Melissa Jane Kronfield (MJ) Failing into Success

by Ari Schonbrun


Melissa Jane Kronfield (MJ) Failing into Success



Melissa Jane Kronfield (MJ) is a highly accomplished young woman who shares her amazing journey. From teaching to getting her PHD, to her career in journalism and politics to what she is doing now in Israel. She describes how every step along the way has led to where she is now. She shares some of the bricks she has faced both in her career and personally and how they shaped who she is today. It is an amazing journey that is sure to inspire you.


Episode Transcription:


Intro plays


Ari: She is MJ to her friends. She’s a very, very special woman. I’m going to I’m going to give you her bio right now, which is really, really amazing. And then we’re going to bring her in. MJ received a BA in International Relations from George Washington University. She’s an MS in global affairs from NYU, and an MS in global affairs from Rutgers University. She then completed her PhD at Rutgers University Division of Global Affairs, MJ is lectured on American foreign policy and national security at Rutgers, Syracuse, and NYU. In 2012. She was awarded first place in the Richard a Clark national security and counterterrorism scholarship contest. And in 2014, the Rutgers University Walter F. Weicker scholarship, celebrating students who possess a academic excellence and a commitment to exceptional contributions to society. As a millennial activist, she has delivered remarks at conferences and gatherings around the world, including at the United Nations, the White House, and on Capitol Hill, and on behalf of the United States Air Force and the Republican National Committee. In 2017. Melissa was a candidate for the New York City Council and District Four remains actively invested in local and national political campaigns, community initiatives, and socially conscious startup businesses across a spectrum of impact related causes around the world. MJ has served in the leadership position on the boards of over 40 nonprofits. For her philanthropic efforts, she was named one of the 36 under 36 by the Jewish week, and was nominated for a Jewish People’s Choice Awards in the category of making a difference. In 2012. Melissa launched passion for a purpose, a full service, social impact and philanthropic developmental agent development agency with offices in New York and Israel. She is also the co founder of the issue of the Fallen faces project and curio auctions. She currently serves as a special adviser to Frank Development Foundation, and the office of the mayor of a frog in Gush Etzion. Israel, please help me welcome Dr. Melissa Jane, MJ Grunfeld. MJ, how are you? 

MJ: It’s so great seeing you. I’m so happy you agreed to come on the show. I gotta tell you something, you’ve certainly done a lot in your lifetime. I mean, I got tired just reading everything about you and all the things that you’ve done, accomplished. It’s it’s amazing, truly.


But I’m pushing 40. So I would hope I would get some of these things done by now. So


oh, you know what, people don’t get half the stuff done in their lifetimes. I mean, you deliver,


as I feel like it’s still it’s still not enough. But I guess that’s the curse of those that care about the world.


Ari: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Look, you delivered remarks at conferences. Gatherings around the world include the the UN, the White House, Capitol Hill. I mean, the United States Air Force. I mean, that was the been incredibly exciting. Now,


the Air Force, the Air Force is particularly special to me. 


