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Rabbis Who Declined Call with President Trump Were Faithful to their Calling

Unlike the leaders of the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, the rabbinical heads of the Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform Movements declined to participate in a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call with President Trump this morning (JTA, Ron Kampeas, September 14). Clearly, this is a controversial decision, and there are good arguments to be made on both sides for reaching opposite conclusions. But here is why I believe that the movement leaders who decided not to participate acted faithfully.

 

Politically, we shouldn’t take for granted the exceptional relations that we have had with the White House in recent decades. After all, how frequently in Jewish history have we enjoyed such an embrace from the White House, and how different might modern Jewish history be had we possessed those relationships with European leaders before the outbreak of World War II?

 

But history has also shown that we ultimately gain the respect of powerful people when we maintain self-respect. In this case, I believe that means distancing ourselves for now from a President who has relentlessly demeaned and dehumanized a rather diverse group of people through reckless speech—one of those sins for which we ask God’s forgiveness on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. (And you have to admit that insulting such a broad array of individuals, from Senator John McCain to Khizir Kahn, a member of an American “Gold Star” family, whose son died in Iraq, while serving as a captain in the American military, indicates that many have been targets of President Trump’s acts of verbal shaming and insults.) We know from history, too, that verbal abuse sets the stage for physical violence. And we can reach far back into Biblical times for precedents of religious leaders confronting political power (for example, the Biblical prophet, Natan, confronting King David). Religious leaders can cause significant damage when they are seduced by proximity to political power. It can warp the very values that are supposed to guide their moral leadership, and that’s good reason to opt out of this presidential call.

 

In an earlier editorial, in The New York Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt, publisher, wrote that “Rabbis Should Confront Trump Head-On Over Charlottesville. Apply the lessons of Elul and Don’t Hang Up on the President”. He argued that rabbis who declined the call with President Trump were not applying one of the fundamental lessons of these holy days, namely, reproving someone who acts immorally (Leviticus 19:17). The question of when reproof is religiously mandated is complicated for several reasons. First, the general attitude in America about “judging” another is often, “if your behavior personally doesn’t hurt me, even if it offends others, I won’t bother you.” But that is not a Jewish value, and while Jewish textual sources on how and when the commandment to “reprove one’s neighbor” are varied and sometimes contradictory, one can legitimately read Jewish laws of rebuke as relating to situations in which the person at the receiving end is potentially amenable to change.

 

We can never know with certainty if even someone whose personality seems destined to provoke havoc won’t eventually change. But what we can expect is some consistency of steps toward honest efforts of change. When we see consistent, unambiguous efforts toward change, even though they will be imperfect, then we can consider whether a person is really open to engage in difficult dialogue. I won’t psychoanalyze President Trump, but I can ask for consistent indications in changed behavior that reflect modest insight into the hurt that he continues to inflict, even if those attempted changes are imperfect. Instead, what I have observed in the past few weeks is a continuing pattern of President Trump using his “bully pulpit” to verbally bully and shame others.

 

While there is time on these White House calls for some “limited engagement” with the president, this pre-High Holy Day call is designed to use rabbis as channels to communicate presidential good wishes locally before and during the holy days. At its best, it is a heartfelt gesture of good wishes from the president to the Jewish community. At its worst, this call can become a headline that will later be used as a reminder by the president of his support for the American Jewish community at a time when it’s convenient for him to do so.

 

Also, understand that there is disagreement within these movements about any public policy or symbolic statement that their leaders make, and that is true of this decision. A national rabbinic organization resembles a congregation in some ways, where members have different opinions about the wisdom of a decision of its leaders. But that’s what leaders, and especially rabbinic leaders, are called to do: use their best judgment of the facts at hand, distilled through their understanding of Jewish tradition, to make hard decisions.

 

I was not involved in the decision-making processes of those who refused the call, and I’m not acting on anyone’s behalf to defend it. But I do want to thank those rabbis who decided against participating in it. If the president is serious about deeper engagement with rabbis, there will be many opportunities for it in the coming months, and I know that my colleagues will actively seek them out and take the first steps to meet him more than halfway.

 

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, presenter and organizational futurist, and C.E.O. of HayimHerring.com which “prepares today’s leaders for tomorrow’s organizations.” ™  His latest book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World, co-authored with Dr. Terri Elton, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016.

lished by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016.

 

An Addenda to Yehuda Kurtzer’s “Minding the Gap: A Primer for Jewish Professionals and Philanthropy”

Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy by Rabbi Hayim Herring

A few observations on Yehuda Kurtzer’s fresh rethinking of how to build a more mature 21st Century relationship between American and Israeli Jewry:

1. On the gap in understanding one another’s realities: ask Israelis living in Israel of a certain age (40-something’s and older) if they recognize their country today as the one in which they grew up or to which they emigrated, and ask American Jews in the same demographics if they recognize the America of today as the one in which they were raised. You’ll likely receive the same response: “No!” Internally, across our respective political spectra, we have experienced significant social, religious, economic, educational, racial and political upheavals that are difficult to absorb. If each of our respective communities are having difficulties in understanding shifts in our own primary environments, how can we possibly understand the other’s culture, even if we are frequent and fluent visitors in the other’s community?

