Update: Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education

 
 
This past January, with my co-editor, Ellie Roscher, we put out a call for submissions to a book tentatively titled, Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education. Our call was inspired by Ellie’s prior collection of edited essays on Protestant Seminary education, Keeping the Faith in Seminary. In our new volume, we wanted to explore the question, “How well does rabbinical school prepare rabbis for an ever-changing Jewish religious landscape?” We also hoped to share insights about seminary education from our respective religious communities. Ten months later, because of incredibly caring and dedicated contributors, we’re thrilled to let you know that we have:

 

 

The change in title reflects the number of responses that we received: we realized that we had triggered not just a book, but also an opportunity for a high-quality, constructive conversation.

 

Here’s a small sample of only a few themes from the book:

 

  • Gen Xer’s and Millennials: within reach of rabbis or out of reach?
  • Particular vs. distinctive: does fitting in mean blending in?
  • Can two rabbis share one role?
  • Rabbinical education: keep it at five years or reform it so that it’s not just shorter, but different and better?
  • What kind of rabbi do you want: a spiritual emcee or a contemporary prophet?

hayim-herring-rabbis-bookIn addition to essays that we selected for the project, we’ll soon be opening the invitation to anyone who wishes to share beneficial ideas on the Keeping Faith in Rabbis web page (to be announced soon!), and we’ll be adding video interviews, online hangouts and additional blog posts for about a year.

 

We’re also taking this conversation to the streets. Our inaugural book launch event will take place in the Minneapolis Metro area on the evening of December 2nd at Bet Shalom Congregation (more details to follow), and we’re planning events for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, the Miami Metro area and a few other selected cities. As Ellie has experience in Protestant theological education and its challenges, some of these events will include experts from the Church world. What also excites us is that we’ll be able to feature some of the essayists who contributed to this book as presenters, and other professionals in the field of rabbinical education and higher education in general. If you’re interested in having a community conversation about this topic, please contact me at hayim@hayimherring.com.

 

The “High Holidays” (Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur) are just a few weeks away, and we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the release of the Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans. It’s timely to think about the kind of spiritual tomorrows we want to have, and the role that rabbis, rabbinical educators and lay leaders can play in achieving it. We encourage you to pre-order the book now at http://ktfrabbi.avenidabooks.com. And, given how high the stakes are, we hope that you’ll join the ongoing conversation.

 

 

 

Wars Against Israel: Beyond the Gaza Operation

 

Intertwined Lives Once Again

 

This past Shabbat, we completed reading the Book of Numbers in the annual Torah cycle. The close of that book sets the stage for the Jewish people’s next steps, from wanderers to returnees to their ancestral land. But two tribes, Reuven and Gad, and one half of the tribe of Manasseh, remain on the other side of the Jordan and do not enter the land. Interestingly, while Reuven and Gad directly ask Moses for permission to remain in Transjordan, Moses is the one to designate half of the tribe of Manasseh’s portion in Israel and half in Transjordan (Numbers 32:33) Moses creates an intentional Diaspora, and causes the exile of one part of a family from another. Why?
 

Perhaps Moses foresaw the need to create a reality where Jewish people inside and outside of the land of Israel had a shared a past. The severing of direct family connections might better ensure their chances for a shared future. If only two whole tribes separated from the other ten, it would have been much easier for each side to forget about the other. But by splitting a single tribe in half, Moses increased the odds that caring would transcend geography and time, and that a family that was literally divided would better remember that a shared past meant an intertwined future, one in which each half would help the other in times of need.
 
And that is the contemporary situation of worldwide Jewry again. We share not just a past, but also a present in which many of us have immediate family members and some of our closest friends in Israel. We are both obligated and personally motivated to secure a shared, peaceful future for the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
 

 israel-gaza
 
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A Tale of Two Pictures: Before and After an Iron Dome Alert

 

(This post is about my recent 3 week visit to Israel, where I spent most of my time in Jerusalem.)

 

Words just don’t cut it when describing what it’s like to be caught outdoors when an incoming missile alert siren sounds. Especially the part that news reporters don’t record—the ten minutes after the siren goes silent. So here are two pictures: one showing an Iron Dome interceptor hitting four incoming rockets near my Jerusalem neighborhood when I was visiting, and the other showing two cars decorated for a wedding ten minutes later.

 

And here’s the connection…

 

Israel - Iron Dome and Wedding

 

It was about 5:45 pm a week ago this past Tuesday, and my wife, Terri, and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood. We were on a very popular path, and it was crowded with families with young children, an elderly person being pushed in a wheel chair, joggers, and middle-aged couples like us. At about 5:55 pm, the siren sounded. We were nowhere within the approximately 30 seconds that we had to find a bomb shelter. Terri turned to me and said, “What do we do?” to which I said, “Run like everyone else around us and drop to the ground. And that’s what we did, along with an older woman near us, and a family with three young children under the age of five.

 

Then I looked up and saw the awesome power of the life-saving Iron Dome missile defense system. And Iron Dome does not just save Jewish lives. It saves the lives of all Israeli citizens: Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews. And it also saves the lives of more Palestinians in Gaza, for without Iron Dome, Israel would have needed to undertake ground operations in Gaza many times to destroy its massive arsenal of missiles that are hidden under deep tunnels, sometimes near schools and hospitals.

