Silence Is Not An Option

This morning, the David Posnack Hebrew Day School and the entire Posnack JCC in Davie (and JCC’s across the country) were evacuated after receiving a bomb threat. It is my understanding that the police have given the all clear and students, teachers and JCC members and staff have returned to the Posnack complex. I want to assure you that we remain vigilant and are in regular contact with law enforcement.

Yesterday, another Jewish cemetery, this time in Philadelphia, was vandalized. The ADL has put up a $10,000 reward to help find the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Please join me in supporting the work of the ADL. Click here to make a donation:

In addition, please call President Trump and ask him to denounce these hate crimes directed against our community, do everything in his power to support the American Jewish community and ensure that all resources are being utilized to investigate these acts of hate.  The White House phone number is: (202) 456-1111. In addition, please deliver the same message to Senators Rubio (202) 224-3041 and Senator Nelson (202) 224-5274. We can’t be silent.

A BDS Leader’s Fundraising Campaign Leaves Me Stumped

This week, the Jewish community continued to be rocked to its core by anti-Semitic acts, including more bomb threats called into Jewish institutions across the country and the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emeth, a Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri. While the President has been criticized by many for his delayed response to this hatred, the outpouring of support that the cemetery has received has been tremendous. The Vice-President visited the cemetery on Wednesday along with people of all different faiths to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community. Our own Julie Cole, a student at Washington University, has worked with her Hillel to raise funds needed to repair the damage done to the cemetery, which is just ten minutes from her apartment. Many other individuals and organizations are doing the same thing, including Linda Sarsour, the outgoing Executive Director of the Arab American Association of NY, a former Democratic National Convention delegate (she was a supporter of Bernie Sanders) and an organizer of last month’s Women’s March on Washington. Ms. Sarsour, in partnership with Tarek El-Messidi of Celebrate Mercy, has raised more than $100,000 for the cemetery on

During this challenging time, it’s extremely meaningful to see so many people from various faiths and backgrounds reach out and support the Jewish community. This being said, I’m struggling with Ms. Sarsour’s support. My struggle is based on a larger struggle I have with “intersectionality,” the trendy, sociological term that describes how different groups that form around various religious, socio-economic, national, racial, ethnic and/or gender identities can, at times, share a common struggle. Unquestionably, both the American Jewish and Muslim communities have been confronted with terrible hate and violence. We do understand, to an extent, each other’s pain and fear and must stand with each other during these trying times. Many members of the Jewish community have supported the Muslim community when they have faced acts of hate, and I’m grateful to all members of the Muslim community who have supported our community – including those who have given to Ms. Sarsour’s Launchgood fund – when the hate has been directed at us.

This being said, Ms. Sarsour is a staunch advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) which is designed to delegitimize the State of Israel. Democratic Senator Chuck Shumer states very clearly that BDS is a “modern form of anti-Semitism.” And the Anti-Defamation League, which has stood in opposition to all forms of Islamaphobia, states:

The delegitimization of Israel is at the heart of contemporary anti-Semitism. BDS is one of its most visible and dangerous manifestations.  ADL is committed to exposing the bigotry at the core of the movement and discrediting the leaders of BDS.

Ms. Sarsour, who has built strong relationships with some American Jewish organizations and leaders, claims she’s not an anti-Semite. Her strong support of BDS (watch Ms. Sarsour testify on behalf of BDS in NYC last September here), however, tells a different story. And her hateful comments about Zionists drive this story home:



Interestingly, while organizers of the Women’s March on Washington worked hard to keep Israel-Palestine issues from being part of last month’s protest, Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the BDS Movement did keep some individuals and organizations from participating.

In addition to being a staunch BDS advocate, Ms. Sarsour believes that the solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis is a one-state solution, a solution that will ensure a Palestinian majority and, thus, the end of the Jewish State (yes, during the press conference with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this month, you heard about a one-state solution that would favor Israelis). Ms. Sarsour states:

I don’t think a two-state solution is viable, is logistically possible…My hope is that it will be one state, one man one vote, that everyone is treated equally. Then you can say that part of the world is a true democracy.

Ms. Sarsour, who has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny lately, believes that by supporting the restoration of the graves at Chesed Shel Emeth, we can send “a united message…from the Jewish and Muslim communities that” makes it clear that “there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America.” I certainly agree that as two powerful religious communities, we do have the ability to send such a message. However, I personally believe that Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the delivery of this message is completely inappropriate and inauthentic to her position and the position of many of us in the Jewish community.