 

This point can provide some restraint in immediate and deserved anger of American Jews toward the current and future Israeli governments, and help us think more strategically about how to advance remaining shared interests – of which there are still many. For example, I think that Israeli Knesset Members who support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s broken promises that affect American Jews should be invited to Jewish federations. Let them experience first-hand the anger and pain that they have caused, see the full diversity of the American Jewish community and understand that we are not stereotypes, to be used as pretty props when it’s convenient, and objects of ridicule when it’s not.

2. It’s useful to delineate distinct categories of “boundary-crossers” and “boundary-dwellers,” that is, individuals who spend most of their time in one location (America or Israel) but spend or have spent considerable time in the other. Some examples, and they are not intended as a comprehensive list, include:

  • “Jewish professionals” and “professional Jewish volunteers;” that is, paid professionals and volunteers who work in Jewish institutions that are focused on Israel
  • Philanthropists
  • Israeli journalists who cover American Jewry and American journalists who cover Israeli Jewry both in the Jewish and secular press
  • Individuals with close family and friendship ties in our respective communities, who visit one another frequently, and remain in touch digitally on a regular basis between visits
  • Jewish think tanks (and there are very few)
  • Alumni of grassroots communities, like ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation

The value in distinguishing categories of boundary-spanners is that if we want them to become more valuable assets in broadening our understanding of differing cultural realities and identifying shared work, we first must respect their diversity. Top-down, hierarchical meetings are appropriate in some cases, in many more, cultivating networks will be more successful, and sometimes, a hybrid model of hierarchy and network is needed.

3. While we don’t have to “privilege” a “failed” metaphor as American and Israeli Jews as “family,” we can explore other approaches in testing its value before completely discarding it. For example, “family” signified one tightly-defined, exclusive structure through the better part of the 20th Century, but today, “family” is a much more expansive and inclusive concept. Why hasn’t the concept of “family” vanished? Because many people still feel an emotional pull to be a part of a family, with all its complexities.

Families, in their varied, contemporary iterations, are still crucibles in which powerful bonds of love, empathy, embrace of difference and responsibility can sometimes be forged. Families have a cast of characters. Some generously take upon themselves the roles of “connectors,” and never forget a birthday, convene a family reunion and update “the family” with an annual newsletter; others move in and out of their roles as “family member” unpredictably; and still others never miss an occasion to snub “the family.” Some family members remain distant from one another for years but ultimately reconcile. Even if they have little time left to reset their relationships, they positively change the trajectory of the next generation of family relationships. But when family ties are permanently severed, and sometimes that is necessary, there can be deep wounds with unforeseen consequences that are transmitted across generations.

Kurtzer is correct – manufactured nostalgia for American and Israeli Jews as “family” won’t help strengthen the kinds of relationships that we need today and can even be alienating because people know a charade when they see it. But rethinking the metaphor of family more expansively and realistically on the collective level is a valuable endeavor worth the struggle. It’s another way of opening our eyes more widely to the massive transformations that we’re experiencing, identifying barriers that we might chose to live with for the time being for the sake of “family,” and distinguishing between the truly unbridgeable differences in our respective communities, and the ones that initially present themselves as unbridgeable divides but are only differing manifestations of shared essential changes on deeper reflection.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, consultant and nonprofit organizational futurist who holds a doctorate in Organization and Management. A “C-suite” leader, Hayim has worked with hundreds of congregations and nonprofits on issues including leadership, organizational foresight and entrepreneurship. His most recent publications are Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose, with Dr. Terri Elton (2016) and, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish (2012).

 

Being in Israel on July 4th… Speechless but not Wordless

America and Israel are two separate countries. Jews in America and Jews in Israel are two separate peoples. In fact, we are incredibly diverse people’s within our own respective countries, each in the midst of transformational self-perceptions of what it means to be Jewish and how we understand the concept of “Jewish community.” Many Americans no longer recognize the America in which they grew up, just as many Israelis no longer recognize the Israel in which they grew up or to which they made aliyah (emigrated).

 

 

In any family, there are disagreeable people and often a few long-standing family disagreements. Like any family member, I know which people in my family I especially enjoy seeing and those with whom I don’t mind seeing only occasionally. I know when it’s okay to raise an issue that is provocative with someone, and when it’s better to ignore it because discussion is pointless. (Note to family: please read on before I get into more trouble.) But—regardless of the quality and intensity of relationships, as the saying goes, “family is family,” and no one in my family is of lesser or greater inherent values. We inherited one another either because we have a shared past, or an acquired relationship through someone’s marriage or partnership.

 

I’ve made my share of mistakes with family members, which I regret. But I try to speak responsibly and behave more wisely as I’ve grown older. Why? Because I don’t want to risk losing a family relationship. I’ve made my comprises for the sake of family, just as I know other family members have made theirs for me. We’ve watched other families make different choices about family, and without discussion, somewhere along the way, most of us concluded that we don’t want to sever relationships to the point of no return, an act that often creates a cascade of tragic, irreparable consequences.

