Sustaining the Phoenix Jewish Community Through Covid-19 and Beyond - Conversation with the Rabbi

Episode 15

full
Published on:

9th Sep 2021

Sustaining the Phoenix Jewish Community Through Covid-19 and Beyond

Rabbi Michael Beyo and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk with Richard Kasper of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix and Marty Haberer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix about philanthropy, fundraising, and nonprofit leadership in the Jewish community.

(Producer's note: This conversation was recorded in December 2020 and discusses Covid-19 in the context of that time.)

Topics discussed in this episode include:

  • effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on local Jewish people and organizations
  • changing demographics for the Jewish community
  • changing patterns in charitable giving and how we respond
  • how nonprofit and philanthropic organization can adapt to unpredictable circumstances.

Richard Kasper is President & CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix. Founded in 1972, the Jewish Community Foundation strives to create a permanent legacy for a strong, vibrant, enduring Jewish community locally and abroad. The Jewish Community Foundation is the largest resource for Jewish philanthropy in the Greater Phoenix area. They have earned the trust of donors and the community of professional advisors - attorneys, estate planners, trust officers, insurance professionals, accountants, and financial advisors - who work with them to help donors achieve their charitable and financial goals. As a primary, trusted and expert resource for philanthropy, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix engages, educates, and inspires generations of givers throughout the Jewish community. The organization provide resources to make the community's vision a reality, and it responds to emergencies facing the Jewish people.

Marty Haberer is President & CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, an organization that has been serving the Valley’s Jewish and greater community since 1941. A collective of professionals, lay leadership, and generous donors and supporters working together to improve the lives of Jews locally and globally, the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix strengthens and sustains Jewish life and identity while meeting critical needs in the community, in Israel, and around the world. The organization serves the community as a resource by maximizing the impact of the dollars raised and by supporting organizations that make a difference every day. It enables change, promotes innovation, and builds community.

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

Transcript
Announcer:

From PHX.fm, this is Conversation with the Rabbi, featuring open, honest dialogue, and sometimes unconventional perspectives on the world we all share.

Adrian McIntyre:

Welcome back for another Conversation with the Rabbi. I'm Adrian McIntyre. Our host for this show is Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley JCC. Hi, Rabbi.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

How are you, Adrian?

Adrian McIntyre:

I'm very well, thank you. I'm looking forward to today's conversation. Our guest is Richard Kasper, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix. Rich, welcome to the show.

Rich Kasper:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Adrian McIntyre:

There's a lot on our minds and I'm would just love as we begin this conversation, primarily between you and the Rabbi, for you to give us a bit of an overview of yourself, your organization, your work. I think that will open up a lot of what there is to talk about, about how we've all adapted, what the past holds for the present for the future and all of those things. Could you give us just a brief introduction to what you do, who you serve, and how you go about it?

Rich Kasper:

Sure. Maybe I'll start with myself and then talk about the organization a little bit. I am the CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix. I've been in that role for the last seven years. I've been part of the Phoenix Jewish community for about 30 years. Most of that time, I was a lawyer in private practice serving at different times on half a dozen different boards in the community, mostly in the Jewish community, but not exclusively. Then like I said, seven years ago I made the leap and left private practice and began working full-time in philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation. The foundation itself has been around for going on 50 years. We were established in 1972 by the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. At that time we were called the Endowment Fund. And for a lack of a better way to describe it, I think what happened back then was the federation received some unexpected bequests since maybe some real estate and decided to set it aside for the purpose of creating an endowment that would be more future looking rather than meeting immediate needs. But would be invested in the hope was that it would grow and over time they'd be able to make distributions from that asset to support the Jewish community. Since then, the Jewish Community Foundation has become an independent organization going back to about 2002. Our focus is primarily on the local Jewish community building endowments and other financial services. But people often think of us as a financial organization. And describe us that way often. The first question that people always seem to ask is, how much money do you have in assets under management? That's an important question. The answer today is about $65 million. But I'm always resistant to that description of us as a financial organization. I think we are better understood as a service organization, in existence to serve the local Jewish community and its organizations and its people and their interests. And the money that we have at our disposal that we raise and distribute is just one of the tools that we use to do that.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Rich, thank you very much for being here with us. I still remember the first time I met you about five years ago when you came to my office and I had no idea who you were and what you do or what I was supposed to do. But since then we developed a very, I think from my part, a wonderful professional relationship as well as a true friendship. And I need to say publicly that the Jewish Community Foundation has been one of the biggest supporters of East Valley JCC for sure since I have been here and hopefully this will continue with the work that we do and the partnerships that we have. Again, thank you very much for all you do. I think it's undoubtedly true that you are one, you are seen at least, maybe you don't feel, but you are seen as one of the most important and leaders of the Jewish community. And it's interesting because for those who know you, you always seem very on the quieter side. But you're definitely seen at least in my eyes as one of the major leaders of the Jewish community. Talk to me about that. What are the pros and cons, and what does it do for you as a person? I know that to me, when people talk to me, "Oh, you're the rabbi." Yes, I have an ego and rabbis have big egos and anybody that looks for a position and gets the position to be a CEO of an organization means that yes, we do have egos. But then when I go home and I am between me, myself and I, I sometimes I'm like, "Wow, all of these people they look at me and I am a nobody. I'm nothing. I can barely do what they think I can do."

