Notes from the Next Chapter
It is not surprising that there are at least three words in Hebrew for “transition.”
Most of us are in transition more often, more regularly and more routinely than we realize. It’s a constant factor in our lives, in the lives of those close to us and in the life of community.
The first word for transition is ma’avar – to cross over, to pass through. The very name Ivri (a “Hebrew” person) comes from this root. The Jewish people make transitions. In the word ma’avar is also the processing, the being in relationship with “the past” — we are nurtured by our past relationships with communities and also by their past, which becomes a part of us. We do not merely “pass through” communities in which we have participated. This is one of the reasons we are a people of memory, not just history.
I started working full-time when I was in my last year of university, some 44 years ago: first for BBYO, then at a Hillel, a JCC, Jewish cultural arts centers, JCCA, a Federation and, for the last 17 years, The Wexner Foundation. And one can’t simply “pass through” a Wexner experience.
I always assumed I would be like my father, Aaron Chazan, z”l. He started working when he was 16 years old while going to night school at McGill to become an accountant. In December 2012, at the age of 86, he was getting ready to go to work at the same firm he had joined at 16 when he had a heart attack and died quickly. Still another word for transition — chiluf (“passes”) — a harsh transition, usually from life to death. Until that moment, I had been determined to follow my father’s example. Work, intensive work, defined each of us. Deep work, family and friends: that was my world.
But soon after my father died, I became more reflective; I wasn’t the “whole person” Les Wexner describes as essential for leadership. I needed to make time and room for the next chapter of my life.
Two-and-one-half years ago, I began conversations with Foundation President Rabbi Elka Abrahamson about the next phase. I wanted to spend more time with my husband Jay, to be present in a different way as wife, daughter, mother and friend and to be a new kind of professional. I still wanted and needed to work, and at the same time I needed the discipline to refocus: to travel to a place and live there for a while; to paint again — something I had stopped doing 40 years ago; to relearn to speak Hebrew more fluently; to buy a series of symphony or theater tickets and actually go; and to be healthier, because my generation is living longer.
On January 1, 2016, I was able to reduce my work schedule to Mondays and Tuesdays. I am now primarily responsible for our WGF Mentoring Program, developing community partners for WHP and supporting the educational vision of WIF Alumni Institutes. This two-year plan has been enthusiastically embraced by colleagues, members, fellows and alumni, knowing that it would allow me to rethink my work life balance while paving the way for the growth of others.
Only one month into my new plans, my mother passed away after a lengthy illness. She was surrounded by her loving family for many hours prior to taking her final earthly breath. While this was not a surprise, her death is a painful loss and I am grateful to have time at work, time at home and time to rethink how I will spend my time in the coming months and, please God, the coming years. I was hoping for more time with my mom, Libby Chazan, z”l. There are never enough hours to sit with those we cherish.
And so, moving from shloshim and back to working differently and, yes, working less, I look forward to new plans, to travel, to painting and, of course, to going to the office. I look forward most of all to redefining myself.
Cindy Chazan is Senior Advisor for The Wexner Foundation. In this capacity, she facilitates collaborations among the Wexner leadership constituencies in North America and in Israel, develops partnership communities for the Wexner Heritage Program and engages Jewish communities in greater leadership development activities. Cindy is based in the New York office of the Foundation. Prior to coming to the Foundation, she was Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Cindy holds a BA in Jewish Studies from McGill University and an MA in Contemporary Jewish Studies from Brandeis University. Cindy was also a founding board member of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community (AWP) and is on the board of the Jewish Funders Network. Cindy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.