Monday, September 22, 2014

It’s So Much More than the Apples and Honey!

by Orit Ramler Szulik

Rabbi Zalman Blooming called me inviting me to facilitate a conversation with students at a Chabad Shabbat dinner. The topic: setting goals now that Rosh Ha Shanah is around the corner. His call was like the sound of the shofar, a penetrating wake up call!  What’s better than a wake up call before the High Holidays?

After I hung up the phone, I realized that I was dormant going through life and didn’t even stop for a minute to savor what the holidays are all about.  Yes, I was already planning the meals I need to cook, the clothes I will wear, the greetings I will send, the increased security that unfortunately I hope to encounter in every synagogue, the people I will see that I only see for this occasion, the people who sadly left us that I will miss in services, the schedule for walking my dog while we are in Shul, the rescheduling of clients due to the days I won’t work, the first holidays with my kids away from home… I was thinking about so many things but none of them are really about the core of Rosh Ha Shanah and Yom Kippur.

The Rabbi’s call, just as a call from a life coach, focused me right back on target when he greeted me saying “Shanah Tovah Orit”.  The Rabbi’s words brought the apples and honey closer, and provoked the craving for the round sweet challah. Suddenly I understood that it is that time of the year again, when we look deep inside to learn from the year that we are leaving behind, and the time to set goals that will elevate us in so many ways to become better.  A better partner, a better mom or dad to someone, a better neighbor, a better family member, a better friend, a better student, a better co-worker, a better citizen and a better (fill in the blanks), mainly a better version of ourselves and a better human being overall. 

Cheshbon hanefesh,  “an accounting of the soul”, as my husband wisely reminded me when I was telling him about the Rabbi’s call, is what we are invited to do at this time of the year.  How do we do it?  We start by immersing ourselves in a period of introspection, repentance, and reexamining our priorities – Heaven for life coaches!  Today I found myself thinking of where I am and who I am, and setting goals for where and what I want to be a year from now.  My general goal is to become “better” – which to me it means a step further towards fulfillment and living a meaningful life. “Better” to me means ways in which I can make the world a better place and bring fulfillment to the people with whom I interact casually and on a more regular basis.

I invite you to join me and savor the spirit of the High Holidays and the gifts they offer, gifts that go way beyond going to Synagogue or the delicious food that we will be eating soon. Reflect on the past year and the place where you are today.  Write it down. Be honest with yourself. Dream big dreams for yourself. Visualize where you want to be and what you want to be. Expect the best out of you.  Make a plan with small steps, one at a time that will help you get there. Be accountable to yourself, it’s up to you!

My gift to you is a guide of questions that can help you get started with your introspection process. Questions always open doors, and the answers always enlighten.

1) What’s important:  - What’s important to you in life? –What’s the gap between what you are doing and what you love? – How can you narrow the gap? What is working well in your life now?  - What are you living out of your life?  - Why do you think that’s the case?  - What are you putting up with?  - What opportunities did you take up?  -Missed?  - What are the lessons learned? – How do you want to be remembered in life?

2) Life Balance:  - Where are you out of balance?  - If you could do one thing to put balance in your life, what would that be?  - What would you like to have more time to do?  – How are you taking care of your body, soul & mind? Is there anything missing?
3) Relationships/community: - What kind of people did you surround yourself with?   - Who contributed to your life? - How? - What, if anything, would you change about your circle of friends/relationships? - Is there a community that is missing in your life? - What was your contribution to your community and your family? - How well did you listen to people? – Who do you have unfinished business with?

4) Change: - What changes are you going through now?  -What changes do you want to make?  - What do you believe will happen if you make those changes?  - What needs to change for you to make those changes? – Are you resisting changes? – Is there another way? – How?

5) Career/Business:  - What fulfilled you in your career/business? – What’s your vision in your career/business?  - Do you have the right resources? –How can you get them? – How can you get from here to there?

6) Moving forward: - What would you repeat from last year?  - What would you do different? – What moving forward looks like to you?  – What’s stopping you? –What’s beyond that obstacle?  – What will support you in your next steps? - What do you need and how you can get it to move you forward? – What will it take for you to start anew, with a fresh perspective?