 

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Fanatic Focus vs. Distraction Disorder

 

I recently read an article, “Feeling More Antsy and Irritable Lately? Blame Your Smartphone.” One of its authors, Nicholas Carr, noted: “Back in 2006, a famous study of online retailing found that a large percentage of online shoppers would abandon a retailing site if its pages took four seconds or longer to load. In the years since then, the so-called Four Second Rule has been repealed and replaced by the Quarter of a Second Rule. Studies by companies like Google and Microsoft now find it takes a delay of just 250 milliseconds in page-loading for people to start abandoning a site. ‘Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,’ a top Microsoft engineer said in 2012. To put that into perspective, it takes about the same amount of time for you to blink an eye.”

 

If he’s right that means many of us have attention spans about as long as the blink of an eye!

 

I’m not sure if the American Psychological Association has come up with a name for our collective impatience and inability to focus, so let me suggest Distraction Disorder.

 

OSTILL/Thinkstock

OSTILL/Thinkstock

 

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WorthRight Israel: Fund Interfaith Couples and Families Israel Trips

 

Imagine what would happen if funders created a variety of high-quality Israel trips that were free or heavily-subsidized for interfaith couples and families.

 

Question to funders and philanthropists: What about making a heavily subsidized trip to Israel available for interfaith couples and families? Here are the arguments for it:

 

“Israel-alienated” Jews constitute about 20% of the young Jewish population, to use Professor Steven Cohen’s term in a recent analysis he prepared for The Jewish Daily Forward. Not just hawkish Israeli government policies, but intermarriage also has emerged as an “indicator of alienation” from Israel.

 

Any rabbi or other educator who has taught an Introduction to Judaism class with non-Jewish learners knows that it’s impossible to give them the experience of pride, love and passion for Israel simply by talking about the Jewish state. They can experience a Shabbat or holiday meal locally, they can experience being a part of a Jewish family locally, but they can’t feel the complexity and depth of emotions about Israel from a classroom in the Diaspora.

 

Interfaith family in Israel

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When Does Debate Cross a Line from Health to Pathology?

 

I’m not looking for some nostalgic Jewish past when we were all unified. That would be fiction, not historical fact. (Item: think we’re not unified now? Remember that when the Romans besieged Jerusalem in early 70 C.E., extremist Jewish factions burned storehouses of the little food left in an effort to provoke Jewish moderates into war against the Romans and out of potential negotiations). Debate, discussion, dissent and disagreement are in our DNA — and for the better. These attributes help us hone our ideas, challenge our assumptions, and collectively and progressively refresh Judaism.

 

But like much of America today, we have divides, not spectrums:

 

• Open Hillel/Safe Hillel
• J-Street/AIPAC
• Religious/Secular
• In-married/Intermarried
• Mainstream/Start Up
• Growth/Decline
• Modern Orthodox/Extreme Orthodox
• Boomers/Millennials

 

hayim-herring-great-divide

 

Divides create a mentality of, “you’re either for us or against us,” while spectrums of belief can help focus energies on areas of agreement. Divides turn people off, while spectrums bring people in.

 

Note that most of these divisions aren’t new, although their labeling has been updated in some cases. But I think that social media have heightened the question, “At what point will dissent impair our ability to act collectively? Why might it do so? Because just as the Internet bestows the blessing of instantly spreading great ideas, it is equally potent at spreading disdain for one another. (Sometimes the web feels like a 24/7 global la-shon ha-ra or gossip factory.) And ill-will may linger well after any specific incident and turn into hardened opinions and stereotypes.

 

The minor festival of lag b’omer is celebrated this Sunday. Legend has it that a massive number of students of Rabbi Akiva died because of internecine fighting several weeks before that time, as Divine punishment for lack of mutual respect. They forgot that they needed each other–that’s my interpretation. Clearly, even a “big tent” has its limits. But if we want a dynamic and healthy American Jewish community, we’re going to have to cool the rhetoric we use in speaking of differences, and warm the embrace within our respective belief system.

 

 

Want to Advance understanding of American and Israeli Jewry? Think Networks!

 

I returned from Israel a week ago after spending Passover in Jerusalem. It’s not so bad to be able to purchase kosher for Passover take-out food for Seder and have the option of eating out at restaurants during that week! Those are very different experiences than I would have in Minneapolis or most other Jewish communities in the United States. But within only 24 hours of my return, Israel was brought right back into my living room in three powerful ways:
 
1. A very close friend of mine described the terror of being in Sederot in Southern Israel with his family, when a “Red Alert” rocket warning sounded. He described the immediate anxiety of knowing that Hamas-fired rockets hit, and the general anxiety of not knowing when the next ones would.
 
2. A news story described a program called Dancing in Jaffa in which young Palestinians and Israeli children were learning how to dance together, and the positive social impact this initiative was having on them and their families But as a part of the story, one of the interview clips that they showed was a 10-year-old Israeli girl saying, “My father would kill me if you knew that I was friends with a Palestinian.”
 