Pinned to the top of Ms. Sarsour’s Twitter account is the following tweet:


Sadly, Ms. Sarsour has no problem denying the rights of others to exist. We see this in her support of the BDS Movement. We also see her reject those who want to stand up to Islamaphobia but don’t meet all of her requirements. When Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, promised to register as a Muslim if the Trump administration created a religious database, Ms. Sarsour attacked Mr. Greenblatt’s promise by tweeting:



Ms. Sarsour belittles Mr. Greenblatt’s support because the ADL has come out againstCongressman Keith Ellison becoming the chair of the Democratic National Committee due to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements he made. You can read the ADL’s statement on Congressman Ellison here.

Back in November, American Muslims for Palestine (an organization that, according to the ADL, promotes anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views) held their Annual Convention for Palestine in Chicago. Ms. Sarsour spoke at the convention saying (you can also hear a recording of her speaking these words here):

We have limits to the type of friendships that we’re looking for right now…and I want to be friends with those whom I know have been steadfast, courageous, have been standing up and protecting their own communities, those who have taken the risk to stand up and say – we are with the Palestinian people, we unequivocally support BDS when it comes to Palestinian human rights and have been attacked viciously by the very people who are telling you that they’re about to stand on the front line of the Muslim registry program. No thank you, sisters and brothers.

Ms. Sarsour told NPR earlier this week that her fundraising effort for Chesed Shel Emeth is “another way for us to publicly defy the idea that Muslims and Jews can’t get along.” However, her comments at the American Muslims for Palestine convention, comments which are very similar to her pinned tweet posted above, make it explicitly clear: if you don’t share her views on BDS and the Palestinian cause, you are no friend. And if you are an Israeli, she will work tirelessly to undermine your country’s legitimacy. How does this encourage Muslims and Jews to get along?

As troubled as I am by Ms. Sarsour’s statements, she has every right to say them and believe in them. But, her positions highlight the absurdity of intersectionality here.  She wants the Jewish community to join her and stand up to hate. But, in order for us to do so, to genuinely stand with her, she has one major condition: we must support the delegitimization of the Jewish State – a condition that many of us see as anti-Semitic – a condition that is grounded in hate.

There are those who believe that, despite Ms. Sarsour’s condition, her effort to help Chesed Shel Emeth is admirable. Some American Jews can separate the hateful rhetoric of BDS from the well-being of the American Jewish community. I can’t. Working to undermine the existence of the Jewish State is, as Senator Shumer states, anti-Semitism. And anti-Semitism is hate that is dangerous to Jews in Israel, in America and across the globe. I can’t enter into a partnership with someone who threatens the very survival of Israel.

Many of us in the Jewish community stand in opposition to BDS and in support of the ADL. Given this, Ms. Sarsour would not befriend us, making it extremely difficult to stand together against the desecration of Chesed Shel Emeth. And this leaves me struggling to figure out why Ms. Sarsour is raising funds for the cemetery. Is it a good will gesture? A show of compassion? An attempt to build bridges? If she dropped the condition to unequivocally support BDS – perhaps. But, since this condition is still very much on the table as Ms. Sarsour leaves her position at the Arab American Association of NY and lands in the national spotlight, I can’t help but wonder if this is a well-orchestrated public relations campaign. If so, it’s worked exceptionally well. Everyone is talking about Ms. Sarsour’s support of the Chesed Shel Emeth. But, for those of us whose pro-Israel and anti-BDS positions would keep Ms. Sarsour from befriending us, we’re willing to be the “out of key instruments” in that well-orchestrated campaign. While on the surface, Ms. Sarsour’s support of the cemetery seems like a beautiful effort to unite the Jewish and Muslim communities, when we dig deeper it is clear that there are more genuine ways for Jews to support the restoration of Chesed Shel Emeth. I encourage you to learn more about Washington University’s Hillel fundraiser by clicking here. And, as always, I urge you to do your homework before you give your resources and lend your name to a cause.


I’m Running For One Family



As we continue to struggle with the myriad of political issues facing our nation, it’s important that we not overlook other challenges going on in the world – especially the continued violence in Israel. While it wasn’t reported on much here in the United States, at least five people were hurt in Petah Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv, when a Palestinian terrorist shot passengers on a bus and stabbed another person in the street yesterday. Also failing to get much media coverage yesterday were the rockets that hit the southern Israeli city of Eilat – rockets that were launched by the Sinai division of ISIS which might be in partnership with Hamas. Fortunately, no injuries or damage were reported in Eilat.

