Harry Nelson

Being Part of a Community of Caring and Belonging

A few weeks ago, I shared the backstory of why my wife, Dorit, and I were being honored by our children’s school, Hillel.  Last week, on February 24, the event happened.

Many people who couldn’t be there asked how the Gala turned out.  For me, it was, frankly, a blur, a little bit like being the host of a wedding:  three-and-a-half-hours, hundreds of people to say hi to, and over way too quickly. By all accounts, though, it was a huge success:  a packed house at the Beverly Hilton, fundraising goals exceeded, and a great night highlighting what we love so much about the school and our community around it.  I am deeply grateful to our friends, family, colleagues, clients, and everyone in our broader network who helped make this happen.

Many people who couldn’t be there asked about the film that the school prepared to honor us, the ad journal, and our remarks. (Since more than one technologically challenged but beloved family member had a hard time finding it, I am also embedding the film here.)

We opted not to give long speeches, keeping it simple and expressing that we were moved by the outpouring of friendship and support, and felt it was genuinely a blessing to be part of a community like our school.  We thanked everyone for allowing us to share why the school, Hillel, is a shared mission for us, and also that we accepted the recognition knowing that we have been a small part of an incredible larger team.

One of the best things about the event was the chance to honor our parents publicly.  Dorit and I were interviewed separately about what led us to get involved and take on leadership, and, for both of us, we expressed independently that it came down to our parents’ examples and how we were raised. It was a treat to be able to share that, to celebrate our parents in a public setting, and to convey to them the extent to which their values reverberate in everything that we do.

As Dorit expressed that night to her parents and to mine, “we are blessed to follow in your footsteps and hope our children will be able to say the same things a generation forward.”  While we are not people who crave attention for the time we volunteer or the money we contribute, we appreciated the experience above all as an opportunity to model for our kids. While we try day in day out to live and convey our values to them, the Gala was an opportunity to convey that our values and the time and energy that we invest make a difference to a bigger community. For that, we are grateful and hope this turns out to be a good leadership lesson.

Several people told me after the event that they walked away from the night wanting to get more involved in their own kids’ schools and communities. If we have modeled for other people, that’s heartening as well.  For us, Hillel is not just a school, but an oasis of belonging and caring.  Living at a time when so many people out there are expressing anger about not belonging and not feeling cared about, I hope that all of us who experience this can find a way to spread this shared experience and its value.  For all of us who are blessed to be part of communities of caring and belonging, our challenge, opportunity, and maybe even our responsibility is to help spread our oases of belonging and caring organically in every direction.  In so doing, perhaps we can play a part in enabling love and hope to overcome all the anger out there.

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