Let’s Have a Community Conversation
Bryan is an alumnus of Wexner Heritage Phoenix 09. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of the Phoenix Jewish Community Foundation and is a member of the Phoenix Jewish Federation Board and Community Planning Board. Bryan and his wife Michelle live in Phoenix with their two children. Bryan works for First Community Financial providing asset based commercial lending solutions. Bryan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is said that if you put two Jews in a room you will have three opinions. Knowing this too often to be true, you can imagine my concern having 350 members of the Phoenix Jewish community in a room and asking them to talk about their hopes, dreams and aspirations of what a Jewish community can be. After more than a year of planning, The Jewish Community Foundation, acting as the convener, recently held the Phoenix Jewish Community Conversation on the campus of Arizona State University. The Phoenix Jewish Community Foundation organized the event with 46 local Jewish agencies and synagogues acting as partners to promote the event to the community at large.
Professor Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and the Berman Institute at NYU Wagner laid a foundation for the day with his keynote address. He spoke of the changing dynamics of Jewish life in America and the specific challenges unique to the Phoenix Jewish community.
The energy picked up as the participants began conversations at assigned tables with other community members whom they had likely never met. This initial session provided the framework for the day – giving everyone a voice, but more importantly conditioning everyone to listen. It also was about meeting new people and building personal relationships, which in turn builds community.
The real work and the ideas began to flow when the participants self selected to attend one of 18 breakout sessions. The conversations were led by the participants with a moderator to keep the conversation on point and to make sure everyone had a voice. Each session had a topic and the conversation began with a question – How can we become a more welcoming community? What can the local community do to take better care of the elderly? How can we make the cost of Jewish life affordable? Other sessions centered on themes such as tzedakah, leadership development, youth and young adults, Israel, education, and working together.
The tone of conversation was dignified and with a sense of purpose. The participants were engaged. Everyone was respected and had a seat at the table regardless of length of time in the community, age, or financial status. People expressed their passions, concerns, and frustrations. They offered ideas, solutions, and the willingness to get more involved.
The goal of the day was not to find the solutions, but to find the ideas, release the creativity, and dream of Jewish life blooming in the desert. The information gleaned from the day will set the table for many communal organizations to plan, strategize, and implement projects and programs. The open conversation will also bring about new ways of thinking outside the box, so we can create a vibrant Jewish community. The data from the day is being compiled into a report that will be made available to the entire community and posted at www.communityconversationaz.org.
The tone and energy of the Community Conversation proved that we all care deeply about our community. We want the Phoenix Jewish community to actualize its potential and need to collaborate, communicate, and, in many cases, consolidate to attain the community we want.
When I began the Wexner Heritage Program, Les Wexner challenged us with, “What got us here, won’t get us there.” On this day, 350 members of the Phoenix Jewish community came together to engage in open dialogue about what we need to do differently to get us ‘there’.