 

I was boarding my flight to Israel on the day that the Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi, broke a promise to the global Jewish family about the compromise over the Kotel (Western Wall and expansion of the Southern Wall). Bibi—you have damaged my worldwide Jewish family. (It is debatable whether the introduction of a new conversion bill is the same or different in terms of its consequences on the global Jewish family, but you’ve got to give Bibi credit for his persistent pattern of bad timing and poor optics-or maybe it’s smart local politics and stupid international politics). I think that was the same day that Donald Trump made some exceptionally vicious and demeaning comment about a news anchor—even by his standards—and his tweets don’t just target individuals, they’re aimed at damaging groups of people.

 

Right now, it feels like we are one small but very angry family, living worlds apart in very different cultures, speaking different languages. Many of us no longer understand the realities of our own respective countries. So how can we really expect to understand the internal dynamics of disruption happening in another country? Since I’ve arrived, I’ve heard some esteemed Israeli and American colleagues, who are generally thoughtful and exceptionally dedicated when it comes to matters of global Jewish peoplehood, make some damaging remarks that further fray the fabric of our small family. At times, this visit has felt to me like a kind of rending of the garments before a funeral for a family member, only this time, the wounds of mourning feel amplified because they are occurring over the death of trust between parts of the American and Israeli Jewish family.

 

At the same time, this visit has been like any other one. I get to enjoy family and friends, hear amazing lectures, interwoven with ancient text set to contemporary music and art, visit new sites and eat delicious food. I renew relationships with old friends, and make new ones. Generally, in my family and social circles in Israel, I can be at a Shabbat table where people hold very different political and ideological views from one another on an array of issues. But we still share a Shabbat meal together and we know generally when to have weighty discussions, and when to give ourselves a break from them so that we can continue to Shabbat meals together.

 

I’ve barely posted any comments about this low mark in relationships between the Israeli and American Jewish community “elites” because it’s painful and difficult to find the words that won’t deepen the wounds. While we are far from the lowest point in Jewish history, this is the lowest moment that I can recall in the relationship between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. Speaking metaphorically, if you know who the family villain is, why trust that person? Why do you need their approval to validate your authenticity? Do you really think that you’ll effect change with another discussion? You won’t because you know that individual’s true colors. So find ways to support other healthy members of the family, without adopting dangerous tactics that can backfire by also unintentionally alienating those within our family whom we really love.  

 

What kind of Jewish future do you want? I want a Jewish future in which there is mutual family respect between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. And I think that those who also want that future are smart and creative enough to work to create without inflicting intentional pain that may unintentionally harm the people that we care most about today, and who we want to be with tomorrow.

 

If you’re prepared to totally give up on your family and formally sever times, that’s your choice. But please don’t act surprised when more American and Israeli Jews become disenchanted with Judaism and their local Jewish communities, and with one another. And don’t be taken aback when someone who isn’t Jewish asks, “If Jewish people can treat one another in the way that they do, how should we expect them to treat those who are “outside of their family?” In the meantime, I’m not giving up on America, I’m not giving up on the American Jewish community, and I’m not giving up on Israel. They are home and family – something that I especially want to remember on this Fourth of July.

 

 

What Happens When Leaders Disconnect Goals from Values?

Disclaimer: Like many of my blog posts, this blog is about leadership and Jewish values. Examples that refer to President Trump are to illustrate enduring points about leadership.)

About nine months prior to the 2016 presidential election, I dramatically cut back on my news consumption. Many respected journalists and political experts refused to accept that candidate Trump was going to totally disrupt presidential campaigns and continued to seek “evidence” Trump eventually would behave more like a “normal leader.” Often, their analyses masqueraded as speculation and gossip. Post-election, some of the better journalists across the political spectrum have regained their footing and are working their investigative and analytical skills more critically about the nature of President Trump’s leadership. My interest in raising the question, “What kind of leader is Donald Trump?” comes trying to understand what Jewish wisdom has to say about a leader who consistently says and does one thing and then within a short time frame, does the opposite.

Not too long ago, we used to call this lying and, in my mind, it still is. Donald Trump redefined campaigning, just as he is redefining the office of the presidency, and it’s possible that more people like him will now consider running for public office. Politicians will devise their own strategies for dealing with someone like Donald Trump. But how can clergy use their public voice to express dismay over any leader who lies regularly about significant issues by asserting one position, only to withdraw it soon after?

Hayim Herring Consultant

Here’s a very relevant insight from an ancient sage, Rabban Gamliel, who lived in the first Century C.E. – a very politically active time in Israel. He said, “Not all who engage in much business become wise” (Avot 2:6, Sefaria translation). Though ancient, this rabbi’s insight sounds fresh. He warned against equating business acumen with overall wisdom. True, an experienced business person may have abundant talent in one specific area, but that experience does not automatically confer any virtues upon that individual. It’s the same as anyone who shows a level of athletic prowess or artistic brilliance. At a minimum, it means that they have a deep unique talent in at least one area of life. But excellence in one area of life does not automatically make someone wise or virtuous in other areas of life.

