Seth Cohen is Director of Network Development for the Schusterman Family Foundation.
“Welcome to the family.”
With these four words, Lynn cemented the change that had been percolating for several months and would send my professional life in an exhilarating, challenging and unpredictable new direction.
Rather than remain a corporate attorney and partner with a national law firm, I had decided to join the professional team of a philanthropic family possessing a broad vision of helping others realize their full potential, particularly within the two communities closest to their hearts: k’lal Yisrael—Jewish peoplehood—and the people in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The opportunity to join Team Schusterman coincides with the desire of the Foundation to embark on a new and complementary agenda of helping connect and strengthen networks of Jewish life together in ways that match the dynamic and evolving nature of today’s world—fast paced, rapidly changing, hyper connected. While new to the Schusterman family, in many ways I feel like the experiences I have had and the networks in which I have lived have prepared me for this new challenge. The past 13 years of my professional career have provided experiences and skills that I believe will help us as we begin to connect and animate new networks of individuals in creative ways.
From off-road meetings in entrepreneurs’ garages to the high-stakes negotiations in the offices of Fortune 10 companies, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the brightest attorneys and smartest business people in the world, helping them to craft solutions to complex problems and often times needing to bridge different corporate cultures to find common solutions.
That alone would have made for a satisfying career. But I was also fortunate to work for firms who encouraged me to explore and get involved in issues and ideas that inspired me—whether it was fighting for civil rights in Georgia, supporting a new approach to battling chronic homelessness, advocating for a strong U.S.-Israel relations or helping to create a stronger and more diverse Jewish community in Atlanta and beyond.
These experiences not only taught me a different set of skills, but they introduced me to a new world of volunteers and professionals in the non-profit sector, many of whom became and remain my brightest of mentors. What I learned is that it is not just any one person or organization that can effect change—it is the weaving together of these individuals and organizations into networks that can ultimately achieve our greater common aspirations.
All of this makes for an interesting set of personal capabilities—one that I have long felt needed rooting in a Jewish purpose. As is the case with many of you, my Jewish journey is a complex one—a mix of experiences, people and places that have combined in a way that informs much of the way I view and think about Jewish life. But whether it is my summers as a camper and counselor at a Jewish camp in the Pocono Mountains or my transformative experiences as a participant in the Wexner Heritage Program (which took me to Israel for the first time in my life), none of these experiences could have been possible without help and support from others.
So now I too have the privilege to “pay it forward” and be part of helping others create meaningful Jewish experiences for themselves and their peers. Like many of you, this is not just a personal passion but a family one as well. I am lucky that as I start this new journey, I do so with my wife and best friend, Marci, who has never hesitated to encourage me to pursue my passions, wherever they lead. For me, Marci and our three children, this is a new journey that will not be without its challenges but that will ultimately enrich us all as we expand our personal network of friends well beyond Atlanta.
I am also fortunate to have the chance to learn my new profession as part of a team of professionals that spans from Tulsa, OK, to Washington, D.C., to Jerusalem, Israel, and embodies the warmth and spirit of the Schusterman vision. These caring and creative individuals have the expertise, experience and willingness to learn that I know will prove exceptionally helpful as we navigate new waters together. The Foundation is, at its core, a learning organization—exploring new ways to help effect change, from supporting the organizations that help create community to connecting and developing networks and individuals that live within those communities.
Nothing, however, inspires me more about my new role than Lynn Schusterman, the spirit with which Lynn and Charles embarked upon their philanthropic journey together and the values that she and her family continue to deeply hold. Their deep love of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, their unparalleled sense of opportunity, excellence and risk-taking, and their remarkably generous commitment to the causes and communities that they hold dear all motivate me to look at this opportunity with an equally deep sense of commitment, humility and responsibility.
Today, on my first day of this new journey and as we launch the Foundation’s new agenda to help identify, connect, support and create networks of young Jewish adults to create Jewish experiences for themselves, their peers and their communities, I am already learning my first lesson. I realize when Lynn was welcoming me to her family, it was not just her family of professionals but her family in the larger sense. The Schustermans and CLSFF are part of a broader family —the global Jewish community, a family of which we are all a part. It is a family with a long and storied past and an inspiring and undeniable homeland, but also one with an equally long and bright future—a future that we all have the opportunity to help create together in a more connected and networked way.
Even though we have experience as a Foundation working with a multitude of networks, we are just beginning our journey of learning how to deepen our efforts as part of our overall approach to community development and support. We have a great amount to discover, and we will look to many of you to help us help you in new and different ways. While we believe that the Foundation can be a resource in helping to explore ways where the heart of Jewish Peoplehood can meet the science of network theory, we are looking forward to testing that belief by using new approaches and creating new partnerships, all while truly reimagining the way a foundation can interact with networks of individuals.
It is no small task, but we believe that our investment in the effort ahead is important for us as a Foundation, the networks of Jewish life that we know (and don’t yet know) and, ultimately and more importantly, for our global Jewish family.
So with that, I can’t help but think of four more words that Sandy said to me last night:
“Let’s get to work!”
If you have thoughts, questions, feedback or even just want to introduce yourself, I invite you to reach out to me at email@example.com.