MJ: The Air Force graduation that ROTC Air Force graduation at Rutgers University, was, was one of the I still have the speech. It’s it’s actually on YouTube, you can find it. It was a speech. And I labored over for weeks and weeks and weeks, because a student of mine, I was a professor at Rutgers and a student of mine, who who I adored was, do you know she was, she was a bit problematic, but I adored her. She was an ROTC. And she came to me one day, and I honestly thought she didn’t like me that much. I got the sense, she’s a little standoffish with me. She raised her hand, couldn’t really engage her in the classroom. It’s working one day after class and she said, Listen, I’m graduating this year, and no woman has ever done the ROTC graduation speech. So I told the people at the ROTC that we got to get you to do it. First of all, I was thinking, Well, why me? You know, like, plenty of amazing women who would be honored to do this, but the fact that a student who I was unsure like me, had thought of me so highly, was was was one of the most probably the most emotional and stirring moments and I’ll never forget, like, I thought my heart was gonna drop out of my chest. I tried to play cool, like, like a first day and I go, Yeah, sure. I can. I would love to do that. Yeah, why not? Um, and I remember it kept me up for a week I couldn’t sleep. What do you say to young people who just spent, you know, four years doing ROTC college and are now I’m about to sign a contract with the United States government saying I will die from my country. If you tell me I have to, or if you send me somewhere where it may happen, I will give up my family, I will sacrifice my, my, my personhood, everything to be in conformity with this with this very rigid structure that is the military and, and I thought, what knowledge at the time I was 2930 I What knowledge could I impart upon these young people who have already achieved in four years doing ROTC more than I ever could in my life and who will achieve more in my in their lives than I ever could by serving in the armed forces and, and that speech was, I think that was probably one of the ultimate highlights highlights of my life. Wow, wow, I fell in and there was a little divot in the stage. In the middle of that speech, my heel fell down into the divot. So that was awesome. The whole thing is on camera. It’s fantastic. I mean, I saved and I happen to have been in the middle of a sentence, and I kind of tied in like, what? I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Everyone laughed. But yeah, I was so nervous. But that was the highlight of my life yard. Wow.


Ari: Well, as you know, the name of the podcast is whispers and bricks. Now the whispers are those voices telling us what the right thing to do is, and represents the good in life, the bricks represent the bad things that we go through. And we all know life is not a straight line. There are many ups and downs, many bumps in the road. What my listeners would like to know is like, what were some of your struggles and or failures, if any, some of the the bricks that you got hit with when you were starting out in your career, and throughout your career or your personal life? If you don’t mind sharing?


MJ: Absolutely, I don’t mind sharing at all, I have a unique opportunity to speak to young people all around the world about my successes and failures. And I like to focus on the failures. Because I know when people either read my bio, or they see me deliver a speech, or they hear me on the radio or television or a podcast like Euro, and they often think well, wow, she’s really got her stuff together. And I often tell young people, ah, you know, not so much. I think we all struggle with the same things. I would, I would be honest, and say, and it’s probably very relatable to many people in your audience. The biggest roadblock I had in my life was the passing of my father. You know, this is not an uncommon thing, parents die. It happens, unfortunately, to everyone. But for me, personally, my father and I were extraordinarily close closer to him, probably than anyone else in my family. I sat by his bedside for the 14 days he was in the hospital before he passed away. And I think what made that whole situation even more kind of overwhelming, but maybe also, in retrospect, something I was able to overcome was my father didn’t tell me how sick he was. He told me he had cancer. He didn’t tell me in stage four cancer. He didn’t tell me at stage for a bone cancer or stage four brain cancer. He just said eye cancer and getting treatment. And I, you know, I have at the time when he told me, I was probably 2726 27. And I thought, all right, well, you know, cancer today, it’s nothing. We all we everyone beats cancer, you know, you got to be really sick to die from cancer, you have to be really far along to die from cancer. Of course, there’s those terrible stories, someone finds out, we only have four months live. But my father, just, you know, in for better or worse, just was not honest with me, and did not tell me and he didn’t tell me because he knew exactly what I would have done, I would have stopped everything that I was doing. And I would have stopped by life to take care of him. And I don’t think he wanted that. So in retrospect, I understand that we need to forgive him some things to forgive for, but I understand what he did. But my father passed away when I was about two, I was dead smack in the middle of my PhD. And so I’m writing my dissertation, I’m teaching and then my father dies. And to get back on track from what and I think anyone has had a parent, I understand that you’ve you’re close to them. It was you know, it was a lot but I will say I’m grateful for the 14 days and I sat by his hospital bed, we watch TV, I helped him go to the bathroom, I helped him change his diapers, I fed him whatever he needed. And those 14 days, despite the fact that I traveled the world with my father, I had gone on adventures, we had done everything together. I mean, the man’s showed me the whole world. Nice 14 days to me are the most consequential, meaningful and important days. And he was just lying there and I was just holding his hand and we were watching. It was either the Casey Anthony trial or one of them one of those other terrible job we were watching the boat, I was great. But that that that stopped me for quite some time. That that stopped me for years. That was an obstacle that I still think I’m overcoming. But yeah, for years and years and years, I was unable to to really be the person that I was before. And I know now that I will never be that person again. And everything that has come from that adversity. is definitive of who I am now. And my father’s passing is just part and parcel. That’s the strength that I have to find in the world on my own.


