Global Jewish Reflections | The Torah of JDC: A JDC Entwine Leader Reflects on Simchat Torah
Miriam Bader, a JDC Entwine leader, writes about the meaning of Simchat Torah and the values that guide JDC life.
By Miriam Bader - Director of Program Design and Organizational Development, JDC Entwine | September 27, 2021
Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.
Simchat Torah is both an end and a beginning, a time when we complete a year’s worth of Torah reading and start anew. In this reflection, Miriam Bader, Director of Program Design and Organizational Development at JDC Entwine, reflects on the meaning of the word “Torah,” and what she believes are the three guiding principles of JDC life.
Every year on Simchat Torah, the very last day of the Jewish fall festival of Sukkot, people gather for one last hurrah — to literally Simchat Torah(“Rejoice around the Torah”). During this annual tradition, we complete the yearly cycle of reading the five books of the Hebrew bible and begin the next year’s cycle. It’s a holiday about endings, beginnings, and the joy of revisiting the past with a fresh perspective. You might think a book that’s been read thousands of times would get stale, but Simchat Torah reminds us that because we are always changing, our understanding of our story will always carry new insights and is therefore worthy of another look — and then another one after that.
While the word “Torah” typically references the ancient books of the Hebrew Bible, it can also just mean simply “core teachings” or “guidance.” That’s why I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on and rejoice in the “Torah” of JDC — the central organizational teachings I have had the joy to learn these last four years as JDC Entwine’s director of design and organizational development.
Here is the Torah of JDC in my own words: Join together. Build mutual relationships. Let go of your ego. These three teachings are interrelated and carry more than 100 years of organizational wisdom and history. These three interrelated teachings are carried within 100 years of organizational history and within the stories of the people I have had the good fortune to meet. They give direction and aspiration for a future we can all rejoice in.
JDC has always brought diverse peoples to the table. The word “Joint” is baked into our very name and DNA. As today’s political climate erases nuance and makes it harder to exit individual silos, it’s important to join together across difference. One of JDC’s core operating principles is to “respect diverse Jews’ beliefs and decisions to live wherever they choose.” I revisited this line again and again as JDC Entwine developed its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging initiative. It holds the wisdom of multiplicity — the way Jewishness is powerfully expansive. We don’t all look alike, want the same things, or see issues the same way. We are multiethnic, multiracial, multiheritage, multicultural, and ever-evolving. This principle reminds us to create Jewish spaces that are courageous, equitable, and inclusive — places where individuals can freely share their personal needs, all in exchange with each other.
Build Mutual Relationships
At JDC, we seek to be responsive to the local needs of the communities we lift up.
People are at the center of JDC’s work, and strong relationships guide our strategy. Our founding Jewish value — arevut, often defined as “Jewish mutual responsibility,” — encompasses the awareness, connection, and sense of accountability we seek to cultivate in our relationships. Arevut isn’t about imposing one’s views onto another person. It’s about listening. And listening more. At JDC, we seek to be responsive to the local needs of the communities we lift up. We don’t work where we don’t have partners on the ground, people who are part of the community — because it’s community members who are best equipped to lead. Arevut requires the humility to see that giving and receiving are part of the same essential process. One is not more important or inherently more powerful. Both of these elements define us, and are critical to forging healthy relationships.
Let Go of Your Ego
The first time I heard about JDC was in a college class on Jewish American History. At the time, I had no idea that the organization existed beyond my textbook. Though JDC had never ceased building Jewish life and saving Jewish lives since its founding in 1914, its policy of keeping a low profile meant I was unfamiliar with its life-saving initiatives. Many of JDC’s projects don’t bear its name — it was never about taking the credit or doing the same work forever. Within this lies one of my favorite JDC truths: Our ultimate success would be a world that does not need JDC, where the communities we support would be fully self-sufficient, having the tools they needed to help face whatever was coming. As we begin next year’s Torah cycle, I rejoice that JDC helps Jews everywhere achieve this goal.
Miriam Bader serves as the director of program design and organizational development at JDC Entwine, where she designs content that inspires young Jewish leaders to make a global difference. Bader is a learning designer with years of expertise developing dynamic programming that facilitates reflection, connection, and leadership development. She is passionate about creating innovative content that elevates our shared humanity and celebrates our diversity.