Talking with #MakeItHappen Micro Grant Recipient Dan Herman!

  • Team Schusterman

January 17, 2014

Dan Herman is currently the Director of the Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa program. He came to Israel on a one-year program six years ago, with no intention of sticking around afterwards but then got caught up in the world of Jewish service-learning and program development for Jews from around the world. Dan’s idea to coordinate a service-learning experience for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Tel Aviv was recently chosen to receive a $1,000 #MakeItHappen micro grant! To read more about his project and to volunteer to help him #MakeItHappen visit Dan’s idea page.

What three hashtags would you use to describe yourself? #Jewish #AmericanIsraeli #notahashtagkindofguy

What inspired you to apply for a #MakeItHappen micro grant and what do you hope it will achieve?   I have watched our program participants consume knowledge and information while in Israel, but I truly believe that Israelis have just as much to learn from Jews from abroad as we do from them. This event is an opportunity for our participants to share a different view of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century--in this particular case, it's a view that is very firmly rooted in the essence of American Judaism. The #MakeItHappen grant will enable us to create the event that we dreamed of doing and opening up to the public. The ultimate goal of the event, in addition to creating a dialogue that cuts across borders within the Jewish world, is that it will also be a meaningful experience for our participants who are in charge of organizing the event. My hope is that this experience, of planning an event around an issue for which they care about, will inspire them to continue to initiate events and projects in the future in their home communities.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? It might sound a bit kitchy, but our Tikkun Olam participants. Hearing them speak about the incredible work they do at their volunteer and intern sites and seeing the impact that the program has on them gives me an incredible amount of motivation for what I do. That's why, even though there's a lot of behind-the-scenes administrative work to be done, I try to find opportunities to get down to the ground level and hear from our participants whenever possible.

What is one change you want to see in the world?   I'd like to see community make a comeback. Western society seems to be going more and more in an individualist direction. This comes at the expense of a sense of community, one that gives us the opportunity to identify with something larger than ourselves. There seems to be this fear that identifying with something larger is detrimental to independent thinking or personal freedom, but that doesn't have to be true. Community helps us to relate to the world beyond ourselves and, I believe, also enhances our capacity for sympathy.

What is the biggest risk you have taken and how did it pay off?   Probably making Aliyah. I chose to abandon a career path that likely would have enabled me to make a fairly comfortable living without leaving my comfort zone. Instead I would make my home thousands of miles away from family and friends in a country where I was still learning the language. The experience has had its bumps but I would say it has paid off very well. I've managed to build a very fulfilling personal life here in Israel and the professional turn that I took led me to my current job, which is extremely rewarding and constantly presenting me with new and interesting challenges.

Have you ever failed before and what lessons did you learn?   In college I was the head of the Jewish Volunteer Corps through the campus Hillel.  My tenure wasn't a huge failure but I can tell you we didn't do very much that year. On the plus side, no one expected us to do much so if it was a failure, I don't think anyone noticed. That said, I came away from that experience with a conviction that if I'm going to do something, I want to make sure I can give it my all. In general I try not to be afraid of failure--it's not that I actively seek out failure or take stupid risks but when you try something and it doesn't succeed, that's a valuable experience from which you can draw important lessons. Besides, few things worth doing come without risk.

Who are your heroes?   I shy away from the idea of heroes generally--everyone has faults and even the most adored and respected public figures tend to have more going on behind the scenes. Still, I really respect people who are good at what they do or rise to high ranks in their fields while managing to stay humble and grounded. I worked a desk job in the army next to the office of a Lieutenant Colonel; she would always offer to make us coffee in the mornings. That said a lot to me--WE were supposed to be making HER coffee, but despite her high rank, she treated us like people not "underlings." On maybe a more significant level, a couple of years ago I read a biography of Roberto Clemente, who took the power and status he achieved as a baseball player and used it to help those less fortunate--he ultimately died trying to help people in need when no one would have begrudged him for staying home and going about his business.

Where do you find solitude? Either at the library at Tel Aviv University or in my car.

Where do you find community?   I find it in different forms through my work. Whether it's bringing our participants together to learn or celebrate a holiday, or getting together with our program staff to take a load off or even being in the office with others from our organization (we work in an "open space" format where a lot of people working in one big room). It's nice to have a large community with smaller sub-communities and ancillary communities that go along with it.

If you had to give up one modern convenience what would it be and why? My smartphone. It would probably be healthy for me not to check email all the time as I do now. I would have said television but I would have trouble retaining my sanity if I couldn't watch sports.

What is your favorite Jewish memory?   I got sent home from Hebrew school a couple of times for disciplinary reasons (nothing serious, more general mischief). I just kind of enjoy the irony that the kid who was a troublemaker in Hebrew school wound up making a career in Jewish education.

The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.