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Strategy Update

Thursday, February 7th, 2019 | 2nd Adar I, 5779

We’re in the middle of our strategic planning process. I want to give you a sense of where we are and perhaps where we’re heading.

First of all: a huge thank you to the significant number of people who have participated in this process. Nine people – five lay, four staff – are on the Advisory Committee that is leading this process, ably chaired by Jessica Haller.  We’re working with Wellspring consultants, and the key staffers there now feel like old friends. 298 people filled out an online survey (thank you!). 31 people did one-on-one interviews with our consultants. There have been three significant focus groups, and two weeks ago a six-hour meeting with 28 of our staff and the Wellspring folk.

I believed before we began that this was going to be necessary and important. Now, though we haven’t yet landed, we have a much clearer sense of this – including one hugely significant consequence we hadn’t previously focused on.

We’re not changing our mission and vision. We’re about “healthier and more sustainable.” We strengthen Jewish life – and help create a more sustainable world for all. We’re the Jewish lab for sustainability, with a strong record of innovation in our space, and a commitment to touching people’s lives in profound ways.

But in the future we’re going to make sure that our programs reinforce each other far more than has been the case in the past. We’re developing a new theory of change, and a small number of foci.

Here’s some of where I think we’re headed. I reiterate that nothing is as yes agreed: everything below is subject to change. That said:

First, we’re committing to strengthening and growing JOFEE – Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Education – as a key driver of positive change within and beyond the American Jewish community.

Second, we recognize that we’re in a global climate crisis and that Jewish tradition compels us to respond. And so within our overall JOFEE frame, we’re going to focus more explicitly and deliberately on food – on working for sustainable food systems. Food connects to Jewish, to the outdoors, to farming, to the environment. It’s central to our work – from Adamah and our food values at Isabella Freedman, to the Hazon Seal of Sustainability, to Hazon’s Food Conference, our Jewish Food Festivals, curricula we have, and so on.

For 2,000 years the Jewish people have been keeping kosher. Addressing the topic of food offers unique opportunities to strengthen and reframe Jewish life. And food systems are one of the most significant levers to address a changing climate. Here’s a two minute video that was published just this month by EAT Forum, a Norwegian NGO, which sets out clearly why and how this work is so important.

Just last week there was a phenomenal cover story in the Detroit Jewish News which gives a clear sense of how one of the key pieces of our work – addressing the treatment of animals, and critiquing the industrial meat industry – is having this dual impact, both strengthening Jewish life, and making real changes that have impact in the world.

It’s clear also that we will focus and in certain respects cluster our programmatic offerings. One piece of news I want to share with you is that we wrote to our NY Ride alumni two weeks ago to let them know that we’re not going to do the NY Ride this year. Last year was our 18th year, and, just as we are tightening our direction and goals at the organizational level, we are doing the same for the Ride. The Ride has raised significant monies for Hazon, it has given away nearly a million dollars in mini-grants to other organizations and, not least, any number of people met their partner there or made close friends and so on. But registration has been weaker in recent years than in earlier years, and we felt it would make sense to take a year off and think about what should come next. So that’s one thing that’s going on at the moment.

This leads me to something that I think is going to be a huge positive consequence of the strategic planning process, and one that we had not fully thought until we really got started. Our attention was, in a sense, external: what are we focusing on, what is our theory of change, are there programs we should discontinue? Etc.

But internally this should catapult us into more positive change in the next 12 months than we saw in the last 12 years – and I include the merger between Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva in that. We’re going to commit to quite intense cultural change within Hazon. Integrating the organization more deeply. Investing in staff and staff training. Focusing in a whole new way on outcomes and key results, and using data to strengthen the impact of our work. There’s going to be a more concerted commitment to diversity inclusion and equity across all our work. There’s going to be a more distributed leadership process – more people involved in more ways, both internally and externally, in leading what we do. We’re hiring separate consultants to work with us on fundraising and we plan to hire a new full-time director of development.

The overall intent is what we said at the start – how do we focus our work so that we increase our impact and strengthen our sustainability, medium-term? Those are still the goals.

The process can be scary or unsettling, but it is deeply exciting and motivating. Hazon is full of talented and idealistic people – staffers, board members, funders. But we have not sufficiently fired on all cylinders, despite the significance of our many ongoing accomplishments. We feel intimidated, in some ways, by all that we have to do. But – to step back for a moment – in the time Hazon has been in existence we’ve gone from talking about “climate change” to actually living with a changing climate. People are dying from the consequences of aggregate human behavior. Projections that were made 15 years ago by the UN and other NGOs are now happening today. Direct impacts are being felt in poor communities around the world. Tertiary impacts are reaching all of us. And last week saw this remarkable and alarming new report.

Yet we are not powerless. Now is precisely the moment that the Jewish community should be raising its game. It’s a time for all our institutions to move from kashrut policies to food policies. We need programs like Teva for all our kids. We need Jewish Food Festivals in every community in the country. When we look at how we eat through the double frames of Jewish life and sustainable food systems we have the possibility of renewing Jewish life in really profound and fresh ways, and genuinely making a difference in the world.

So… this is some of what we’re thinking about. Nothing here is decided. And none of what I’ve sketched out here is comprehensive – we have reams of documents and details and so on. But if you have thoughts or comments or questions or suggestions – be in touch.

I end by noting that we’re now in the month of Adar, actually Adar Rishon (the first month of Adar; this year there are two because it’s a leap year). The rabbis teach that when Adar enters, joy increases. And, meanwhile, this week our Torah portion is “Terumah” – about the giving of gifts.

So I like this conjunction of the calendar. Hazon has always believed that we best take on heavy issues with some sense of joy, with positive energy. The world needs that right now. We all need that right now. Adar comes to tell us: crazy things happen in the world, crazy despotic rulers who treat women badly and have a dodgy relationship to the Jews (I’m talking Ahasuerus, people – get ready for all those Purim spiels…). But the world turns right side up, in due course, if we act – as Esther did – with determination and courage and creativity. And if, like the Jewish people building the biblical sanctuary, we all give that which we can give.

So: certainly feel free to give us an early 2019 gift, or become a monthly sustainer.
And give us also your ideas, your passion, your suggestions.

But most of all – seriously – watch this little video, and start to think about how you and your family can eat more healthily. Read this article, and think about whether your institution serves meat – and whether it’s industrial meat, and whether you want to change that.

It’s still early in the year. Let’s strengthen and focus our vision, and help make a more sustainable world for all.