Napa rabbi makes it his business to put Jewishness in workplace

When Rabbi David White leads business seminars, he presents universal ideals such as building community and improving communication from a Jewish perspective.

The people sitting in the seminars, however, don't always know this.

"I don't make a big deal out of the fact that these are Jewish values," said White, part-time rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in Napa and owner of his own business, Relationship Resources Unlimited — Partnership for Excellence in the Workplace.

If people push him to explain the basis of the principles he teaches, however, then "I will delve into it."

For example, if people ask White about the origin of his belief in taking time to rest during a busy workday, he will explain the concept of Shabbat. The 47-year-old Mill Valley resident has passed on Shabbat precepts to businesses ranging from BASS ticket service to Sloat Garden Centers to an estate planning firm, as well as some Jewish organizations.

White recently finished conducting a public seminar on personal organization and leadership at Tiburon's Congregation Kol Shofar, which he led for 14 years. Among other things, the seminar presented what White calls the "five trails to the summit" — overlapping areas that he believes strongly influence our business and personal lives. These are attitude, time, power, routine and people.

"In each area, it's a matter of being highly functional, rather than dysfunctional," he said.

In the fall, White took his theories of high-level functioning to some 100 employees of Steven Spielberg's Los Angeles-based Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has as its primary mission preserving the stories of Holocaust survivors on video.

The foundation, which is a year and half old, is growing quickly and, White said, workers sometimes find themselves feeling burned out by both the weightiness of their subject matter and by the cramped quarters in which they work very closely alongside one another.

What's more, many workers feel driven by a sense of urgency, by the feeling that "for every waking hour, there's another survivor to reach and another piece to catalog," White said.

To help ease that tension, the rabbi introduced to foundation workers the concept of Shabbat, broadening it beyond the idea of resting on the seventh day to the notion of pausing in the course of every day to relax, organize and evaluate.

"I wanted them to realize that our [Jewish value] system does not teach us to seek perfection, that what we're here to do is seek uniqueness or preciousness or excellence," White said.

In addition, White encouraged foundation workers to revisit the mission of their company, considering not only their personal reasons for joining it, but also ways in which they can contribute to the team.

"I've realized that communication is a huge piece and that's what they were looking for at the foundation," White said.

Sharon Bransford-Lewis, manager of human resources at the Spielberg foundation, agreed that White's guidance was helpful.

"We were happy that it happened," she said. "We all work many, many hours and it was wonderful opportunity for us to, as he would say, to `sharpen the saw.'"

Bransford-Lewis said foundation staff members particularly appreciated White's preparation for the seminar, which included talking to members of various departments to get an assessment of the work environment and areas in which people would like to see improvements.

"He didn't walk in cold," she said. "He really tailored it to us and we sensed that."