For Richard Barnett, a driving force has been trying to make the Jewish community more inclusive, as it relates to religious, income or other forms of diversity. Becoming more religious has helped him personally become more engaged and he realizes the importance of having a spectrum of opinions and beliefs at the table to ensure the best outcomes for the community as a whole. One major example of such “inclusive” tikkun olam was helping establish Leah’s List at Jewish Family Services of Columbus, which donated professional services to those most adversely affected by the last economic downturn. That initiative, which brought together a wealth of service providers to help those in need, is only one such example of true collaboration in action that’s core to Barnett’s efforts.
What inspires you to give back to the community?
I have a strong attachment to the word “inclusiveness.” This word to me reflects community unity. Unity can only produce good things. We need to be one by remembering a Jew is a Jew, no matter what their background or views encompassed. I get involved or driven to remind or assist our community organizations in their community missions by remembering the entire community. Our advantage is that we have a special community that typically is non-judgmental. What makes Columbus special is that “YOU” can be involved and give back and it is not only about who has the most money and how you give, but you can make a difference by your actions and involvement.
Was there ever a turning point or shift that made you change how you approach community service or become active in the Jewish world?
There were two major turning points, happening in conjunction with each other. First, I was selected to be a member of the Wexner Heritage Program for lay leadership. This remarkable opportunity gave me a better understanding on what it means to be a Jewish leader and the tools to facilitate a community looking to move forward or reaching for a difference. The broad range of teachings was very impactful. Secondly, I become more religious (baal teshuva) in this community. We found many acts of kindness with this change that became a benchmark for our family. This growth changed my actions from passive to activism, wanting to make our community more of a home and encouraging growth for not only my family but for my community.
Is there any particular cause, issue or organization you are especially passionate about? What have you done to address it?
During the downturn in the economy, I became distraught with Jewish individuals and families having a difficult time living day-to-day. People were losing jobs, homes, had no money to repair household items and vehicles, avoided medical and legal situations and were having relationship difficulties. With the assistance of Jewish Family Services, we established the program Leah’s List. This service facilitated by JFS gave Jewish individuals and families free services to maintain a lifestyle until the economy got better. This was done by Jews helping each other. The professionals and the skilled came forward to offer their time and materials to help these families by donating their services. It could be a lawyer working on an estate, a dentist taking care of a filling, a mechanic getting a car working or a Realtor working through foreclosure issues. It happened because our community stepped forward with over 100 professionals signing on to Leah’s List to be there for each person.