Rosh Ha Shanah and coaching go hand in hand, and every coaching conversation connects us with what’s important and helps us practice introspection. Now is the time to set priorities, as well as clear and measurable goals. Find a strategy that will work for you and go for it learning from the “obstacles” that are part of life and moving forward remembering that you are not alone, there are many resources available.

Shanah Tovah Umetukah!  May you have a good and sweet year, a year of constant introspection, rich in questions and answers, a year of personal growth, good health and fulfillment. Yes, it is so much more than the apples and honey!

Monday, September 1, 2014

No Kippahs, No Siddurs: Our First September (Ever!) as a Public School Family

by Deborah Grayson Riegel, MSW, PCC,

Every year for the past three years, our kids' supply list has included three-ring binders, colored dividers, and calculators. This year is no different.

Every year for the past eight years, our kids' backpacks have been filled with index cards, highlighters, pencils and tissue boxes. And this year is no different.

Every year for the past 11 years (since my twins were two), their curriculum has been filled with learning in both Hebrew and English, in both secular and Jewish subjects, and their calendar was blocked off for both national and Jewish holidays. Every year my son Jacob has gone off to the first day of school with a kippah on his head, while my daughter Sophie hoped that she could get away without wearing a skirt for Shabbat on Fridays.

But not this year.

For the first time ever, our kids will be attending public school instead of a Jewish preschool or a day school. The decision was deeply personal and painful -- the kind that kept me and my husband Michael up many nights wondering if this was the right thing for our children and for our family. What made the choice hardest was that we adored our Jewish day school, we loved the families we shared sports teams and Shabbat dinners with, and we felt like we were a part of a Jewish community that was a warm and wonderful fit for our values and interests. And despite all that, when we really, truly thought about what was best and what was next for our two children (just for our two -- not for anybody else's), the answer in our heart of hearts wasn't Jewish day school anymore. It had served our children's and family's needs beautifully…until it didn't. The "why" feels irrelevant. The "now what," however, feels very, very real.

So what's the big deal? Our kids, like millions of others, will attend their local public schools for the next five years. They'll make new friends (as will I, my wise daughter re-assured me), they'll play on new sports teams, they'll have a quicker commute, more local friends, and (to my son's delight) they can take meat for lunch. It will be fine.

But I'm not fine. I mean, I know in my heart and my gut that this was the right decision, but that doesn't mean that I'm not still mourning what we had, and, if I'm being honest, who we were as a Jewish day school family.

What we had was an immediate school community based on shared Jewish values, a collective commitment to putting our money where our morals were, and a hub for social action and the pursuit of justice locally, nationally, in Israel and around the world. What if in our new school all we have in common with the other families is a zip code and complaints about the sanitation department refusing to recycle?  

Who we were was a family that wore its involvement in and commitment to Judaism on its sleeve, across the calendar(s), through its checkbook, in every homework assignment and lunch bag, and more. What if our involvement starts to flag and our commitment begins to wane without the structure that Jewish day school brings?

I recognize the anticipatory anxiety I have now that I didn't have back when we were a Jewish day school family (was it only this past June?) is partially rooted in wanting to know how we will keep our kids Jewishly educated, active, involved and interested. It is also rooted in the admission I've made to myself that making a single monumental choice to send our kids to Jewish day school meant that the parents got to "coast" a little bit Jewishly. It was easy enough for us to say to ourselves, "What else do we need to do here? We're a day school (AND a Jewish summer camp) family. Isn't that enough? Dayenu!"

Well, here we are at the start of a new school year, and a new chapter in our lives as a Jewish family. Who knows what it will bring? I can anticipate a few things, of course: Our children will grumble about  Friday school days that go until 3 pm (even in the winter) and they will need to tell their friends during sleepovers and parties that they can't have the Buffalo wings because they keep kosher. Our children will also be exposed to new subjects and electives that weren't available to them before, due to the time restraints of a dual Hebrew-English curriculum. The parents will need to actively invite both new friends and old for Shabbat dinners, and will commit to putting up a Sukkah (not me - my husband) even if we're one of the few families or only family at their new school who does so. We will all need to find ways to discuss what's happening in Israel on a regular basis, especially since this won't be a daily discussion at school. We will need to blaze a new path for what we do and who we are as a committed Jewish family without the structure and support of being a day school family. We will all need to learn some new ways of Jewish being, doing, thinking, believing and belonging.

