By Sybil Sanchez, Director, COEJL
When it came time to decide whether to attend the first Siach conference, I needed some convincing. I wasn’t sure what the outcome or my role would be, or how cliquey or ‘insider’ the conversation would feel in nature. Yet, as I watched it come together and heard who else was going, I ultimately decided to go. At times, the conference did in fact feel a little cliquey or like we were spending a lot of time navel-gazing, but we also had some very important and dynamic conversations and I made some useful connections.
What’s interesting is the impact Siach has had on me long after the fact. I knew that having a conversation about having conversations, networking in order to better network, and taking time out to identify more of our collective views were inherently valuable exercises. What I didn’t foresee was the tangible impact that these kinds of discussions would have on me and my own organization in such a short period of time. While our program initiatives and social assets at COEJL long precede Siach, the strategy of being a socially networked organization and capitalizing on relationships in order to build something bigger is something that Siach helped nurture at a formative time.
The conference occurred when we were in the most important planning phase of our key program, the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign, which is entirely built on a networking model. Further, at Siach, several members of the Green Hevra, a new Jewish environmental network which COEJL now administers, were present at a time that the group was applying for funding. Also at the conference, now head of Pearlstone Retreat Center Jakir Manela and I discussed the initial concept for Kayam Farm’s Shmittah Summit, held in March 2012. Jakir’s vision was to convene different types of leaders for a high-level learning summit with an orientation toward action and policy. This was of interest to me as COEJL was convening a group of national leaders to elevate their voice on the environment and the declaration to do that eventually had a key focus on the Shmittah year.
The Summit also became a lobbying platform for the AJWS-run Jewish Farm Bill Working Group, of which COEJL is a founding member. While the first summit has now been held, work on the Covenant Campaign, Shmittah and the Farm Bill all continue. The Green Hevra is now funded and focused on a similar set of goals as Siach in that we are taking time to identify our shared strategic vision. Both the Covenant Campaign and the Green Hevra will be presented at Siach 2.
I regret that I won’t be there this year due to personal circumstances (I am not flying while pregnant), but I am glad to know that our efforts will feed into the broader conversation as it continues. It is especially exciting that our Israeli sisters and brothers will host us and help us see firsthand their critical environmental work. I know the conference will present the opportunity to discuss lessons learned. Here’s one from me in advance and in summary – networks are only as good as the efforts that go into making and mobilizing them. For me and for COEJL Siach has indeed proven to be a valuable enterprise and we look forward to seeing what happens next.