Rich Kasper:

Well, I'll start by saying, I know your wife, so I understand exactly where she's coming from. And what you just said about your home life doesn't surprise me a bit. But that's not to diminish anything that you do in public. As far as my role in all of that, look, yes, of course there's some ego involved, who doesn't have a little bit of that? But that isn't what made me make the move into Jewish philanthropy. It isn't what drives me every day. What I will go back to is something about six months after I started working for the Jewish Community Foundation, maybe the middle of 2014, I was interviewed by the Jewish News, which then was a completely independent publication. Since then the publication was donated and is now owned by the Jewish Community Foundation. But back then it was under separate ownership and they wanted to do a profile on me as the new CEO in the foundation. I had been there for about six months, settled in. And one of the things that I said in that interview was that I still had not had my first bad day on the job. I always go back to that because now seven years later I still feel I haven't had my first bad day on the job. Some of that may be the perspective of someone who practiced law for more than 20 years where frequently it was the reverse formula, you're waiting for a good day. But I genuinely feel that way about the work that I do. It's really a position of privilege to be able to work with so many really inspirational individuals in the community and to have a platform and a position that we work from where we get to look out over the entire community. And when we're doing it right, we're solving problems, we're anticipating problems for the community and getting out ahead of them. And whether it is through grant making and injecting funds where they need to be so that people like you and other organizations in the community can get something done, or if it is just in the matchmaking that we get to do between sometimes organizations and other donors, other funders or just people that need to know each other because they ought to be working together. It's a rare thing for anybody to have in their community to be able to do that kind of thing. And I'm not a Pollyanna. It's not that moment of every day is great, but I still literally have never at the end of the day felt, this was a rough day, I got beat up today. I've had my share of detractors. Everybody does. I won't say that I've never dealt with a difficult situation, whether it was a lay leader that wasn't happy with something that we had done, a donor. I've had my share of difficult conversations. But they always seem to end well. And that's what I enjoy about it, is I'm in a position where we can sit down and we can talk and we can hash out our differences. And in the end, what we know is that whatever it is we're doing, we're all doing it because we're trying to enhance and improve the same Jewish community. We can come together on that. And in the end, it's one of the things that is satisfying is there are times I won't get into the details, but I've had a couple of people chew me out, now and then. And it doesn't bother me because it's an opportunity to hear from them. In the end, what I've enjoyed the most is turning those situations around where we become collaborators and friends. And we can support one another because we get to understand each other better.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you. I definitely feel a sense that of privilege, absolutely. To be able to lead the East Valley JCC is probably one of the best things that happens in my life on a daily basis. I look forward to go to work every day. And I try to stay as humble as I can be because of this huge, both responsibility and joy that I have in leading this organization. And as you say, and this is where I think we have a very strong, common denominator is to ultimately to do good for the community and work for the community, which I think brings you joy and brings me joy. But we also know that the community is not always united. And our community, just like many other Jewish communities around the country or around the world is not a unified community where it's always "kumbaya." Do you think that this tough year will maybe be able to open conversations that we were not able to have in the past and maybe find additional common denominators among various elements of the community so that then we can do better together?