3. And the news that wasn’t news to anyone following: The collapse of “peace talks” between Israelis and Palestinians, with Palestinians blaming Israelis for continued West Bank settlement expansion (correctly) and Israelis stating a powerful truth: a unity government of Fatah and Hamas, with Hamas’s avowed destruction of Israel, is a deal-breaker.
 
Israel_and_Palestine_PeaceHow do you ever convey to American Jews the vibrancy and complexity of Jewish life in Israel, and is there a way to help Israelis understand that while the American Jewish community is clearly confronted by demographic challenges, Jewish life in America is thriving in many ways?
 
Here’s my take away from my visit: don’t only think “programs,” think networks. It’s time to do a network mapping project of the existing groups of Jewish Israelis and Americans who spend or have spent decent chunks of time in one another’s respective communities. Currently, we don’t have visual maps of just how many different networks there are of Israelis who get to know American Jewish communities, and Americans who get to know Israel on the deeper level.
 
Who are the Americans who regularly visit Israel and who are the Israelis who visit America regularly? For example, from the American side, businesses people and investors (who may or may not be Jewish), academics, students who spend a gap year in Israel, families who host Israeli scouts or develop deep relationships with community shlichim, and of course, those with family in Israel. And on the Israeli side, journalists who who cover American jewelry, former Israeli citizens who still visit Israel regularly, community shlichim who work in a number of communities over a period of years, doctors who trained in the States and practice in Israel and to stimulate thinking about the existence of hidden networks–groups of individuals who exist already but don’t appear on any organizational chart–even Israeli airline personnel whose routes take them to the States frequently.
 
We have Israeli advocacy, educational and political organizations. We have programs. But we don’t have a clear understanding of the the likely large number of community bridge spanners, people who move between the Jewish American and Israeli communities. What would happen If we could identify these networks, create spaces for them to connect and nurture (not control) their interests? I have a feeling that these networks of bridge spanners are an asset waiting to be tapped that can help add a dimension of nuance to the often blunt, one-dimensional pictures that are used to describe our respective Jewish communities. Any thoughts? Please send them to me by clicking Contact on my website.

 

 

 

Sign of the Times for the Jewish Community, Too: Alban Institute to Close

 

The Alban Institute announced yesterday that it is closing. Until not long ago, Alban was the premiere publishing house and consulting firm for churches. Even before it began a concerted effort to work with synagogues, I knew many rabbis who drew heavily upon its abundant resources. What made Alban unique was its ability to apply serious research to real-world issues of congregations: leadership, conflict, clergy personality types, congregational culture, finances—and pretty much every pertinent issue for congregations. When it opened 40 years ago in 1974, it was far ahead of its time. Now, like so many religious endeavors, it seems that time has passed it by.

 

Alban-Institute-Closing

So what can the Jewish community learn from this significant event?

 

• Organizations have lifecycles. There is wisdom in knowing when it’s time to turn off the lights.

 

• If you are personally involved in one of these situations it can be incredibly painful and stressful.

 

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Lay People Welcome: Share Your Thoughts on 21st Century Rabbinical Education!

 

 

As my co-editor, Ellie Roscher and I, are receiving essays for our latest research project and book, Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education, we’re already beginning to hear an unprecedented, multi-vocal conversation. Our goal is to understand from rabbis in the field and educators of rabbis how rabbinical education needs to grow and shift to be relevant in the 21st century. But – several weeks ago I realized that I only had two of the three sets voices needed for this book project. Your voice – those of you who have ongoing interactions with rabbis, or who had them in the past, need to be represented in this book. Why?

 

Generally, with the exception of much of the Orthodox world, the goal of rabbinical school is not to become a rabbi. Rather, it is to serve Jewish people as a camp or school educator, congregational rabbi, chaplain, Hillel director or in some other way. So, how could I not invite those of you who are not rabbis to add an essay to this volume?! After all, you are the intended beneficiaries of rabbinical education.

 

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Rabbi’s Role: Speaking Out Or Maintaining Community?

 
Frequently, I hear congregants complain that their rabbis are not inspiring or that they never take clear stands on issues of importance. That’s why the ongoing discussion about rabbinic independence that has erupted again at B’nai Jeshurun, covered very fairly by The Jewish Week (“B’nai Jeshurun Defections Fuel Debate,” Feb. 28), transcends any single congregation and any one subject. It is a contemporary case study about two issues facing the congregational world:

 

  • the intersection of a rabbi’s obligation to speak his or her mind truthfully and the members of a congregation’s right to feel that their voices are also heard and,

 

  • the ability to maintain a community in which individuals have shared depth of passion about an issue, while holding divergent views on tactics.

 

That is why respectful coverage of issues like these are important and healthy, because they test the ability of congregations to not become monolithic echo chambers, where two factions shout at one another and victory goes to the most shrill side. We can’t let synagogues go down that path.