People like Donald Trump have built their reputations around being “winners.” Winning is a goal whose means are amoral, meaning that morality or other virtues, if they are at all considerations, are secondary to “winning.” Whether an amoral leader seals a “deal with the devil” or seals a “deal with the deity” (our better angels) is irrelevant. That doesn’t mean that values are unimportant, but such considerations are utilitarian means to the end of “winning.” If they help, fine. If not, that’s also fine. It’s winning that counts, not so much how you get there.

The drive to be a success in business is a goal, and goals lack inherent moral values. Some successful business people become truly wise and realize that success is a privilege to use in service of others. Some experienced business people never become wise enough to realize that winning for its own sake turns them into amoral leaders. And amoral leaders are likely to make a higher percentage of immoral choices. Why? Because whichever partner offers the better odds of achieving the goal of winning-regardless of beliefs they hold or reprehensible actions they’ve taken-is the best partner.

For my clergy friends: if you want to try to anticipate Trump’s next move, then try and think like a person for whom winning overrides moral considerations. Then, acting morally, have several scenarios that anticipate possible next moves and mobilize accordingly. As we might see more individuals with strong business backgrounds who believe that goals override values, seeking to unsettle the political establishment in future elections, remembering that, “Not all who engage in much business become wise” (Avot 2:6, Sefaria translation) is good advice to guide us in preparing for rocky political roads ahead.

 

Our Storytelling Shouldn’t End When the Seder Ends

Introduction

Rabbi-Hayim-Herring-and-Rabbi-Jason-Miller

Rabbi Jason Miller is flanked by Rabbi Hayim Herring and Lynn Schusterman at a STAR Foundation PEER program alumni reception in Phoenix.

Rabbi Jason Miller, my close colleague and friend, is also my social media strategist. Social media, digital content and community were a few topics that my co-author, Terri Elton and I wrote about in our recent book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose so I was interested in his perspective. When we first started working together about 7 years ago, his title was “website designer.” In the interview that follows, you’ll learn more about the need to think far beyond websites and social media. I wanted to hear from him about the best ways for congregations and nonprofit organizations to pull together the various tools that exist (e-mail marketing, social media, gamification, internet advertising, blogging, etc.) to deepen and expand their impact.

 

Hayim Herring: Clearly, you’ve developed years of experience in website design and a deep understanding of social media. How do people consume information today differently than even five years ago?

Jason Miller: Most content that I consume is on a digital screen, but, a confession – I still enjoy reading the newspaper each morning because I am a tactile learner. Similarly, many people still use (and enjoy) traditional media, like hardcover books, magazines and newspapers for a variety of reasons. I’ve been building websites since 1995 and have been involved in social media marketing on a professional level since 2009. I’ve watched as both the web and social networks have moved from curiosity to commonplace. We don’t even think twice about seeing a toddler launching apps on an iPad or a senior citizen casually using FaceTime to video chat with her grandson a few time zones away. Increasingly, people are consuming content through the Internet on a much larger scale than only a few years ago.

(more…)

 

The Leading Congregations – An Exchange with Hayim Herring & Shmuel Rosner

 

 

In 2017, Hayim Herring & Shmuel Rosner engaged in a three part exchange

 

The Leading Congregations exchange, part 1: The challenges facing 21st century Jewish communities

The following exchange will focus on Rabbi Herring’s new book, Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purposes (co-written with Dr. Teri Elton).

Dear Rabbi Herring,

Your new book is entitled Leading Congregations in a Connected World. Our introductory question: What type of congregation and organization leaders did you have in mind when writing this book, and what would you like them to learn from it?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

My co-author, Dr. Terri Elton, and I wrote Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purposes, for two broad audiences: professional and volunteer leaders of congregations and nonprofits, and teachers of current and future leaders. We defined two categories of congregations and nonprofit organizations. We studied both “established and adapting” organizations, namely, those with at least 25 years of history, were structured primarily as top-down hierarchies, but were trying to adapt to a more decentralized, socially networked world where people co-create their own personal meaning and community. We labeled the second category, “emerging and maturing,” that is, those congregations and nonprofits that were at least five years old, were reaching the age of early organizational maturity, and recognizing that the socially networked DNA that gave birth to them was not going to be sufficient to keep them growing and sustainable.

We realized that existing studies on congregations and nonprofits took an “either/or” approach. They looked at “the new kids on the block,” those newer congregations and nonprofits that garnered a lot of attention for their creativity and freshness. Those stories were usually about growth and flourishing. The other side of the narrative was one of decline and decay, and focused on legacy congregations and nonprofits that were losing members and lacking in vibrancy.

We thought that both sides of the equation needed to be studied. While it’s true that many legacy congregations and nonprofits are struggling, we also knew of some that had pivoted to a 21st Century social engagement way of working. (That doesn’t mean just having cool social media tools, but knowing how to use them strategically to deepen community.) Second, even though many established organizations are having difficulty making that pivot, they still command a lot of attention and resources. Was there a way to accelerate their likelihood of becoming more responsive?

