JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essay: Adam Simon

JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essays
Adam Simon
2010 recipient

There’s a phrase from Pirket Avot that rests in the back of my mind and at the forefront of my work. Offered by JJ’s closest friend during his eulogy, it instructs, “In a place where there is no man, strive to be the man.”

As someone who aspires to lead and make an impact on the world, I am drawn to this lesson (despite its gendered language) because of its clear, simple wisdom: identify places where leadership is needed, where I can use my voice, where I can advocate for a stronger Jewish people and a more just world, and go for it. Be the man. Build the initiative. Raise awareness for the issue. Step in and solve the problem. Lead.

However, there is a nuance in the shadow of this aphorism: Where there is already a man, do not try to replace him. Instead, make space. Step back and allow others’ voices to soar. Ensure they go beyond mere participation and become creators, builders and leaders in their own right.

While I did not know JJ, since receiving the JJ Greenberg Memorial Award I have come to learn that his true wisdom was manifest in his ability to apply both the light and shadow to this guiding principle.

These dual interpretations influence my approach to my life and work. My wife and I are raising our children so they may realize their ability to use their voices and skills to pursue justice. Professionally, I seek to inspire others with Jewish values, to enable amazingly talented young individuals to express their leadership and empower them to have a positive impact on the world.

JJ was a master at discerning when he needed to be the man and when he needed to support the man. He was known to float effortlessly from the center of a gathering to the outskirts, speaking and using his influence only when necessary to keep momentum moving forward, otherwise ensuring others had the chance to use their talents. I try to do the same.

I had the chance to do so after Danny encountered a program that uses soccer to help refugees integrate into Israeli society while on a leadership journey to Israel run by the Schusterman Family Foundation. He became inspired to do the same at home in Baltimore. We connected with him with resources, training and mentors in the Baltimore Jewish community to launch his effort, living out his vision for tikkun olam.

I am blessed to work for Lynn Schusterman, the chair of the Schusterman Family Foundation and another great leader who embodies this approach to leadership. Lynn has long believed in empowering individuals to go out and make change happen, to create meaningful experiences for themselves and their communities and to ultimately shape a Jewish future that speaks to them. Lynn ensures the voices of her team and of the people we work with are heard, masterfully using her own at just the right time. I strive to follow her lead.

I was honored several years ago to receive this award, and I am honored today by the chance to play a small part in helping to bring about the vision JJ had for Jewish life.

Ultimately, we as Jewish community leaders, and, in particular, funders, are not the builders of Jewish life. We are here to co-create a Jewish community with those who live in it. We are here to empower others to be “the man.”

From a series of essays by past recipients of the JJ Greenberg Memorial Award