The individuals who were injured yesterday in Petah Tikva join a group that no one wants to be a part of – a group that is made up of too many men, women and children – a group of survivors who struggle to move forward with their lives, overcome the trauma they experienced and find the courage to be a part of society where terrorism is a harsh reality. Many of these survivors are helped by One Family Fund, a remarkable Israeli organization that provides individualized rehabilitation programs, financial assistance, legal help and personal encouragement to each victim of terror. Their 37 expert staff members, 731 volunteers and four assistants in Israel do incredible and much needed work. The late President Shimon Peres showed his gratitude for One Family Fund by awarding the organization the Presidential Citation for Volunteerism in 2011.

A few weeks ago, I was offered a spot on the One Family Fund NYC Half Marathon Team. Knowing how important this organization is, I jumped at the opportunity to let folks know about One Family Fund and help them raise the resources needed to support their clients. I am proud to be running the NYC Half Marathon as part of One Family Fund and in memory of Yael Yekutiel, Shir Hajaj, Shira Tzur and Erez Orbach – the Israeli soldiers who were killed by a terrorist in Jerusalem last month. You can learn more about the organization here. If you would like to support the work that they do, I invite you to help sponsor my race here. You can also make a check out to One Family Fund and leave it for me in the office.

Do We Want A Drill Or A Hole?


When we buy a drill are we really buying a drill or are we seeking to buy the holes a drill can make?

I spent this week at the annual CLAL/Rabbis Without Borders Retreat in Baltimore, MD. While there, I had the opportunity to learn with Erin Satterwhite, the Vice-President of Innovation at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. You might be wondering why a group of rabbis would spend time with a leader in the healthcare industry. Her commitment to innovation is one that we need to foster within the Jewish community and, as you can see from her own words below, she believes that the same principles that guide her in the healthcare industry can guide us within our synagogues and other Jewish organizations.

You can find Erin’s words below.

Keynote Speech Delivered by Erin Satterwhite

CLAL/Rabbis Without Borders Annual Retreat

Edited slightly for this letter

I am so honored to be here with you today.  I have to admit it was more than a little intimidating preparing for this – you after all speak publicly for a living, me only on occasion, and you also happen to know a thing or two about innovation.

I am an innovation professional and am also lucky to be on the CLAL board.  A little background on me – I grew up in Minnesota and Texas, and spent the last three years just outside of New York City, before moving back to Minnesota to be closer to my family.  I do yoga, I run, and I get to hang around some pretty amazing organizations who are doing great social innovations.

In my professional life, I started as a biological scientist which shapes a lot of the way I think.  I went on and did new product invention and development at 3M, got into innovation in a pretty big way, and got a few things launched in my time both at 3M and later at Bayer.  You might actually have seen one (of my products) on TV – Aleve Direct Therapy, which was my baby at Bayer (the aspirin company).  Shameless plug – If anyone is struggling with lower back pain – check this out – remote controlled and discreet pain management using electromedicine!

I left Bayer last summer and now am privileged to lead Innovation at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota looking at new ways to make a healthy difference in people’s lives.  So that’s me.

(Like you,) I too have had great ideas that could really make a difference, really solve a problem, but…

Fundamentally people do not want to change the way they do things, which makes it hard to find any funding, to get a bureaucracy to work for you, or align incentives to a new and better path

No matter where you work, or what you are trying to improve, the themes are the same… this is our reality.  Resistance to change and failures are part of our reality.

My journey as an innovator started with an early failure <show picture of my “suction cup Band-Aid”>… I did this in my third grade inventor’s fair.  You are probably shocked that it didn’t win… but this didn’t stop me from proudly sending it to Johnson & Johnson in hopes that it would be their next great thing.  It was great when they actually wrote me back… thanking me but encouraging a “continued pursuit of inventing solutions to problems,” … alas, another fail.

While the suction cup Band-Aid was clearly going nowhere…It matters that we do actually succeed in solving problems.  Because, we have a lot of them.  The world needs people who do the hard work to make it a better place, to fight disorder, ignorance and hate, and create simplicity, order, peace and love.

