✆ 612-859-1650

         

Rabbinic Search: Choosing Wisely, Transitioning Smoothly

 

 

My colleague, Linda Rich, and I recently presented a webinar, titled, Selecting a rabbi is one of the most important decisions a synagogue makes. Based on new research, Rabbi Hayim Herring and Linda Rich, two national experts in congregational consulting, share current insights, best practices, and practical tools for enhancing your congregation’s rabbinic search and integration process. This webinar, recorded on March 30, 2016, was hosted by the Alliance for Continuing Rabbinical Education and sponsored through the generosity of UJA-Federation of New York.

 

Rabbinic Search Webinar - Hayim Herring

 

You can view the webinar and download the slides even if you didn’t participate in the webinar. We know how timely this topic is as greater numbers of Baby Boomer rabbis retire, and as congregational life becomes more complex. We hope that you’ll take advantage of these free resources, and share them with others who you think may be interested. And- please contact us; we’re happy to work with you on this most critical choice and on other issues that can enrich and revitalize congregational life

 

* We thank the Alliance for Continuing Rabbinic Education for hosting the webinar, which was sponsored through the generosity of UJA-Federation of New York.

 

 

Leading in Front, Beside and in the Middle

 

 

Introduction

Many congregations are in rabbinic search mode this time of year. Given the instability that congregations often face, many will seek rabbis who can initiate and lead the kinds of change that will reinvigorate congregational life. The intuition of these congregations is right on target, as rabbinical leadership ultimately determines the impact and sustainability of congregational change efforts. Of course, it takes the collective effort of an inspired rabbi and excellent, focused volunteer leaders to make congregations vital. However, a rabbi’s personal and ongoing involvement is a critical and key success factor to the achievement of lasting and significant congregational change. I therefore focus on insights about rabbinical leadership that increase the likelihood of success of broad and deep congregational change initiatives.

 

My colleagues who have successfully transformed congregations have a repertoire of leadership stances. They practice leading in front, leading beside and leading in the middle. They move in and out of these roles as they initiate and attempt to anchor transformational change. These observations flow from my primary research on denominational and independent rabbis and congregations, a review of substantial secondary research on congregations and nonprofit organizations, scholarly literature on leadership, and extensive work with rabbis, congregations and nonprofit organizations.* While certain fundamentals of leadership are enduring, other needed attributes of leadership are emerging in today’s environment of expected transparency, immediacy of communications, disruptive technologies and the chaos they engender.

 

Leading

 

Leading in Front

 

Every successful change effort begins with a person’s inspirational vision and passion. An effective change mobilizer maintains the passion but seeks out a core team of people who enrich it because it resonates within them. Competent stewards of congregations and organizations invest significant energy into management, a complex set of activities and skills that include issues such as board and professional leadership development and adherence to the highest professional standards of governance. Rabbis who execute these responsibilities well are fulfilling a reasonable expectation of professionalism. But effective rabbinical change leaders view stewardship as the beginning of their work.

 

(more…)

 

2015: The Art of Selectively Remembering and Forgetting

 

 

I didn’t blog very much in 2015. I’ve had plenty to say but little time or appetite for expression. As my mother recently said to me, “I’ve got the best of both worlds—I celebrate two new years, Rosh ha-Shanah and January 1!” I’ve been struggling with how much of this past year I wish to remember and how much I choose to forget. But her words gave me the push that I needed to write a personal, partial timeline of 2015, both by way of explanation for my digital silence and in an effort to loosen the emotional and spiritual restraints that have been holding me back from moving forward.

 

January 2015 (about a year ago): my wife and I had been thinking about downsizing to a smaller home, and the right opportunity appeared earlier than we had anticipated. Like many Boomers, we had too much house, for too few people, with more maintenance than we cared for at this stage of life. A recommendation for anyone planning to move: don’t prepare one house for the market and purchase and renovate another simultaneously, especially while editing a book (Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation in Rabbinical Education, which I co-edited with Ellie Roscher, was published in January 2015). Alternating between chipping away at paint and picking apart sentences is a sure way to intensify stress. Without my good friend and general contractor, I wouldn’t have made it. As I worked alongside of him, I understand why my inner handyman had remained in hiding all of these years, and decided that he should remain concealed. We sold our home toward the end of January.

 

This-Way-or-That

(more…)

 

What A Judge Can Teach Us About Rabbinic and Executive Searches

 

 

How does a former judge create a fair search process for hiring a new rabbi and a new senior federation professional? I had a chance to learn from my father-in-law, Norman Krivosha, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Nebraska, who chaired a rabbinic search committee for his congregation several years ago, and later, chaired the search process for a new federation executive. We are approaching the time of year when rabbis and congregations begin to think about making placement changes, so I wanted to share one part of the process that I believe is especially valuable. Although this post describes a rabbinic search process, the Judge established the same process for hiring the lead federation professional in his community.