 

A primary role of the rabbi is to build community infused with purpose. If a rabbi’s goal is only to create relationships and build community, I actually don’t understand what that means: relationships and community toward what end? Yes—we desperately need places like congregations that can be microcosms of kindness, civility, decency and meaningful, multi-generational interaction. But even more, we need communities to help us be and do more than we can alone. Purposeful, intentional communities that transform the lives of individuals and positively impact the broader community develop over time with the help of rabbis who are possessed with a vision of a grander tomorrow. If good and warm and nice are your essential goals, then you can expect rabbis who will be sweet but relatively bland, lest they offend someone. Congregations will have spiritual caretakers but not spiritual leaders. Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the Musar Movement, expressed this idea best when he said, “A rabbi whose community does not disagree with him is no rabbi. A rabbi who fears his community is no man.”

 

However, rabbi and senior volunteer leaders need to reach agreement first about the vision they strive to fulfill together. The operative word in this sentence is “together. ” Neither rabbi nor congregational leaders unilaterally declare the vision. Rather, rabbis and senior volunteer leaders develop a shared vision. In that process, a rabbi has considerable opportunity to bring an integrated understanding and approach of the “what” and “why” of being Jewish. Then, over a period of years, rabbi and senior volunteers work together on achieving just a little bit more perfection in their corner of the world—their congregational community. This is not a linear process and it’s messy and open at times. But when rabbis and volunteers learn how to keep their eyes on the ball over a long time horizon, they create a kind of alchemy that can turn moral blight into moral majesty.

 

Rabbis can’t be expected to separate their “political beliefs” from their Jewish values either. The idea of partitioning personal beliefs from public persona is authentically Protestant but antithetically Jewish. Politics are intertwined with policy and the allocation of resources that touch deeply on Jewish values, so rabbis are authentic when they refract these issues through their reading of the Jewish tradition. But a rabbi must also be sensitive to where the congregation is at a given moment in time, assess how far he or she can try to move it and also know when the congregation must pause to gain strength for the next step, be it inward or outward. Especially in our trigger-finger social-media environment, rabbis owe their leaders advanced notice of how they intend to address controversial issues, but should not be censured for doing so.

 

Ultimately, when rabbis and volunteer leaders can’t agree upon a shared vision, it’s time to examine the sustainability of the relationship. But remember: when rabbis and volunteers have worked hard together over a long period, the option for parting ways should be treated like radical surgery—the only possible last resort that might save a life. And even if that life is saved, it is never the same again. That’s why where there is a commitment to a shared vision and transparent communications, and a rabbi speaks from the heart about that vision but congregational leaders buckle under pressure, they have failed their rabbi and their community. That results not just in the loss of good rabbis but also in the loss of communities of purpose—communities that have the ability to change lives and change worlds.

 

And now to the current challenge. In full disclosure, Rabbi Matalon and I were close classmates in rabbinical school. I’m grateful that we’ve maintained our friendship over the years and, not surprisingly, the last time we met together in person was at a café in Yerushalayim. My respect for him and for his colleagues has grown over the years and his love for Israel doesn’t need my verbal defense. His work on Israel advocacy within his congregation and beyond speaks for itself. But I am compelled to speak out for two reasons. First, I believe that it’s still possible for individuals with shared values but disparate strategies to remain friends and be in dialogue. Second, because as I wrote earlier, the Jewish community deserves rabbis who speak about issues that are not theoretical, but ultimate and real.

 

The hatred toward Israel in parts of Europe has been gathering steam for years and similar feelings have already seeped into influential institutions here. The policies of the current Israeli government often offend my Jewish sense of justice, just as my colleagues on the right do when they seek to justify that which is plainly and morally wrong. But, given a globally networked effort to undermine the legal legitimacy of a Jewish state (forces which the current Israeli government often feeds), I won’t be silent when my rabbinic colleagues publicly blast Jewish organizations that advocate for Israel, even when I don’t agree with all of their tactics. Why? Because I know from personal experience that my words will be used as precious gifts to organizations and individuals who have dedicated their lives to the denial of Israel’s existence.

 

While I am appalled by right-wing national and religious extremism, I will find other ways than expressing my views in public pronouncements that have the potential to strengthen those who are irreconcilably hostile to the existence of a Jewish state. While I respect those who disagree with me, I’m casting my choice with the first century Jewish sage, Shimon ben Shetach, who said: “be deliberate in your choice of words, lest others abuse them to testify falsely (Pirkei Avot 1:9).”

 

 

 

Rough Realities of the Rabbinate

 

 

“There’s something happening here, But what it is ain’t exactly clear…”
Why Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education

 

Someone asked me, “Why are you working on Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education (KTF Rabbinical), a book about 21st Century rabbinical education?”

 

As I take a call from another rabbi in crisis, hear another lament about a rabbi from a congregant, read an additional mean-spirited attack in the Jewish Daily Forward against a denomination and generally observe congregations around the country, I keep thinking of the refrain from a song titled “For What It’s Worth,” popularly known as “Stop Children What’s that Sound.” (Trivia buffs: according to Wikipedia, Stephen Stills wrote this song in November 1966, and the band that he was then a part of, Buffalo Springfield, recorded it a few weeks later.)

 

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear…

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

 

People kvetching about rabbis in whatever capacity they work, and rabbis complaining about their constituents is an old story. But the rate at which I’ve seen some really outstanding rabbis lose their jobs for no good reason, or the depth of dissatisfaction that lay people have with some rabbis for good reason, seems to be more pervasive than only a couple of decades ago.

