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JCF Blog

Discovery and Awe

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 7/11/2018
Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.
Abraham Joshua Heschel

This quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel inspires me to look with fresh eyes at the world. When I actually succeed, I am indeed amazed. I am often bowled over in awe of something I see in nature, or the fresh energy of a young child, or the newness that each changing season brings here in Hartford. What Heschel doesn’t say in his oft-cited quote is that amazement comes attached to every emotion – radical amazement creates a special sensitivity to the world in all of its forms, which can sometimes make us especially perceptive and, therefore, vulnerable. Radical amazement is not about being happy and delighted all the time; it is about noticing our world in a new way.  

The opportunities for radical amazement are so myriad, it becomes more about how we see than what we see or experience – even the smallest details can be awe-inspiring. Here are a few from my last week:

A friend posted pictures of her three-year-old over July 4th, discovering fireworks for the first time. His face shone with delight and fear in alternating frames – the awe-inspiring can be delightful as often as it can be scary. 

I had to laugh when my pug took his heartworm pill from my hand as if I had handed him a piece of filet mignon. His indefatigable enthusiasm for all things edible never ceases to amaze me – and produce a good laugh. 

We’ve been working on a house in Vermont and had to take out a section of invasive plants. It was much more extensive than we had expected, and by the end, we had nearly nothing left. Among the foliage was the most beautiful maple tree – one we didn’t even realize was there! In order to survive in the crowd, it had grown up and tight, with the most beautiful crown of leaves. Amongst the destruction, there was hope, and we were amazed by its beauty. 

Radical amazement happens in philanthropy as well. Another personal example: when I lived in Los Angeles, I would often walk by homes with backyard fruit trees whose fruit littered the floor, rotting and neglected. It seemed like such a waste; L.A.’s hungry lacked fresh fruits and vegetables, and these trees were more nuisance than benefit for many homeowners. When a friend told me about a new nonprofit that started to bridge that gap, using volunteers to pick fruit and contribute it to charity, I felt like it was kismet. I started volunteering with Food Forward and felt true awe in the magic of the organization’s work. 

When a donor identifies a perfect match, a program s/he loves, an issue area where s/he can really make a difference, I love seeing his/her face light up with the knowledge that everything is, in fact, incredible and we do have power beyond our knowing. That connection, when real and true, is spiritual. That kind of giving is good for the soul. 

As you make your way through the summer – whether you are out enjoying life, making your way through a transition or a move, or struggling to find lightness even in the summer sun – I hope that you can take time to notice and take nothing for granted. Who knows what you will discover in the flashes of radical amazement that surround you every day – and who knows how these small discoveries may inspire you, your family, and your community. 

Happy Summer! Thank you for reading and for all that you do to make our community amazing in every way!


Kathryn Gonnerman is Interim President & CEO and Director, Center for Innovative Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford 


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Rabbi Debra Cantor
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Beautiful, Kathryn!
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