All of us are motivated by something intrinsic.  The idea for my suction cup Band-Aid was founded in a desire to make it better for people like me because when I was nine months old, I suffered a traumatic burn.

It was the result of my early curiosity.  In fact, my first words were “what’s that?” So when my mother turned her back for a brief second, I gave the tablecloth a tug and the hot tea came tumbling off, splashing my left side.  My desire to know “what’s that” turned into a life changing event.

Growing up I didn’t know any different.  I had no memories of a life without my large scar, or my regular surgeries.  I became fascinated with healthcare and wanted to make it better.

My burn could have killed me, either from shock, or infection.  I was a lucky little girl due to my wonderful family and doctors.  And now over 33 years and 13 surgeries later, here I stand.

I am a healthcare innovator.  My job is essentially to help big legacy organizations stay competitive in a changing landscape.  I focus on ENABLING NEW MODELS for how people are going to get their health related jobs done.  Whether it was making hospitals safer, helping people get relief from their back pain, or now delivering healthcare to people rather than expecting them to be delivered to the care, my career has been an evolution of my life.

I find meaning in helping make the experience of being a patient better, because I was a patient, and because I grew up knowing that when I see something that needs to change – who but me is responsible for seeing that change happen.

As the oldest of three girls, you might think my burn trauma was a seminal event in my parents lives… however I have a special sister who was born 16 months after my injury, and the gift of her presence has had a far greater impact on our lives.

It is pretty shocking to hear this now, but when she was born a doctor came into the room to inform my mother that her baby girl was ‘Mongoloid’ – a callus, racist description for what is commonly known today as Down Syndrome.  This was the state of things in an uninformed, unempathetic culture of the early 80’s.

My parents found themselves adrift.  Nobody in the hospital told them what this means…Will she talk?  Walk?  Will she bathe herself?  Will she have friends, learn in school, go to dances, or play sports?  Will she love?  Will she live, and, for how long?

Knowing something needed to be done, coffee cups in hand, my mom sat around kitchen tables with other parents and planned what would become the Minnesota Down Syndrome Association.

As Emma grew older, my dad saw a gap in her access to sports, so he started a delegation of Special Olympics, which grew over 10 years under my dad’s leadership from 20 to 200 athletes, multiple year-round sports and his second full-time job.  A pretty amazing success.

As innovators, it is pretty remarkable when our efforts to start something new actually result in lasting success, in fact it is remarkably rare – about 9 in 10 startups fail, whether in Silicon Valley, social innovation, or corporate R&D.  It is too easy to take the rare successes for granted, and not understand the mechanics behind what enables success, or perhaps, what enabled them to avoid failure.

(We’ve all had ideas that have failed).  My guess is – (many of these failures were) not because of laziness or lack of hard work, because hard work is just the table stakes.

Great ideas fail all the time because of cultural misalignment, incomplete understanding of the customer’s problem, lack of testing and learning, the forces of competition and most dangerously – because the ideas are not on the vector of where the market is heading.

These are the challenges I deal with EVERY DAY.  My job is to get big organizations to create and capture new value by fundamentally shifting the way they do business.  My team has to fight the Goliath establishment, navigate bureaucratic loopholes, and adjust our vectors constantly.

Hence the nervous tick that comes up occasionally… maybe you have developed one too?

So how do we stay sane?

We do know why things fail, but more importantly, we know how to play the game and minimize the big failures.  It does not mean we always succeed, in fact we probably fail more.  But because we know the rules of innovation, we fail faster, cheaper, we learn more, and we move on to the next idea sooner.  Failure is not the enemy.  Failure is also not to be lauded.  Failure becomes not an event but a part of the process to achieving success.

So, at one point you might have been saying – what do you mean customers and markets?  I serve people, I lead religious journeys, I do not sell things to people.  Well, if you do not think time is currency – think again.  People’s time is real, tangible, and finite and there is fierce competition for it.  The average life span has only 27, 375 days.  People spend their time on the things that align to what they value, and if your ideas do not create value in their framework, you are unlikely to capture their time.  They might actually choose the museum over minyan!