 

“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear…”

 

Is it that:
• As American Jews, we are very far removed from the time where the rabbi was the most educated person in the community, and therefore the rabbi is not respected automatically?

 

• Clergy scandals tainted the expectations that lay leaders have of rabbis as exemplars of morality?

 

• The “What have you done for me lately mentality?” that has eroded longstanding business relationships, has crept into relationships with rabbis?

 

• The culture of disdain for authority figures has expanded to include rabbis?

 

• The extent to which social media’s ability to dispense global gossip on momentary notice fueled tensions between volunteers and rabbis?

 

• Rabbis rightfully expect to be treated as professionals, but we did not understand that meant evaluations, performance reviews and measurable outcomes: a skill set that most rabbis don’t have, and a mindset that often recoils from this kind of orientation toward the sacred.

 

• The consumerist mentality of shopping, combined with the Internet and the mainstreaming of Jewish culture, means that shopping for rabbis, Jewish education, Jewish ritual is an “anyone, anytime, anywhere” option?

 

I’m working on Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education because I want to help rabbis and their respective constituents grow together at a time when they seem to be growing further apart. Nothing less than the quality of Jewish life in the United States is at stake. And by exploring the education and continuing education of rabbis, I believe that we’ll gain clarity on which of the above dynamics are immutable and which are amenable to positive change. If you know a rabbi, are a rabbi or educator of rabbis, click here to learn more about submitting an essay for consideration to this volume. And volunteer leaders who care about high-quality rabbinical education—stay tuned, you’ll soon be receiving an invitation, too.

 

 

KTF team: Rabbi Hayim Herring, Andrew Barron, owner/publisher Avenida Books, co-editor, Ellie Roscher.

KTF team: Rabbi Hayim Herring, Andrew Barron, owner/publisher Avenida Books, co-editor, Ellie Roscher.

 

 

I Never Knew I Had it Within Me – Do You?

 

I never had aspirations to write an article or book and have it published. I couldn’t even see it on my long-term horizon. But at a rabbis’ retreat in the 1990’s, in a session where we were asked to explore our dreams, I wrote the words, “I want to write a book.”

 

To this day, it’s still a mystery where this urge emanated from, but subsequently I slowly began to own the possibility of authoring a book. I guess that was a shorthand way of intuiting that I had something within me to say that I needed to see in writing, although I was skeptical that anyone else would really care. While years passed before I published my first article, that session catapulted my unconscious thoughts into concrete realities.

 

Today, the tools of publishing have been democratized and are easily accessible to just about anyone who wants to be an author. But making the leap from teacher and preacher, to writer with a permanent record, can still be emotionally daunting. I asked my friend and co-editor of Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education, Ellie Roscher, to share her thoughts on making that transition. We’re doing so with the hope that rabbis who have a story to tell about their rabbinical education will feel empowered to finally liberate that story within them for our forthcoming publication or, for that matter, to share their wisdom and spirit with the world in a way that suits them.

 

(For Ellie’s advice continue reading below the image)

keeping the faith

 

And Ellie’s Advice….

 

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” ~ Sylvia Plath

 

I have always loved writing. I was surprised, then, when it was time to publish my first blog post. My palms got sweaty. My heart started to race. I learned in that moment that writing to publish is vastly different than writing to write. It is shockingly vulnerable to send your work, what feels like your life out into the unknown abyss. There is no controlling who will read it and what they will think. But when my thoughts and stories inspire something completely unexpected in a stranger, something new is born. The text comes alive. And all the work– the notes, the word choice, the deleting, the doubt and research is all worth it. Here are a few simple tips to get you started:

 

1) Don’t try too hard to create a style. Your style is simply what you notice about the world. Pay attention and then write what you see and think about. Your style will emerge effortlessly from that.

 

2) Never sit down to a blank screen without an idea. Talk to friends about your idea until you can articulate it verbally with ease. Write sentences in your head while you are driving or walking. People tend to be braver about deleting bad sentences in their head than once they are typed out. If you have a few ideas and sentences in your head when you sit down to type, you may be more playful, and less nervous about writer’s block.

 

3) When output feels hard, change your input to output ratio. Read great books, listen to stimulating podcasts, take in nature, put on fantastic music, sip your favorite wine. Take in a ton of beauty and then try again.

 

4) Read your work aloud when you think it is finished. If a sentence sounds forced coming out of your mouth, it may read forced as well. If you can read your writing aloud without strain, that means it is clear,conversational, effective communication that is distinctly “you.” Great way to find typos and listen for rhythm that feels natural.

 

Writing is hard work, but it’s good work. Write to find out what you really think about something, to deepen your own self-reflection. Be unabashedly selfish in writing for your own self-improvement and for fun. Find the beauty of your story. Send it to one person you trust when you think it is ready. Listen to how the sentences feel in your mouth. Send it out into the world and see where it chooses to live. Let yourself be surprised and deeply proud of your courage.

