Mordecai Walfish sees himself, sometimes, as a translator.
“One thing I am good at is toggling between different languages,” he says. Then he lists off the ones in which he is fluent. “I‘m able to speak strategy. I’m able to speak program. And I’m able to speak fundraising.”
In his world of nonprofit organizations, Mordy knows this is a hugely important skill. It allows him to bring people together, acting as a bridge between disparate groups. It helps him understand what people are really saying, what they’re invested in and what needs to be done.
“That’s something I learned how to do at King’s,” he says, thinking back to his undergrad years. ”I learned to look at the narratives that lie beneath the surface and to take ideas and make them actionable. I like big ideas, but I also like implementing things. That’s a useful skill in this sector because some people are only visionaries, and some people are only able to implement. Being able to do both is very helpful.”
Mordy is currently Deputy Director of Leading Edge, a national nonprofit based in New York City.
“Our goal is to strengthen the talent pipeline in the Jewish nonprofit sector. We want to recruit the best and the brightest to work in the sector and make those organizations better places to work. We train new CEOs and we support leaders across the board in strengthening their organizational cultures.
Mordy brought a wealth of education and experience to Leading Edge. After King’s his plan had been to become an academic. He enrolled in a PhD program in Comparative Literature at Northwestern University. But that just didn’t sit right, as he felt disconnected from pressing work on the ground. He left Northwestern and got a job at New York University (NYU), simultaneously enrolling in a Masters in nonprofit management.
“I had always been super involved in the community, especially at King’s, in social justice work and in the Jewish community. NYU gave me the chance to pursue that as a career. So, I got an MPA—Masters of Public Administration—and that put me on the path I am on now.”
Mordy then went to work for Repair the World, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to mobilize the Jewish community around social justice issues. He rose quickly through the ranks becoming Vice President for Programs before leaving to join Leading Edge in 2017.
Along the way Mordy realized that although he loves his work, there was something missing, something that he says King’s had provided—an outlet for his creativity.
“At my work I was very professional and focused on organizational strategy and growth. But I didn’t get to exercise my creative side.”
So Mordy started taking poetry classes offered by the organization Brooklyn Poets.
“Through that I connected with other poets and I joined Sweet Action Poetry. We do readings, workshops and publish some of our work together.”
Mordy now strives to bring some poetry into his daily work, making it part of his leadership style.
“Engaging with poetry – especially written by voices that are often marginalized, such as queer people of color is an amazing way to expose people to perspectives they may not normally have access to. Especially in doing social justice work with primarily white staff, it’s important to listen to a multiplicity of voices that inform how we might approach our work.”
Poetry it turns out is another way of translating ideas into action.
Posted: January 2019