JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essay: Sharna Goldseker

JJ Greenberg Memorial Award Essays
Sharna Goldseker2006 recipient

After nearly two decades focused on the engagement of the next generation in philanthropy, I look back at how JJ was also motivated by this imperative. He dedicated his career to initiatives like Birthright Israel and Makor, organizations that created a place for next-generation Jews to experience their heritage and find a place in the Jewish community.

Yet, JJ didn’t just practice engagement on a macro scale, he lived it as he interacted with people every day. I will never forget the first year we attended a JFN conference together. I was so moved by JJ’s ability to listen and hear what was spoken and unspoken. He had a way of remembering people and names, asking tough questions, and offering support. In an unassuming way, he created space for his peers and their ideas to emerge.

On one occasion, we were at a seminar for philanthropy professionals. A particular speaker was asserting his ideas about women in the workplace and I wanted to explore his assumptions. However, I was the youngest professional in the room, and I was nervous to raise my hand.

At one point there was a pause in the presentation. I looked up to ask a question, hesitated, and nearly missed my chance. About to delve back into my twentysomething internal monologue, JJ caught my eye, having witnessed my desire to speak mixed with my inhibition to stand out, and intervened. He asked the speaker to wait and then asked me if I wanted to speak. The whole exchange probably lasted 10 seconds, but it felt like time had stood still. That gesture has remained with me to this day.

In that moment, JJ had looked at me with respect, patience and encouragement. Since then I have attempted to extend the same favor to others – especially to young professionals – that he paid me that day.

Colleagues might be surprised to hear that I wouldn’t have the confidence to ask a question, yet for a 25-year-old, this one intervention enabled me to feel welcome in the Jewish philanthropic world. One person at a time, JJ changed the course of lives.

I am honored to carry a piece of his legacy as the 2006 recipient of the JJ Greenberg Memorial Award.

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