Some of the best applications of Jewish wisdom are not necessarily found in our own community but rather in the broader secular community —from Jeffrey Sachs’ work on poverty to Eli Broad’s support of charities and the arts. A great example from the tri-state area is Andy Ackerman, who has made a major impact as executive director of the Children’s Museum in Manhattan (www.cmom.org). He was honored this week for his 20 years of service by the museum and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. We spoke with Ackerman about how he applies Jewish wisdom through his work.
Commitment to Community
It is all about giving time, money and expertise to provide assistance to people and to projects where my expertise has been important. After reading about the need for a Holocaust center in Rockland County in the 1980s, I volunteered to help develop professional museum practices. My family has worked at the same soup kitchen for almost 20 years, serving meals to those in need in our town. We have chosen our careers to help children and families, which are at the core of transmitting human values. Our commitment is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and values about education and caring for the disadvantaged. In essence, it is part of the commandment of tikkun olam, even if we can only heal a small part of the world.
Childhood Obesity Initiative
In helping to fight the rise of childhood obesity, the Children’s Museum has launched a national project to develop activities and materials to help families change their diet and exercise regimen. Rooted in the ancient Jewish tradition of caring for the poor, an updated version is not only to feed the poor but also to feed them healthfully.
Passover: Particular and Universal
So many secular groups and leaders (the Founding Fathers, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.) have embraced the Passover narrative and draw on it for inspiration and an understanding of freedom. In Judaism it works on many levels and is a paradigm for family interaction and the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation. The seder is brilliantly structured interactively and it is the parent’s responsibility to encourage and teach the children to ask questions. Inquisitiveness is a core value of Jewish identity.
Advice to Jewish Community
After many decades of solid innovation, the Jewish community needs to connect resources to maximize the effectiveness of each effort and to combine efforts to avoid costly duplication.
“I have had the great privilege and honor of working with Andy for over 20 years during which time our relationship has grown from board chair and executive director to include friend, confidante and huge admirer. There are many things that make Andy so excellent at his job: at the very top of the list are his empathy, deep regard and respect for children and their families from all walks of life, and the firm belief that we live in a democratic society where the arts, education and health care should and must be equally available to everyone.”
Laurie M. Tisch is one of New York City’s major philanthropists, best known for her founding role in the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and The Center for Arts Education. Laurie’s foundation, Illumination Fund, supports organizations like the American Jewish World Service and JCC in Manhattan.
“One of Andy’s most potent and endearing qualities is his ability to listen and his desire to learn. To me, Andy is the walking embodiment of the Pirke Avot teaching: ‘Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.’ His insatiable curiosity keeps him young, vibrant, empathic and the perfect leader for the Children’s Museum. He understands and models that our children are often our greatest teachers. Creating places and spaces where others may ‘learn from everyone’ is Andy’s special gift.”
Lee Hendler is founder/director of Freedom’s Feast and program consultant to CMOM on Raising Citizens, a new year-round public civics initiative. Lee and her family foundation, Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, support many Jewish initiatives and organizations.
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