As the CJP community launches a brand new Strategic Plan, Lisa Wallack and Darren Black, our 2018 Annual Campaign Co-chairs, discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and why this work matters.
Lisa, why is it important to you to do this kind of work?
I was fortunate to grow up in a family that was actively involved in the Jewish community through our local Federation, and this inspired me to want to become involved myself. Most importantly, my early experience taught me the value of Jewish continuity and that the ongoing success of a flourishing Jewish community can only be had by the commitment of all of us together.
CJP is the “best in breed” of the Federations, approaching our community’s needs strategically and inclusively. CJP encompasses so many different aspects of Jewish life, and everyone can find their own path. I try to help people to connect with their own Jewish identity, to appreciate the value and the power of being a part of a strong Jewish community, and to inspire them to give their time, energy, and resources to help to make our community even stronger and to ensure a secure Jewish future. I am honored to serve as Campaign Co-chair and to be able to engage even more community members in our mission as volunteers and supporters.
Darren, this will be your second year as Co-chair of the Campaign. Why did you feel it was important to continue for a second year?
I agreed to a second year at the outset. I hope some of the lessons learned in year one will be helpful as we launch the 2018 campaign and believe this is a critical time to be working with the staff and volunteers of CJP. We have many important issues facing our community, our country, and our relationship with Israel. We need to stand strong to support the vulnerable, pursue social justice, provide a wide range of Jewish learning opportunities, and engage with Israel.
I am keenly focused on working with the many other amazing leaders in our Boston Jewish community to ensure that our children and the generations to come have a robust and vibrant Jewish home in Boston and beyond. I am just trying to do my small part in this mission to make sure the resources are available to fulfil our desire to do more.
What area of CJP’s work is especially meaningful to you?
My husband Neil and I feel incredibly fortunate to live in Boston, where we have such a strong and vibrant Jewish community, with so many innovative and exciting institutions. CJP plays a critical role in ensuring that we remain on the cutting edge of the Jewish experience by enabling these diverse institutions, through guidance and support, to work collaboratively towards a clear strategic agenda: where we care for the vulnerable, we work for a just and peaceful world, we embrace Jewish life and learning, and we engage deeply with Israel.
Personally, I am passionate about CJP’s goal of exposing more of our community to the miracle of Israel, and I have had the privilege of chairing CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection and now its efforts in Strategic Israel Engagement. I have also been involved with Jewish education as a student and as a volunteer leader at CJP, at The Rashi School, and at Gann Academy. Learning about the impact of our work has motivated me to become more involved on the Campaign side, seeking to engage others in the effort so that we can have the resources we need to create an ever-greater impact.
Like many, I am moved by the intense focus and thoughtful nature of the strategic planning process at CJP that drives key priorities for the Boston Jewish community. My wife, Michelle, and I have been very focused in both the areas of caring and social justice as well as youth engagement. With four young children (three at The Rashi School and one at Gann Academy), we have seen firsthand the impact of going beyond the giving of money but getting to the faces and programs behind the dollars. Social justice is at the root of the curriculum at The Rashi School and is paramount within our synagogue community of Temple Beth Elohim. The broad-based caring agenda at CJP has created a platform for the entire community.
We are very focused on the engagement of young adults. I think there are a lot of great ways that the community is engaging children, either through pre-schools, the Jewish day schools, summer camps, temple programs… but as they move from childhood into the young adult phase, we need to make sure that we continue to engage them. We need to make sure the bar or bat mitzvah is not the beginning of the end of their Jewish journey. Making sure they continue to engage in forums relevant to their generation has become an area of real focus for us.
Which programs or services that CJP supports have touched you or your family?
Neil and I have been fortunate to travel to Israel many times with CJP, through the Acharai Leadership Program (as a participant and later as a program Co-chair), and the Boston-Haifa Connection. Neil and I have co-led a CJP Family Mission through which we brought our three children to Israel for the first time, laying the groundwork for many future trips.
Thanks to what Neil and I were exposed to as CJP volunteers, we also came to embrace the value of Jewish education and chose to send our three children to The Rashi School and then to Gann Academy. There, they came to appreciate the value of being part of a vibrant Jewish community and to aspire to become engaged American citizens, secure in their Jewish identity, proud and knowledgeable about their heritage, and determined to make the world a better place.
