Endings and beginnings

 Significant staff changes at Hazon…

Thursday, August 8, 2019 | 6 Av 5779

Dear All,

In the Torah, this is an end, and then a beginning. We’re starting to read the book of Devarim. It’s the last book of the Torah, and a pivot which leads in one direction to the post-Torah books, Nevi’im and Ketuvim (the Prophets and the Writings) and, in a different direction, back again to the Genesis stories.

In the Jewish calendar, this is the end of the three weeks. On Saturday night Tisha b’avbegins, and we re-enact our own deaths; on Sunday afternoon we start to come back to life, and in due course it will be Tu b’av, the festival of love, and then Elul and the beginning of a whole new year.

And at Hazon much change also. Our strategic plan marks the end of one era, and the start of the next. It represents the belated completion of the three-way merger between Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva. Legally that merger took place on the 1st of January 2014. But it is only now, in a sense, that we are finally committing to weave together the different parts of this organization towards a single clear goal – changing the nature of organized Jewish life, so that to be Jewish is necessarily to work for a more sustainable world for everyone.

We are at a tipping point in the world right now. Later on in the book which we start to read this Shabbat, the Torah famously says: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so you and your descendants may live.”  (Devarim 30:19). Could there be a more succinct summary of the choices we face these next few years? The changes that we make, or fail to make, will be indescribably consequential for the future of human civilization.

And so it is that we are really determined, at Hazon, to weave together our various programs. We work with different populations and participants, in different ways, at different times and places, and yet with this single shared goal – to draw upon Jewish tradition, to animate and energize and catalyze the Jewish community, so that we really commit ourselves to environmental teshuva.  Our programs touch lives and strengthen communities and, not infrequently, bring sparks of magic and joy and song into the world.  Our bike rides, from our earliest days – and Teva, and Adamah, and our retreats – all manifest these things. And that is good, and we are proud of this. But it is not enough.  We all of us need to change our behaviors, and help change our institutions. We need to play our part in helping to change businesses and governments, private consumption and public policy. What Hazon hopes to do in the future builds on so much that we have done, these last two decades. We are determined to raise our game – and to help the Jewish community raise its game.

So – these are some of the ends and beginnings in the Torah, in the calendar, and in Hazon’s strategy. Now I want to share with you some endings and beginnings amongst Hazon’s staff.

The first and most significant is that Judith Belasco has decided to leave. She joined as Associate Director of our Food Programs in 2007. As each year or two went by she had successively more responsibility, and since the fall of 2017 she has been our Executive Vice President. (This is Latin for the-amazing-person-who-almost-single-handedly-has-been-most-responsible-for-so-much-of-what-is-good-and-gets-done-in-this-organization.) The successful completion of the strategic plan, for which Judith was the lead staffer, represents her keystone accomplishment at Hazon. In the aftermath of that she has decided that she is now ready for her next challenge, and so she will be leaving later this fall.

Judith has been a dear friend and colleague, and as so many of you know, an enormous amount of Hazon’s success rests upon her hard work and talent and judgement. I and we will be immensely sad to see her go, and/but we of course understand it. We expect to see Judith playing critical and successful roles in the Jewish community going forwards, and she will do so with my and our great support and encouragement.

And – since she is leaving – we’re now starting a search for a new EVP. The job description is here. (Judith leaves big boots to fill. Be in touch if you have suggestions, and/or forward this email if you have someone in mind.)

The new EVP will be joining a senior team at Hazon that we are strengthening quite significantly. There are five other senior staff changes that have been made in the recent period:

Michael Vilarello joined last month as Director of Development. He first connected to Hazon when he and his now wife were part of our NY Ride, and then of its leadership team. He spent more than a decade in fundraising in two separate stints at UJA-Federation of NY, and we are delighted to welcome him to Hazon.

Catherine Bell will join us later this month in a new position as Managing Director of National Programs. For the last few years she has been Chief Program Officer at Keshet. She has a superb background for the new role that she will be developing, and she is very deeply mission-aligned. We’re excited to welcome her on board.

