Thursday, June 3, 2010

Innovation- things just need to keep changing

As many of you may know I have been working at an organization called PresenTense since this past November. It has been an absolutely amazing experience, and I have had a lot of upward movement in this position. I have received a lot of exposure to things I really did not know much about. I am now quite a fan of what is called the fourth sector, or rather social enterprising. This sector, though still in its formation, applies business ideas and models to making social change; instead of having a profit of money the enterpriser is looking for a profit in social change. Anyway, I am taking a number of classes on social entrepreneurship (though I only have three weeks left of until graduation, so there is not many classes left to take) and social enterprising and I look forward to implementing my new findings and hopefully what will be a new job in NY.

I just posted an article on the PresenTense blog, that I invite you all to read, as it combines many of my past and current passions. It is about Beit Issie Shapiro, an organization that works to serve people with disabilities. Though I did not explain this in the article, Beit Issie is a social enterprise, in that they use for-profit strategies to support making their social change- building parks for communities (at cost) that raise awareness about disabilities and really influence how communities interact with those who are disabled in their community, employing people with disabilties in their company gift program, which creates and packages gifts for corporate companies around holidays to give out to their staff, and much more. I highly suggest you all check out the article, and or course check out Beit Issie!

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Were Confederate soldiers terrorists?

This time of year in Israel is a pretty special one, starting about a month ago with Holocaust Remembrance Day, later Memorial Day (for fallen soldiers), followed by Independence Day and today Jerusalem Day (celebrating its reunification in '67). I've been mulling something over in my head for a while and I just need to write it out, hopefully to have it make sense in my own mind (if it does for you, well then, that's good but bear with me).

There's a commonly expressed phrase that says "One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter". While I understand the sentiment behind the phrase, I feel it is completely misguided. The author, whomever they are, and anyone who espouses this idea are trying to make everything politically correct - "let's not offend anyone as they are entitled to their beliefs, just as you are too". This attitude, while I totally agree with it in principle, in actuality is nothing but the removal of the moral fiber from our society.

CNN recently published a
column (who knew they had columnists?) which is entitled: Were Confederate Soldiers Terrorists?. The author writes:
In criticizing me for saying that celebrating the Confederates was akin to honoring Nazi soldiers for killing of Jews during the Holocaust, Rob Wagner said, "I am simply defending the honor and dignity of men who were given no choice other than to fight, some as young as thirteen."
Sherry Callahan said that supporting the Confederacy is "our history. Not hate; it's about heritage and history."
Javier Ramirez called slavery evil, but prefaced his remarks by saying that "Confederate soldiers were never seen as terrorists by [President Abraham] Lincoln or U.S. generals on the battlefield. They were accorded POW status, they were never tried for war crimes. Not once did Confederate soldiers do any damage to civilians or their property in their invasion of the north. The same is not true of Union soldiers."
Realskirkland sent me a Tweet saying, "Slavery is appalling, but was not the only reason for the CW [Civil War]. Those men, while misguided on some fronts stood up for what they felt was right. They embodied that American ideal that the states have a right to govern themselves. THAT is what a confederate soldier stood for."
If you take all of these comments,
don't they sound eerily similar to what we hear today from Muslim extremists who have pledged their lives to defend the honor of Allah and to defeat the infidels in the West?
Growing up in the North my disposition is to be angry at the Confederacy, slavery, and causing the death of thousands of Americans; but the author's desire to paint Muslim's as terrorists is forcing him to call Confederate Soldiers terrorists as well. As if there's no distinction to be drawn between them.

So, what makes one a terrorist? The causing of terror obviously. But it's more than that too - being scared of a soldier doesn't make the soldier a terrorist. The soldier's job is to win, to defeat the enemy - nothing more, nothing less - if he could achieve that without killing he would. The terrorists job is not to win, but to cause the destruction of the enemy through death and destruction and to cause the enemy to lose the internal strength to carry on due to the fear that they have caused.

The author of the quote and the columnist have it all wrong. Fighting for a cause, even one that you disagree with doesn't make the enemy a terrorist, they're allowed to believe what they do. It's theactions which make them wrong - not the beliefs behind the action. I would never call a German (Nazi) soldier a terrorist unless they were active in terrorism - the SS on the other hand might be, but the regular soldier - no, not a chance.

While not specifically on the same topic there's a line out of my favorite episode from my favorite TV show ever (The West Wing, s3e0, "Isaac and Ishmael"):
BOY 1:
Well, don't you consider...I mean, I know they're our enemy, but don't you consider there's something noble about being a martyr?

[pauses, considers the question] A martyr would rather suffer death at the hands of an oppressor than renounce his beliefs. Killing yourself and innocent people to make a point is sick, twisted, brutal, dumb-ass murder. And let me leave you with this thought before I go searching for the apples that were rightfully mine: we don't need martyrs right now. We need heroes. A hero would die for his country but he'd much rather live for it... It was good meeting you all.
There are people in our history that we call martyrs yet place them on the pedestal of history. It's not that these people shouldn't be honored for what they did, but rather they should be seen as heroes too. If the person dies because they want to make a point in doing so, that would seem to be wrong in my book - if, however, they're willing to die but would rather live - then you're a hero in my book.