We can all agree that we have customers to serve. Let’s take a look at the main causes for innovation to fail when we try to serve them, and the best way to avoid that failure:

  1. The competitive strategy is wrong.  Look, competition is fierce – and you took the big established entity head-on.  You picked a fight with the big guys and are now taking away their best customers.  Solution: disrupt as a strategy.   Find customers that are not being served today and create a solution that they can access, afford, and use with minimal skill.
  1. The next failure mechanism is misalignment.  The incentives or features of the idea do not fit the current culture of the organization you are in, and they shut it down.  Solution: break off from the mothership and get more autonomy, rely as little on the existing organization as possible, and you have a much better shot at keeping it alive.
  1. The problem was not well defined. Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”  If the problem is not defined well, through the lens of the customer, chances are your idea is not going to solve their problem in the most compelling way.  You will have spent the wrong proportion of time solving the problem versus defining it.  The solution to this: an amazing guy named Clay Christensen who has been called the most influential business thinker of our time recommends we use jobs-to-be-done theory to first really understand what outcome your customer is trying to accomplish, not just what they are doing today to get it done.  Think about why you would purchase a quarter inch drill bit – you are actually buying quarter inch holes.  By framing the job, you can frame the problem better, and shape a better idea.
  1. You didn’t approach it as an experiment.  Hypothesize, test, learn, repeat.  This is at the heart of design thinking, and the scientific method.  Iteration yields better results over time, because you can build a prototype, expose it to your customers, let them give you feedback, and make it better.
  1. You were not paranoid enough.  Your idea was great but a better idea came along just a little while later and won your customers over.  Solution: do not get comfortable.  Never rest on your laurels because those who think they will not get disrupted, usually do.  Bill Gates said: “People often overestimate the change that will happen in the next two years, and grossly underestimate the change that will happen in the next ten.”  (Netflix was founded in 1997, Blockbuster filed Ch. 11 bankruptcy 2010).  Innovation is about playing the long game, so be patient if you are creating the future.  Seek external influence for your ideas and build solutions for the customers that others are not serving, because that will lead you to where the market is going, not where it has been.

The human experience is not easy, nor will it ever be.  We innovation people are the constant gardeners of the human experience, planting ideas, fighting the weeds and harvesting value.  There has been no time more important than now that CLAL/Rabbis Without Borders be successful.

The Jewish experience can be a source of beauty, peace and happiness.  It can shape better people.  It can improve the human experience, but only if we remain relevant as the context of our human experience evolves.  Darwin was a deeply religious man, and he is famous for recognizing that “It is not the strongest of the species who survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one who is most responsive to change.”  He did not see this observation standing at odds with religion but in fact strengthening his faith, and uncovering a mechanism of G-d.  He was an innovator…

You are here because you, like me, want to make things better for people.  I believe that Judaism is inherently disruptive, and this is why it has lasted so long in the face of significant religious competition. But what if now the tribal affiliations of religion are shifting to other things?

The times they are a changing… More than ever before, there is real, and big innovation happening that is creating competition for our tribal affiliations – this is all being enabled by new technologies, namely social media.

But those do not concern me, as one might in fact be able to affiliate to infinity.  What we must focus on is the innovation that is competing for the real tangible value of people’s time, from Crossfit, to Netflix, to Snapchat, to (gasp) Tinder.  Darwin might say that the competition in our environment is changing, and it is incumbent on us that Jewish continue to adapt so that it may continue serving people and their jobs-to-be-done.

I’ll conclude with another personal anecdote.  I was not born Jewish, but found it as a destination on my spiritual journey that started with the Lutherans and stopped along the way in atheism and Buddhism.  When I found Judaism, I fell in love!  And it wasn’t just with the people and the food (although the food had a lot to do with it).

I fell in love with the tools of Judaism, all designed with the inherent intent to be a good person who is appreciative of life and its many blessings.  Judaism has made me a better human being.  I appreciate more, I reflect more, and I pause more, especially on Friday nights where I really make sure I enjoy my family and focus on what is good.  I take the principals of teshuvah and tzedakah seriously.  I also have found peace with my inner skeptic because of an inability to define G-d, and in Judaism, that’s ok!  The tools of Judaism spoke to me.  The Jewish people embraced me.  I felt at home.

I do not believe that Jewish is for everyone, but the tools can help a lot of people, Jewish and not, live a more meaningful life.  So I want to give a big Yasher Koach to all of you for being a part of RWB, for taking an active role in making the world a better place, for being innovators.  The world needs your failures to be small and fast, so you can learn, pivot and succeed.

You are part of G-d’s evolutionary mechanism.  And that is a very important job-to-be-done.