Our Backyard

Our Backyard

A Journey of Community, connection, and Internship.

Seven years ago, I walked into the office of Rabbi Hugh Seid-Valencia, Senior Director of Collaborative Leadership and Jewish Engagement at Jewish Silicon Valley.

After an extensive career in design and arts, I replaced prolonged sitting in front of screens with meetings with flesh and blood mortals to “reinvent myself in a new country.” I switched from Design-Tech to People-Tech.

In a continuous journey of inner identity that began in Tel Aviv — on the day I was born, and as an immigrant, I wanted to experience the Jewish world in the land of endless possibilities. When we relocated to California, San Fancisco Bay Area, my world changed forever.

Recruiting me as director of engagement activities was a bet on the part of Rotem Malach, former head of delegation to North America, department of diaspora affairs, WZO (non-profit organization led by the Reform Movement those days).

During my time, I met with various organizations, synagogues, and other Jewish lay leaders to discuss ways of collaborating. I met Rabbi Hugh that way, a warm and welcoming individual. Two weeks later, we were putting on a Kabbalat Shabbat reception for young professionals involving other organizations. Rabbi Ilana Baird, the running program coordinator at RSJ, honored us in her presence. It was beautiful! Rabbi Hugh and I remained in touch and collaborated kindly during the years and after I finished that work.

Having Rabbi Hugh as a colleague and friend who listens compassionately and offer encouragement and support was bliss. It was the natural thing I would turn to again a few years later.  

In 2021, I began rabbinical studies at the pluralistic seminary AJR NY. There is a fieldwork internship requirement of four semesters. Two of the semesters can be spent in non-synagogue Jewish organizations. What did I do? 

Rabbi Hugh responded to my call, and we met again. Lael Gray, former Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Silicon Valley, and Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman, Fieldwork Coordinator for AJR, approved our plan before we set off.

Consequently, we met every week under the blue umbrella in the pool area of the APJCC.

In a time of severe epidemics and uncertainty, I was introduced to a leadership team that demonstrated dedication and innovation. In addition to receiving homework, I also read surveys and reports, articles, and case studies (including those written by Rabbi Hugh) about changes occurring in the Jewish world and specifically in our region before, during, and after pandemic. Community needs are often discussed in articles about how they need to adapt to a changing environment. Challenges and leadership models. Assimilation and culture belonging.

Aside from learning about JSV’s merging transition and structure, I also comprehended its mission to enrich Jewish life in Silicon Valley and offer social, cultural, educational, and recreational services. One of the flagship programs of the inspiring Diane Fisher, former director of Jewish Silicon Valley’s JCRC, is connecting people of all beliefs and religions through social justice. During my time in interfaith meetings and committees, I attended two wonderful Interfaith Passover seders, sharing, singing, and dining around tables between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Join the universal action of freedom and discover that we are all striving for the same things, connection and peace. I’ve joined the Abrahamic Alliance International, an organization that unites Jews, Christians, and Muslims to distribute food to the poor. I have been working with Jewish Life and Culture Director Maya Tripp, as well as Israeli Programs Manager Shavit Kaner Levinson. I have found out more about a few Jewish leaders and institutions that I’d like to share in the coming posts.

In the midst of the rising and falling waves of a changing world, pandemics, and restoration, I learned from a wise mentor about staying relevant in a significant Jewish world. 

Shabbat Shalom,