Conversely, while many of the startups rightfully gained a lot of attention, we were hearing stories of some that were now between five and ten years old that were struggling. How could they maintain their unique, organic and socially networked attributes now that they had to worry about a larger budget, more staff, and perhaps even a building? They certainly didn’t want to become like the more rigid congregations or nonprofits against which they had rebelled, but they also needed to support a broader base of people who held a shared vision. We wanted to test the commonly held assumption that hierarchies are dead, and that social networks are the only future way forward of organizing spiritual and nonprofit communities. Indeed, we found that both elements of hierarchies and social networks existed within old and new organizations and both are needed.

What was especially appealing to me was to conduct research and write together with a Protestant colleague. Jews are part of a dynamic religious landscape in America that’s undergoing a revolution. So why not contextualize our changes into the broader context of which we are a part? Terri and I are both committed to blending academic theory and empirical research with practical tools and resources for immediate use.

Here are five key takeaways, although I still hope that you and your readers will read the book and call me with your responses!

1. Authenticity and innovation are compatible, although challenging to achieve. Congregations and nonprofits that thrive in the 21st-Century will go back to their core mission, but then pick one of four different pathways that we identify to practice innovation, and make innovation a part of their new organizational DNA.

2. The values of a socially networked world, that include enabling people to co-create their own experiences and have maximum self-choice, are here to stay. These values need to show up digitally, in the synagogue or nonprofit’s bricks and mortar space, and wherever people gather under their auspices. That means leaders must learn to relinquish some control, but in return, gain the joy of watching participants grow as they own their Jewish experiences and purpose. By letting go and enabling others to share and enact their Jewish dream, leaders also expand the influence and impact of their congregational or organizational mission.

3. Disruption doesn’t discriminate by age. Today’s disruptors will be tomorrow’s disrupted, and today’s disrupted can easily become tomorrow’s disruptors. So it’s a good idea to redefine leadership not as having the ability to respond quickly to trends, but to anticipate and favorably shape them.

4. Engagement isn’t a goal or a checklist. It’s an orientation for congregations and nonprofits. That means engaging individuals with a significant mission, and then putting them into community with those who share the same passion for mission, a mission that must connect to the broader world.

5. Community is fragile and trying to hold people with diverse views together is becoming increasingly challenging. Nonprofit CEO’s and clergy have the tremendous task of keeping people focused on mission and bringing people together in face-to-face contact where they can see that others who are not exactly like them are still partners for holy work.

6. Without dismissing the incredibly urgent work of social justice, congregations have another great, and I would say unique, opportunity. There are four generations and soon to be five generations of people alive in large numbers today. Where are the opportunities for people from so many different generations to develop sustained, meaningful, multi-generational relationships? Where are the opportunities where mutual mentoring can happen, if not at congregations? To the best of my knowledge, no other institution has potential access to so many generations over a lifetime. For congregations to claim that role, they’ll have to rethink congregational life, priorities, values, budgets, staffing – and I can’t think of anything more important today given the isolating challenges that each generation faces.

There’s more to say, and I look forward to the next parts of the exchange! Thank you for contributing to this conversation on the disruption and reconfiguration of our communities!


The Leading Congregations exchange, part 2: On Judaism, marketing and integrity

Dear Rabbi Herring,

In your first answer you stated that “authenticity and innovation are compatible, although challenging to achieve.” Generally, your answer, and your book, stress the importance of “innovation” and “engagement” – both very positive-sounding terms – for religious institutions.

But it seems there is a less positive way of describing what is being demanded of religious institutions today – one could say that in the age of Buzzfeed there is more and more pressure on community leaders to aggressively market their ‘product’ and to water-down religion in the attempt to compete with the never-ending stream of internet content. While authenticity and innovation might be compatible, what about holiness and Twitter, or marketing and religious depth?

My question: how can religious leaders maintain the integrity and uncompromising purity of the tradition when they constantly need to rebrand and woo the public to survive?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

You brought to light one of the core struggles of rabbis, clergy members of other faith traditions and nonprofit CEO’s. Almost all of the rabbis and nonprofit C.E.O.’s I know begin their service with a deep sense of calling and purpose. Some feel called by God, others by service to the Jewish people and still others to something transcendent that they may not be able to label. But they strive to live lives with religious integrity because they know that they are walking advertisements of the values of their traditions and organizations. Of course, we know that they’re also human and that they can fail big and fall hard like anyone else. Those who do, in my experience, are the exceptions and not the norms of legions of colleagues who take issues of honesty and authenticity seriously.

But that doesn’t diminish the serious implications of your question. Some colleagues burn out because they feel like they have to sell out their integrity in order to keep their congregants happy. And in trying to respond to “marketing” demands of members and donors, they may actually alienate them, because their members suddenly realize that they have higher expectations of their clergy leaders and nonprofit professionals. When rabbis or nonprofit C.E.O.’s experience that, it is an awful feeling, and this dynamic of maintaining integrity and authenticity, while trying to be responsive and relevant, is the basis for an urgent dialogue that needs to happen among rabbinic, seminary, denominational and volunteer leaders. That would take real national leadership and courage.