I have worked to educate myself Jewishly, participating in classes like Parenting through a Jewish Lens, the Genesis Forum, and Me’ah, as well as Acharai and ongoing Torah study with Rabbi Marc Baker, our program scholar. I have come to cherish the richness of our heritage and have found my Jewish learning has helped to fill my life with deeper meaning and purpose.
A lot of their programs touched us, especially opportunities to volunteer. We take our kids to the JF&CS Family Table, which is something that CJP actively supports. My kids go over to Hebrew SeniorLife regularly as part of the Rashi School, another place where we’ve been touched. My wife and I have both been active at Temple Beth Elohim, which has been one of the hotbeds for trying things out with CJP, so they’ve been a great strategic partner. We regularly feel the positive effects of the energy and support that CJP gives to helping us maintain a strong, vibrant synagogue community.
My wife and I have both had a variety of learning and engagement opportunities through CJP, with both of us participating in Acharai and Michelle participating in Me’ah, Ikkarim and numerous other regular Torah study programs. CJP has helped add depth to our understanding of our culture, traditions, and background. Michelle and I have separately and together traveled to Israel (several times), Cuba, D’nep, and Morocco as a result of our involvement with CJP. These missions have given us a great opportunity to build remarkable friendships, deepen our connection to Israel, and gain experiential learning.
We consider our family to be a high-usage family when it comes to CJP services!
What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing our community this year?
Our society, including our Jewish community, is deeply divided now, and grappling with significant issues and challenges that are threatening to tear us apart. We need to stand together against bigotry and hate, and to make sure that our differences do not make us vulnerable or stand in the way of our progress. I feel that CJP is uniquely positioned to help us stay focused on the values and ideals that we all share, to welcome a diversity of ideas, and to encourage respectful dialogue.
We are also at a time of transition at CJP, with Barry Shrage’s extraordinary leadership tenure coming to an end. We need to confidently work together to continue his legacy and to implement our exciting new Strategic Plan while embracing this as an opportunity to develop new and innovative approaches to engaging our community and the next generation.
We need to remember the stability of the mission in this year of transition. What doesn’t change is the focus on the Strategic Plan, which was built by the community, for the community, and will be implemented with the support of the community.
There is a lot of important work to do and we can’t let the short-term distractions alter our focus on the long-term mission and goals: creating a vibrant, caring Jewish community engaged in living Jewish values. Those Jewish values mean not just helping Jews in times of crisis and need, but helping all communities and ensuring that we are actively involved at home and abroad in the critical issues that test our core values. I don’t think any of that changes. I think it’s important to remind people that the greatest challenges are not internal, but external.
We currently encounter a world full of political upheaval, social unrest and rising anti-Semitism. We need to keep intensely focused on Jewish continuity, not just in Boston, but in the US and across the globe. Our connection to the State of Israel is important, but to the people of Israel it is absolutely essential. We are a small peoplehood that struggles together and tackles problems great and small together. We need to continue to work collaboratively on things that bind us to our Jewish identity and the core values that drive our desire for chesed, tzedakeh and tikkun olam.
What is it about CJP that gives you confidence that this is an effective, efficient use of your own philanthropic dollars?
I have had the chance to see, firsthand, the care that goes into raising and spending each and every dollar that is invested in CJP, with integrity and accountability. I truly believe that a gift to CJP makes a bigger difference and that the over-arching strategic vision we create with our many partners in the community is essential to our growth and success.
Darren, what were your key learnings from co-chairing the Campaign last year?
We have a remarkable community of philanthropically engaged people, and we are so lucky to have such a strong base of engaged volunteers. I am inspired by and grateful for the support of everyone in making this a community campaign… whether it be through donating or asking others to donate, or through getting involved or asking others to get involved, I am immensely grateful for the broad support. We dream big in Boston, and, with Barry’s inspired leadership, we never settle. We believe more is always possible through creativity, determination, and resource commitment.
Our community is extraordinary fortunate to possess some of the finest professional leaders in the Jewish community. CJP and our partner agencies not only conduct their day-to-day business but work with the lay leaders, setting priorities and helping us drive toward common goals and have a focused mission.
Lisa, is there anything you are particularly looking forward to as a Campaign Co-chair this year?
I am looking forward to working with Darren, and with CJP’s incredible staff and volunteer leaders, to grow the number of CJP supporters and to inspire all our donors to invest in this amazing organization so that we can continue to guide and strengthen our Jewish community, here in Boston and around the world, for the present and for the future.