I don't know if I've made any sense to any of you, but this is my blog so I can live with that, but what I do know is that soldiers are not inherently terrorists no matter how evil their cause. What we're celebrating in Israel during this time, isn't the "luck" that our fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc. were able to give their lives to "the cause"; rather we are remembering them because while they were willing to die for their country they'd rather be here now alive with us.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why good HR practices in Nonprofits are so important

Last Semester I took a course on Human Resource Practices for nonprofits. The course did not focus on hiring, firing, and evaluation practices, that was just one lesson; it did not focus on employee manuals and benefits packages, that was also just one lesson; what the course focused on was the need to create an interdisciplinary team among your staff and volunteers to provide a better service for your stakeholders (the people you serve). Throughout the course, students expresses frustration; frustration for not receiving an education in what they saw as "needed" for someone to hire us. Though we saw the team building as important, we were not convinced our current or potential employers would also see it this way. No matter what the employers think, though, I have discovered that team building is one of the most important things any organization could have in in Human Resource Management.

Nonprofit workers, especially in smaller nonprofits, often see their sole purpose as getting their job done; fulfilling all the objectives and goals listed on their job description. If their job is build a program, they put everything they have into building it. If their job is to oversee the finances, they make sure they are doing this to the very best of their ability. Everyone knows a nonprofit worker has to go above and beyond, however are they actually going above and beyond their job.

Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to observe an organization up close: an educational institute. This organization, for the most part, employs teachers, Rabbis, a CFO and an office manager. Like most nonprofit organizations, it does not employ anyone with experience in managing human resources, or anyone even without the experience to at least try. The result of this situation is a group of educators who are so passionate about education, who have such great ideas of how to revolutionize the way they teach their students, but who can not actually make this revolution happen. In this organization, each person is on his or her own to "try out their ideas" and everyone is trying something different. This lack in a unified method for educating results in the students not receiving the message the school intends to send. The students often play "good cop vs. bad cop" with their teachers; the students seemed to have learned that pitting two disparate views against each other is acceptable; and the students don't seem to have learned how to respect the teachers, what the teachers have to teach, or even how to respect themselves. Had this school brought the teachers together, as a team, created an environment where each teacher could contribute his or her expertise, and together developed a plan for educating their students to get across their message, the school may have actually had a positive affect on its students.

The management of human resources is not only about the management of benefits and salary packages or overseeing the hiring and firing processes. The management of human resources is about managing the human capital you have in your organization, the value that each person has to offer, and ensuring that the individuals who work so hard for your cause, are working together for the greater cause. As with anything, you are greater then the sum of your parts when all the parts work together.

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Education: Who is to blame for the failures?

In 2003, as a freshman in college, I wrote a series of papers analyzing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. This educational initiative was proposed by the United States administration of President George W. Bush immediately after he took office and was signed into law on January 8, 2002. Following my research about education systems in America, the successes and the failures of the past attempts for improvements, and the intentions of the new law, I completed my year with a paper sharing my own critiques. I remember writing that NCLB, in my opinion, would do exactly the opposite of what it had intended, it actually would leave more children behind in school. NCLB required improved test scores in schools, however this would result in teachers having to teach to the test, and not to the child’s needs; NCLB gives parents the choice of moving their children from a “failing school” to a “better” one, which would overcrowd the “better” schools’ classrooms and possibly turn it into a “failing school;” NCLB required a certain level of quality in all the schools, and if a school did not reach this level then the school would be punished by receiving less funding the following year, instead of increased funding to help make the necessary improvements. These, of course, are just to name a few of my critics.

Last Thursday I attended a presentation by Miriam Cohen-Navot, the Director of the Engelberg Center for Children and Youth, a joint initiative of the Israeli government, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Myers Foundation. The Engelberg Center is devoted to promoting the well-being of children in Israel; they do this by conducting research, which is then made available to the public, teach the public how to understand this research, and acts as a resource and a consultant to Israeli initiatives to make a change for the well-being of children and youth. Among the vast amount of research the Engelberg center has conducted, Ms. Cohen-Navot shared with us one initiative in particular that sparked my interest: an analysis of the changing educational agenda, specifically in the area of youth, aged 14-17, not attending schools. Their research looked at the dropout rates and disengagement rates between 1985 and 2000. The disengagement rates showed the percentage of students who don’t appear in the statistics of dropout rates because they are registered in school, and sometimes even physical attended school, however they were not involved in any meaningful learning. In their study, though they found dropout rates were fairly low (1.9% for Jewish Youth and 11.3% for Arab Youth), however 31% of youth displayed one characteristic of disengagement, 19% showed two, and 11% showed three. Further the study found that services for these school-aged youth started outside of the school, displaying a major disconnect between serving the needs of the children in a place that they obviously needed it and could have direct access to it. Since this study was conducted a special Knesset committee was set up in order to address these findings, and the committees work has caused a paradigm shift in Israeli education: a movement to the understanding that the responsibilities to fix these failings lies within the system itself, an idea foreign not only to the Israeli education system previously, but I think to other education systems as well.