Rich Kasper:

Well, I don't know. We're speculating of course, but I guess the best answer I can give you is that I hope so. One of the things that I think has come out of the last nine or 10 months now is that a lot of organizations in our community have seen in a very graphic and frightening way how fragile they are and how little it can take to completely upend everything that they thought was working so well. People have short memories sometimes. And we're hearing that there's a vaccine on the horizon, and everyone is optimistic that maybe by the middle of next year we will be returning to something that feels more like what we used to call normal. When things go that way, it's possible that a lot will be forgotten that we've experienced. I hope not. I think because of what we've seen, because of the need that organizations have faced to adapt quickly, to do more with less, I'm hoping that what we will see come out of it is a greater desire on the parts of a number of our organizations to collaborate whether it is in small ways on projects, or even in big ways where we may see organizations for lack of a better term, maybe merging, and finding different ways to work together, to serve the community better. Recognizing that they need to be stronger. Yeah, because this has been one crisis. It's probably not going to be the last crisis our community faces.

Adrian McIntyre:

Rich, if you could give us a sense of in "before-times," as my wife refers to everything, last year and backwards, a typical year in the life, as you would look at a variety of different projects and organizations, and what it looked like, what you were funding and supporting and what was happening out there in the community. Obviously the brutal ending of so many of those public facing programs has dominated the landscape, not just for nonprofits, but for businesses and schools and everybody. Give us a little sense of the impact here. As you look then to the future... This is a huge question. You're going to have to forgive me. As you look to the future of what these learnings might change about how you'd like to see things done differently, walk us through that. What was it like before a little bit about what happened and then where this could go?

Rich Kasper:

Okay, you're right. That's huge. In the past we had what now feels like the luxury of being able to focus on... When it comes to grant making in particular, which is, I think what you were asking about, we were focused on supporting organizations so that they could bring new and vital programs into the community to strengthen and support a Jewish community into the future. Bring more people in. One of the things that we've learned in the last couple of years, we've always suspected it, but with the thanks to ASU and the population study that they completed about a year ago is that there is a tremendous number out there, a large of people who identify as Jewish in one way or another, that our community simply is not reaching. Some of them don't want to be reached. And that's their prerogative. But there are a lot of them that would like to be reached. They just don't know we're here, and we haven't figured out how to get to them. A lot of attention in the past has been placed on doing that. Good programs coming out of it, good success, growing the community, all of that nice stuff. And at the same time through the foundation, we put a lot of energy and resources into working with the local community to build up their financial resources programs focused on endowment building, how to do it, and why you need to do it, so that you can better face a crisis when it comes. And those were terrific. But in the last 10 months, what we're looking now at is more crisis management. We've had a couple of rounds of emergency grant funding because we've seen in the community two different kinds of emergencies facing our organizations. One is the social service kind of emergency. Some of that has been addressed by the East Valley JCC. But there are tremendous new demands being placed on organizations for social services of one kind or another. Whether it is assistance in paying your bills or getting food on the table or job placement. There's a huge new demand. Those organizations that have as part of their mission, responding to those demands need resources. We've been trying to shore that up where we can. But the other side of it is many organizations are in our community, they're hurting themselves. Even if they are not in the business of responding directly to that demand, they may be... We might be talking about a synagogue or an educational organization or something. Many of them are looking at a situation where they haven't been able to fund-raise. They're not having their events the way they used to. They're not able to interact with their donors. Our concern is that when this period ends, we want them to be able to become fully functioning the way they used to be. We want to make sure they come out of this crisis as strong as they can without having to lay off employees, without having to cut that on programs and services. We're also busy trying to shore them up to keep them stronger, because we know that those are the touch points in the community that make a community. We've had a big shift in our outlook and what we consider planning for the future.

Adrian McIntyre:

At this point in the conversation we're joined by Marty Haberer, who couldn't be with us from the beginning due to technical difficulties. I asked him to give us an introduction to himself and his organization before we continued the conversation.

Marty Haberer:

