Monday, June 25, 2012

"Elevator Speech" for People Talking about You

Many thanks to Joel Nitzberg for thoughtful advice on networking for a new job.  Many of us know that whether we are promoting our organizations or ourselves, we need an "elevator speech": a quick summary of who we are and how we can make a difference to the person whose attention we have for only as long as it would take for a short elevator ride. 

Joel said that if I ask him to help spread the word about me, I need to give him an elevator speech about me.  It should take the form of "You should talk to Dennis because here's what he can do for you."  What problem can I solve for the person he's speaking to?  Would hiring me help their agency grow--or even, survive?

Have you ever crafted an elevator speech for someone else to give on your behalf?  How did you do it, and how did it work out?

Building Rebellion In

I really enjoyed David Matthews’ reading of Korach that I told you about on Saturday.  David pointed out that when Korach and company challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron, and a jealous God struck out at the rebels, Aaron’s reaction was to bring healing and peace.  

It would be way too simple to stop there, however.  Aaron’s response still leaves Moses and Aaron’s authority intact, not dispersed or devolved to any of their followers.  And Korach’s folk have a good point when they say (in the Etz Hayim translation):

You have gone too far!  For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?  (Numbers 16:3)

This is a point that Moses should recognize.  Only a few chapters earlier, when Moses appoints seventy elders, two of them refuse to be called, but then they are touched by the divine spirit despite themselves and start prophesying from their own tents, Moses’ aide, Joshua, says, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” But Moses wisely answers, “Are you wrought up on my account?  Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (Numbers 11:28-29).  Furthermore, back at Sinai, Moses, Aaron, and all I Israel heard God say, “And you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  (Exodus 19:6)  

It seems on the face of it that Korach and company are reminding Moses and Aaron of a basic principle.  Their contribution should be accepted, not dismissed and punished.  Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, the 19th-century teacher who was the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, goes even further: their contribution should be celebrated.  As the notes to Numbers 17:2-3 in Etz Hayim point out:

The firepans used by the rebels to offer incense have become sacred and are to be used as plating for the altar…Kook taught that the holiness of the firepans symbolizes the necessary roled played by skeptics and agnostics in keeping religion honest and healthy.  Challenges to tradition, he taught, are necessary because they stand as perpetual reminders of the danger that religion can sink into corruption and complacency…. 

David’s interpretation celebrated nonviolent resistance but quickly brushed by the fact that the rebels were really rebelling.  Rav Kook looks rebellion squarely in the eye and welcomes it.  His interpretation is part of the Judaism I love, which sees challenges to authority as part of our tradition, and a sacred duty.

And yet, and still: the firepans that the rebels used survive.  The rebels themselves do not.  Is this as far as we can go in questioning authority (not to mention sharing it?)  I think not.  There’s more to think about here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Back to the World of Work

A new week begins!  I'm looking forward to picking up Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, again, and to starting The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine.  Beth is an old acquaintance from the Board of the Organizers' Collaborative who has gone on to share her savvy about social media in ways that help us all.  Since a student gave me a gift card for Porter Square Books, I went out and bought both books--but they are also in the libraries.  Have you read either book?  What did you learn from them?

Rebel, Rebel: a lesson from a bar mitzvah

Modern-day people have a hard time with Parshat Korach, the section of the Torah we read in synagogue today (Leviticus 16-18).  Korach is one of three tribal leaders who stand up to Moses and Aaron and accuse them of taking all the power and the glory for themselves.    The response?  God causes the ground to open up and swallow them and their supporters.  Impressive, but hardly an answer to the charge.

The next thing you know, the “whole Israelite community” blames Moses and Aaron: “You two have brought death upon the Lord’s people!”  The response?  More death.  Plague spreads through the camp and kills something like 2% of the entire population.  Only when Aaron stands “between the dead and the living” and burns incense as an atonement offering does the plague go away.

I want to think a lot more about this story and what we can learn from it about how to lead, how to rebel, and what makes a claim to exercise just and rightful authority valid from a Jewish perspective.  Expect a series of blog posts about that.  But first, let me share what David Matthews said at this bar mitzvah today at Temple B’nai Brith.  