But I also think that you, like many in the congregational and nonprofit world, have a popular but mistaken understanding of marketing. Marketing is not selling, and it’s not advertising. Rather, marketing is building relationships based on an exchange of something of value. For example, a relationship that develops between a congregation and an individual through marketing would be when a congregation provides a volunteer opportunity to connect with elderly people, and a volunteer who seeks that opportunity now is able to develop a relationship with someone older under the auspices of the congregation or nonprofit. As you can see, marketing in this example is an exchange between a congregation that makes it easy for someone to do something good, and a person who wants to do something good. So marketing, when understood correctly as an exchange of value, has no effect on “watering down religion.”

One other clarification – you write that “innovation” and “engagement” are very positive-sounding terms, and they are greatly needed in congregations and nonprofits. However, we also emphasize the importance of mission in our book. Why? Because you want to have a marketing strategy that is built around mission, one in which belief in a shared mission becomes the social glue that makes people stick together in a community dedicated to the same kind of social, spiritual, or educational mission that can improve the world. Having a marketing strategy without a clear mission may get you some initial bump in program attendance. But honestly, people’s lives are so cluttered with excellent opportunities for programs, entertainment and socially valuable causes that unless a congregation or nonprofit has a mission that is so clear and so compelling that can cut through the clutter, marketing efforts are questionable.

Even with my clarifications, I want to acknowledge the tensions that you raise because they arise from real world pressures that colleagues face. Unfortunately, some of them are going to intensify, and some colleagues, with the best of intentions, will wind up selling themselves out and selling their congregations and nonprofits short.

Now a question for you – what do you mean when you ask, “…how can religious leaders maintain the integrity and uncompromising purity of the tradition when they constantly need to rebrand and woo the public to survive?” How are you defining “purity of religion?” Are you referring to Jewish Haredi sects whose male members held an anti-Internet rally at Citi Field in New York City in 2012, which was live streamed and where men took pictures on their cell phones and texted about it?

I’m curious to know what underlying mental picture you have of “uncompromising purity of the tradition ” and how rebranding risks tainting that assumed purity. After all, religious traditions like ours have always rebranded and, I would add, thank God we have had the wisdom to do so! We had to rebrand from a land-based, Temple-bound religion to a diaspora, prayer-focused community. We rebranded from Temple Judaism to Rabbinic Judaism. And we rebranded from a rationalistic, pilpulistic tradition to a mystical religion centered on developing personal virtue. And that’s before we begin exploring how the creation of the modern State of Israel has caused major rebrandings of Judaism both within and outside of Israel. I don’t think that trying to maintain a nostalgic memory of a static “purity of tradition” is accurate or helpful. In fact, rebranding can be holy work and hard work. And that’s one of the reasons that we’ve included several essays about finding God in social networks and in their sacred relational power.


The Leading Congregations exchange, part 3: ‘Today, a congregation with a bland mission is at risk of going out of business’

Dear Rabbi Herring,

Near the end of your last answer, you wanted some clarifications about what I meant when I asked you if thinking in marketing terms doesn’t hurt the purity of the tradition.

Now, of course I didn’t mean that all modern synagogues should strive to promote a “Haredi sect” vision of Judaism (if I believed that, I would never have hosted you and dozens of other progressive rabbis in my Torah talks)… What I was referring to is the idea that, for many people, the notion of treating faith and religion as a product, as something that needs to be “marketed” or “rebranded,” can be quite off-putting. I assume most people would like their shul to be a place free from everyday corporate lingo and wouldn’t like to imagine their Rabbi as having marketing in mind when he or she preaches from the pulpit, supports community members in times of need, or advances communal initiatives.

For my third-round question I’d like to ask you to elaborate some more on the idea of mission. In your previous answer you stated that: “people’s lives are so cluttered with excellent opportunities for programs, entertainment and socially valuable causes that unless a congregation or nonprofit has a mission that is so clear and so compelling that can cut through the clutter, marketing efforts are questionable.”

Now, your book tries to address issues facing both congregations and nonprofits. But while in the case of nonprofits the need to state a mission and set goals is understandable, what does having “a clear and compelling” mission mean in the context of a synagogue? What kind of missions can synagogues have besides just being a place of worship, Jewish learning, and community life (as in the days of yore)?

Thank you again for participating in this exchange.

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

Thanks for pushing the discussion about congregations and nonprofits with increasingly difficult questions. Following up on our debate about “marketing,” you clarify: “I assume most people would like their shul to be a place free from everyday corporate lingo and wouldn’t like to imagine their Rabbi as having marketing in mind when he or she preaches from the pulpit, supports community members in times of need, or advances communal initiatives.”

True-and that’s a great segue into today’s question: “What does having a clear and compelling’ mission mean in the context of a synagogue? What kind of missions can synagogues have besides just being a place of worship, Jewish learning, and community life (as in the days of yore)?”