I'm Marty Haber. I'm the president, the CEO of the Jewish Federation here in greater Phoenix. I'm completing my fourth year in that role. I've been in town six years. I came here as the Chief Development Officer in 2015. And my entire working career has essentially been in not-for-profit Jewish communal service beginning out of New York where I grew up and ultimately making moves as jobs required to Cincinnati, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, Sarasota, Florida, and then ultimately here. And it's been a passion. The Jewish Federation system is about 120 years old. There's some debate as to whether Boston or Cincinnati is the older of the two, but it's been around a long time. In fact in Phoenix, which is a relatively newer community, we are about to enter our 80th anniversary as a formal Jewish organization in this town. It's a great privilege to be doing this work. And obviously it's the type of work where no matter what you do, it's never enough. And this year with Covid-19 and all the ramifications, it has certainly made the work more complex, more challenging, but the need even greater only augmenting and reminding me why I came into this to help develop and grow Jewish community and to serve needs both in the Jewish community and for the general community.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you, Marty, for joining us. The Federation has been a great supporter of the East Valley JCC in the past and currently, and also specifically during Covid we have been the recipient of a number of emergency grants from the Federation for which we are very grateful that allow us to do the work on the ground that we actually do. Marty, I would like to know from your perspective, what's going to be the new normal post-Covid. I know that prophecy is not something that was given to me, maybe to you but please tell us from your perspective, because you have a different perspective than I have. You see and understand and interact with probably a number of agency on a regular basis. You see what's going on. What do you think is going to happen? Are we going to see some agency meaning to close, maybe others are going to merge? And also what do you think are going to be the patterns of charitable giving?

Marty Haberer:

Again like you, I am not a prophet although I do sometimes play one on TV. I would say from my perspective, and I spend probably too much time thinking about these things, I think that the condition of Jewish communities, not just Phoenix, but in general in North America, have been changing anyway before this crisis. And I think what the pandemic did was it probably sped up and fast forward a change that was going to happen anyway, probably in five, six, seven or eight years. I think it's going to be on our doorstep. It is already on our doorstep now. And it'll just speed up what would've taken, maybe another half decade or decade. And it'll happen in the next couple of years. And what I've seen is it is caused a lot of people to rethink what's important to them, balanced in their life, whether it's work family balance. And I think philanthropically it's caused them to really sit back. And there are people who I will call reflexive givers who maybe have been giving to the same organization year after year, and this jolted them to rethink about how they were going to distribute their dollars. I think that's going to continue. Now as Shakespeare once said, "Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so." I'm not going to judge whether it's good or it's bad, but I will say that anybody that is in the philanthropic space, Jewish, or otherwise that isn't considering these changes is asleep behind the wheel and is going to get really surprised as things come up. I think our Jewish community, I think our Jewish Federation, I think my colleague Rich and I, and others have done a good job collaborating, cooperating with you, Michael, as you say, with organizations with boots on the ground, but at the same time, I don't think we've even begun to see. I think we've been able to scrape by this year, but I think next year you're really going to see the impact of the change because some people think that maybe this was just a one-time shift in people's giving in their lifestyles and I don't think so. I think there will be some people who will bounce back, but I think there's a good many of people and that's not just in their philanthropic habits, right? I'll give you an example of myself. I was a deeply addicted Starbucks drinker. Started drinking Starbucks in Cincinnati in 1997. You can do the math. Here we are in 2020. When you add up the amount of money that I spent on Starbucks, no wonder Starbucks is Starbucks. But I stopped doing it when the pandemic hit. And it broke a habit and I've not gone back to it. It is not my intention to go back to it because it woke me up to realize how much money I was wasting at Starbucks. I've been able to do a lot of other things with that money. Similarly, dry cleaning. I haven't had to go to dry cleaners. I've changed the way that I wear my clothes. Obviously Zoom, the fact that we are doing this podcast and each one of us is in our own space to do that. Normally this would've been in a studio or you would've come to my office and those behaviors are not going to change. I really do believe that you can either be afraid of what this is going to look like in another six months or a year, or you can embrace it. And Rich and I have had many conversations and our leadership as well about the condition of our organizations and the Jewish community. I agree with you, Michael, you alluded to it, I do think you're going to see certain historic organizations that are going to have to change. They're either going to go away in some cases. There's going to be mergers and they're going to be leaner. Now, again, is that good or bad? I don't know. Again, from my vantage point, synagogues, it's got to be awfully rough to be in synagogue or in church these days, when you rely on people coming through your doors and nobody's coming through your doors that often. I think you can either get excited by the change or you could panic and freeze. I hope that we choose to embrace and keep an eye on the data and the analytics. We know that people need help. We know that the needs that have historically been addressed by the Jewish Federation, by the Jewish Community Foundation and other organizations are going to continue to be there. Somebody's going to have to pick it up and figure out how to meet those needs.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