 

 

 

Mission, Marketing and Media—Inseparable, Invaluable (Part 3)

 

Welcome to the third in a series of guest bloggers from my friends and colleagues — all experts in their respective fields. As I wrote last week, these three words — mission, marketing and media — can begin to sound like empty buzzwords unless they are clearly defined and then made actionable for congregations. The content of what they mean is easy. The key is in understanding the context. Rounding out the series, I’m delighted that my friend and colleague Rabbi Jason Miller, President of Access Computer Technology and all-around rabbinic entrepreneur, is this week’s guest blogger. He provides real-world examples of what happens when the bricks and mortar of a congregation meet the bytes and clicks of the digital age, and why social media channels for engaging people are not optional, but integral to congregational work.

 

“The Social Networking Synagogue of the 21st Century”
Rabbi Jason Miller – Access Computer Technology

 

Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit, MichiganAsk a typical Jewish man or woman if they belong to a synagogue and you’re likely to hear, “Yes, but we only attend on the High Holidays.” Nothing new there. We all know the twice-a-year Jews who only show up in the pews on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, just as we all know Christians who only appear in church on Christmas and Easter. However, something has changed as of late.

 

That same individual who once described their synagogue attendance in such sporadic terms might now explain that she is an active member of the congregation. Has she all of a sudden begun attending the bricks and mortar synagogue building any more than she did in the past? No. So what has changed that her answer is so vastly different? She now finds herself engaging with her congregational community in Cyberspace. She is a fan of the congregation’s Facebook page and while she was able to ignore those monthly event flyers that arrived in her mailbox on various colors of copy paper, she now sees each program the congregation offers in her Facebook feed (which she spends an hour a day on average reading!). As she’s following the lives of her friends and family, she’s also tracking the weekly happenings at the synagogue. She can see which friends are attending classes, she is learning from the rabbi who posts some thoughts on the weekly Torah portion, and she closely scrutinizes the photos that were uploaded from the last Sisterhood function (which she didn’t attend in real time, but she now feels as if she was there).

 

That same individual who felt so out of touch with his congregation because he only engaged the services of the rabbi a few times in the month leading up to his daughter’s bat mitzvah is now subscribed to the congregation’s weekly Constant Contact newsletter. He knows which congregants passed away, whose children became engaged, and who just became grandparents for the first time. He can now keep up with what his children are learning in the religious school because he follows the education director’s tweets during the school hours (wow, he thinks, this is way more interesting than my Hebrew School experience!). He learned from uploaded photos on Instagram that there is a monthly study session just for men at the local pub led by the rabbi and he already added the next month’s session to his calendar.

 

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Mission, Marketing and Media—Inseparable, Invaluable (Part 2)

 

Welcome to the second in a series of guest bloggers from my friends and colleagues—all experts in their respective fields. As I wrote last week, these three topics are integral to today’s successful synagogues. Yet, contextualizing them for congregations is not always so easy. But this week’s guest blogger, Rose McKinney, founder and C.E.O. of Pineapple Reputation Management, provides a congregational-friendly framework for thinking about marketing (hint: think “story telling”).

 

Have Faith in the Merits of Marketing
Rose McKinney, Pineapple RM

Rose-Mckinney_profile

Mention marketing within a corporate setting and heads nod excitedly and knowingly as executives with MBAs toss about buzz words like metric dashboards, sales funnel and lead conversion.  Mention marketing during a non-profit board meeting and committee people get giddy with possibilities for fundraising and membership drives.  Mention marketing within faith communities and wrinkles appear on peoples’ brows and then the comments of indignation:  “Oh, no, we don’t believe in selling.”

 

That’s when I know there is a disconnect.  Marketing and sales are often lumped together because good marketing creates an environment in which sales can take place, but make no mistake – marketing is about relationships and storytelling, it’s about community, and sales is about monetary transaction.

 

No worries, faith communities are not alone in confusing the merits of marketing.  If you’re leery as to where this is going, let me mention a few familiar types of groups that now market themselves yet previously were diametrically opposed to such a notion.

 

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Mission, Marketing and Media—Inseparable, Invaluable

 

 

Like many of you, I work with some really smart people, who love what they do, strive to learn from others and passionately share their knowledge in return. The next three posts will be from experts who exemplify these qualities, and I’ve invited them to write about the integral relationship between mission, marketing and media. Our first guest is Daniel Chiat, of Measuring Success, whose organization has rich, unique data on why mission matters. Hope you enjoy these posts!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

 

Got Mission? It Matters—and Here Are the Data To Prove It!

ChiatDaniel Chiat, Measuring Success

 

What characteristics of synagogue life predispose members to feel satisfied and to feel that they have personally grown as a Jew? There are certainly many worthy answers, but the two most important aspects both come down to vision.

 

We’re not guessing at this conclusion; it’s grounded in the analysis of thousands of synagogue members across North America. Over the last five years, we’ve assisted nearly 40 synagogues in using data to create strategic plans and build relationships. We’ve asked over 15,000 congregants to answer questions about their priorities and satisfaction levels. The results indicate that the top drivers of synagogue satisfaction and personal growth are high scores on the following two questions:

 

  • Do the vision and values of the synagogue resonate with you?
  • Do the vision and values of the clergy resonate with you?

 

Hayim Herring Blog

We know that high scores on these vision questions are the best predictors of satisfaction and personal growth regardless of a synagogue’s location, membership size, or denomination. This is because our database includes synagogues from across the spectrum and everything in between. The data suggests that synagogue leaders should invest energy on vision and values in order to have significant impact on outcomes like member satisfaction, retention, and personal growth.