That’s, that’s amazing. I’m going to tell you, my father, my father passed away five years ago, and my parents lived in Israel. My mom still lives in Israel. And it had been a while since since I’d seen my dad. And, you know, there was just I don’t remember why or what. But you know, my dad had been sick. He’d been in and out of the hospital. He’d had a stroke. And he was he wasn’t doing very well. And I said, I told my wife, I said, you know, I want to go see my father, before he dies. Okay, I really need to go, No, I need to see him. And I went, I went to November. At the time, I forgot, you know, again, five years ago, I went in November, and I spent a week with him. And he was he was in a wheelchair, because he really couldn’t walk in the apartment was able to walk. But once we went outside, he was in a wheelchair. And I used to take him to the park. And we use, we used to step off a little cafe and we had coffee together. And it was it was so so special. And then in February, he was he was readmitted to the hospital. And I remember calling my brother who lived in Israel, and I said, you know, what’s, what’s going on? You know, how do I do I need to come? And my brother said, No, they just changed as medication. He seems to be responding, he seems to be getting better. It’s, you know, and I realized after afterwards, in hindsight, you know, I know, just from from experience that, you know, right before somebody dies, they usually get a little bit better. Yes, yes, they get, they get a little bit better. Right. And, and I’m not sure why, but they do. And that’s what happened. I should have known back then that, you know, I need to get on a plane and go, but I didn’t. And I received the news on Saturday night that he had passed away. So you know, obviously, I got on a plane and I went, and I was there for the funeral. Thank God, I was able to get there. But those that week will stand out in my mind more than anything else. My dad was a great dad, he really was he was he was super. And but that was the thing. That’s, that stands out my mind. So I thank God that I actually took the time to spend with him kind of like what you did, which is really, it’s it’s special, it’s very special. Because now I’m going to tell you something else. That because you mentioned that, you know, you’re not the same person. 


Ari: When you go through something, a life changing experience, alright, you’re never ever going to be the same person. I am not the same person today that I was pre 911 911 totally changed my life. And I think, you know, obviously, I personally believe that it’s for the better. So and, and I dealt with it, and it took time, alright to deal with with all the trauma and everything else. But let me ask you this. Okay, so you’ve been through a lot, you know, you’ve had a lot of bricks thrown at you. But did you ever get to a point so low? We you said, You know what, I quit? I can’t do this anymore. I’m giving up on my dreams. You know, I just, but like, how did you deal with that? And how did you make your comeback?