Dr. Shamu Fenyvesi Sadeh was the co-founder and director of Adamah, and in recent years he has supervised both Adamah and Teva. We are absolutely thrilled that he has taken a new role as Managing Director of Education at Isabella Freedman. For the first time ever we’ll have a single person – and a supremely talented one – supervising all of our educational staff and all of our educational content at Freedman. This is hugely significant, and in the short time since Shamu began in his new role, it is clear that it is bearing fruit already.

Becky O’Brien has for the last eight years very successfully led Hazon’s work in Boulder, CO. As of this fall, she’ll take on a new national role as Director of Food & Climate, helping to educate us all at this critical intersection. I am delighted both that she will be doing this work and that we have been blessed with additional funding to support it.

I also want to welcome Wendy Seligson who has joined us, two days a week for six months, as a senior consultant. Wendy has a quite outstanding management track record, and in recent years has led a series of successful consulting assignments. We want to strengthen and develop our people and our systems, and she’ll be working closely with me, with Judith, and with Judith’s successor, to help us do that.

We’re also announcing two more significant hires that are now underway, as two of our staffers transition out of their current roles. Miriam Leichtling, our Director of Cycling Events and Engagement, recently got engaged to a fellow cyclist (mazal tov!), and is working with us until the end of the year, after which she plans to spend some time in South Africa. We’re looking to hire someone in a new position as Director of Special Events. We see this as an area of potential growth in the future, and we’re therefore quite deliberately enlarging the role. We’re looking for someone who can help us to deliver and grow the current Israel Ride, who can help in the potential development of other rides, and who will also work on other special events we might choose to do which would advance the mission of Hazon.

And we’re also looking to hire an Israel Ride Manager, who will in due course succeedJessie Karsif. Jessie, as Associate Director of Cycling Events and Engagement, has done a superb job in delivering the Israel Ride over the last five years, and after this year’s Israel Ride she’s decided that she’s ready for a new challenge and would like to hand over the reins to a successor. Jessie will at that point move on to a new role either at Hazon or elsewhere. So – if you’re interested in either of these roles, or know someone who might be, please be in touch. The job descriptions are here.

And, one last aspect of endings and beginnings: a series of board changes. We have a new board chair, Richard Slutzky, who succeeds Bob Friedman. Bob had an exceptionally successful term in office; and Richard, who played the key role in leading the Beebe Hill purchase at Isabella Freedman, has taken over the board-chair reins actively and happily. My and our great great thanks goes to each of them.

Bob Sherman is succeeding Julie Shaffer as chair of our board development committee; Mark Russo is succeeding Marina Lewin as Treasurer, and Valerie Gerstein has become the chair of a newly expanded Friends of Teva. Each of them gives and has given tirelessly and we are enormously indebted to them.

We recently welcomed Sonia Cummings, Daniel Dunn, and Jemma Wolfe to the board.  Sonia has been a long-time friend of Hazon, and a strong environmentalist; Danny is the only the second person in our history to rejoin the board after having been on it a decade ago; and Jemma, who today leads Goldman Sachs’ program to invest $500m in women-led businesses, was first involved in Hazon… when she did our New York Ride as her bat mitzvah project, in 2002.

Only those of us who are involved in the innards of a non-profit can understand the extraordinary contributions of both staff members and board members.  Together our people give time and money, they provide stewardship and governance and guidance, they add creativity and zest and gruntwork, and they do Zoom meetings and Google docs and spreadsheets and meetings, and a thousand other things.  So my thanks to all our staffers and board members is greater than I think most people could understand or imagine. And one final individual thank you to the extraordinary Ruth Messinger who is, as it were, hors catégorie. She plays a unique role on the Hazon board, giving of her expertise and experience and wise judgement with a level of commitment that puts those of us who are younger than she is – i.e. every single other member of our board and staff – quite to shame.

Since this week’s theme is endings and beginnings, I want to end by commending for the first time 929.org. It began a few years ago in Israel, a mechanism to enable people to learn one chapter of Tanach, Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim, each day, for 929 days – thus completing the entire book. In the recent period it has been translated into English and there could be no better introduction to it than this superb essay about the first chapter of Devarim.

As we go into this weekend, I wish you shabbat shalom, and tsom kal (fast well); may we each face our mortality, and in doing so may we indeed choose life – for we ourselves, for our families and communities, and for the whole world…