The East Valley JCC is a strange position because on the one hand, we are a small JCC. On the other hand we are the largest Jewish organization in the East Valley. The East Valley is a huge geographical area and we cover it all or we try to. We do a lot of programs, both pre-Covid and post-Covid. And at the same time, we're also, I believe they're the third largest Jewish organization in town. We are both one of the smallest JCC in the country, but one of the largest organizations, and we, I think are very, very good with being able to do a lot with a small budget. I think, and I agree with you that a lot of other organizations are going to need to adjust into that. I'm an expert. Anybody wants advice on how to do that, come to me, I'll tell them how to do that. But I would like to ask you a different question and to both of you, pre-Covid, one of the strategic thinking that we were doing in our organization was to do with capital expansion. And if you ask me today, no way, no way. I am not going to do a capital expansion in any time in the near future, because I'd rather use whatever funds we have to either help the community with additional programs or to rethink programming in a different way. Meaning, I don't think that I need to have people coming into my building in order to provide a meaningful program and therefore, not necessarily do I have that need any more to expand my building, because we can bring the JCC to multiple places outside of the building. Do you see that kind of thinking in other organizations in town?

Marty Haberer:

Who would you like to tackle that first?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Rich.

Rich Kasper:

Okay. Yes, a lot of what you just said, I've heard coming from other organizations as well, and it's not surprising. If there is a silver lining to what we've been living with, it is some of what you just described, right? That we've found new ways to deliver service, to interact with one another, to support the community. But I'm going to push back on that too, because, as well as many organizations, including yours have done, people are craving an opportunity to interact personally. And I think as soon as people start to feel comfortable that it is safe to do so, there's going to be a tremendous demand for in-person programming. In the same way that as soon as it is safe for people to begin traveling again and going on vacations and staying in nice hotels and doing all those things, they're going to do it. They miss it. We are social creatures as human beings and as nice as it is to be able to do what we're doing today, to look at each other on a screen and to speak to one another, it doesn't compare to the benefits that people get from interacting personally. One of the things that I've noticed that I miss is just that. When I go to events in the community, one of the big benefits of going has nothing to do with the program that's being offered. It's being in that room with those people and interacting with them and forming new relationships or friendships or advancing and changing other relationships that already exists. It's the same thing for example, when we talk a lot of times there are professional conferences that we all attend across the country. And frequently what I see there is the content of the conference isn't always what drives me to go. It's who else is going to be there. It's interacting with the people that I can learn from and building those relationships. On the one hand, yes, I think you're right. There's going to be a lot more of the remote programming being offered. It's going to be good as far as the content goes, but I think you are going to see more people coming to you saying we want both. We want-

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I agree with you 100%. I know that, for example, my teachings, and as you guys know, I do a lot of teachings during the week, I can compare the quality of the teachings in-person or the one that I currently do on Zoom. And I know that as soon as we can get back together with my class and my students to learn together, we will do that. What I meant was, from an organizational point of view rather than spend millions of dollar on a capital expansion, go and rent a space for the event, rather than ... I think that in the past there was this concept, this idea that we need to expand, we X organization to invest in our physical expansion. I think that today maybe the idea could be, no, we are going to get together, but I don't need to spend millions of dollars to do a capital expansion. I can just rent the ballroom in the hotel to do that event. That was my thought. But Marty, what do you think?

Marty Haberer:

In the famous words of Forrest Gump, I think it's a little bit of both. And I think you see it not just in the Jewish communal non-for-profit space, but look at the condition of strip malls and shopping malls and things of that nature. I think what you're going to see, poor New York City, right? There's more vacant commercial real estate right now than there has been in New York City since 911. And I think in all these places, including ours spaces, you're going to see a very, very thorough re-look at the use of space and what's necessary and what's not necessary, what's cost-effective, and what's not cost-effective. I think for instance in our own Paradise Valley Mall here, you see massive change, Sears closed. That's unbelievable, right? Then in that space, whole foods is moving into the Sears. That's going on right now. These are interesting moves and maneuvers. I think that mall's going to move forward some combined residential real estate with some shopping, it's going to be different. Let's take that approach to our own physicality as a Jewish communal not-for-profit organization. I think you're going to see a re-evaluation of space needs, productive use of space. I think even Covid causes us to relocate offices versus cubes and things of that nature. All these things have to be re-looked at, and they're not necessarily going to be inexpensive. It takes money to get out of leases, to get into leases and to reduce space. It's also interesting to me and I don't know if you three share the same thing. I like many Americans have also taken a whole new look at my own house. I worked so much. I was out of the house so much. I never took the time to really stare at my house and see where the cracks were and what was missing and what was broken. Now with all this time and all this time spent at home, I've noticed those things and I've really put a considerable amount against Starbucks money and cleaning money and going out to dinner money into doing pretty significant renovations in my own living space, not always to expand, but certainly to modernize and to practicalize that space. I think to Richard's point, and to your point, Michael, you're always going to need... You can't completely divest yourself of real estate. That doesn't necessarily mean we have to continue in the 1960s '70s, '80s version of the edifice complex -- not Oedipus but edifice complex -- where the Jewish community needed bigger congregations, bigger campuses, 32 acres this. I don't necessarily think it's about size, but I do think multipurpose spaces, we need to look at that and really reconsider. I'm not suggesting we do, or we don't, but the whole idea, and I know you go through this where you are versus where we are here. Do we need gyms in JCCs? That's an interesting debate that I know is going on system wide in the JCC movement. There's plenty of alternative places where you can get great equipment and work out, but some people believe that you do need to have a central place. There's no easy answer to these things. I do think it's going to be fascinating. I know that on the space that we sit here, a considerable amount of money, time and attention has been put into making sure we have sensors in our bathrooms and you don't have to touch things. I think we're better equipped than many doctor's offices that I go to where, where you still have to turn the handles of the bathroom or flush the toilet with your hands. These are all considerations and I believe consumers notice those things. I know I do. I feel a lot better when I can stick my hand under a sink and not have to turn a knob. I actually appreciate an organization that has gone to that kind of trouble.

Adrian McIntyre:

There are three strands of this conversation I'd love to see if we can pull together. I'm the adjacent anthropologist in the mix here. I'm curious for the three of you leading the organizations that you do, if we could talk a little bit about something Rich alluded to earlier, which is the changing demographics of the Jewish community here in the Valley, but more generally as well. Some of those shifts. And then now this opportunity to rethink the way you structure programs and facilities and the way you connect and serve those people. Then the third strand of course is the charitable giving and the philanthropy, the endowments, the donor over seed funds, et cetera. How do you bring this all together? If we take Marty's suggestion to look at this agnostically as a potential opportunity, not just as something terrible that happened, the worst year of our lives and so on. Maybe not the worst year ever, there's been worse years. But how could you then, thinking forward ... what are some of the opportunities that you see now for reaching different dimensions of the community with different ways of connecting with them, and then bringing that funding dimension in? What are some of the unique ways this could turn out that we haven't seen before? If we don't just return to the way we always have done it, we use this as a way to rethink, rebuild, et cetera. What's on your mind? Rabbi Beyo, let's start with you, and then we'll just work our way around. What are you thinking about right now with regard to those three things?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I'm not sure that I have complete answers. I think that at least for me, I'm still very much in the brainstorming thought process, but I do ... There are a number of realizations or conclusions that I have come or me and my leadership have come to. Cash is king. And we thank God are doing well. And that is because over the years, we learned to do a lot with little. Did this crisis hurt us? Absolutely yes. We lost a lot of money both directly and indirectly, but we're going to be around. We're okay compared to other organizations that maybe did different choices. When it comes to fundraising, my fiscal year is a little bit different than others because it's not a calendar year. I go from August to July. What I am seeing right now is that we are doing okay for this year. I am seeing a number of new donors. I'm seeing a number of older donors that may be are scaling down a little bit, but the others have scaled up. I don't have a final answer yet. I don't know what's going to be. I've no idea how I'm going to end my fiscal year, or I have no idea how I'm going to know what next year is going to be. Right now I really don't know. But what I do know, as far as we're concerned is that cash is king, you need to be nimble and humble and pivot every day. When it comes to programming, right now we're still in Covid, everybody's doing Zoom programs. Yes, I could attract people from all over the country to come to my programs, but also the people that used to come to my programs don't have a need to come to my programs because they can go to anywhere else in the world, right? We need to come up with programs that are unique, that only we offer in order to retain that connection. We're doing hundreds of phone calls a day just to maintain what was the physical connection. I think that those are small steps to create longer impacts that are so important. If we're going to make mistakes, I want those mistakes to be as quick as possible so that we can pivot as quickly as possible. That's my one-cent answer.

Adrian McIntyre:

Rich, what are you seeing about how changing demographics in the community, responding to different programming opportunities and the changing nature of funding? What do you see there as the future?

