Jewish Environmentalists Explore Purpose, Community and Action
Who are you? Who is your community? And what do you need to be doing now?
These fundamental questions are key to making change in any community. Yet many leaders spend little time focusing on them, or identifying how to communicate them to their audiences. Last year, I helped organize a leadership training for lay leaders seeking to make environmental change in their Jewish communities. One of the focuses of the discussion was inviting people to state their purpose. I was surprised how many of these active Jewish environmental leaders could not clearly explain what they were trying to achieve!
Knowing and expressing your purpose is key to success in any endeavor, yet in the Jewish environmental movement, it’s a great challenge for leaders to do. Many lay leaders, for example, are trying to make a difference in communities with little or no leadership training. And because the environment is such a huge challenge, it can be hard to figure out what you’re actually trying to achieve. Your synagogue as a leader in a Jewish-environmental movement? A CSA in your community? Sustainability of resources for future generations?
To address this challenge, I set out to find a training methodology which could help leaders figure out how to identify who they are and what they are trying to do. With the support of the ROI Community and the technological resource of the Jewcology portal, we planned an in-person leadership training utilizing the Marshall Ganz “public narrative” training. This training is based on the famous Hillel dictum:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14)
Eighteen Jewish environmental leaders participated in the first Jewcology leadership training, which took place at the Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Baltimore, MD on March 14. The leadership training was a “Bonus Day” from the popular Kayam Beit Midrash which took place on March 11-13. Rachel Konforty, an experienced trainer in the public narrative methodology, led the training along with five facilitators, all of whom flew in from Boston to deliver the training.
The essence of the training was organized around three different “stories” which one defines for oneself and the group: the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now. Participants were invited to identify their own personal story so that they can explain how they because committed to Jewish-environmental activism.
Then, drawing upon common values with the group in the room, each participant had to identify a “story of us” which would resonate with the values of all the people there. Many people struggled because they wanted to tell the “story of us” that they were more familiar with – the one in the congregation or organization they were currently involved in. It’s important, however, to learn to be able to develop a “story of us” in any situation – regardless of how different the people are from you. Working on a story of us within this new setting allowed for some stretch thinking, so that the methodology can be applied to a wide range of future potential audiences.
Finally, participants were asked to identify a story of now: one single, specific, urgent action that could be requested of all the participants. Then we took time to weave the three stories together into one brief (four minute!) statement.
For me, the most useful part of the training was working on the story of now. I realized that I have spent a lot of time talking about myself and about community initiatives, but not very much time making clear and urgent requests! It was also useful for many to explore how to bridge their personal story and their “ask” with a “story of us” which enables others to feel a part of a common movement.
Following the session, 16 out of the 18 attendees completed an evaluation form. 87.6% of respondents indicated feeling more empowered to speak to their target engagement audience, and 93.8% indicated that they planned to use this model in speaking to one or more of my primary engagement audiences. 93.8% also indicated that they would recommend this model or this training to a friend or colleague.
Participants indicated that they intended to use this tool with a wide range of audiences. The most mentioned were synagogue members, potential funders, educators, local Jewish environmental groups, and in an interfaith setting. Attendees also indicated that they would be interested in continuing to use the Jewcology community to support them, including through:
- leadership training on other community organizing skills,
- discussion of specific challenges related to educating about the environment in the Jewish community, and
- connecting to the global Jewish environmental community through Jewcology.
Asked how to improve the session, participants indicated that they would prefer additional Jewish or Jewish environmental content, additional context for how this tool can be applied, and time for networking amongst the other Jewish environmental leaders present.
We’ll have the chance to implement these improvements at our second Jewcology leadership training, which will take place on June 2 at the Teva Seminar on Jewish Environmental Education in Cold Spring, NY. We’ll be offering the same training with the improvements described.
The training will help you develop your own personal Jewish-environmental story, connect with the values in a group of others, and ask for meaningful shared action. We hope you will join us there!
Cross-posted on the ROI Community Blog