MJ: Yeah, that’s so um, that’s a really fantastic question. So I’ve had a couple of them. And they were kind of back to back. You know, I, I obviously, as you read from my bio, I pursued a very, very steady academic career, bachelor’s to Master’s in a PhD. So I was full time school, but I was full time work as well. And I was wanting to be a journalist. And, and I, you know, I got to a point where journalism became very difficult. So she goes working for the New York Post, and other dailies, and it became very stressful, and I quit journalism, not not, I’ve said, I am a journalist today, but I quit like the kind of daily grind the kind of daily journalism tabloid journalism that I wanted to do. Again, crime beat stuff, because I got so low, and I reinvented myself as a professor. And then when my father died in the middle of me being fast tracked on a tenure track because the school very impressed with with my teaching, I in my father died and I quit teaching. And then I got into I’ve always been involved in politics, but I’ve been in politics so long, the Republicans asked me to run for office. And when I lost that, and anyone who’s been in politics understands it, of course, someone wins and someone loses. But when you’re on the losing side, it’s a lot harder than it looks. And I quit politics. And those three times I was so low, and I’d reinvented myself and then it didn’t work again. I reinvented myself and then it didn’t work a third time and I reinvented myself and I did by the time the end of the pilot by the time I lost my campaign for city So, I had gotten to the point where I, I just felt like the most worthless, like human being in the world. Like I couldn’t do anything, right, I gave up my career in journalism because it wasn’t good enough. And I gave him a career in teaching, because I couldn’t go to my dad’s dad. And then they gave up politics because I lost. But what happened was, I built my company passion for purpose, which is a social impact consultancy. And I was able to take from each of those experiences to build what I have today. So you know, I took from my experience in journalism, the storytelling, the, the, the kind of sharing, you know, unique insights into the world. And, you know, my company became very, very popular with nonprofits that wanted to rebrand or share stories, I took my entire space in politics and understanding how all of the, you know, the intricacies of politics works, to to work with the right kinds of leaders and politicians to elevate their messages and elevate their impact. I took the death of my father, to really, you know, return to Torah and understand that, like, we are supposed to live when a parent passes in honor, and do great, and it’s votes and sadaqa. For them all the time company focuses on exclusively social impact work. And my career in professorship, I, you know, I taught my students every single day, I can stand here in the classroom and teach you all kinds of things. But if you don’t go out there and do these things, what I’m teaching you means nothing. And the greatest part was my company started because six of my students came with me to work for free for the first five years to get me off the ground. So the politics and journalism, the death of my father and professorship, were these were the five, the four things that came together that actually created me to be the CEO, boss, President, founder of my company, and my company has thrived and has been successful in ways that I never imagined specifically, because I never thought one I would ever have a business, I always thought I’d be a professor or journalist. But to it provided me the opportunity to create a niche market that nobody else could actually do. Nobody can do what we do at my company, you could put together you know, make ensure McKinsey Global can do it, if you want to pay them a million dollars, or BCG can do it if you want to pay them $5,000. But we created to these experiences, I was able to bring all these different contacts, experiences and people together, who then trusted me because as the professor trusted me, because I was their candidate trusted me. Because I had been a journalist, and always been honest, and real wanted to then be a part of what I was creating now. And only that would have happened. Only had I you know, because I failed that those four won’t mean failures, a big word, but because I had left or you know, or not succeeding the way that I’d wanted to in these other endeavors.


Wow, you know, they always say, a failure is just a stepping stone to success.


But it doesn’t feel that way when you’re happened.


Ari: 100% I agree with you. 100%. You know, I remember when, back in the early 90s When I was a foreign currency trader, and then the market the market fell out of bed and places close in the shop that I was at, closed down. And you know, I was next thing you know, I was I was on top of the world now I’m, you know, now I’m unemployed, and I’m not making any money. And, you know, it was really it was it was crazy. But it was a stepping stone led me to Cantor Fitzgerald, which is where I work for the next 23 plus years. You know, so it was, you know, we don’t often see, you know, why the things happen when they happen. All right. But we have to have the belief that God is looking out for us and he knows what’s best for us. And although it may look like it’s really bad, at the end of the day, it turns out really good. You know, and I’m sorry No, no, no, no, no, please go ahead. This is about you. Not me, not me