David pointed out that even though Aaron was personally singled out for attack, he was the first to rush in and stop the violence of the plague from spreading.  This is consistent with what we hear about Aaron in other stories, where he is consistently pictured as a peacemaker.  David traced a line from Aaron to modern-day practitioners of nonviolence, including Mohandas Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the vast majority of the Occupy movement.  In his view, they are all followers of Aaron.

What an ingenious interpretation!  David makes us look at Aaron (and to a lesser extent, Moses) as not just calling down divine wrath on people who oppose their authority.   He makes us see Aaron as the inspiration for generations of people who oppose authority, as well.  Yes, one person can be both.  Reality can be that complex. The Jewish tradition can contain resources for both authoritarian rule and rebellion.  And, a thirteen-year-old can be that acute.

Look for more in future posts.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Courage to Change, a lesson from a bat mitzvah

I have to paraphrase something I wrote at this time last year:  I have tutored a lot of bar and bat mitzvah students on Parshat Sh'lach Lecha, the portion of the Torah before the wandering in the wilderness when Moses sends twelve spies to scout out the promised land--but no one has ever talked about it the way Anna Carton-Smith did today at Temple B'nai Brith.  What is it about this parshah that gets such interesting readings out of thirteen-year-olds?

Anna gave me a completely new way to read the spies' majority report.  They told Moses:
All the people that we saw [there] are men of great size...and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.  (Numbers 13: 32-33)
Anna hypothesized that it wasn't the physical stature of the Anakite residents of Canaan that made the Israelite spies feel small.  It was their freedom.  Unlike the former slaves who had just come out of Egypt, the people of Canaan were used to making decisions for themselves, and to dealing with the changes and challenges that life throws at all of us with the resources they had.

The Israelites were used to being told what to do.  They found every new and unfamiliar aspect of life in the wilderness disturbing--even when it was literally manna from heaven.  Looking at people who lived without masters, they trembled.  How small their own lives looked to them, and how gigantic the Canaanites' lives!

Perhaps Anna read the portion this way because adolescents face the grown-up world with some of the same trepidation that the spies brought with them to Canaan.  But I haven't yet met an adult who has completely grown out of that fear.  The courage to speak up (like Joshua and Caleb), to confront change, and to imagine that things can be different--and better--is something we can all seek, no matter what our age.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"Transparency is the New Black"

Review of Share This!

Deanna Zandt has written a wonderful guide to social networks for people who don't feel at home there.  She explains what's new about building relationships through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the like, and she encourages us all to participate. 

"Sharing is daring," she says.  By putting more of yourself out there, within limits that you consciously set, you increase your credibility with people who are just getting to know you.  As you become more well known, you win people's trust.  At the same time, she argues, sharing personal and professional information helps build a better world.  If someone reads and enjoys a tweet I send out about good communications AND they go to my blog and find my Jewish musings, then it registers that a person they respect can be serious about being Jewish (or gay, or a feminist, or...whatever you are.  Fill in the blank.)  It may be overstating things to say that this will change the world, as she does in her subtitle, but at least it will show what the world is already.

In any case, sharing more about ourselves is the direction we are all heading.  "Transparency is the new black."  So, better try it on and find a style of social networking that compliments you.  In the Resources section of the book, you'll find tips for individuals and tactics for organizations that she recommends.  Try a couple and see how they work for you.

Reading this book, I felt as if I were a traveler in a new and foreign country, with a helpful guide pointing out the landmarks and explaining local customs.  At the same time, paradoxically, I felt as if I'd come home.  Really being interested in other people, helping them with what they're doing, and offering them ways to help me too (or promote a cause we both care about): this is what I've always done.

Back in 1986, when Rona answered a personal ad I'd placed in a newspaper, I realized that we already had met through the local chapter of a progressive Jewish organization.  It would have been very awkward if I had kept that to myself and didn't tell her that right away when I wrote her back.  By letting her know, not only did I show that I cared about honesty in relationships right from the start.  I also (not realizing it at the time) let her see that she knew people who knew me and shared some of the same values that moved me.  That was the basis for beginning to trust me.  Reader, she married me. 

Organizations are also looking to woo people, and they will have to open up more to build lasting relationships with volunteers, supporters, donors, customers, or investors.  I would like to focus on helping them do it, online and off.