JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essay: Charlene Seidle

JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essays
Charlene Seidle2013 recipient

I never had the privilege of meeting JJ but I have pored over remembrances and reflections of him – trying to learn more about what inspired, sustained and strengthened such an amazing person.

Again and again, JJ is described as possessing a deep curiosity that was driven by an agenda of urgent action. From what I can tell, his inquisitiveness went beyond the abstract or academic and was manifested in genuinely caring for those with whom he engaged – on all levels – and a desire to make a difference in their lives.

I understand he combined questioning and due diligence with brainstorming and idea development. Using a subtle, low-key approach, he gained knowledge and was a valuable thought partner – both at the same time. Sometimes, I imagine, those with whom he engaged, particularly grantees and colleagues, may not have even realized the value and impact his questions added to their program development – or their professional and personal development as well.

Thanks to JJ’s example, my best meetings with grantees are more rich and productive because our encounter is less a one-sided cross-examination about a proposal and more a multi-layered, energizing exchange of ideas based on a strong foundation of mutual curiosity. He has also inspired me to connect more deeply with Jewish thought and teaching. Ours is surely a tradition of question- asking, and asking and asking. In the Amidah, we ask for “knowledge, understanding and discernment.” JJ aspired to these every day and motivated others to strive for them as well.

Sometimes I think philanthropy – when done right – can be compared to anthropology. In both fields, we study behaviors, motivators, and try to get a sense of what can inspire, engage, incentivize and drive change. In both fields, we balance a complete immersion and understanding of the appropriate cultures and systems we work in to maintain some level of objectivity. I think JJ must have been able to bridge these gaps by harnessing his genuine desire to know more. His questions and methods of engagement were never threatening or abstract but always came from a place of partnership – a roll-up-your-sleeves, we’re-in-this-together spirit.

Attempting to emulate JJ, I have tried to take my own curiosity and questions deeper and farther – to the grassroots AND the issue-area expert, the “end user” as well as the academic.

JJ’s life and legacy continue to move me and shape my professional journey. His memory is a blessing for which I am most grateful. He makes such a difference each and every day.

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