Since my freshman year in college I have always had a passion for learning about educational policies and reforms and watching to see if they were successful. I am a firm believer in the “children are our future” and therefore we must properly prepare them for their futures; however one thing I have found is that many educational policy makers put a lot of effort into blaming others for the failures. Though I still do not hold a high regard for NCLB, one thought that crossed my mind yesterday was how NCLB and the Special Knesset Committee actually do just the opposite of this: they have placed the responsibility in the hands of the education system itself. Testing in schools creates problems for teachers in curriculum building and teaching according to the children’s needs, however it also holds the schools accountable for how their students are doing and whether they are engaged in learning what they need for life or not. Allowing parents to move children to better schools is a sign that the parents are allowed to hold their children’s schools to a standard of excellence and if that is not provided they can find it elsewhere. “Punishing” schools for not making improvements, though not completely logical when it comes to helping the school improve, is consistent with sending the message that the “school system must fix itself, or else…” The underlying message these two initiatives send, though not always carried out in a way I agree with, does finally say, “yes it is our (the systems) responsibility to prepare children for their futures” and it finally stops blaming everyone else.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Daniel Gordis is right on the money.

This article by Daniel Gordis (longer than a newspaper editorial, but well worth the read) hits the nail on the head. He describes the current mood in Israel, with our mistrust of Obama. I voted for him, probably would again, but I don't think the President correctly understands the situation here in Israel.

This is the money paragraph:
WHILE ISRAEL has obviously made some serious gaffes since Obama entered office, the real cause for this nadir in Washington-Jerusalem relations is the fact that Barack Obama seems to have little comprehension of the region on which he seeks to impose peace. The president’s ignorance of the world in which he is operating is apparent on at least three levels. He seems unaware of how profoundly troubled Israelis are by his indiscriminate use of the word “settlement,” he appears to have little comprehension of the history of Palestinian recalcitrance, and he has apparently learned little from decades of American involvement in the Middle East peace process.

Read and tell me what you think.

While you're at it, take a look at this recent article, by Gordis, too about the settlements.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Break, Building, Over-reacting and Einstein

Sorry that we haven't posted in a while, we've both been extremely busy. Well that's over for now, I'm on Spring Break for the next month. It's a much needed break, this year has been pretty tough for me (us). It's a combination of factors that causes this feeling - and it's not awful - but it's not where it should be either. Either way, this next month should give me time to recharge and finish up strong when the guys come back for the last 8 weeks of the school year.

Just this week something pretty cool happened in Jerusalem!
The Hurva Synagogue, which if you've been to Jerusalem in the past 40 years you've seen this great arch in the middle of the Old City, has been rebuilt.

This synagogue was destroyed in 1948 by the Jordanian Legion, and was the largest building in Jerusalem at the time. It was monumental in many aspects. For the past 40 years this arch has commemorated this building. For the past four years there has been construction in the Jewish Quarter rebuilding it. As, you can see below it is now complete with the opening ceremonies happening this week. I went to go take a look today, it is awesome to see completed; Naomi and I will go back in a few weeks when she has some time and head up top to get a panoramic view of the city.
Well, all has not gone well for the Dedication. Apparently, rebuilding a Synagogue in the middle of the Jewish Quarter has been seen has an attack on the Dome of the Rock. I'm not quite sure how the logic makes any sense, but a wave of Palestinian riots have happened in parts of the city (I haven't seen anything - even when I was in the Old City today). As you can see from these articles, Hamas sees it as an attack against their faith, that we "planned a raid on the compound following the synagogue rededication" says a Palestinian Judge, that it's part of a planned ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. Some Arab members of the Knesset are saying this could lead to a Third Intifada. Honestly, I just don't see it.

Life is interesting everywhere, sometimes very interesting in Israel. It seems to me that this is in a long line of the leaders of the Arab community taking any Israeli reaction to the extreme and calling on the populace to overreact - we saw this in 1948, 1967, 2001, among others and again now. I don't think that this will last and in a week it will all be forgotten.

In happy news, if you're coming to Jerusalem in the next month, Hebrew University has Einstein's original manuscript for the Theory of Relativity (e=mc^2) on display for the first time ever. Pretty cool.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Great Song and a Great Video

I know that most of you won't be able to understand this song, but I felt that it spoke to me so much that I had to let you know about it anyway.

HaDag Nachash is an Israeli hip-hop/reggae/rock band that has been around for a while, I've seen them live a few times, and while they're very politically left-wing, sometime their message is timeless.

This song is crying out about the negativity found in current Israeli society. Basically they feel that current divides are killing us as a whole and we've forgotten that we are "brothers". The video uses death announcements to show the lyrics - forcing one to pay attention to them and reinforce the message that we are killing ourselves at the same time. The video is just as profound as the song itself.

The lyrics (Hebrew) can be found here, the English translation (not bad) can be found here.