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“Time Is So Precious…”

From Nigel Savage

May 25th, 2017 | 29th Iyar 5777 | Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan | 44th day of the omer | gevurah she’b’tiferet

“Time Is So Precious…”

Dear All,

That’s a lot of dates on the dateline above.

And we’re also: three days after the terrorist murders in Manchester; the day after yom yerushalayim; and four days away from the start of Shavuot.

And it’s raining here in New York.

So we live our lives by different calendars and different rhythms. Some of these are national, some communal/religious, some organizational, some familial, some personal. The rhythm of these has changed radically over human history. The invention of the clock was a significant change; so too the telegraph. 150 years ago different parts of a country kept time to their own rhythm, within each day.

Jess Berlin – one of the first cohort of JOFEE Fellows, and a Hazon staffer – was talking to a group of us recently about the experience of living at Isabella Freedman for a year. She pointed out that animals and trees and other living things change their rhythms in response to the seasons – and in ancient days, probably human beings did too. Now what we have, by contrast, is Las Vegas and night-shifts and Amazon – and “sleep hygiene” becoming a growth industry.

Jewish life, of course, being essentially ancient and pre-modern, carries older rhythms in relation to time. The rabbis, we are told, meditated for an hour before davening in the morning. The Talmud is a snapshot of a living civilization, different in spring than fall, different on market day than other days of the week, registering stars and twilight and dawn and dusk as liminal moments to be measured and described.

Part of Hazon’s work – especially in relation to shmita, but not only – is about emphasizing the textures of Jewish time as a critical ingredient not only in Jewish life and wellness, but also in the distinct (potential) contribution of the Jewish people to the wider world. Since 2000, when we got started, this work has steadily seemed more important.

And so this is prelude, partly, to my forthcoming mini-sabbatical, which is the second I’ve taken in the now 17 years that I’ve been here. Sabbaticals are an opportunity to punctuate and accentuate time in different ways, both for a person and for an organization.

In a personal sense, I’m looking forward to the break. Running a non-profit – as my fellow non-profit leaders know – is meaningful and inspiring, and/but draining in quite extraordinary ways. Many of our staff work exceptionally hard – working hard is not unique to me, as Hazon’s CEO – but the weight of running an organization, of trying to hold things together, of responding to an astoundingly wide range of stakeholders, of striving constantly (and worrying constantly) about raising the money to fund the work we do; these things are unique to being CEO. They take a considerable toll, and I think it vital for the health of organizations, and not just for leaders themselves, that those leaders periodically step back, renew and reflect.

But of course, part of the power of a sabbatical isn’t just in relation to the CEO; it also relates to other people stepping into leadership, in different ways, and the concomitant opportunity that affords for other changes of rhythm. While I’m gone many of our staff will step up in various ways, and Judith Belasco – our Chief Program Officer – will be acting CEO. I’m delighted for her to take the reins.

So in a professional sense, the board and staff and I are all excited at this opportunity to broaden and strengthen our leadership. It’s intended to influence the texture and rhythm of Hazon – not only while I’m away but also, we hope and intend, when I come back.

I should add that we’re proud that Hazon’s work has grown and flourished so much in recent years. Since I last took a mini-sabbatical, amongst other things, we initiated and completed the merger with Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. We published Seeds Of Opportunity (aka “The JOFEE Report”). We played a key role in catalyzing awareness of the shmita year, in 2014-’15, including publishing not only a curriculum but also our first book. With significant support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, and in partnership with Pearlstone, Urban Adamah and Wilderness Torah, we launched our new JOFEE Fellows program (our first cohort had their closing seminar last week, and our second cohort are now out in the field). We have opened a new office in Detroit, and last year had nearly 5,000 people at our first-ever Michigan Jewish Food Festival, the largest single event in our history. We have builders at work at the moment physically expanding Makom Hadash, our shared workspace in NYC, to create enough room for the 14 staff from Avodah who recently moved in – as with other elements of our work, Makom Hadash now has more people in it, doing more things, than at any time in our history.

Along the way, and in addition to all of this, we’ve delivered well over 100,000 person-days of immersive experiences in the last few years.

And going forwards: we’ve recently approved plans to launch a master planning process at Isabella Freedman, we’re planning in the next year or so to build our first new residential building there in a generation, and we’re launching a Campaign For The Future, both to build our balance sheet and to start to rebuild Freedman itself.

So I hope that this summer and fall will be an opportunity to reflect, renew, strengthen and clarify, in multiple ways.

Judith will be acting CEO from June 12th to October 13th. I’m in fact working for part of that time, but I won’t be doing as it were day-to-day work and I’ll be offline in relation to my Hazon email.

Once I go on sabbatical I’ll put up an autoresponder with detailed information about whom you should speak to, in my absence, on different issues.

For now, I simply want to note that Shavuot – starting this coming Tuesday night, May 30th – is, famously, zman matan Torateinu; the time that we are given the Torah, not the time we receive it. Whether we receive it, how we receive it, what we do with it – all that is up to us. G!d, as it were, offers it up freely… and we each then decide, with full freedom, whether or how to receive it.

After Reb Shlomo Carlebach z”l died I went through my (50 pages of) notes, from the last time I had learned with him, before he died. One of the things he had said was “The Torah is a commentary on the world, and the world is a commentary on the Torah” – and that, in due course, became the intellectual inspiration for Hazon and the underpinning, pedagogically, for how we relate to “Torah” – and the world, indeed.

But he said one other thing that, in context, was incredibly (choose the right word) – moving? Profound? Tragic? Challenging? He said, “Time is so precious. If we only knew how precious it was, we wouldn’t waste it.” Time is so precious. If we only knew how precious it was, we wouldn’t waste it. He didn’t know it, that day, but 70 days later I was with him again – at Har Hamenuchot, at his funeral.

So as the funerals begin in Manchester, as new babies are born in each moment, and as the world turns and turns, I wish us all the blessing of time – and that we strive, always, to use it well.

Chodesh tov, Shabbat shalom, chag sameach,

Nigel