Seven brief thoughts at the end of a long seven days.

Friday, March 27, 2020 | 2nd Nissan 5780

Dear All,

These are seven very different thoughts, on very different topics….

Number 1: At Hazon and Isabella Freedman we’re hanging on, and thank you to everyone who has supported us in the last week. 
Isabella Freedman, like all places of gathering, is closed, for at least two months. We haven’t yet let any of our staff go, though like many non-profits we’re in a very exposed place. The federal bailout plan may be very significant for us, and we’re poised to apply for support from that as soon as we are able. Meantime, board members, donors, foundations, participants, and our own staff have all stepped up in quite extraordinary ways over the last two weeks. My great great thanks go to each and all of you. It is a cliché that crises often bring out the best in people. Every single day this week I have seen that to be true.

Number 2: It is not too soon to draw conclusions from the different infection and death rates in places like Germany and New Zealand, on one side, and the USA, very sadly, on the other. 
Having universal health care makes a difference.
Having strong rational leadership makes a difference.
Respecting science makes a difference.
Having an apolitical civil service makes a difference.
People are now dying in this country, in this city, and in my neighborhood, because of the absence of those things in the USA and in our current leadership.
I don’t dare imagine what might happen if this country had to endure four more years like this. It will be up to all of us – especially those in swing states; especially those who are moderate or more conservative, and many in the orthodox community and in the traditional pro-Israel community – to make sure that things really change, this fall.

Number 3: Thank G!d for a pre-Pesach cleanse. Every day of the last two weeks has been in my career Top-Ten-For-Intensity. Long brutal days, crazy news swings, complicated decisions and judgements, and much that has been extremely emotionally intense.
The only thing that has kept me from a complete meltdown has been my pre-Pesach cleanse. 
I’m totally off caffeine. (Yes, I know. We think it gives us energy. But it spikes our energy. I, at least, though I love coffee, am always in due course calmer and more focused when I’m off it. Give it a try…)
And I’m only having alcohol, sugar, and wheat on Shabbat (and Rosh Chodesh. And Pesach.)
Plus for the first time in eons I’ve started running.
So: if you possibly can, cut out caffeine and sugar, and exercise more, and eat more greens. 
Within a few days you’ll feel better, you’ll sleep better, you’ll get more done, and you’ll be a kinder person. Seriously.

Number 4: Whenever this all ends, or the post-crisis world gets underway, we have to radically change our approach to the building of reserves in start-ups and second-stage organizations.
I’m grateful to every single funder who has supported Hazon to get to this point. And we live in a free society. No-one has to fund Hazon. Anyone and any institution can choose what they give money to, for what purpose, and in what way. But in aggregate what we’re doing has to change:
There has to be way more general operating support for young non-profits.
No grant of any sort should ever have less than 20% overhead.
Young non-profit leaders have to be encouraged and incentivized to create a surplus of at least 10% each year – and that can only be accomplished by funders giving more money, and/or encouraging non-profits to do less

Overall, going forwards, we need a deeper kind of trust, and different sorts of questions. The level of stress involved in running an organization that has no reserves is hard to understand for someone who hasn’t experienced it. It is deeply illogical and, quite literally, unproductive. We’re going to need new structures and new instruments and new processes. And – on our side, on my side – we’re absolutely determined, coming out of this, to focus on lessons learned, and what the right capital structure and legal structure could or should be to do effectively the work we need to do.

Finally – as has been widely said – those of you who have an endowment or a significant foundation – this is what your savings are for. Please extend your payout ratio very significantly in the remainder of this year and next year.  

Number 5: If you’re a Jewish non-profit, and you’re able to do so – close for Pesach. We’re hoping/planning to do this. We have staff working from home, kids are in and out, some people are sick, people are worried about family members, parents, money things. It is a cascade of change and stress and weirdness, and a backdrop of national and global instability. So we hope to just close for Pesach. We’ll put up an auto-responder on everyone’s emails:

Hazon is closed for Pesach, and we’re all taking a well-needed break. We’re spending time with our families, or volunteering, or reading a novel, or going for a run, or trying to eat healthily (even amidst the matzah…ok; maybe not that one). So Hazon is closed for the whole eight days. Our inboxes for these eight days will autodestruct, because we’re treating incoming email as chametz. If your email is important, please resend it after Pesach. We hope that you are well and stay well – chag sameach…

Number 6: Read the second paragraph of the sh’ma. Or, on a different time-scale, start to learn masechet ta’anit. The Jewish people entered human history as an indigenous people. Which is not how we think of ourselves, generally, in Manchester or Manhattan.
But we have these trace elements, hidden in plain sight, throughout the tradition, that remind us of what the Buddhists mean when they talk about living in right relationship with the world.
That’s why the virus is at one and the same time a catastrophe now, and a metaphor for living out of balance with the world, and a deep deep warning for the future. Jewish wisdom is salient. Open up to it in new ways. And let’s remember that Illness, like Jewish tradition itself, comes to teach us about vulnerability, and to encourage us to change our ways. May it be so.

Number 7: Shabbat shalom. Shabbat has never been so important. We may be in the same place as during the week. But breathe. Go for a walk. If it’s your custom to use a phone, reach out to an old friend. Or switch your phone off for the day. Be kind to someone. And – just this one day – don’t read the news.

And for the third consecutive email – wash your hands, follow public safety advice, be considerate to others – and don’t freak out.

Shabbat shalom, stay safe,