It's back to school for all of us. In many more ways than we could have imagined.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Breathtaking Question We All Need to Ask

At the beginning of the summer, I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to accompany my 13 year
old daughter Sophie to Austria to cheer her on as she represented the USA in basketball at the United World Games. The tournament was exciting (her team came in 5th), the opportunity to meet young athletes from over 40 countries was inspiring, and the view from the athletic facility of farms, lakes and castles with a backdrop of the Alps was breathtaking.
But it wasn't the vista that truly took my breath away.
After the conclusion of the games, our group of 40 athletes, coaches and parents travelled to Vienna, Venice and Salzburg to take in the major sites. And one day was dedicated to a trip to Mauthausen, a "category three" concentration camp where prisoners were sentenced to "death by work"...or worse. I knew that for me and Sophie, the only Jewish parent and athlete on the trip, this was going to be a meaningful and difficult experience.
Our group sat together to watch a film about the atrocities at the camp, where former prisoners recounted their horrific experiences. We walked through the museum, where artifacts were on display -- a makeshift spoon, a single shoe, a desperate letter home. We toured the intact gas chamber, where each and every one of us felt torn between wanting to see and wanting not to see. We walked through the infamous "Block 20" where the camp's "criminals" were forced to work from sunup to sundown in all weather, and were expected to lie down and form a human carpet to shield the SS officers' boots from the ground.
And as horrendous as that was to seek it still wasn't what took my breath away.
It was an hour into our tour when one of my daughter's teammates came up to Sophie, and put her arm around her shoulders. Sophie looked up at her teammate, who asked this simple yet powerful question:
"How is this for you?"
With five words, Sophie's teenage teammate managed to capture empathy, understanding, concern, caring, as well as the awareness that Sophie, as a Jew, might be experiencing the camp differently than her non-Jewish peers. Her question didn't assume that Sophie would have a particular response to the camp, but it created the space and opportunity for Sophie to reflect on what her response was. The question was personal without being intrusive, nonjudgmental, open, and delivered with warmth and compassion.
Asked by a 14 year old girl. At a time and place where compassion was exactly what was needed.
That's what took my breath away.
And you can take someone's breath away too, with this compassionate coach-like question that gives your friend, colleague, or family-member an invitation to reflect on his or own personal experience in the midst of a change, crisis or opportunity. "How is this for you?" acknowledges and respects the uniqueness and individuality of someone's perspective while demonstrating your interest in, concern for and curiosity about them. The question doesn't ask for someone to seek consensus or find a middle ground or adapt to others. It simply asks someone to be who they are, feel how they feel, and share (or not) what it's like.
I, for one, am so happy that my daughter has a teammate who was so caring, compassionate and curious about her. That, for me, is what makes a gold medal team.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Five New Ways to Think About Your Old Problems

In my role as a coach, my primary job isn’t to give advice --- it’s to ask questions to help people uncover their own thinking, perspectives, and assumptions. And of course, my questions change depending on the client and the issue (and probably what I ate for breakfast), but there’s one question in particular that I tend to ask a lot:
“What’s another way of looking at this?”
That question alerts my client to the fact that they are seeing their challenge or solution in one way – a way that often feels like it’s keeping them “stuck” – and that there are multiple ways to look at any issue. It also lays the foundation for using creative thinking for how we can get that problem solved. When we take a black & white approach to seeing a problem, we also take a black & white approach to tackling the problem – and unless we’re talking about black & white cookies, I’m interested in exploring more options. When we do that, the solutions that my clients generate tend to be more interesting, more motivating, and have longer-term “stickiness” than previous ones they may have considered.
Here are five new ways to think about your old problems that I use in coaching, in workshops, while facilitating retreats and in tackling my own challenges, and I’d love to hear your novel ideas, too.

