A Conversation with a Foundation Project Manager: Frustrating and Eye-Opening

By Aryeh Ben David

I had a very frustrating and eye-opening experience.

I had been sitting opposite the project manager of a significant Jewish foundation, talking for about 20 minutes about what our nonprofit does, our vision, mission, and track record.

Finally, she started to talk. Then she paused, trying to find the words. She turned her head to the wall, and with a look of astonishment said, “You’re different. You’re trying to do something – in education. That’s different.”

Now it was my turn to pause, look at the wall, and be astonished.

A moment after her awakening – came my awakening. The proverbial asimon (no longer used Israeli phone token) had fallen for her, and then it fell for me.

She was used to nonprofits approaching her foundation for all kinds of projects and causes – but not for Jewish Education.

And I, in turn, was shocked because all of a sudden it hit me: There are professional leaders of our Jewish world, people who are focusing and directing our next generation, who are deciding what projects will take front stage and what projects will be shelved, who are not connected to Jewish wisdom.

After a minute or two, when we had both recovered from our astonishment, she said our mission was not really their focus and wished me luck. I mumbled something, thanked her for her time, and still feeling a bit adrift, left.

If I had been able to think faster, this is what I would have said to her.

“I think you misunderstood me when I said we focus on Jewish education. Don’t think about learning content or skills. Don’t think about heavy tomes, small fonts, and Rashi script. Don’t think about interesting ideas, hair-splitting arguments, and archaic customs.

And most of all, don’t think about the past. Think about the future.

There are 4 steps to understanding the value of Jewish wisdom:

  1. We have a soul. God created us in the Image of God.
  2. We are all works-in-progress. God created a world that is a work-in-progress. We tasted paradise, the Garden of Eden, to lose it and yearn for it.
  3. My soul is always communicating to me what my role is. Every person has a unique calling and role to play in bringing this world a step closer to paradise.
  4. Jewish wisdom helps me hear the song of my soul and clarifies for me what is my role in bringing this world a better place.

Jewish wisdom is not about the past. It’s not about continuing what was.

Jewish wisdom is about the future. About directing my future, about enabling me not to be a stranger to my own soul, but to walk my own authentic path, and to fulfill my purpose of making this a better world. Think future.”

I’m not sure what her response would have been had I been able to think faster and say this. Most likely, I would have received the same response. Maybe I would have planted a seed.

It seems to me that the Jewish world is often grasping for anything new and cool, embracing the latest innovation. This leads to short-term thinking, gimmicks, and band-aid solutions.

If I had a foundation, I would support the project for developing Jewish leaders. A project that gives project managers, like the one I spoke to, the opportunity to discover their own souls through Jewish wisdom. I would want them to feel the personal and meaningful value of Jewish wisdom in their hearts. I would want them to personally experience how Jewish wisdom can deepen their relationships with their own souls, can personally impact their becoming their best selves, and can give them insight for their own futures.

In short, I would want us to become soul-mates, fellow travelers, focused on discovering our own unique paths while yearning and working for paradise.

Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education.