Spoiler alert: a congregation with a bland mission in today’s hyper-connected world of unlimited choice is at risk of going out of business. But congregations with differentiated, focused and compelling missions, that allow people to express and explore themselves Jewishly within those missions, have a better chance of thriving.

“Marketing” and “mission” are dual engines of congregational and nonprofit vibrancy. Marketing is about building relationships with people for whom you care based on causes which you share. That means that leaders of congregations and nonprofits have to define what their primary purposes are. As you suggest, the broad mission of every congregation is to engage its community in “Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim” (Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness expressed by and for members of the community). Not too long ago, most congregational mission statements were indistinguishable from one another. A typical mission statement might have read: Synagogue XXXX is a welcoming congregation devoted to creating a sacred community expressed through study of Torah, worship and acts of kindness.

That typical 20th Century mission above reflects hierarchical organizations. The missional proposition was, “join our community and here is what we, the more involved/elite group of insiders, pledge to provide to those of you who are not nearly as informed.” But when individuals sought deeper involvement, they often found a disconnect between what these standard missions professed and how they were actually expressed. There was Torah study – but it wasn’t not particularly challenging or inspiring. There was prayer – but the words of the book/siddur didn’t speak to their hearts. And these places that claimed to be “welcoming” didn’t always seem to behave that way. Congregations still work for some, but if you look at their increasing financial and membership pressures, they aren’t working for many.

Adapting the thinking of, Peter Drucker, a founder of modern nonprofit management, we suggest that the mission of a congregation or nonprofit is measured in:

– Changed Jewish lives.

– Changed Jewish communities.

– A changed world.

That’s why mission is critical and some congregations are really beginning to differentiate themselves with a focus on mission. These congregations and nonprofits are making hard choices. They have accepted the reality that trying to be all things to all people and do everything well guarantees mediocrity. Using their missions as filters, they decide where they want to focus their talent, time and funds to have the greatest likely impact on changing lives and communities, pursue those several goals with relentless excellence, and collaborate with other organizations in areas where they decide to place fewer resources so that members and potential joiners can have their other Jewish needs met through congregational partnerships.

A few examples of parts of contemporary mission statements (and I’m using both Jewish and Protestant examples from my book, as Protestants are also recognizing the need to focus less on programs, and more on purpose or mission):

Lab/Shul: Welcome to Lab/Shul, an artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional, pop up, experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC and reaching the world.

Jacob’s Well Church (Minneapolis): If church is boring, something’s broken. Instead of being a once a week obligation, we want our time together to awaken who you are – you know, your real selves. Honest, thinking, relevant and casual gatherings impact the lives we live.

Romemu (New York City): Romemu seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. Unabashedly eclectic, we engage in body practices like yoga, infuse traditional liturgy with the energy of ecstatic chant, and ground our practice with meditation and contemplation. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit…

GPS Faith Community (Machesney Park, IL): (Our mission is) Finding direction by loving God and serving others. We do this by joining together for worship and fellowship and then going out into our lives and into the community to love and serve others.

These mission statements:

– Invite an individual’s involvement on personal and not institutional terms, and also make their institutional parameters and expectations clear.

– Point individuals toward becoming part of a community of greater impact.

– Assume that most of a person’s time is spent outside of the walls or websites of the congregations, and that one must live out the mission even when not in services.

A Talmudic legal principle, “if you grasp too much, you wind up holding nothing,” applies to congregational and nonprofit missions. For many reasons, it’s not possible for congregations to excel at everything, although members have that expectation. My advice based on what we have learned: better to go deep in a few areas of Jewish life and build partnerships with others who can provide excellence in others.

When that happens, I think that you’ll find more people participating in congregational and Jewish nonprofit life because their individual and communal experiences will provide them with personal, enduring and powerful purpose as they live out their communities’ missions. I know that you have much to write about, but hope that others will be stimulated to purchase Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. Platforms, People and Purpose and delve further into your provocative questions!

Thank you,

Hayim

 

Hayim Herring & Terri Elton Interviewed by Roshini Rakjumar on WCCO Radio

On WCCO Radio, Roshini Rakjumar interviews “Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World” authors Dr. Hayim Herring and Dr. Terri Elton. The authors discuss leading congregations and nonprofits in a connected – and clearly divided – world.

 

 

Three Kinds of Stubborn and their Implications for Leaders

When I was growing up, some members of my family used the phrase, “stupid stubborn” to refer to obstinate individuals. I confess – they often looked at me when they were discussing those who were “stupid stubborn!” As we’ve been reading about the triangle of Moses, the Jewish people and Pharaoh in the weekly Torah cycle, I remembered this phrase. Why? Because each part of the triangle displays stubbornness. And then I realized that the phrase “stupid stubborn” implies that there may be other varieties of stubborn. I’d like to identify and define three different kinds of “stubborn” that have significant implications for leadership.

Stupid stubborn: arrogance in refusing to accept destructive behavior that you bring upon yourself and those around you. This definition of stubborn applies to Pharaoh.