Sample problems:
  • How can we improve our volunteer – professional partnerships?
  • How can I reduce my stress at work?
  • How can I communicate more compassionately with my children?
1)      Do a reverse brainstorm.
E.g. How can we make our volunteer – professional partnerships worse? Then check to make sure you’re not already doing those things – and begin to implement the opposite of what came from your “negative” brainstorm.
2)      Eliminate barriers of time and money, temporarily.
E.g. If time and money were unlimited, how would I reduce my stress at work? While you may not be able to take that year-long trip around the world, or quit your job altogether,   you can bring your ideas down to earth and make them realistic, such as taking more vacations, or beginning to look for a new job if the stress cannot be reduced in your current position.
3)  Interview an Expert (in Your Head)
E.g. What is “compassionate communication” according to Supernanny? According to your parents? According to Anne Sullivan (The Miracle Worker)? According to your favorite relative? According to… Come up with your own list and take into account your best guess of other experts’ opinions.
4) Take One Step Back
E.g. Picture yourself engaging in the most satisfying volunteer professional partnership imaginable. What happened right before you felt this level of contentment? What did you say or do? What did your partner say or do? And what happened right before that? And then right before that? Build the scenario backwards to see what steps you may be inclined to miss in real life.
5) Look through Four Lenses
E.g. Look at your workplace stress through a magnifying glass to bring one or more small details into focus. Then look through a microscope to see “invisible” factors that impact your stress level. Then look through a telescope to see how workplace stress fits into the bigger picture of your life. Finally, look through a prism to see different facets of stress that you might not have thought about before. After viewing the problem through Four Lenses, you can begin to decide what to deal with first.

Join us for a Virtual Presentation of:

The Innovation Imperative
June 16th
2:00-3:00pm EST or on your own time

The world is changing at such a rapid rate that we have no choice but to be creative, adapt and transform both ourselves and our work. This webinar will both present some of the dominant trends in society today as well as give some tips for people looking at bringing innovation into their organizations. What will become clear during the presentation is that many of the hallmarks of Jewish organizational life tomorrow cannot, will not and should not resemble those of today.

Dr. David Bryfman is the Chief Learning Officer at The Jewish Education Project in New York. David completed his Ph.D. in Education and Jewish Studies at NYU focusing on Jewish adolescent identity development and experiential Jewish Education. He is also a graduate of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program. Prior to moving to New York, David worked in formal and informal Jewish educational institutions in Australia, Israel, and North America. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Finding Organic Connections: The Key to Fundraising Success

Guest Blogger: Jonah Halper

In the dating world, most long-term relationships aren’t born out of pure coincidence -- the connections and relationships occur organically. What this means is that if you are looking for a real relationship, then you probably won’t have the best odds of finding one at a bar or nightclub. Why? Because those venues aren’t conducive to deep, meaningful or connected conversations.  Instead of relying on random connections or the luck of the draw, you are much more likely to find a better match if mutual friends make the love connection. You trust your friends, and if they recommend someone to enhance your life, you are much more inclined to take their word for it and go out with their suggested match. This works both ways. The person of interest is also more inclined to say “yes” to you as a blind date knowing you share mutual friends.

In the philanthropy world, the same rules apply. It would seem that common sense would dictate that a fundraiser should hob nob at charity events, the golf course, or any place where monied people go to hang out. You may get lucky, but not in any consistent or reliable way. The reality is that you should turn your attention to your existing relationships to identify and engage new supporters. Just like dating, asking for an introduction or getting introduced by existing contacts, provides a layer of credibility you could never accomplish on your own, and gives you a foot in the door that wouldn’t likely happen if you simply met the prospect at an event or conference with no advance introduction. Your best resource for identifying quality prospects come from those you already know well. They may be family, colleagues, or existing donors. They know you, and what you stand for, and asking your connections to open up their contacts to you will always be the most sure-fire method for expanding your reach and connecting with prospective new donors. This is why the board of directors of your organization is critical to the fundraising process. A successful development officer leverages the connections and relationships of the volunteers, donors and board members.

Because your existing relationships are the key to your fundraising success, remember these 3 things:

  1. Find a reason for the intro beyond their wallet. No one will introduce you to their friend just because they are wealthy. Does the prospect care about special needs? The environment? Does the prospect own a particular set of skills or experience that would provide value to the cause? Do the research before you ask for an introduction, as it will greatly increase the odds of getting the referral when your friend understands why the introduction is meaningful.
  2. Reinforce your pitch with the role the common friend plays within it. Remember, your connection came through a common friend. Make sure you use that to your advantage. Opening a special resource room in your school? Tell your prospect how your common friend has been involved in that exciting experience. 
  3. Don’t aim for a one night stand. Asking the prospect for money on the first date is the equivalent of asking for a quickie. You may get some instant gratification, but it will diminish the odds of you getting a long term relationship. Your ultimate goal should be to make the prospect your partner, and that requires your ability to listen and learn so you can provide them with a meaningful experience. An experience of value TO THEM.
To learn more from Jonah Halper, join him on Monday, April 28th at 2:00pm est for his presentation on Date Your Donors: How to Attract and Engage a New Generation of Philanthropists. For more information go to

