Want to Change the World This Year? Start By Changing Yourself.

September 4, 2015

If there's a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it's...

As we approach the High Holidays, we asked 15 changemakers in the Schusterman community to share the resolutions, goals and beliefs they’ll be striving toward in 5776. From the professional to the personal, here’s what these leaders, already committed to changing the world, had to say about changing themselves—and where those two goals overlap.

AMY WITT  Program Analyst, Crown Family Philanthropies

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

To be an amazing aunt and role model for my new twin nephews, Logan and Jackson. I was fortunate enough to have incredible aunts, uncles, grandparents and even great grandparents in my life who helped make me the person I am today.  Along with my parents, they instilled in me the values of family, tradition, love and tikkun olam.

As a first time aunt, I have reflected on what values and lessons are important to instill into this next generation of our family. I think about the lessons my grandma taught her 13 grandchildren and though she is no longer here, I am confident that my family will continue to pass down the values and traditions she upheld every day. From having many tzedekah boxes around the house to always taking time to get to know everyone you meet, to giving plenty of hugs, these small daily practices and acts of kindness are what I hope will become a regular part of my nephews’ lives. 

Watching my brother become a dad has also led me to reflect more deeply about the next generation and I remain even more committed in this New Year to work towards ensuring a better future for my nephews and for all children. Though this is clearly a lofty goal, I am now even more inspired to help make a difference so that all children can have the same opportunities that my nephews are fortunate to already have and can be surrounded by a community of love. 

ANDI GERGELY  President, World Union of Jewish Students

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Getting to know a new person every day. So many people have incredible stories to tell, experiences to share and we grow by every new connection. By that, I don’t mean stalking strangers on the street, but getting to know those we encounter often during work or yoga class but have never spoken to properly.

One never knows what can a conversation with a stranger turn into--maybe nothing, or maybe a friend for life. 

GUY LIEBERMAN  Social innovator, cultural activist, entrepreneur, head of FCB Foundation

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Trying to draw deeply from the well of patience while I rush along, at pace, attempting to make the world a “better place.” The trouble with this type of impatience is that the motivation that causes it—be it human rights or ecological balance or economic freedom—can negatively impact our relationships and what we hope to generate in the world: harmony, comfort, listening and connection.

There is an idea that despite one’s vision and determination, things happen in their own time, directly from the Divine Will. So, if I could make myself and my way of being an expression of the better world I want to create, I would stay focused on my projects while remaining aware that every moment—even if it is not giving me everything I want—is rich with meaning, wisdom and an entirely different kind of currency than my personal desire to change things.

If the coming year results in me moving a little slower, breathing slightly deeper and trusting that the ultimate ripening of my hopes and visions will come forth in their own time, maybe that would bring me one step closer to making the world a better place.

CASEY ROTTER  Founder/Director, UNICEF’s Next Generation

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

ME.  People are a work in progress, and the more I work on myself, the better everything I do and touch will be. My happiness becomes contagious; it affects everything. I become more creative, innovative, and productive, and I care more about my colleagues. My wellbeing allows me to be a better friend, family member, neighbor and stranger.

If we all focused more on ourselves and strived to be the happiest versions of ourselves, enjoying and celebrating our day-to-day successes as if they were milestones, there would be a domino effect across every sector of our lives. You can only love someone as much as you love yourself and you can only make others happy if you are happy.  So, I vow to try to be a bit more 'selfish' this year, and encourage everyone else to be more 'self-centered' for the sake of bettering everything their loving, happy selves will touch in the year ahead.  Shana tova!

RYAN WEISS  Founder, Waking Up With Ryan

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Focusing on detoxification and its connection to healing. The world is steeped in the thought-forms of fear, competition, scarcity. And every great tradition—Judaism, the Mayan calendar, Kundalini yoga—points at this to be a time of transformation from a world of fear to a world of love. It’s our choice as individuals to be a part of that transformation.

God works through people. God doesn’t work through the winds of time outside of us. So if the world is to transform right now, it’ll happen as a result of each of our personal transformations.