Stubborn in the Torah

Despairing stubborn: fatalism that limits your ability to imagine a better world and reinforces your belief that a negative status quo is permanent. This definition of stubborn applies to the Jewish people.

Optimistic stubborn: certainty that the world can change with a powerful vision of a better future,  and tenacity to maintain that optimism despite current evidence to the contrary. This definition of stubborn applies to Moses.

Stubbornness appears in different varieties. This quality can be both disabling or empowering. It depends upon the ability of a leader to harness the positive aspects of persistence in working faithfully toward a more hopeful future. As a teenager, perhaps I periodically displayed aspects of a “stupid stubborn” personality. But I’ve learned that optimistic stubborn is far more powerful and uplifting.

 

How to Connect in a Politically Divided World

Following a tense and game-changing campaign season, many Americans are wondering how they can still make a positive impact in our socially connected, but politically divided culture.  Two Twin Cities religious leaders have a new book that could offer some answers.

Rabbi Hayim Herring and Luther Seminary Professor Dr. Terri Elton joined us on KARE 11 News at 4 to discuss “Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose.”

The authors say their book draws perspectives from clergy and volunteer leaders on how to engage their members in meaningful ways, identify a common good and, ultimately, advance their positive impact in a socially connected world.

 

Wanted: Greater Innovation, More Entrepreneurship

More on: Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose
Now at a 40% Time-Limited Discount

This blog post is one of a continuing series on Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose, my newest book on congregations and nonprofits, co-authored with Dr. Terri Elton, Associate Professor Leadership at Luther Seminary. Whether We researched and wrote about Jewish and Protestant congregations and nonprofits that are navigating a paradigm shift in minimizing more cumbersome, hierarchical ways of working and fostering more fluid and creative networks to advance their missions.

Are innovation and entrepreneurship the same?

Innovation and entrepreneurship are significantly different although they’re often used interchangeably. Innovation means doing something that already exists in new ways or introducing something that is brand-new: either completely unprecedented or new for an organization although others have done it. Entrepreneurship is the ability to see and seize new opportunities. It’s also having a start-up and bootstrap mentality- using limited resources to test ideas until you decide to scale them up or close them down.

What are examples of “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” that illustrate the difference?

An innovator might work at improving “religious (or Hebrew) school” by introducing a new curriculum or a new professional development program for Jewish educators. An entrepreneur will look at the paradigm of religious school, determine that it needs to be replaced and change it to an after school Hebrew immersion program. By discarding the reigning paradigm and its assumptions, everything – from curriculum to fees, will not only be new but also evolve rapidly because there is no template for it. Skilled entrepreneurs will continue to see additional opportunities to improve this paradigm and scale it, and identify other ways to expand its impact and possibly create new start-ups, for example, focused on developing teacher talent for this new paradigm and providing experiential learning for families.

Can Denominations Innovate?

Each denomination has innovated at various times. For example, Reform Judaism has innovated in Jewish music and social justice; Conservative Judaism in its approach to Jewish law as both evolving and binding; Orthodox Judaism on its emphasis on the compatibility of traditional text study and secular learning. The Reconstructionist Movement is entrepreneurial in its ability to perceive new opportunities but has had to rely de facto on other denominations to scale them because of its relatively small numbers. Chabad is truly entrepreneurial because it consistently leads in identifying new opportunities and scaling them globally.

What About Nonprofits and Congregations on the Local Level?

In our book, we identified four pathways to innovation or, more accurately, three innovative pathways that we believe any congregation or nonprofit can pursue. We also studied two entrepreneurial organizations, one congregation and one nonprofit. These four pathways are:
reiterating the role;
cracking the code;
fusing the model; and
breaking the mold.
Only the fourth one, “breaking the mold,” meets the criteria of entrepreneurial.

Should Congregations and Jewish Nonprofits Be More Innovative and Entrepreneurial?

To summarize, entrepreneurship involves both an organizational orientation and a skill set. An organization may periodically innovate, but may not be considered especially innovative. On the other hand, an organization is either entrepreneurial or it is not. It can’t be partially entrepreneurial because being “entrepreneurial” is an all-in commitment that is hard-wired into an organization’s DNA. Entrepreneurial organizations are structured “laboratories,” with ongoing experimentation, success, failure, learning and advancing.

Congregations and Jewish nonprofits need to be more innovative if they want to continue to have impact – just look at any study on established Jewish institutions within the past decade and the conclusion is clear. They are innovating, but the pace of innovation is too slow. But not every congregation and Jewish nonprofit can be entrepreneurial. Even if they could, it wouldn’t be desirable. Why? Congregations and nonprofits also play a critical role in helping people reflect on the value of change. they are places where leaders can ask, “Just because we can change values and traditions, should we? What do we gain and what do we lose?” But cultivating organizational cultures that support greater innovation in more established Jewish organizations, and supporting entrepreneurial Jewish organizations is the very desirable for the future of the Jewish community!

 
 
 
 

©2017 Hayim Herring
 
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