MJ: lead with my return to Tara taught me that that’s that’s the biggest thing that I think I’d grown in over the past year or so especially being in Israel and being so embedded in my faith that like when things go really really really wrong. I may still cry, I may still scream I may shout at my assistant I may shot at the work man or the handyman, I may throw a plate and yes, I’m a plate thrower I may tell my dogs to go somewhere else. I don’t want to cuddle them, you know, I may whatever it is, may have an extra beer, you know, whatever, whatever it is. I’ve also at some point upon everything, something going wrong, small or big, stopped and said to myself not to see it now, I may not see it tomorrow. I may not see it in 10 years from now. But there’s a reason this is happening. This is what Hashem wants. And this is going to be part and parcel of something else. And if it’s not, then it’s simply something that he’s putting in front of me to make me stronger because as the cliche goes, You know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But in the past year, the passage should really say the past three years and making all the on the challenge that that was and for your audience making all the means you know when you’re Jewish returned to Israel, all Jews have a right to immigration to Israel and the making Alia process is literally returning to Israel. When my Alia was such challenge, it was so difficult. I came here with no friends and no family, and no support from home. And I say that with all due respect to my family, my brothers, my sisters, my mother, but they were not supportive of this decision. And they remained on supportive of this decision today. And so it wasn’t like I could call home and be like, Oh my god, I had the worst day ever. I don’t speak Hebrew. So I couldn’t get the handyman to come and the washing machine broke and, and then the cat, a cat and St. cat ran to the house and dog ran across the street and the beaches tsunami and there’s terrorist attack and war and rocket, and you know, and all I get from home as well, you want to move to Israel. So the challenges before me, you know, really have made me stop and consider that no matter how bad doesn’t matter how long I cry or scream. At some point, I’ve stopped and say to myself, No, this is going to be for something for some were somehow some why.


Ari: Right? I also know, because I have inside information that you’ve got support from an organization called strength to strength, because you sit on their board and we both sit on their board, and we both know salary singer, right. And she is a pillar of strength. All right, for everybody in that organization, as well as me, you. So you know, I know that you are very well loved. Okay. And you do have a great support, they have a support team behind you. Look, I support you, okay, and you know that you can pick up a phone anytime and call me no matter what day or night, you know that I am there for you. It is amazing. What you’ve done is absolutely amazing. Let me just ask you this. Two things. One, so if people want to want to find out more about, uh, what was it called the pain, passion for passion, passion for a purpose, okay. There’s no passion, passion for passion for a purpose. Okay. We had two people find out about it. How do they get in touch with you?


MJ: It’s super easy. It’s And if you Google passion for a purpose, we’ve been around for a decade. So you are Instagram or Twitter and our YouTube will pop right up. Definitely be on the very top of your Google feed. But everything’s linked to P FAAP. You can get in touch with me personally, via email, you can watch that ROTC video, if you go to our YouTube page. It’s there. So up there as one of my students gave me and recorded it. But I am and I am available all the time. I say to my staff all the time. We actually know their workdays and then there are talk days, I spent all you know, three or four days a week, all day talking to people, whether they need a mentor, they need an idea. They don’t know what they’re doing. I literally dedicate you know, at least at least each week, three days just fielding phone calls with people so that you may have nothing to do in business and may lead to no potential opportunities. They may just need somebody who saw me online or saw a video and they were just like, hey, I have an idea or I’ve been thinking about this or I don’t know which way to go. Aye. Aye. All day long to talk to people, I believe that there’s nothing better than giving what I can back. So which is why when you asked me, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I mean, and I say this without without Jess, I literally and one of these days that we scheduled for these kind of crazy calls where I’m just talking to random people all day long and reached out to us. I literally had a phone call with a guy said to me, I want to make pickles. I want to use my buddy’s recipe and I want to make a pickle company. And and like this is my passion. My passion is pickling. And I love pickles. And I just don’t know how to get started. And I was like, Well, you know, have you thought about you know, farming maybe because he lived out he lived out in upstate New York. And he’s like, No, I never thought about just really thinking about buying the cucumbers and doing the Brian. I was like no, let’s think bigger than this. Let’s think about how we can create kind of like a sustainable farm operation, a cucumber farm, and we’ll bring people out you pickling class can be really cool. You’re already out there anyway, you’ve got lots of land. My phone call to phone calls later was a guy who was looking to sell his farm in the Adirondacks but it completely sustainable, eco friendly your vegetable farm in his primary produce cucumbers. No way. It happened happened six years ago it happened it really happened. And as you’ve got to be kidding me I just got off the phone with a guy wants to pick off. And that experience taught me that these days are the most important work days of my week. And even I have had phone calls. I had a phone call. I literally just yesterday had a phone call six months ago that something happened on a phone call today that I thought oh wow, that’s great. I connected those two people right now. right this very moment. They’re meeting because of the the potential opportunity there and connect. So I take these three days very seriously, and anyone ever wants to talk To me, Cannon, I think that really comes from my time being a professor. I love to be in the classroom, not because I could talk forever. I like being heard. But I love just kind of looking out and seeing young minds absorbing things or seeing people think about new ideas or being there to hear theirs and kind of hash it out. And I have my perspective, as you noted, I’m a Republican, proud Republican, you know, and in that classroom, it was it was very clear to my students who were very used to, you know, non Republican proprietors. And so I mean, but I love I love just hearing what people are working on hearing how I can help and seeing what I can do to connect them with others, not even being related to my work. It’s just my passion.