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Making a Bar Mitzvah with Less Stress: The 5 Secrets of Savvy Delegators

March 16th is my twins’ b’nai mitzvah. That’s 4 days away. And as you know, regardless of whether the big day is a ceremony followed by a buffet brunch (like ours) or a booming blow-out that rivals the Vanity Fair Oscars party, there are a million things that need to get done in advance of it. So when I delegated to my son Jacob the design of the photo montage, which traditionally shows as many friends and family members as you’ve ever taken a picture of, matched with a sentimental and upbeat soundtrack, I was thrilled that he agreed to take it on. Until….

Until I realized that he thought pictures of his twin sister crying or in diapers should be well represented. Until I realized that his tolerance for low-resolution images was much higher than mine. And until I realized that his choice of music was, shall we say, more explicit than mine. I was about to take back the whole project when I remembered one of my own Secrets of Savvy Delegators: “Clarify expectations up front, plan for check-ins, then get out of the way”. In other words, rather than panicking that he wouldn’t do it the way I would do it (which he wouldn’t), I sat him down for an expectations conversation, where we covered a few ground rules: 1) No pictures that embarrass anyone; 2) if you can see pixilation in the photo, shrink it or skip it; and 3) no music with lyrics that would make a grandparent blush. With that start-up information shared, and a schedule of frequent check-ins planned, I put the montage out of my mind so that I could focus my mind on everything else I couldn’t delegate.

Here are four other secrets of savvy delegators:
  1. Delegate to the right person when the stakes are high. While many folks are more focused on the “bar”, we are more focused on the “mitzvah”. So while the party playlist might not be perfect or the decorations may not be sophisticated, getting the service as right as we could in terms of both accuracy and intimacy was critical for us. What this means is that we delegated the design of the service and the preparation of our children to one of our closest, most trusted friends – who also happens to be a rabbi. Anyone can be in charge of the balloons, but not anyone could be in charge of helping our kids’ embrace this day as a milestone, and helping us have the event feel special and sacred.
  2. Distinguish between responsibility and accountability when delegating. Even as much as we trust our rabbi and friend to deliver on his responsibilities, we are still accountable for making sure that the kids do their preparation. We are still accountable for making sure that the service is inclusive. And we are certainly accountable for making sure that our children’s interest in and commitment to leading a life of good deeds and loving behavior towards others and a belief in something lasts beyond 13 years old. None of those things can be delegated. 
  3. Stop seeking positive reinforcement for being overwhelmed. “Deb, how are you guys DOING with everything going on?” has been the topic of most chats with my friends and family over the last few months. And while I appreciate the recognition that this is a crazy time for us, I am actively avoiding the desire to seem busier than I actually am. Yes, it is very tempting to play the burdened victim here, and hope that people would send me certificates for Massage Envy and some take-out dinners, but that’s not the truth, nor is it the message I want to send. Yes, it is a lot to do. But my husband has taken on a huge number of tasks, and our kids are carrying their weight. So I am very clear in letting people know that it is major AND manageable. And that I am important but not indispensable. 
  4. Don’t give away all the fun stuff. Delegation is supposed to make your life and work easier, not harder. It kept my motivation up throughout the boring parts (like planning the seating arrangements – a task I couldn’t delegate but one that aged me by several years) to know that I got to pick the menu because I really, truly care about the food. Nobody was taking that off my plate, so to speak. So there will be bagels and lox and baked ziti and macaroni and cheese and rainbow cookies and…and….yum. How do you know that there’s something you should keep for yourself? When someone says to you, “I can do that for you,” and you think to yourself, “Nope – that’s mine.” Which is probably what I’ll say about anyone who tries to touch my rainbow cookie!
So whether you are planning next quarter’s business activities, your company’s annual staff retreat or a major family milestone, use the Secrets of Savvy Delegators to make your next project feel doable rather than dramatic.

Want to learn more savvy delegation secrets to help you manage your team, your work and your life? Join me for a one hour Virtual Presentation, “Delegate without Drama” this month, and 10 other topics throughout the year! Register here: