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Today’s Disruptors, Tomorrow’s Disrupted

More on: Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose

In our last blog post, my colleague, Dr. Terri Elton, Associate Professor Leadership at Luther Seminary and I, described the launch of our new book, Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platform, People and Purpose. (And remember to take advantage now of a time-limited 40% discount on your purchase.) Now for our motivation: we confess that we’re organizational geeks! We actually like to study how people in faith-based communities organize for collective purpose and impact for several reasons. Organizational structure can:

• Either inhibit or accelerate impact.
• Become invisible to those who work in organizations once they learn how to live within its parameters.
• Become so deeply embedded in organizations, that leaders need to make a conscious, intentional choice to think about alternatives.

Organization and structure matter, then, because they have a dramatic effect on mission, meaning and impact.

When one congregation is in distress, it provokes only self-examination. But many older, highly structured congregations and nonprofit organizations are adrift, and many emergent, socially networked ones restructuring for sustainable growth. We read that turbulence as a signal for a broader inquiry. That’s why Terri and I interviewed 34 clergy, professional and volunteers leaders from 15 Jewish and Protestant congregations and nonprofit organizations throughout the country. These leaders worked both in “established” and “emerging” congregations and nonprofits. We wanted to hear their stories of navigating disruptive times and integrate their stories with theory and practice.

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And what did we find: Disruption does not discriminate between “established” and “emerging” organizations. An example: in 2013, Evan Spiegel, one of the founders of the popular social media app, Snapchat, reportedly rebuffed an all cash offer from Facebook C.E.O.’s Mark Zuckerberg for over $3 billion. At the time, Spiegel was 23 years old and Zuckerberg was 29. Spiegel, a 23 year-old disruptor apparently didn’t believe that an “older” person like Zuckerberg could fully appreciate how revolutionary his platform was! Today’s disruptors can easily become tomorrow’s disrupted, whether in the for-profit or nonprofit sector.

Having a place for leaders of “established” and “emerging” congregations and nonprofits to discuss how they are learning to lead through the challenges of disruption would be very fruitful! So please connect with Hayim (options for social media of your choice, top right) or with Terri (telton@luthersem.edu, www.facebook.com/terri.elton, @TerriElton) and contribute your wisdom to these unprecedented questions.

_______________________
Evelyn M. Rusli and Douglas MacMillian, “Snapchat Spurned $3 Billion Acquisition Offer from Facebook,” The Wall Street Journal Blog, November 2013, accessed June 1, 2016.

 

New Book Launch

Launching Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose

Order in time for Hanukkah and Christmas and receive a 40% Discount

My colleague, Dr. Terri Elton, Associate Professor Leadership at Luther Seminary and I, are thrilled to announce that Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platform, People and Purpose, is now available. (Save 40% on all purchases for a limited time by using the code RL40LC16 when you order!) Are you curious about:

• How congregations and nonprofits are seeking to maintain community when it’s so fragile today?
• How spiritual and nonprofit communities can make decisions rapidly, thoughtfully and inclusively?
• How professional and volunteer leaders are navigating the tensions of being faithful stewards of their organizations’ traditions, and responsive leaders to the disruptive pace of innovation?

Hayim Herring - BookWe were, too, so we researched fifteen Jewish and Lutheran congregations and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States (eleven congregations, four nonprofits). Some were established congregations and nonprofits that were becoming less hierarchical and more innovative. Others were start-ups that emerged at the dawn of social networks, are now adding more structure as they have grown, but don’t want to lose their entrepreneurial D.N.A. Whether old or new, they are navigating a paradigm shift in minimizing more cumbersome, hierarchical ways of working and fostering more fluid and creative networks to advance their missions.

We provide practical guidance to professional and volunteer leaders who view their organizations as platforms where people can find greater personal meaning by engaging with others who care about the same mission. We believe our book is unique as it:

• Bridges faith communities.
• Blends theory with tools, texts and hands-on resources.
• Combines research with lived stories of congregations and organizations.
• Addresses the desire of both established and newer organizations to deepen engagement with individuals, and transform their communities by redesigning how they are organized.

 

Several of our colleagues graciously shared their reactions to our book:

Allison Fine, co-author of, The Networked Nonprofit, and renowned expert on social networks and organizations noted, “One of the most pressing issues facing our society is the disruption of traditional organizations dedicated to our communal well-being; congregations and nonprofits. Herring and Elton have written a very important and practical book on a critical topic; how to restructure our most important institutions to match the urgency of working in a networked world.”

Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD, a national organization dedicated to growing Christian leaders, said that, “This book dares to link congregations and non-profit organizations in strategic conversations essential for thriving in a fast-changing world. This is a way forward.”

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder, executive director of Mechon Hadar, and author of Empowered Judaism added that, “This book artfully breaks down the barriers that often exist between new and old non-profits. By taking a critical eye to both, the authors present findings untold in other books on congregational change, facilitating a powerful experience for the reader looking to reflect on organizational success.” (You can click here for additional reviews.)

Two years ago, we didn’t know one another. But we took leaps of faith (one Protestant, one Jewish) to collaborate on a significant project. The value of learning from a member of the same human family, but a different spiritual tribe, has been immeasurable. We hope that you’ll take a leap of faith, too, and not only purchase Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose, but try some discussion and innovation with someone from a different faith background in your own community! The dynamics of disruption and leadership responses are similar in Jewish and Protestant communities, so stay tuned for more news about how you can participate in a network of leaders interested in these issues. You can do so by connecting with Hayim (options for social media of your choice, top right) or connecting with Terri (telton@luthersem.edu, www.facebook.com/terri.elton, @TerriElton).

Thank you,

Hayim Herring and Terri Martinson Elton

 

While You’re Eating Turkey, Also Think Hoagies

Old age is not new, but the number of people living to 85 years and beyond is increasing dramatically. And with likely medical breakthroughs on longevity on the horizon, many children born today will be able to celebrate their 100th birthday. For the first time in history, we already have four generations of human beings alive in large numbers. As a quick fact check, think about how many families you know with at least one great grandparent—which qualifies them as a four generational family! This is not a reality to gloss over, but a powerful signal to astounding changes that are quietly taking place. Are we are ready for these changes as a society? I believe not, but faith-based communities can potentially lead much needed discussions for the implications of having so many generations alive today.

 

hoagie-generation-hayim-herring

 

A new reality needs a new name, and I’d like to suggest the Hoagie Generation™ as a replacement for the “sandwich generation,” a phrase that Dorothy Miller coined in 1981. Miller introduced it to describe the challenges of those in their 30’s and 40’s (and it was primarily women then), sandwiched between raising children and caring for parents, while also pursuing careers outside of the home. Without dismissing the challenges back then, their duration was briefer, more digestible—like a small sandwich that didn’t take long to eat. Children reached independence sooner and parents didn’t live as long.

But today, definitions and expectations of middle age have expanded (“50 is the new 40,” “60 is the new 50”), and while in 1900 only 100,000 people lived to age 85 or older, that number today is 5.5 million and growing. For a variety of reasons, children reach independence at a later age. (My definition of adulthood is when children get off of “the family phone plan.”) So families look more like hoagies than sandwiches: less vertical and much more horizontal.

Being Jewish, I can’t let go of the food metaphor and that’s one reason that I like the Hoagie Generation™. The standard size sandwich bread is approximately a four-inch square, and sandwiches are vertical. In contrast, hoagies are about a foot long and horizontal. The longer loaf of a hoagie roll better captures the new challenges and opportunities that are present for families and communities with an increased number of generations.

The hoagie metaphor also suggests mutuality. It isn’t only those who are middle-aged who feel the squeeze in supporting family members of other generations. Young adult children may also have that experience: raising their own children, watching their parents navigate big issues (health, relationships, employment), and trying to advance economically in an unpredictable economy. And 80-something year olds ponder what life holds in store for their children, grandchildren and often today, great grandchildren.

Unlike a sandwich, in which the middle is more prominent, each part of a hoagie is equal, also suggesting mutually nourishing possibilities. Young bring joy to the old, and old bring wisdom to the young. The young can be the tech department for those who are older, while elders can share experience—something that a Google search can’t offer. Those at each of end of the life spectrum and those in middle all have something to offer one another.

As a community, we have a range of issues on the horizon that don’t discriminate by generation. A few examples:

• How do we restore practices of patiently listening to one another without interruption and empathy to our relationships?
• What are some possible outcomes of changes in social attitudes toward issues like the legalization of marijuana and physician assisted suicide?
• What happens to our capacity for curiosity when our connected devices “suggest” more and more choices for us, instead of our thinking more intentionally about them, or stumbling upon new possibilities serendipitously?
• What does it mean economically and emotionally to live in a disruptive economy? If you think that disruption only affects those who are middle-aged, think about how the “older” (then 29) Mark Zuckerberg, C.E.O. of Facebook, must have felt when his multibillion dollar offer to purchase Snapchat, which he feared would disrupt Facebook, was rebuffed by Evan Spiegel (then 23 years old)?

Congregations are structured to be multi-generational, even though they often program more by demographic age and stage, and, if you “follow the money,” their budgets favor families with children. Can they turn their multi-generational potential into living communities?

So while you’re enjoying a Thanksgiving turkey, please think about the Hoagie Generation™ and let me know if:

• you can think of another place besides congregations that can become platforms for sustained, meaningful, multi-generational interaction.
• beyond one-off events (like Mitzvah Days or social action events), do you know of congregations of any religion that have already made ongoing multi-generational engagement a priority?

Thanks have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

After the Rules Changed

Since the election, like many, I’ve had numerous conversations with family members, friends and acquaintances, ranging in ages from 14 to 92. I have friends who are Democrats and friends who are Republicans. Despite their differences, they’re equally astonished at the outcome of the election. And who isn’t? But I have also felt the weight of their pessimism, which for some may become paralyzing. People need time to adjust, to protest, and to reflect on how we got to where we are. But I’ve been troubled by the despair, which can become a barrier to action. So I wrote this poem, or more honestly, it emerged from some surprising place within, about some changes that I’ve been through and that I’ve been witness to. It’s my reaffirmation of the rocky, uneven and unpredictable pathways that take us to higher ground if we’re willing to stay on the road.

After the Rules Changed

I came of age in 1976,
I was middle class, but felt pretty rich.
I never made my bed,
I rarely set the table.
Those were house rules,
Although I was able.

I left home,
For an Ivy college,
I came back to visit,
Primed with world-class knowledge.

We sat around the table,
Talking banal stuff,
Got up when I was finished,
But they had had enough.

Why don’t you clear the table?
You never made your bed!
Their questions had me spinning,
They hurt my head.

There was something that was cooking,
Had been something that was brewing,
My sisters turned feminists,
For years they had been stewing.

That one routine dinner,
Fed me more than I expected,
All of my upbringing,
Crashingly redirected.

It wasn’t just potatoes at the table that were mashed.
Blind to inequality,
All assumptions had been smashed.

It was they who were enraged,
Looked at me as a fool,
But I wish I saw the memo,
About changing the rules.

As we rewrote the playbook,
We had to improvise,
And here we are again, America,
Taken by surprise.

I’ve been here before,
You’ve been here, too.
Like yesterday, back then,
Unacceptable to just “make do.”

We’ve done it before,
We’ll do it again,
Some will lose, and some will win.
It may not be fair, it’s out of balance,
When restoring dignity,
You have to make allowance.

It’s not an excuse to rail with hate,
We won’t heal if we only berate.
Winner take all,
Is a recipe for the fall.
Look-haven’t all have fallen, one time or another?
Serve up compassion,
And you’ll see it’s your brother.

Cross-posted to the Huffington Post

 

Spontaneous Kindness

The national political atmosphere is toxic. Does it seem that people are a little more on edge, angrier and less generous? Or at least, when watching the news about the presidential election, aren’t you left with that feeling? That’s why I want to share two stories about unexpected kindness. Despite the way it may feel, I still generally believe that people are good and decent.

On Friday, I drove to my optician to pick up a new pair of glasses. Near the entrance to the office, there was an older gentleman in front of me and I raced ahead so that I could open the door for him. He refused to let me do so, explaining, “I decided that from now on, every day, I want to do something nice for a stranger.” I thanked him for his act of kindness and for taking the time to explain his motivation.

hayim-herring-spontaneous-kindness

 

A little while later, I left my office to meet with a friend of mine who was helping with some repairs. I promised that I would return with a cup of decaf coffee, as I didn’t have any at home. I learned that the cafeteria in my office building doesn’t sell decaf, so I made a quick detour to a nearby Panera Bread restaurant. As I reached for my wallet, the person working behind the counter said, “It’s free.” A number of family members and friends have suggested (not so subtly) that I should have my hearing tested. Thinking that I misheard her, I continued to reach for my wallet. She said again, “It’s free. It’s on the house today.” I asked her why, and she said, “Because I decided that it is.” I thanked her and then decided that after having been “kinded” spontaneously twice, it was a reminder to me that we have the power in our own hands, right now, to freely perform spontaneous acts of kindness, which are especially precious at this time in our history.

Never underestimate the value of an intentionally kind act, no matter how large or small. That is one Talmudic teaching that I learned in rabbinical school that I’ve tried to keep in mind throughout the years. “Our Rabbis taught: A person should always regard himself as if he or she were half guilty and half meritorious. If that person performs one mitzvah, how wonderful it is, for that individual has tipped the scale to the side of merit. But woe to the person who commits one transgression for tipping the scale to side of guilt…” By this logic, another rabbi continues, “Since the world is judged by its majority, and an individual is also judged by the majority of actions (good or bad) if that person performs one good deed, happy is that person for tilting the scale both personally and for the whole world on the side of merit” (Kiddushin 40b).

I’m making a pledge to perform one act of spontaneous kindness everyday to a stranger between now and the end of election season. Small acts of kindness can have large multiplier effects-something that the two individuals whom I encountered on Friday reminded me about. Will you join me in doing so?

 

Rosh Hashanah 2016

From “Who shall live and who shall die?” to “How to live and how to die”

What does it mean to be human? It’s a simple question, with unclear and unsettling answers. “Faster than the speed of light” is a phrase that can equally apply to outer space travel as well as to the state of the velocity of change in our lives. Compared to ten years ago, how frequently do you find yourself saying, “I used to understand the world, but these days I longer do?” That’s because we’re headed into new territory: as individuals, as members of particular families and faith communities, and as members of the broader family of humanity. Rosh ha-Shanah celebrates the birthday of humanity. In that spirit of celebration, I offer some questions that transcend current political divides and refocus our attention on some shared assumptions of what it means to be human, how those might be changing, and how we can navigate some of these changes.

kudu_horn_shofar_highlights-e1474138750808

 

Work and worth. Some people strongly dislike their work and curse it as a burden, and Judaism commands us to rest one day each week so that we can maintain some balance in our lives. But in the first half of the verse that mentions Shabbat, we’re also commanded to work: “Six days you shall work…” (Exodus 20: 9). In Judaism, work provides opportunities for us to be a blessing to others and better the world through it. So even if your work sometimes feels like a “curse,” what will happen to our identities and communities when increasingly significant numbers of “white collar” professionals will be automated out of a job? That has already happened to many honorable “blue collar” workers, with devastating effects. If persistent economic volatility continues to be the new norm, what resources do we need to put into place to help many people from all walks of life structure time purposefully, as they will not have the traditional support of the structure of work?

Redefining Reality. What will happen when instead of venturing outside to experience reality, we can snap on inexpensive miniaturized headgear and exchange it for virtual reality? Will we retreat further into our personal spaces and individual selves, diminishing interactions with other people and places, or be stimulated to physically venture forth to new places after visiting them virtually, and open ourselves up to the world?

Algorithms or Spiritual Rhythms? What will it mean when all of our devices, vehicles and appliances are having connected “conversations” with one another behind our backs (that is, without our awareness)? Will digitally generated algorithms that “suggest” choices that are similar to our prior history of shopping, entertainment and web browsing cause our spiritual attributes of curiosity, serendipitous wandering into new interests, and stumbling upon ideas that enliven our spiritual selves to atrophy?

Empathy or Apathy? How will we learn to develop deep relationships with others when we no longer make eye contact, forget how to read their feelings, and intuit the impact of our words and actions on them because we look down at a screen instead of up at the person before us? (Recommended reading on this topic by a leading expert: Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle, whom I credit for this thought.)

Fluid Gender Identity. Today, individuals who need to claim their true gender identity can do so by undergoing the complex process of gender reassignment, and there is growing acceptance of gender as a dynamic, changeable, social construct. In the future, will more people elect to undergo gender reassignment because they want the experience of living multiple-gendered lives? This is a plausible question, too, if we look to the history of other required medical procedures that began as “life-saving,” and were later commercialized for massive profit by designating them as “elective.” For example, cosmetic surgery was initially developed to help soldiers heal from disfiguring gun shot wounds that left them in physical pain and social isolation. Today, a recent Global Cosmetic Surgery and Marketing Report estimates that the industry currently generates “over $20 billion and is set to rise to over $27 billion by 2019.” If gender identity reassignment surgery follows typical paths of rates of adoption of innovations, and significant numbers of individuals elect to have it, what effect will it have on their relationships with family, friends and people in their social and professional networks?

The Fragility of Community. When social media provide everyone with loud, amplified voices, how do we maintain communities in which we are able to listen to one another? As we begin to accept that shouting people down is an acceptable response to disagreement, how can we hold on to the richness of heterogeneous communities? Ask almost any clergy person today to state a major concern about the future, and he or she will soon express anxiety about the fragility of community.

The Exposed Self. How do we maintain our dignity once our digital lives have been hacked, violated, bullied, or exposed to the world in some other way? When someone without authorization has exposed our private lives to the world, how does that feeling of personal violation affect our trust in others for the long-term?

Creating Sustained, Meaningful, Multi-generation Contact. What does community look like when there are already four generations of people alive in large numbers (and in the near-term future, soon to be five if medical scientists are correct in their predictions about aging and longevity)? How do we create places in society where sustained, meaningful, multi-generational relationships can develop, and wisdom and experience can flow up and down, across generations? What are the new supports, structures and organizations that we need, or existing ones that we need to retool, to accommodate this reality?

We’re certainly not the first generation to feel like vast changes are redefining our most fundamental assumptions of what it means to be human. The projected future convergence of digital technologies, disruptive leaps in biomedical and social sciences, and our willingness to choose behaviors and lifestyles that often wind up owning us, has arrived. Increasingly, wherever I travel, I hear from friends, family and acquaintances that we always seem to be heading into unmapped territory. We’re like the Biblical Israelites on their way out of Egypt, moving toward a promised land, with a big stretch of menacing wilderness that they first had to traverse. In one episode when Pharaoh is considering allowing the enslaved Israelites a limited release from slavery, Moses counters with a response that captures today’s zeitgeist. He explains that he must take everything with him into the wilderness, without conditions, for, “We don’t know what we’re going to need to serve (God) until we get there” (Exodus 10:26).

That’s more than a cagy negotiating tactic. Moses expresses a truth about how to prepare for an unknown future. Because it’s impossible to know what we’ll need for an unprecedented stage of life personally and collectively, the only preparation that can guarantee our future is to commit to travel together as a community. As a part of a community, we contribute our collective caring, insights, intuitions and inspiration that enable us to navigate uncertainty.

Rosh ha-Shanah allows us the time to look back on who we are in order to better see our way forward. If we have understood being created in God’s image as including the capacities to have deep relationships, to contribute productively to the world, to listen and love one another not despite but because of our differences, what is the work that we have to do today to ensure that these traces of Divinity continue to define our humanity? Personally, I’d rather hear sermons on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur about these kinds of ultimate issues that are not set in some far away galaxy, but have begun to arrive, than conjectures on current politics which, as important as this presidential election is, distract us from much more urgent considerations.

Cross posted to eJewish Philanthropy

 

Zionism: Once Again Today’s Rorschach Test for American Jews

 

As a member of a Jewish youth group (USY) in the mid-1970’s, I remember our advisors often leading us through a “Jewish values clarification” activity about being a Zionist and an American. It was designed to help us gain insight into the inherent tensions of a hyphenated Jewish-American identity. One variation of this activity’s trigger question was, “If Israel and America were on opposite sides of a war, what side would you choose?”

 

As context, at that time, there was a string of historic events involving Israel whose impacts were felt in the United States: the June 1967 Six Day War, the1973 Yom Kippur War, the OPEC oil embargo from 1973-74 that caused severe economic disruption, and the 1975 United Nations resolution describing Zionism as, “…a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Being a Zionist was a kind of Rorschach Test for American Jews. Did the images of Zionism make you see yourself as having a binary choice of being Jewish/pro-Israel or American? Or, as our youth group values clarification exercise sought to do through debate and self-exploration, could we feel that being proud citizens of one country (America) was generally compatible with deep feelings for our “Jewish homeland,” despite periodic tensions?

 

Zionism is once again a Rorschach Tests for American Jews. There were early warning signs that anti-Zionism was on the march: several Christian denominations that castigated only Israel and not Palestinians for the ongoing conflict; the growing campus “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” (BDS) protests; and, blatantly anti-Semitic articles by the likes of academics including Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

 

Because of its unabashed anti-Israel platform that asserts Israel’s campaign of “genocide” against Palestinians, the Movement for Black Lives has “called the question” for American Jews: Do you stand with the progressive American social justice movement and against Israel, or do you stand with Israel, which by definition, negates your social justice “creds” and invalidates your alliance with progressive social justice issues. The compartmentalized explanations about simultaneous commitments to social justice work in America and staunch support for Israel do not work anymore; Jewish organizations will increasingly have difficulties in forming alliances with NGO’s and faith-based groups dedicated to social justice causes.

 

This ultimatum for a binary choice creates a painful dilemma for the many American Jews whose Jewish identity rests upon deeply rooted Jewish values and teachings to address mounting social justice issues (structural racism, economic inequities, literacy gaps-to name just a few). Some, most recently like American Jewish historians Hasia Dinar and Marjorie Feld, have let personal ideologies override historical facts and publicly renounced their Zionism. As Jonathan Sarna incisively noted, their ideas are naively delusional (and I would add, destructive) propaganda. But because they are scholars of American Jewish history, their personal animus against Israel creates pressure for other American Jews to “act bravely” and renounce Zionism.

 

While Diner and Feld’s agenda is to undermine American support for Israel within and outside of the Jewish community, there are many American Jews who love Israel but are justifiably weary about having to defend Israel’s actions before their peers. Israel did not seek the wars that led to its conquest of territory. But fair or not, after forty-nine years, the Israeli government is a co-owner of the indignities that Palestinians who are entitled to sovereignty suffer every day. Especially under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administrations, the Israeli government continues to promote an environment that chills democratic values of a free and independent press, and funds right-wing religious bigotry, courtesy of the Chief Rabbinate. So American Jews who care deeply about Israel, like many Israeli citizens, have ample reason to to express disapproval about the direction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation.

 

And that is why I worry that as an American Jewish community, we are losing our collective ability to withstand the trap of the binary choice of either being with social progressives and against Israel, or with Israel and against social progressives. Extremism has taken root on the left and the right in the American Jewish community. Often, the American Jewish left looks blithely past the realities of living in Israel and raising a family: Intifadas, knifing attacks, bus bombings, vehicles turned into weapons of mass destruction by plowing into crowds of pedestrians, withdrawal from territories that lead to greater violence, ISIL at all of Israel’s borders….At age eighteen, American young adults complain about not having enough “safe spaces” for troubling ideas in college classrooms. At age eighteen, Israeli young adults worry about safety for their lives as they enter mandatory military service. It’s easy to talk about all of the failures of another country that you don’t visit, let alone live in, from a safe distance of 6,000 to 8000 miles away.

 

At the same time, the American Jewish right often ignores the indignities of daily life for Palestinians, even those that can be more easily ameliorated, with a justification that there are, “no partners for peace.” Maybe there are no partners for peace, but what actions can Israel take to try to cultivate better relations and the possibilities for having future partners for peace? There are over 200 retired senior officials from Israel’s security agencies who believe that, “launching an Israeli regional initiative is essential, possible, and urgent.” They assert that, “…a two-state solution can be implemented and sustained while providing both Israelis and Palestinians with the security, sovereignty, and dignity they deserve.” What special military and diplomatic insights does the Jewish political right wing have that makes them dismiss statements like these?

 

The mutual extremism of the left and right only reinforces the unsatisfactory status quo because vitriolic attacks against “the other side” don’t demand new and divergent ways of thinking. They only make people defend their failed positions.

 

I’m in Israel now. It’s a relief being away from the degrading political scene in the United States, and having some momentary respite from news about violence continuing in communities across America. But even on my days of very low feelings about the current state of America, it would never occur to me to label America as thoroughly evil country responsible for all of the world’s ills. There is still a lot of goodness in Americans, despite the tremendous amount of corruption in politics. I’m not blind to the shocking social problems that are besetting us as Americans. But would I renounce my faith in America and abandon hope in believing that we can make progress? Absolutely not!

 

That leads me back to memories of my youth group values clarification activities. I’m still a Zionist, but a more mature one: aware of some dangerous tendencies today in Israel, and equally aware of Israel’s tremendous achievements despite its location in a region that makes it ever vulnerable. That means that I won’t support any progressive cause that has aligned itself with those who seek to legally dismantle Israel’s right to exist by using the kind of intentional, malicious rhetoric found in the Movement for Black Lives platform, but I will support other progressive groups that don’t make taking an anti-Israel oath a prerequisite for involvement. Nor will I support any right wing groups that dismiss the reality that Israel occupies territories that have a Palestinian majority who are ultimately entitled to statehood (which every Israeli government has affirmed, since the Oslo accords in 1993 to this very day) or refuse to take greater steps to increase chances for the implementation of the two-state solution.

 

I’m on firm ground in staking out the desideratum of holding on to the tensions of being a proud American Zionist who cares about progressive causes. Between the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz and the week leading up to Rosh ha-Shanah, there are 10 weeks, each with specially designated haftarot. The first three are rebukes to the Israelites by the Biblical prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, for immoral and unjust behavior. These three prophetic portions are then followed by seven others expressing hope and consolation about the redemption of Zion through justice. Three prophetic portions about rebuke, and seven about hope. Coincidently, recent brain science suggests that a person needs an average of about six messages of positive feedback in order to accept one piece of constructive criticism, approximating that ratio of positive to negative feedback during this ten week period.

 

Dinar and Feld claim that we are not sufficiently self-critical within the Jewish community. They are not only wrong, but they misconstrue the purpose of criticism or tochekha that this ten-week period gets right. Self-criticism isn’t a goal, but one of the tools that leaders use as a springboard for striving closer toward Jewish ideals of peace, justice, and an overall better condition for all of humanity. So while I have deep disappointments in the lack of progress toward a two-state solution (just like I have deep disappointments about so many problems in America today), and I will lovingly express them, I won’t make statements that feed distorted, destructive narratives about Zionism and Israel. There are enough other people who are happily doing so already.

 

 

On The Rebellions of 2016

 

 

I recently read Frank Bruni’s op-ed on election season in the New York Times, titled, The Rebellions of 2016. In comparing both Republican and Democratic conventions, he writes: “The parallel speaks volumes about 2016’s mood, which is one of untamable grudges and unquenchable rebellion.”

 

Rebellion

 

 

The current cycle of weekly Torah readings from the Book of Numbers has eerie comparisons and could be called the Book of Rebellions:

 

+The people rebel over the food

 

+Moses rebels against God by hitting a rock instead of speaking to it to draw water for the people

 

+Miriam and Aaron-Moses’s siblings-rebel against his leadership

 

+That causes a ripple effect leading to a broader popular rebellion led by Korach,

 

+Finally, leading to a rapid slide to a full-scale popular rebellion (Israelite men co-mingling with Midianite women)

 

Pinchas, a priestly leader, literally takes the law into his own hands and quells the rebellion by being judge, jury and executioner (Numbers 25:7). That’s why Pinchas is given a b’rit shalom, “a covenant of peace” by God for his decisive but extrajudicial action. We focus on the restoration of “shalom” or peace in this phrase, but the word “b’rit” is equally important. Reintegrating relationships into a legal framework or “covenant” mitigates the possibility of a just rebellion from deteriorating into community chaos.

 

I think this is an important message to those of us who are religious leaders. We can consider that the Book of Numbers is a wake-up call to create frameworks of dialogue and action, so that righteous anger doesn’t indiscriminately scorch everything in its path, but focuses energy for change to where it’s needed.

 

 

 

The Entrepreneurial Rabbi

Dear Friends,

I recently led a webinar on The Entrepreneurial Rabbi . While this webinar was with my rabbinic colleagues, you’re invited to listen to the recording and download a PDF (below) of the accompanying slides. The content is relevant for volunteer leaders of congregations and Jewish organizations, Jewish educators, Cantors and others who are interested in learning about innovation and entrepreneurship within a Jewish organizational or congregational context. And please be in touch if you have comments or questions about the webinar!

 

Thank you, Hayim

 

The Entrepreneurial Rabbi-Web Slides

 

The Entrepreneurial Rabbi webinar (Audio)

 

Crowdsourcing Worksheet

 

 

 

What Are Your Mind-Stretching Plans This Summer?

 

What’s your recommended reading list for the summer? Or, to update the question, what mind-stretching experiences are on your “to do list” or have you recently had? Here are some of mine and please share yours on my Facebook page.

 

• Recently read: Dr. Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.
• Currently reading: Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.
• Midway through auditing a Coursera MOOC (massive online open course): Leading Innovation in Arts and Culture, developed by Professor David Owens at Vanderbilt University and customized for the cultural sector with Jim Rosenberg, Independent Consultant and Senior Advisor at National Arts Strategies.
• Next up: Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal’s book, Wise Aging. Living With Joy, Resilience and Spirit.
• And-I’m committing to moving more rapidly through my study of Psalms, using Robert Alter’s commentary (growth for the heart and mind).

 

stretch

I’m also developing presentations and workshops around my forthcoming book, co-researched and co-authored with Professor Terri Elton at Luther Seminary, in which we studied a number of Jewish and Lutheran congregations and nonprofit organizations in two categories: “established and adapting” to a more decentralized, co-creative, flatter, socially networked way of working; and, “emerging and maturing” startup congregations and nonprofit organizations that are navigating the challenges of maintaining their entrepreneurial character while scaling for sustainability. Stay tuned for publication information!

 

In addition to focusing on these mind-stretching experiences, I am consciously avoiding mind- narrowing activities, which means ignoring most things related to the presidential campaign, where it often seems that speculation and gossip masquerade as analysis.

 

So are what are your mind-stretching ideas (and please share your creativity here)?

 

 
 
 
 

©2016 Hayim Herring
 
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