ARri: Wow. I’m speechless. I’m really speechless, and it takes a lot it takes a lot for me to be speechless. Let me tell you but as George Costanza said on Seinfeld, I’m speech I without speech. All right. Before we go, I just want to know, is there anything that you’d like to share with my audience? Any words of wisdom or any words of advice?


MJ: Wow, hard stop. Okay, I thought I thought maybe you continue the question. I just didn’t think about it. So um, okay. So I think the most important lesson that I’ve learned in my 38 plus years, my 30 I mean, I’m almost 39 years on this mortal coil. Is is is fearlessness. To me that is my the most important lesson just just fearlessness. Whether it’s it’s it’s a something of school or something at work. I tell everyone, I need all the people I mentor to be fearless. You know, to put yourself out there in a way not just like, take a major risk. But be fearless when you know it’s the right thing. Don’t hesitate. When you’re when your heart is invested in your mind is invested. And you think you can you think you can do it. But you’re too scared to know, go do and be fearless. I spend the vast majority of my time working with small businesses. And the thing that I learned from all of these people is that they’re always like, I met this great designer slick, but my bags will never sell I meet this great farmer, but no one will like may meet. I need this. You know, the other day I met with a guy who wants to build, you know, build a new settlement. But who will come? No, don’t worry about that right now. If you believe so strongly in your heart, that you’re willing to sacrifice everything to make that bag to build that settlement to raise that cow, then what will happen after that, they will come like if you build it, they will come to be fearless in your building. And I promise they will come. I see it happen all the time. It may take a week, it took me a month a year. But if you are so fearless in how you build what you believe in, then I know in my heart, they will come it may not be the way you want it to. But it does happen. I have too many stories I’ve seen too many times to know that that’s not real. Fearlessness is the most important thing you can have in life. Because my goodness, it goes by so quickly. And and and the next thing you know, you’re a little too old to be so fearless. So be fearless.


Ari: That is That is awesome. That is just like those, but when you say Be fearless, you know and you’re chasing the dream. Those are the whispers that God is giving you those are the things that he’s whispering to your heart into your mind. You know that telling you alright, this is what you need to do. Alright, those are the whispers and listen to the whispers alright, because you know what you want to try and avoid the bricks. Now it’s inevitable you’re going to get hit with a brick. There’s no doubt about it. Okay, but if as long as you keep listening to those whispers, alright. It’s not going to be so bad when the bricks come. Alright, so that is that is just amazing. It’s really words of inspiration, literally words of inspiration. I can go on and on, but I don’t like to go so long on the show. So MJ, I want to thank you so much for sharing your story with my audience. Good luck going forward. You been listening to whispers in bricks and I’m your host Ari Schonbrun. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.