This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!
Arnold D. Samlan, MSW, is a Jewish educator, rabbi, Jewish life coach, and founder of Jewish Connectivity, which offers creative and innovative ways to link Jews to one another and to Jewish values and texts.
What is a network-weaver?
Long before the phrase was invented, I referred to myself as a “switchboard operator” – someone whose way of operating was always to connect people to people or people to ideas. What it really means is to be very conscious of people’s strengths and abilities as well as of what you as the weaver are out there to accomplish. Then, you put this together and mash it all up, so that you are accomplishing your goals and at the same time in very powerful ways enabling the people who are part of the network to achieve theirs. It’s all about win-win: everyone wins, the weaver and all of the people in the network.
What for you is the goal of network-weaving – or do you do it for its own sake?
My whole practice of network-weaving emanates from the Jewish concept of b’tzelem elohim, that each person has been created in the image of G-d. For me, it all moves toward a goal. My goal is natural to me in terms of my training in social work, professional coaching, and as a rabbi – it’s to enable people to become more effective, in a very intentional way. In some places, there is a specific outcome I’m trying to achieve, and in that case I’m very conscious that there’s a long-term goal. For instance, in working with informal educators in Westchester, I’m building the professionalism and prestige of youth work and youth workers.
How is network-weaving different today than it was in the past?
Network-weaving is a skill that’s far more essential to how we operate today. Because knowledge and information come quicker at us than at any other time, the idea that you can be an expert in all things is passé. But if you have a network of people who can synergize with you to put together a more complete body of knowledge that can help you in your personal and professional life, that’s very powerful.
Is there a Jewish component to network-weaving?
When I study Talmud, I see a network than transcends time and space. People have been involved in dynamic conversations and knowledge-creation with people thousands of years across time. I actually created a professional learning session for Kehilliyot going through sections of Talmud and exploring the rabbis who were talking over a couple thousands years: the network of who was involved with the conversation and how they were connected to each other. You could take any conversation in Judaism that spans a few hundred years and create a great network map. For instance, Hillel and Shamai disagreed about the manner in which to light the Chanukah candles (Talmud, Shabbat); you have students disagreeing and discussing, then the students of the students – a few generations living in Israel and Babylonia across a few centuries. Today we’re still figuring out which opinion we follow; we’re still engaged in the conversation.
I’m not saying this isn’t true about other cultures, but it’s particularly true about how Jewish knowledge is built and continues to be vibrant and alive. In this sense, network-weaving is reclaiming a Jewish ability.
How are these Jewish lessons of network-weaving applicable in today’s world?
I really think that throughout history, people involved in the big Jewish conversations recognized that they weren’t just having conversations with the people in front of them, but also people all over. Today we’re creating networks in ways that weren’t as possible before we could cross the time-space continuum like we can today due to the use of technology. Hopefully technology can be used so that more people will feel empowered to join these conversations.
Arnold tweets as @JewishConnectiv and blogs at The Notorious R.A.V.