On March 20, 2017, Justin Korda was presented the prestigious JJ Greenberg Memorial Award at the Jewish Funders Network Conference. The annual award recognizes an outstanding Jewish philanthropic professional under 40 who shares JJ’s commitment to Jewish values, community and philanthropy. Justin received the award for his development of young Jewish leaders through ROI Community.
Here we share the inspiring words he spoke as he accepted the award.
I’m truly honored to accept the JJ Greenberg Memorial Award. There isn’t a person in this room who hasn’t been influenced in some way by Blu and Yitz Greenberg. This award is such a beautiful way that we remember JJ; 15 years have passed since he left us abruptly, and his memory is very much alive in so many. Each recipient that has stood here before me either knew or learned—deeply—about who JJ was and what he stood for. We are inspired by his values, and we act with intention on that inspiration.
JJ and I met a couple of times at some preliminary Birthright meetings, but I never got to know him well. So, when I first learned of this award, I sought to learn more about him.
Aside from the amazing stories, eulogies and content that I found online, I had the chance to speak with a number of colleagues that did know JJ better. One of them, our friend and past JJ Greenberg Memorial Award recipient Felicia Herman, taught me about JJ in a way that has impacted me tremendously—from how I see myself, to how I approach our work, to who I strive to be.
Felicia taught me about three pillars that JJ embodied: kindness, humility and optimism.
Kindness is going that extra step, that extra mile, to help, to recognize and to encourage, to restore or bring someone dignity.
Humility is being self-aware and wanting to lift up those around you.
Optimism is the belief that it can, and will, be better; in many ways, this is both our strength and our weakness as individuals and as a people.
For me, these three pillars have become a framework for living and working, and I stand here before you today filled—really, overflowing—with gratitude. Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate my lot in life: that I am able to pursue a career in kindness, humility and optimism; that this is all made possible by extreme generosity on the part of donors and foundations, all of whom have the choice of where to put their resources.
I am grateful for all of the opportunities and experiences that I had as a kid and a young student activist, where I was impacted tremendously by Jewish giving. And I am proud and grateful to be paying it forward as a Jewish professional, with the greatest job and the greatest team in the world.
At ROI Community, and at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation—the organization that I am honored to serve—we are privileged to have two passionate and visionary women as our leaders and role models. Lynn Schusterman and Stacy Schusterman live, and give, with clear values that I am proud to uphold. They are guided by the late Charlie Schusterman and the words of advice he left behind on pieces of note paper. While Charlie is no longer with us, his words are alive today, and they continue to guide Lynn and Stacy and, in turn, all of us.
Charlie taught us not to be afraid to drill dry holes—to take calculated risks. He said, we should “not be afraid to push forward with 80 percent of the best available information rather than waiting for the full 100 percent and, perhaps, missing the opportunity altogether.”
I was thinking about that quote last Sunday—on Purim—about acting on that moment before we miss the chance altogether. And that amazing line in chapter 4 of the Book of Esther, when Esther realizes that this is her moment. The power of Esther's moment is something that every person—and certainly every leader—can relate to in their own way.
Mordechai has a beautiful line in that chapter of the Purim story that speaks to his optimism. He says, look, Esther, the Jewish people are going to be saved either way. It’s all going to be good. The question is, what’s going to be your part in making it happen? Maybe this is your moment to step up and lead.
And then, Esther’s response: OK, I’m going to take this big step out of my comfort zone, but I want to know that everyone’s with me. So much of the work that we do—at ROI and Schusterman, but really, we all do this—is about creating "Esther moments" for thousands of people in the hopes that one moment of stepping up to lead positive change will lead to another and then another.
As I listened to and read through stories and letters of people that knew JJ—with his humble pride—it became clear to me that he made everyone with whom he connected feel special. JJ was there for so many people in their Esther moment.
We say that it takes a village to advance the kind of change that we want to see in the world. I am blessed to count so many of you as my teachers and my partners, my rabbis and my friends.
Thank you to my team and to my colleagues at the Schusterman Family Foundation—those in the room and not. Thank you, Sandy Cardin (President) and Lisa Eisen (Vice President), and thank you to my partner and chevruta in managing ROI Community, No’a Gorlin, who is here from Jerusalem. There are too many of us here to thank everyone by name, but know that you all inspire me and push me on a daily basis to strive for excellence in our work.
I want to acknowledge and thank so many of you throughout the Jewish philanthropic world who have offered your friendship, advice and partnership over the years. I also want to thank the staff of the Jewish Funders Network and my colleagues who nominated me for this award. I have been incredibly lucky to develop relationships with so many of you across the globe—in Israel, the USA, Latin America and Europe—including the dozens of ROIers who are here today representing philanthropic foundations and presenting at JFN. There are too many of you to thank individually, but I hope to give each of you a hug.
Thank you as well to my greatest teachers—my family. My wife, Yael, whom I met thanks to Birthright, and I therefore have many of you and your foundations to thank for that as well; and my three kids, Noam, Talya and Nadav, who are constantly teaching me lessons in kindness, humility and optimism.
One of those lessons is how much of a thankless job parenting can be. And, on that note, I want to sincerely thank my parents, Gerry and Steven, for the way they raised me and encouraged me on my path. Thank you for modeling parenthood, and thank you for making the trip to Atlanta to be here with me today.
In closing, we see from Esther the value and importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and we see what positive encouragement can do for someone. I can think of several moments in my life where I was given that kind of motivating vote of confidence, that feeling of “you can do it”—and how those moments shaped who I am and the work we do today.
At ROI, our focus is on young Jewish leaders in their twenties and thirties, helping to develop and prime them for greater Jewish leadership. But I think that, to a large degree, all of us— whether we’re focused on early childhood, teens, college students, young adults, young professionals, young donors, leaders, followers, privileged influencers or the underprivileged and vulnerable—are working to give people their Esther moment. That formative moment that will propel them to become better people, and leaders creating more positive change—with kindness, humility and optimism.