The High Holidays are the perfect moment for introspection—to become clear on the ways in which we’ve been withholding love, harboring fear, where we’ve spoken ill of other people rather than having compassion for them. Let's recognize our duty to shift that behavior and to become part of the solution.

The only way to have lasting, real change is to create and commit to a daily practice. What better time than the High Holidays to start? We tend to make High Holidays a unique time—we repent and ask for forgiveness and commit to a new way of being. But what happens when you go back into your regular life? What commitments can you make? Remember, you're doing this for your own happiness. And you're also doing this for the transformation of the world.

MIRA ORECK  NDP candidate (Vancouver Granville), former Director of Public Engagement, Broadbent Institute

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Taking on a project that I have long dreamed of and strived towards: I am running to become Member of Parliament in Canada's upcoming election.

This is both a personal commitment and one that involves and engages the community around me as we collectively strive to create a more just Canada. It is an experience that calls on me to clarify my sense of purpose, to look inward and to think reflectively about the best response to any given question.

I am committed to taking care of myself and those I love through this campaign, to being curious and open, to learning from those who have been down this path before, and to doing all I can do to stay connected to the reasons I am running. 

Having the New Year fall so close to the election on October 19th is a gift because it allows me to pause, reflect and renew, in myself and in this experience.

SARAH WAXMAN  Youth mindfulness and yoga educator, community organizer, entrepreneur

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Turning a dream project—At The Well—into a reality. At The Well is a new project whose vision is to encourage, support and inspire Jewish women in their 20s and 30s to be empowered and spiritually connected to their bodies. My heritage is rooted in beautiful, 3,000-year-old traditions, but today, the part of those traditions that empowers women to create community spaces to connect and learn has fallen aside.

I want to develop a deeper relationship with my body. I want to know everything that we should be teaching women about their cycles, hormones and general health. I want to explore Jewish spiritual text and the divine feminine energy so that I can connect with something bigger than myself through knowing myself.

I want to create an intimate and supportive space with my peers so that we can learn together, teach each other and remember to always ask "why"?  I want to self-reflect and plant new intentions towards my goals every new moon, like my ancestors did. It’s time to wake up to our communities and wake up to our bodies, together.

LELA SADIKARIO  Director, Regional Programs, JDC Europe

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Having a little more blind faith in the strength of the Jewish community of Europe, which may seem absurd in the face of all the headlines, messages and stories harshly debating our future. 

I believe we should focus on the current, vital present filled with thriving Jewish life rather than being understandably held back by a tragic past or fretting about a future that will be determined by so many variables, even if we must prepare for it.

My message is to be present—be here now. In other words, accept that true freedom comes from taking on the tasks we can best handle and always operate from a place of confidence and hope in the reality of the present, despite challenges that seem overwhelming. It can be a little anxiety-inducing to let go of those concerns, but I'm certain we can arrive at far greater success as a community when we seek to be measured and proud of our strengths.

Our choices, when freely made, are what make life meaningful. Moreover, hope in the face of adversity and living for each day (especially when those days are more positive than we want to admit) are Jewish values. We should embrace those concepts and trust in them more.

ELI NASSAU  Co-Director, Guimel
If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Commitment itself. I'll admit—I'm one of those people who takes the New Year as an opportunity to create new goals or set some old ones, just to be forgotten or set aside as time passes. But this year I'd like to work on really committing to whatever goals I set for myself, my organization and my job.

STEVE RABIN  Senior Advisor, National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) Office of Communications

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

To be mindful—on a personal, community and global level—of the teaching from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) that it is not our duty to complete the important work of our lives and times, but at the same time we are not free to desist from it (“lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor. V’lo ata ben chrom l’hibatil memna”). 

In reflecting on what this means to my outlook on life, these words: “If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

So often, I catch myself thinking that challenges—whether they are something as personal as finding the willpower to get up early enough for a morning run a few more days a week, or as big as helping more people access affordable health care—are too daunting. I find myself asking, “What’s the use of trying?” In the New Year, I hope to find the discipline to ask instead: “How am I doing my part?”

