JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essay: Joanna Ballantine

JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essays
Joanna Ballantine – 2008 recipient

I remember sitting in a rather large conference room one wintry January day in Manhattan with four very illustrious personalities – Michael Steinhardt, Diane Troderman, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Harold Grinspoon. After finding my place at the table, I quietly sat across from JJ Greenberg and caught his smile as the meeting began.

These visionaries began their usual banter about the Jewish world, its challenges and opportunities and the need for inspired leaders. A program was conceived to not only recognize Jewish educators for creativity and innovation but to send them on a fully paid trip to Israel. From these talks, the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education were born.

The lesson I learned that day from JJ was that while the seeds of ideas can be hatched by great philanthropists, they then need to be captured, planted, sown and brought to fruition with Jewish professional leadership. JJ accomplished so much in his lifetime with confidence and warmth that inspired us all to aspire to be the finest Jewish leaders.

I also remember standing next to Blu Greenberg in Jerusalem in March 2008, the JFN conference where I was honored to receive the JJ Greenberg Memorial Award. The dedication, innovation, commitment and passion Blu and Yitz have for Jewish life is truly awe-inspiring.

As a Jewish professional, I was fortunate to be nurtured by Blu as we traveled throughout Russia, bringing Torah scrolls to budding Jewish communities, and mentored by Yitz, as he served as a confidant and advisor as a Trustee of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation during my 12-year tenure as Executive Director. Yet, it was JJ who taught me that we as Jewish professionals have a responsibility to lead by example and inspire the next generation.

Tikkun Olam requires more than vision; from JJ I learned that great ideas are given shape by the architecture that Jewish leaders build. I miss the sound of JJ’s voice and feel gratitude for Rabbi Yitz and Blu Greenberg’s continued inspiration in my daily life and work. JJ’s memory is a blessing to us all, and those of us fortunate to walk in his footsteps know and hope to share with others that his wisdom and warmth will live on.

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