HUFFPOST | 10/11/2017 11:03 am ET
By: Yitzi Weiner, Contributor, A “Positive” Influencer
“To labor in the fields of changing society, the most necessary qualities are tenacity, persistence, perseverance. When others are discouraged, as a leader, one must be full of hope. When others might see a lost cause, a leader must see a vision for a future.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Marc Schneier, President, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Rabbi Schneier and his organization are fostering dialogue, cooperation and friendship between the Muslim and Jewish communities worldwide and the Jewish and African American communities in the U.S.A. Rabbi Schneier was recently the first Jewish Grand Marshal of New York’s Muslim Day Parade in the parade’s history.
Yitzi: What’s your backstory?
I come from 18 generations of Rabbis in my family. We believe that as Rabbis, we have a responsibility to make both spiritual and political/social action contributions to society. For me, the spiritual side has been as founding and leading The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. On political/social action side, about 30 years ago, I recognized that one of the greatest challenges confronting my generation would be the changing demographics in the United States – the growth of the Black, Latino and Asian communities – and its impact on American Jews and the State of Israel. With that in mind, I founded the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. For the first 18 years of the organization, along with my colleague and partner Russell Simmons, our myopic focus was on rebuilding the historical Black-Jewish alliance that led to some of the greatest changes in the history of our nation. In the 1950s and 1960s there wasn’t a segment of American society that provided as much – and as consistent – support to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Black community as the Jewish community did. Following Dr. King’s assassination, the relationship between the two communities spiraled to its lowest point (the Crown Heights riots in 1991). At that time, we channeled our time, energy and resources towards restoring that alliance. More than a decade ago, Russell and I recognized that we accomplished that mission and that we had helped to restore those relations to a glorious state of cooperation. Russell then challenged me to tackle the significant interreligious issue of our time – to find the path to narrow the divide between Muslim and Jews around the world.
Yitzi: The funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your organization?
Five years ago, the late President of Israel Shimon Peres invited Russell and I to keynote his annual conference in Jerusalem. President Peres formally invited us when we met with him in New York that March and both Russell and I effusively and enthusiastically responded “yes!” Several weeks before the trip, Russell and were discussing the itinerary and I heard him use the word “Ludacris.” Confused, I asked him what that was about. Russell responded, “Marc, I said we should bring Ludacris!” I asked who that was and Russell replied, “There you go embarrassing me again, you would think that after knowing me for all these years that you’d know the rock-stars of hip-hop and rap.” Several years later Russell was in SoHo and asked me to come down to meet him for lunch and that he had a special guest that he wanted me to meet. I went to meet with him and he turned to me and said, “Rabbi, you know who this is?” Confused, I said, “no, I have no idea who this is.” And then I remembered his comment in the past about bringing Ludacris to Israel with us and I said, “you’re finally introducing me to Ludacris?!” Russell then said, “No, this is Kanye West.”
Yitzi: What exactly does your organization do?
The Foundation for Ethnic Understand is the global address for Muslim-Jewish Relations, and the national address for African American-Jewish relations.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We believe that the Foundation orchestrated the historic change in Black-Jewish relations, returning to its civil rights glory. We then moved on to tackle Muslim-Jewish relations and believe that the fact that so many Muslim and Jewish organizations have now entered this space shows that they have been inspired by the work we pioneered over a decade ago. I hope and pray that many more will follow suit.
Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the Leader of a Nonprofit” and why.
- Fundraising is a challenge – As a not-for-profit, you have very little leverage when it comes to getting people to make a pledge and then to collect on that pledge. Nonprofits are at the bottom of people’s financial commitments. People often focus on other financial commitments such as paying their mortgage, car lease, tuition etc. before fulfilling their pledge. The challenge is even greater when you’re nonprofit working on “hot blooded issues” such as Muslim-Jewish and Black-Jewish relations. Donating is on a volunteer basis and you are relying on their good will to fulfill the pledge they made to your organization.
- When in the public eye, people feel free to make judgements about you – When you are the head of a not-for-profit looking to make a change, you are the target for attacks and jealousy. People feel justified in scrutinizing you one needs to be prepared for this.
- Part of the success is knowing what a labor of love the work is – Because your goal is to orchestrate change in society, the achievement of success is most gratifying knowing how difficult and arduous the work can be. We’re looking to expand people’s horizons, enlarge their interests and expand their sympathies. We’re looking to get people to shift the lens in which they see the world.
- Tenacity, persistence & perseverance are key – To labor in the fields of changing society, the most necessary qualities are tenacity, persistence, perseverance. When others are discouraged, as a leader, one must be full of hope. When others might see a lost cause, a leader must see a vision for a future.
- The burden you shoulder as a leader – as a leader, people turn to you for strength and encouragement. They are investing in your vision and in your values and ideals. It’s a great responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Yitzi: Is there a person in the world, or more specifically in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Jokingly, Ludacris – to further my education and knowledge of who are the stars of hip-hop and rap.