GUY HAJAJ  Writer, DJ, haoneg.com culture blogger

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

To find beauty in ritual. When my older brother got married two years ago—the first of my siblings to do so—he told me something that took me by complete surprise.

We were raised secular, maybe too secular, in our Kibbutz in the northern tip of Israel. Any kind of religion, Judaism in particular, was to be avoided at all costs. We cooked pork on Yom Kippur and never set foot in Beit Knesset—synagogue. We grew up wild and free; the only tradition was having none.

When he told us he was getting married, I was surprised. I asked: A piece of paper? A ceremony? What for? Who needs it? He answered simply: Rituals are powerful things.

This, I’ve since learned, is universally true. It’s such a basic truth, that it’s transparent to most people on earth. Rituals are powerful things. They ground us, they bring us together and they give us pause.

In my own journey to test the axioms I grew up with, to find a source of inner power, I’m now going to try out some rituals. Some of them are culled from Jewish traditions, others from all around, others made up on the spot. Surprises? Let them come.

SASHA FISHER  Executive Director and Co-Founder, Spark MicroGrants

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Being intentional and as passionate as ever in building Spark and living its values. We're at a critical juncture in the organization. Our first five years have been about testing and proving our facilitated funding approach to catalyze remote villages facing poverty to drive their own local change.

Now that we have a track record and a growing team, it is vital that we maintain our culture and prioritize strategically as we expand. I will be intentional in this coming year in taking the time and space to ensure that Spark’s strategic direction and sequencing of growth are the right ones and to allow us to continue to be flexible where we can.

I also commit to being passionate: learning and building towards a world with greater dignity for all fuels me constantly, but it is when we gain attention and push back that I must ensure I'm intrinsically motivated by my passion, rather than by the whims of short-term challenges or gains.


If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

To teach through storytelling. The writer Amos Oz said that Ministers of Education should cancel all final exams given at teachers colleges—the only exam that matters for educators, he says, is knowing how to tell a story. And the first step to developing storytelling skills is having a great one to tell after experiencing a meaningful journey. 

At TALMA, where teachers come from all over the world to teach English in Israeli low-income communities, we are committed to creating even more adventures and stories worth sharing in the coming year. Storytelling skills can be used effectively by teachers in classrooms and by leaders trying to transform and change the world (not necessarily different people).  

Adventurous teachers turn school into a storytelling festival. They tell mathematical stories, biblical stories, historical stories. I understand Oz when he claims that students have a better chance of learning from the storytelling method. Our teachers believe that words are our “super power,” and that we can employ words to re-shape, if not re-create, the world in which we live. 

We have two tasks: creating meaningful adventures for our teachers, and allowing them to use their skills before those who ask to learn. To paraphrase the sages of Pirkei Avot /The Ethics of the Fathers: It is not incumbent upon us to finish the task—but thank God, neither are we free to absolve ourselves from it. 

NARKIS ALON  Co-Founder, Elevation Academy

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Writing. I have a dream to publish a book that will empower people on their fulfillment journeys.

Each person has a path that he or she is meant for, a professional and personal destiny, and it's very challenging to stay committed to it and act on it in practical ways. Helping people achieve their goals is the thing I’m most passionate about. I was helped in my fulfillment journey by motivational books like The Secret and The Master Mind, and writing a book to help others is part of my own personal fulfillment journey.

I think there's a need in the community for a book that speaks and understands the language of our generation and combines the practical and the spiritual, and I hope to use my writing to connect these two important facets and inspire people to bring their dreams to life.

ARIEL LEIZGOLD  Restauranteur, writer

If there’s a single thing I would commit to in the coming year, it’s…

Charity work. It seems that I've been so involved in self-improvement in the business department, that I've forgotten what it's like to give and contribute for nonprofit reasons. That is, for the soul.

So, I think I'll go back to my favorite charity, which is a project that that involves organizing food packages and distribution for the needy on Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation 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.