I Have Only One Burning Desire: Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire

by Charles Cohen

Yesterday was the final day of I-LEAD, Jewish Federation of North America’s Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence annual leadership training conference for Federation staff. I learned so much, and met brilliant, creative colleagues from large and small communities all over the country, from Howard County and Rhode Island to Baltimore, Miami and New York. And despite losing my notepad with all of my learnings from the two-day event, I will bring back to my office tomorrow so much new knowledge and so many new resources.

There was one thing that wasn’t part of the curriculum: inspiration.

One of the biggest challenges about working in planning, and in the Federation system in general, is remembering our passion every day. It can get lost in budget oversight, and Campaign. It can be processed nearly to death. If we lose that passion, what else do we have? We’re not exactly in this for the money.
I-LEAD is meant to help develop new leaders, and bolster current senior staff’s ability to create visions and inspire communities. Without inspiration and passion, how is that possible? As Federation staff, whether we’re in development, marketing, or planning, we have to carry huge fires of passion – bonfires – with us wherever we go. We carry them to our communities and use them to enflame our volunteers and kindle sparks in our donors. When Moses came down from Sinai, his face shone, gleaming with G-d’s light. The Israelites could not bear it, and he wore a cloth over his face from then on. After leaving I-LEAD, I wondered if I really needed a cloth of my own. I am certainly no Moses, but I would ask my colleagues: Are we rushing back to our offices and our communities with the light of our passion burning in our eyes, shining in our souls?

I thought about this on my flight home (after I realized I lost all of my notes). And even though there was no inspiring opening plenary (Jeff Swartz’s speech at last fall’s PEJE Assembly was that sort of catalyst – after hearing that, I wanted to drag every boy and girl into a Jewish day school), I felt rejuvenated, reinvigorated. My colleagues inspired me. The people I already knew, and the men and women I just met will become part of my support network. Their experience and creativity will help me grow. My work is easier, knowing that others like me share my challenges, my successes, my failures. My own bonfire is greater, and stronger, than ever before. I can’t thank my peers enough for sharing their passion.

And I can’t wait to get back to my office.

Charles Cohen is Planning Manager for Jewish Continuity, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.