Rich Kasper:

Again, I said this before, we're all speculating. But one of the things that I think is changing a lot is when you talk about cash is king, it's revenue models need to change. And this crisis has really shined a bright light on that issue. For the last, I don't know, maybe 20 years or so, it's been very popular to talk about nonprofit organizations as businesses and that they should be running like businesses. And the fact of the matter is they are businesses, but they are different than for-profit businesses. But we have often applauded organizations and encouraged them to turn away to a great extent from philanthropy and focus on fee-for-service models. We've been applauding those organizations, right? That are bringing in revenue because people want to pay for it. And we congratulate them and as what wonderful successes they are in that regard. One of the things that we've seen is many of the organizations in our community that are struggling the most right now are the ones that have become most dependent on that model, because it turns out when people can't receive those services, they often are not inclined to pay for them. And so I think we probably need to return maybe not swing the pendulum all the way back to where it used to be, but to find a healthier mid-point with a renewed emphasis, not just for the organizations, but for the community on philanthropy. Because philanthropy needs to be there even when the services can't be, in order to sustain those organizations. When you can't have those ... when you're depending on people walking through the door to drop their kids off for a preschool program or for a day camp or something like that, and you can't offer those services anymore, you still have to pay the bills. You want to keep your employees on the payroll as long as you possibly can, right? To support them. You've got to pay for your facilities. All of those things don't go away. I think there really does need to be a reexamination of how we fund our organizations in the community. You really see that, I think in the synagogues. The ones that have been hurting the most, or have had to do the most work to get through this are the ones that have relied on heavily on the preschool, for example, to fund the rest of the congregation. And the ones that don't have that have the smaller facilities maybe, and that don't have the fee-for-service revenue model have gotten through a little bit better. In this case, it's because wealthier donors are actually doing just fine right now because the market has been extraordinary, and wealthier people are invested, and they have the means to be contributing for the most part. I think that's one thing. The other thing, and this really, I don't know if it's ... I don't think the pandemic has necessarily refocused us on this, but you mentioned the changing demographics. As Jewish organizations and as Jewish community, we've spent the last, well, my entire lifetime, as far as I can remember fretting about what is the future of the Jewish community going to be, who is it going to be? Are our children going to raise Jewish children and have Jewish families? And the fact of the matter is Jewish families look different now than they did 50 years ago. There are a lot more people that identify as gay or as people of color who also identify as Jewish in a very public way and want to embrace a Jewish community that embraces them back. And there's certainly plenty of growth opportunity there for us to do that. That's a big demand that I think I will say, I think the Phoenix Jewish community has not done a very good job of outreach and embracing Jews who want to be part of the Jewish community, but are not necessarily the mirror image of the Jewish families that many of us grew up in. That's another thing. I don't think the pandemic is the reason that has changed, but maybe it has caused us to speed up our desire to respond to that demand.

Adrian McIntyre:

We've got just a couple of minutes left. Marty, we'll give you the last word on this. Changing demographics, funding, programming. You've mentioned several things already, but what are your thoughts on the future?

Marty Haberer:

I think Rich was really heading at the very end there where I was going to go. That is that I do believe that demographics are changing rapidly. They were changing before Covid. Covid puts a magnifier on them, I believe. For instance, interfaith couples, right? Again, you can judge whether that's good or bad, some people would tell you what a terrible thing that is. Other people will tell you that what a natural American thing assimilation is. As Richard pointed out, I don't think we do a particularly good job in the emerging gay community. I think we do an equally lousy job in the interfaith couple, trying to bring value to interfaith couples in terms of wanting to be involved in the Jewish community, making them feel welcome, providing meaningful, impactful programming. I think as you mentioned, as we head to the last word on it, I really do think it requires our organizations to re-look at our mission statements. I think this is a great opportunity to re-brand ourselves. One of the things I think about is today I'd like my Jewish organization to be an engine for collaborative Jewish engagement. And people just look and feel and think differently than they did 20 years ago. There's a whole different way to be. And we just have to be caught up with that. We can't live in the 1950, '60s or '70s because they're over. We may glorify that and we may love the Beatles, but guess what? There's some new rock 'n' roll out there today, and we have to be listening to those tunes and be aware of what people are listening to.

