Pull up a rocking chair and come sit awhile on my imaginary Front Porch as we look out over Jewish Atlanta. I know, I know, traffic is still terrible, but in ways that are both subtle and tangible, I see change. Things feel warmer, more collaborative and more connected in Jewish Atlanta.
One year after The Front Porch initiative, I believe it is in human and communal relationships that we are making the most progress, and this is a very good sign. I see Atlanta weaving human networks that are welcoming, innovative and caring. I see us opening our minds to a broader vision of global Jewish peoplehood and creating new pathways to inclusive Jewish experiences that enrich all Jews and their loved ones.
Today, conversation by conversation, collaboration by collaboration, we are becoming the 21st century Jewish ecosystem we need to be.
Assume the Best of Each Other
It takes great kavannah (intention) and focus to make these shifts. Last year, as an offshoot of The Front Porch, we sent a diverse group of Jewish community leaders to Israel on a Learning Journey. Before we left, I framed the trip this way: “We are traveling to Israel with a unique kavannah, not as tourists, but as curious and committed partners. We have a mindset to build bonds as a community of leaders, affirm and deepen our ties to Israel, and immerse ourselves in Israeli innovation. Our trip prioritizes time for difficult conversations, for small group work and personal reflection. We’ll be creating a precious infrastructure of human capital and relationships, so that when we come home, we’ll be primed and ready to co-create our Jewish ecosystem.”
There were many difficult conversations and moments of discomfort on the trip, but our love for Israel and our growing love and respect for each other outweighed the differences. When we returned, we wrote a brit, or covenant, committing ourselves to “work collaboratively, to take each other’s phone calls, to assume the very best of each other, and to model respectful dialogue when issues divide us.” One trip participant wrote, “I immediately hung a note on my desk: ‘Always assume the best of each other.’ It is a direct quote from the brit we all signed together. This is a mantra I turn to before returning calls and emails – and it has been a transformational practice for me. I’m proud to be a part of this Atlanta community where we live the values of our covenant every day.”
It’s all About Relationships
I believe that the trust, friendship and respect we modeled in Israel will help us become the “Radically Welcoming Jewish Community” we want to be. Next week, I’ve invited the lead professional and laypeople from every Jewish organization, many of whom were on the Israel trip, to come together. This is the second time we have met since finishing up our Front Porch work, and our focus will be on Radical Welcoming. The location of this gathering will change so that we can be in many different parts of our Atlanta Jewish community and my goal is to do this two to three times per year.
I’m thrilled that a group of our professionals from organizations across Atlanta have become our Network Weavers. They have planned with us an impactful morning of networking, learning and working toward approaches our organizations can use individually and collectively. We’ll hear from Rachel Wasserman from the Jewish Women’s Fund about a very important national Jewish initiative around Safety, Equity and Respect. And together, we will discuss our ideas for Radical Welcoming and leave with some new ideas to try.
We may not solve Atlanta’s traffic problems, but I know that together we will widen the circle that began on The Front Porch and will move ever closer to co-creating a thriving Jewish Ecosystem.
Eric M. Robbins is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.