 

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Some Things are Meant to Be—and Maybe Now is Your Time….

 

Last April, I read an Alban weekly newsletter about a collection of essays on Protestant seminary education, called Keeping the Faith in Seminary Education. This volume was edited Ellie Roscher, a Protestant, female millennial with personal seminary experience. Having worked for many years on rabbinical and continuing Rabbinical education, I was naturally intrigued by the topic. And I also know that Protestants and Jews have some of the same struggles in creating vibrant religious communities, so a collaboration on this kind of project would likely generate some new ideas. I didn’t know Ellie, but thought that there was no downside to tracking her down and learning more about her project. Yes – I admit that I was already thinking then about perhaps editing a book with her on rabbinical education.

Hayim Herring-WordCloud

Coincidentally or providentially, it turned out that she was moving back to her hometown in Minneapolis. Shortly after she arrived, we met in person. I can’t say that I expected that she would agree at our very first meeting to be involved in co-editing and writing a part of a book. But I guess that some things are meant to be, and not only Ellie, but her publisher, Andrew Barron of Avenida Books, also quickly came on board.

 

So here is your chance: especially in light of the Pew Study, if you are a rabbinical student, rabbi, or educator of rabbinical students or rabbis, we want to hear your unmediated voice on the nature of rabbinical education. Please click here to find out how you can potentially contribute an essay to a volume that needs to be written—I hope that I’ll catch you at one of those moments of interest, just like Ellie’s volume found me. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

 

Thank you, Rabbi Hayim Herring

 

P.S.-for Ellie’s version of the story on our collaboration, visit her blog. And—first we wrote our own recollections of our meeting and only then did we read one another’s posts. Uncanny how similar and still distinctive they are!

 

 

 

Be Entrepreneurial, Not Innovative

 

 

“Drop the quest for innovation and adopt the mentality of entrepreneurship.” That was my essential message to of a wonderful group of rabbis from the Philadelphia Metro Area a few days ago. With the support of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, I had the pleasure of facilitating a highly interactive workshop with about 40 colleagues on Rabbinic entrepreneurship. What’s the difference between being innovative and being entrepreneurial? In my workbook (click, complete form and download) on Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, I wrote,

 

“Innovation” is a catchphrase everywhere we look, and it is often used as a substitute for entrepreneurship, but there is a difference between them:

  • Innovation requires creativity but, unlike entrepreneurship, does not address issues like tolerance for risk, organizational agility, improvisational ability, and speed.
  • Innovation often comes in bursts after focusing on discrete ideas and issues, while entrepreneurship requires cultivating a certain kind of culture, defined by a set of practices and attitudes that are infused throughout an organization

 

Innovative Rabbis The rabbis completed a diagnostic assessment of readiness for moving to an entrepreneurial culture (p.19 in the workbook). Then, they divided into small groups to explore how to apply ten entrepreneurial practices to an idea about which they were passionate and bring to life in their communities. This group of rabbis was very diverse. But their passion for wanting to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset was a feeling they shared—and they inspired me.

 

Rabbis are too often an unfair and handy target for undeserved criticism about the state of Jewish affairs. No doubt, we’ve earned some of the criticism. On the other hand, it’s also clear to me that many rabbis are ready to turn the dial on maintenance down and turn up the dial on entrepreneurship. The dynamic of public punishment of rabbis who take risks, and their reactive tendency to then play it safe, is one that each side should acknowledge and change. And when that happens, congregants, rabbis and the broader Jewish community will begin to enjoy both the rootedness of a community and the excitement of an incubator for fresh Jewish life.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about how your leadership can become more entrepreneurial, please contact me and let’s start the discussion! I’ve heard many of your ideas and it’s time for you to turn them into realities.

 

 

 

Call me Edgar

 

It was with those words and an extended hand that I first met Edgar M. Bronfman, of blessed memory, about a decade ago. I had recently been hired as Executive Director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), one of the initiatives that he was funding. And over the course of that decade, I was incredibly fortunate to spend time with Edgar M. Bronfman, a contemporary hero of the Jewish people. (I use those words genuinely—my professional relationship with The Samuel Bronfman Foundation ended when STAR disbanded in 2010.) Anyone of a certain age involved in Jewish communal life knew the name, Edgar M. Bronfman, and for good reason. As a small tribute to Edgar, I’d like to frame several personal reflections in a way that he would appreciate: with brevity and with Torah.

 

This week’s parasha, Vaera, opens on a depressing note. We left off last week with Pharaoh further demoralizing the Jewish people. What is his response to Moshe’s demand to liberate them? He responds by obligating the Jewish people to gather the raw materials for brick baking, something that he had provided them with, and still produce the same quota of bricks. Moshe’s chutzpah in confronting Pharaoh is repaid with more back-breaking work, not more freedom! And how do the Jewish people respond when Moshe tries to encourage the people to believe in a better, achievable, not-to-distant future? “And the people did not believe him because their spirits were crushed and the labor was hard” (Exodus 6:9). After all those years of oppression and humiliation, can you blame them for giving up easily after their initial hopes were shattered?

