30 Apr

Connecting the Dots Looking Back

Two unlikely threads converged this week for me, and I had a flashback. I was delighted to read that Steven Rakitt has been named the President of the Genesis Prize Foundation. Later the same day I was talking to a friend about State Senator Cindy Creem’s bill to require automatic voter registration for eligible voters in Massachusetts.  And just like that a memory was triggered.

What do these two things have to do with each other? You see when I was an teenager in Providence, Steve Rakitt was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (now the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island). I lived around the corner from the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (JFRI). It was housed in the same building as the JCC where I was a camp counselor and as the Bureau of Jewish Education where I interned for one summer and frequently visited its Israel Desk to see one of my favorite people, Duffy Page.

Struck early by the political bug,  I had the idea that we should set up voter information and registration sites in all the agencies housed in the Jewish community building and in all the synagogues in RI. Remember this was pre-internet so you had to request by phone and mail in your voter registration forms to the board of elections or fill them out at the DMV. My thought was to make it easier for people to register and thus increase voter participation.  I was in shock then in the late 80’s and early 90’s about how low voter turnout was. Today I remain dismayed, but that is the subject for another post.

For some reason, I had the chutzpah to ask for a meeting with Steve Rakitt and pitch him my proposal to present this voter registration idea to all the agencies and synagogues, to offer training on what the voter registration rules were, to get forms to hand out from the board of elections to be kept at each organization with signs “Register to Vote Here” and to publicize our efforts.  I remember how Steve listened to me intently and how encouraging he was. I remember how important he made this project seem. I remember the meeting we had with the people from the agencies and synagogues in the board room on Sessions Street. I still have the article that the Jewish Federation Voice wrote about this voter registration drive somewhere in my attic.

Here is what I know to be true at 43. All these years later I can tell you that this undertaking was one of the positive experiences that made me want to more deeply engage in the organized Jewish community and empowered me as a teenager to see myself as a leader who could have an impact. Without a doubt, my love for the Jewish community today and my desire to both serve as a lay leader and to work professionally with many Jewish organizations were largely shaped by this and the other positive experiences I had in my youth (notable others were Alexander Muss High School in Israel and interning at AIPAC).

As Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” This memory is a reminder that each interaction we have, especially with young people and emerging leaders, represents a potentially significant dot in their stories. If we can listen intently, be encouraging and look to provide meaningful opportunities for engagement, maybe more people’s dots will connect them to the community. Thank you Steve.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is President of Fridman Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.”


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