Hundreds of Jewish funders and community professionals from around the world came together on March 27, 2011 for the three-day Jewish Funders Network (JFN) conference on the theme of “The Power of Narrative to Drive Change.” The conference, also attended by Angelica Berrie, President of the Russell Berrie Foundation and Shalom Hartman Institute of North America (SHI-NA) Board Chair; Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, SHI-NA President; and Vadim Kelebeyev, SHI Fellow, focused on the importance of communicating a powerful organizational narrative.
Yehuda Kurtzer, who served as the conference scholar-in-residence, delivered a Dvar Torah at the conference opening, taught a session in which participants studied biblical and rabbinic texts in order to better understand classical Jewish approaches to the values of obligation and responsibility through storytelling, and participated on a panel that addressed the meaning of tzedekah (charity) in the twenty-first century and how philanthropy differs from or converges with traditional notions of tzedakah.
Vadim Kelebeyev, a faculty member in the Hartman Lev Aharon program for senior IDF officers and a municipal facilitator for the city of Ashdod in the Institute’s Be’eri program, participated on an educational panel dedicated to examining what it means for Israel to be both a Jewish and democratic state, especially in light of recent controversies in Israel such as the conversion bill, the loyalty oath, and rabbinical decrees not to sell property to non-Jews. The panel also addressed the role philanthropists can and should play in maintaining Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.
One of the highlights of the conference was the closing address, which was delivered by Angelica Berrie, in which she shared her own narrative, speaking of her journey to Judaism and the role that SHI played in it. “Even before I converted, I had met Donniel Hartman,” she recounted. “He was teaching a class at our local JCC, I went at 7:30 AM. I came back and told my husband, ‘I have no intention of converting, but if I ever do that’s the only rabbi who I’ll convert with,’ never thinking that 10 years after, I really would do it. It became a meaningful connection because it’s one place where there’s a voice of pluralism. Now there are more, but SHI was one of the first when there were very few pluralistic institutions in Israel.” Angelica’s address demonstrated the true power of narrative and provided a meaningful end to the three days of shared JNF learning, conversing, and networking.