Edgar Bronfman
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Jewish Cultural Affirmation: Great Intent, Misguided Action

 

 

First, thank you to Steven M. Cohen and Kerry Olitzky once again for opening up a wide space for conversation about the future of the American Jewish community. These two prominent observers and activists of Jewish life continue to challenge us with unconventional thinking. With regard to their idea of Jewish Cultural Affirmation as a new option for formal identification with the Jewish people, great intent, but misguided action. Here’s why:

 

The Jewish people worldwide as an entity is already fractured by competing definitions of Jewish status. Why compound the confusion?

 

Seriously—how possible will it be to gain agreement by a group of scholars upon the canon of knowledge and experiences required for Jewish Culture Affirmation? A definition by one group will spawn a number of alternative and likely contradictory ones, creating disputes among self-appointed Cultural Certifiers, and casting doubts on the bona fides of graduates of these self-guided programs.

 

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Pew-ish and Religiously Jewish

 

Pew’s Portrait of American Jews and Ritual: A Troubling Landscape

 

One of Dr. Arnie Eisen’s first big ideas as Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary was “The Mitzvah Initiative.” The most recent Statement of Principles of the Reform Movement encourages individuals to reexamine the role of mitzvah (“sacred obligations”). And, who knows how much Chabad has invested over the decades trying to persuade people to add just “one more mitzvah” to their lives. But the vast majority of American Jews have rejected some core mitzvot/rituals that have defined the Jewish people throughout the ages (like keeping kosher, praying regularly in synagogue and observing a day of Shabbat—to name a few).

 

The most recent Pew Report reaffirms this reality (see especially chapters 3 and 4 of the report). This isn’t new, but it is a persistent puzzle despite the efforts of every religious stream, and especially the monumental efforts of Chabad. And here’s why we should be concerned about the lack of a wider adoption of consistent ritual practice and what the absence of it might mean for the long-term future of American Jewry.

 

Pew-Study-Hayim-Herring

According to the Pew study, when asked whether being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, ancestry or culture, six-in-ten cite either ancestry or culture (or a combination of the two).

 

But first, a couple of pre-emptive clarifications. This post is not about whether someone who performs mitzvot is a “better Jew” than someone who doesn’t. That’s a pointless and insulting debate because we’ve all met ritually observant scoundrels and ethical people who don’t care much for core Jewish rituals.

 

Second—this post is not another call to “adopt a mitzvah” or make “halakha” (Jewish law) relevant. Rather, it’s a challenge that I’m putting forth to those who value ritual to speak more broadly and openly about the nexus between personal ritual practice and ethical behavior, and to help others hear the music underneath the ritual that moves us to do more and be more than we think we’re capable of.

 

As noted in the Pew Report, the majority of American Jews hold that belief in God, being ethical and moral people and working for social justice are essential attributes of being Jewish—something rightfully to feel quite proud about! So why be concerned about the lack of a greater widespread adoption of a rich, ritual life? Because without it, we risk losing the very values that make us proud of who we are.

 

So here’s how I understand ritual….Ritual is an imperfect, evolving yet organized system that helps me develop into a more decent human being. With ongoing practice, ritual reminds me to become a more empathetic, thoughtful and generous human being. If I value social justice in my heart, then my ritual reflex must be to pay employees a decent wage and give them a day of rest. If I know that I should be grateful for the many blessings in my life that I didn’t work for, then prayer, with its many expressions of gratitude, helps me remember to express appreciation to others. Ideally, ritual transforms what are often ephemeral moral feelings into immediate ethical actions.

 

And ritual has other relevance today. We live in a hyper-changing present, saturated with expanding choices that clamor for immediate attention. Personally, Jewish ritual has increasingly felt like the rest notes in a score of music that help me pause, and then regain perspective on which relationships and activities are ultimately important and which only feel so at the moment. And when I’m a part of a community that practices some of the same rituals that I do, I gain the strength that I need to keep practicing, which isn’t always easy.

 

And that’s what leads me to my concern—for how long will Jews continue to be passionate about social justice, morality and ethics without the reinforcement of ritual? For how long can a set of today’s values be transmitted to future generations without the language of ritual? So far, so good—many American Jews are living exemplary moral lives without the fuel that ritual can provide. But let’s affirm what we know from experience: today’s “givens” can become tomorrow’s “goners” and we know that just because something is, it’s no guarantee that it always will be.

 

So a call to action to professional and volunteer religious leaders of all stripes: let’s make a stronger case by living example about how ritual and values are inextricably linked. Let’s make the values that underlie our personal religious practice explicit, not in order to guilt or coerce others to behave a certain way, but to stimulate conversation and inspire change. Why? Because we have no examples of sustainable secular or cultural Jewish communities. (Historians, please correct me if I am wrong. But, before you point to yesterday’s Bund or even better, today’s secular Zionism, take a look at how a reclamation project of religious texts, tunes and traditions is occurring among “secular” Israelis today.) And a call to funders: even if you personally don’t like the ritual side of Judaism, understand that it has contributed to your values and priorities, that it has a role to play in perpetuating them and that initiatives that foster practice and appreciation of ritual are worthy of your support.