Adrian McIntyre:

Rabbi, you've spoken on this show, and will continue to do so in future episodes, about your own personal journey from an ultra-Orthodox upbringing through your rabbinical training, through the many different places you've lived in the United States, to where you are now. As we wrap up the show, you've just heard Rich and Marty talk about some of those challenges and some of those gaps. What do you see needs to happen to address these concerns, inclusivity, outreach, and so on?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I think that the reality is, as Marty said, it doesn't matter whether we like it or don't like it, the reality is for example, at my JCC that the overwhelming majority of our Jewish families are interfaith families. That's our reality. I embrace that reality. I welcome that reality because that is our reality. If we want those families to be connected with our center, with our community in general, with the various Jewish organizations, we need to first of all, understand that we are not the jury and the judge of what is right when it comes to how somebody chooses to express their Judaism. Everybody Judaism... As we say that Judaism has 613 mitzvot commandments, and I can assure you that I don't perform all of them. Some of them, I don't perform even willingly. Bad Jew. So we perform some, we perform others. We pick and choose, we all pick and choose how to express our Judaism. Yes, my Jewish journey has taught me that I am not the judge, nor the jury on how somebody chooses to express their Judaism. And what I can do is to give a platform on how different people can express their Judaism. However, they choose to express it, I want to be there to help them in that journey. So, yes, I welcome, as Marty said a, browner community, a gayer community, yes. All of that. The more is the better maybe. So that then we can be a better community.

Adrian McIntyre:

Rabbi Michael Beyo is CEO of the East Valley JCC. Joined for this conversation by Rich Kasper, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, and Marty Haberer, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. Thanks to all of you for this rich and interesting conversation.

Rich Kasper:

Thanks for having us.

Adrian McIntyre:

If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe to Conversation with the Rabbi on your favorite podcast app. You can also find the latest episodes online at ConversationWithTheRabbi.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I'm Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Conversation with the Rabbi.

Show artwork for Conversation with the Rabbi

About the Podcast

Conversation with the Rabbi
Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, talks with an eclectic mix of faith-based and secular leaders from around the world.
In an era of political division and polarized debate, we are losing our ability to hear each other. The volume of our disagreements is at an all-time high, while our ability to communicate with kindness and empathy is at an all-time low. This podcast seeks to change that by engaging people from different backgrounds and beliefs in good old-fashioned conversation.

Listen in as Rabbi Michael Beyo and anthropologist Dr. Adrian McIntyre spend time listening, sharing, and discovering common ground in an effort to understand and appreciate the wondrous diversity of our human family. From interfaith dialogues to discussions with business and nonprofit leaders, this podcast shines a spotlight on the different ways we can learn to live, work, and worship together in a contentious and conflicted world.

We invite you to use these conversations as a lens to open up new understandings of self and the other, to develop empathy for diverse viewpoints, and to explore what is possible when we listen to others with respect.

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

About your hosts

Rabbi Michael Beyo

Profile picture for Rabbi Michael Beyo
Rabbi Michael Beyo is CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center in Chandler, Arizona. He was born in Milan, Italy and has lived in Italy, England, France, Israel, and the United States. An Orthodox Jewish scholar with a successful career providing religious guidance to all the Jewish denominations, he was ordained as a rabbi in Israel, where he earned three Rabbinical Ordinations of the highest honor. In 2015 Rabbi Beyo moved to Arizona from Atlanta, where he had served as the Chief Development Officer for Hillel of Georgia, overseeing 12 colleges and universities. Prior to that he served as the Executive Director and Rabbi of Boston University Hillel, as well as the Jewish Chaplain for Boston University. Rabbi Beyo brings over 25 years of professional, entrepreneurial and non-profit experience in education, cultural, humanitarian, social and religious sectors. He successfully ran several start-ups in Israel before dedicating his career to the nonprofit world.

Adrian McIntyre, PhD

Profile picture for Adrian McIntyre, PhD
Dr. Adrian McIntyre is a social scientist, storytelling strategist, and internationally recognized authority on effective communication. His on-air experience began in 1978 at the age of five as a co-host of "The Happy Day Express," the longest-running children's radio program in California history. Adrian earned his PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation research fellow. He spent nearly a decade in the Middle East and Africa as a researcher, journalist, and media spokesperson for two of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world. Today he advises and trains entrepreneurs, executives, and corporate teams on high-performance communication, the power of storytelling, and how to leverage digital media to build a personal leadership brand.