Jewish Ecosystem of Southern Arizona Holds Third Meeting; Embraces Relationship Building

The Jewish Ecosystem of Southern Arizona held its third meeting, May 2 at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging. The meeting, attended by 37 representatives from various local Jewish organizations, furthered the mission and agenda of the Ecosystem’s first two meetings (here and here) in 2022.

The goal of the Ecosystem, established last spring, is to provide a forum for community organizations and lay leaders to work together to develop strategies to move the community forward, ensuring that Jewish life here remains vibrant, compelling, and accessible, while providing for the most vulnerable.

The meeting began with Handmaker Community Outreach Coordinator Nanci Levy welcoming the Ecosystem members and highlighting Handmaker’s impact on the local Jewish community as the only kosher care home in the state.

Lynn Davis, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, next introduced the Ecosystem’s new mission statement: “The Ecosystem is a platform (or hub) for the Jewish community of Southern Arizona to think and work collaboratively to advance, build, and strengthen Jewish life today and as the community’s needs evolve. The Ecosystem acknowledges the unique role each synagogue and agency play and that we are also interconnected to one another. Success is when everyone in the community feels they belong and joining becomes an outcome of the relationships we build and nurture.”

Todd Rockoff, President and CEO of the Tucson JCC, then introduced Naomi Sandweiss, the new Director of Community Engagement to further discuss Relationship-Based Engagement (RBE), a model introduced in the previous meeting.

RBE, pioneered by nonprofit Gather Inc., focuses on “centering relationships and building connection, trust, and belonging.”

Sandweiss led a group discussion about using RBE in everyday interactions with people within the community, highlighted by a skit featuring Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona (JPSA) Project Manager Jacob Meyer and Tucson Hebrew Academy (THA) Head of School Johanna Shlomovich that contrasted a relational conversation with a transactional version.

Transactional conversations feature back and forth conversation, while relational conversations feature active listening. “I had to drop every intuition as to where the conversation should go,” said Shlomovich regarding the skit.

The discussion of the importance of RBE then continued. “It’s a radical idea nowadays to do so much listening,” said Rabbi Malcolm Cohen of Kol Ami Synagogue. “But you’re building trust, you’re not building databases.”

The discussion concluded with Ecosystem member Marlyne Freedman noting the importance and impact of active listening in conversation with other community members, “Engage them, empower them, that’s the secret of building a relationship.”

The meeting was then divided into four work groups established at the second meeting; Jewish Education, Jewish Engagement, Caring for Others (focused on older adults), and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). Attendees discussed progress made within the groups, and assessed future opportunities as well.

The next Ecosystem will be October 23, 2023. To learn more about the Jewish Ecosystem of Southern Arizona, click here.