia didn’t seem to notice. They were just happy I was there, and that for a few hours on a Friday they could sip chicken soup, sing some old songs, and feel connected.
It was during that year, 1994, at the JCC senior center in Philadelphia, that I knew I was different. Different from my friends in college who wanted to become lawyers, economists and engineers. I was different from my family members who were professors, doctors, and teachers. There was something in my soul that longed for the feeling I got when looking into the faces of my JCC friends and saw their expressions as they remembered their own Jewish journeys. The hardships they had faced as new immigrants and survivors of war. I had the feeling that while I didn’t know anyone in that room personally, we were deeply connected—through shared history and future.
The last six months as a Wexner Field Fellow have re-ignited that passion. I am re-committed to the reason I became a Jewish communal professional in the first place. Jewish communal leadership is about embracing a shared history, shared values, and shared responsibility. And while we might differ on the fine print, there is no place you can experience that more strongly than in the Wexner community.
When I applied for the Fellowship, the idea of $10,000 a year towards professional development was primarily what drove me. As a working mom of three, the window for me to go back to graduate school had pretty much slammed shut. But what would serious professional development look like for me? The day I was accepted, I made a long list of the skills I need to work on. It was almost two pages long, and included things like basic accounting for non-profits; grant-writing; supervision and management skills; etc. But the Wexner staff assured me I had time; time to talk to colleagues, experts, and other fellows before committing to an Accounting 101 course.
The part about being a Wexner Field Fellow that I did not anticipate was this: the value of being part of the Class 26 cohort. The three of us Field Fellows and 19 Wexner Graduate Fellows are together a kehillah. Primarily a community of strangers, but strangers that I know will impact the choices I make as a professional and a leader. At Summer Institute this past August, I had the honor of spending time with Nigel Savage, Founding Executive Director of Hazon. Nigel pushed us to think about our particular Jewish work against a universal backdrop as he has done with Hazon; making the environment a Jewish issue. This winter I will use my Field Fellowship to attend the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference and do just as Nigel instructs. What can I learn from NAIS that can influence my role as a leader at a Jewish day school?
The most important thing I’ve learned as a Wexner Field Fellow so far is that getting back to your roots is sometimes the best place to start. My field fellowship will surely help prepare me to be the strongest leader I can be for our Jewish community. That may or may not mean I need to know how to read an accounting sheet. So for now, under the deep influence of my respected colleagues and friends in Class 26, I am pursuing Jewish text study. For 10 weeks I will study the sources and commentary on tzedakah with a private Chevruta teacher. What a gift (pun intended)! When Rabbi Margalit comes to my busy development office to pick me up for our session and we retreat to the insides of a Gemara for one hour a week, I am renewed and reinvigorated. And that’s what the Wexner Field Fellowship is all about—a push to remember that leadership is not a sum of what we know and don’t know; it’s a marker of our souls and our commitment to Jewish peoplehood. I will probably still pursue accounting in my four-year fellowship—but for today I remain immersed in our past and our future. Now if only Rabbi Margalit will let me sing “Tumbala-laika” while we learn!
To learn more about the Wexner Field Fellowship, click here.
Jennifer Weinstock, a current Wexner Field Fellow (Class 26), has been applying her expertise as a development professional for more than 17 years with an emphasis on relationship-building strategies between donors and organizations. She is currently the Senior Development Officer at Gann Academy in Waltham, MA. Before coming to Gann this spring, Jennifer was Strategy Manager for Growing Annual Fund Revenue at the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education for six years. Jennifer also spent more than a decade at WGBH, Boston’s public broadcasting station, as the senior Major Gifts officer, Director of Stewardship and Director of the Major Gifts Annual Fund. Jennifer lives in Brookline, MA, with her husband Amiel and three sons who all attend Jewish day school and Jewish camp. They are active members of the Young Israel of Brookline. Jennifer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured: Portrait of a Woman with Hat, painted by Amedeo Modigliani