 

The search process began like most others. The judge invited a diverse cross-section of the congregation to serve on the Search Committee. The committee developed criteria for the ideal candidate, aware that it would need to prioritize them. They prepared a series of questions that members would ask consistently of each candidate, and decided that they would interview six rabbis during a Shabbat weekend in their congregation. They wanted a diversity of rabbinic candidates, so that Search Committee members and congregants would be exposed to a range of rabbinic models and minimize any pre-existing biases about the “right” kind of rabbi for the congregation. And now is where it gets really interesting….

rabbi-hiring-process

Prior to interviewing candidates, the judge instructed Search Committee members not to have any “off the record” conversations with one another or members of the congregation. As he explained to me, juries are instructed not to discuss a case with one another until they have heard all of the evidence. He added that it is a known fact that once someone has made up his or her mind it is very difficult for a person to un-decide and make a new decision. By establishing this “no discussion” rule, candidates were given an equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities, without Search Committee members biasing one another’s views through private discussions or conversations with congregants.

 

Unlike other search processes, where members meet and debrief throughout the interview process, this Search Committee first conducted all of the six interviews and only then met to deliberate. The result? One and done! Search Committee members reached consensus in only one meeting. It became clear which of the rabbis would not be an appropriate match for the congregation, and they were then able to focus on a small number of potential candidates. They did not have to spend time trying to persuade one another of a conscious or unconscious choice that they had already made, as they had no prior discussions with one another. This process occurred over two years ago and the relationship is still going strong!

 

I am not sure how many other congregations have a process that is designed to respect each rabbi’s unique personalities and talents. But whether you were the first or the last rabbi, you were given the same opportunity to succeed.

 

So what do you think about a “no discussion rule” and no deliberations until after all candidates have interviewed? Has your congregation tried this before, or do you know of another congregation that has? Are there other helpful aspects to a rabbinic or senior executive search in which you have been involved that you would like to share? The most important choice that a congregation or Jewish nonprofit organization makes is in engaging the best senior professional for its congregation or organization. A search process is a significant investment of resources for congregations and organization, so if you wish to share your insights, please do so on my Facebook page.

 

 

 

Forgiveness and Faith Fuel Entrepreneurship

 

 

How can forgiveness and faith fuel leaders to create a culture of entrepreneurship? In the mysterious way that we stumble upon questions to which we don’t automatically have answers, I fell into this one as I was spiritually prepping for Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur.

 

Here’s the relationship between forgiveness, faith and entrepreneurship that I’ve come to realize. The upcoming holidays focus us on repentance. The word “repentance” is shorthand for describing the efforts needed to break unproductive and often safe routines that lock us in place—even when it’s a place that we know we don’t want to be! Familiarity often breeds complacency and enables us to rationalize a status quo that we know is deficient—whether in ourselves or in our communities.

 

power-of-forgiveness_t

 

If repentance alerts us to the dangers of routine, entrepreneurship evokes uncertainty. Being entrepreneurial requires embracing agility, variation and unfamiliarity; of learning what happens when we “change it up.” When you welcome uncertainty in, even with thoughtful planning, you’re never quite sure where it will lead. That’s precisely why entrepreneurial leaders must also invite forgiveness and faith into their communities as well. (more…)

 

Rosh Ha-Shana Circa 2015

 

Imagine that you’re the Biblical Abraham. You and your wife, Sarah, are literally the founders of a start-up nation. To ensure its continuity, you ask, “What is one important thing that I can leave for my descendants that they will need 100 years from now?” Perhaps that question stimulated an ancient rabbinic suggestion about how the Israelites were able to build a wooden ark while traveling in the desert. According to this interpretation, Abraham had planted trees in Beersheva. Before his grandson, Jacob, and his clan leave a famine-stricken Israel for bountiful Egypt, he stopped in Beersheva, harvested these trees and brought them with him. When the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian slavery generations later, they had the basic raw material for the ark—the trees that Abraham had planted and Jacob had harvested.

 

Abraham and Jacob knew that they could not create a detailed map of a far off future in which they would not be alive. But, as leaders of the tribe, it was up to them to ensure that their descendants would have timeless raw materials to use in constructing their own Jewish future. So what are the raw materials that we want to accumulate now so that our Jewish heirs will be talking about their Jewish future 100 years from now? And according to some researchers, many children born today are likely to live to 100 or even the Biblical 120 years old so this is not a theoretical question!

 

Recently, my local Jewish newspaper, the American Jewish World, invited me to submit an article on the future of the Jewish community in Minnesota 100 years from now. With Rosh ha-Shanah about a month away, it seemed like a good time to share some broader reflections on the next possible 100 years of American Jewish life. Yes—it’s chutzpadik to do so. At the same time, it can help us consider some essential “materials” that we can be mining and storing for future generations. And the challenge is that I believe that these “materials” are primarily intangibles—they are attitudes and values. (more…)

 

Why a Dead Iranian Deal is Worse Now Than No Deal

 

 

“Iran can keep the deal or Iran can cheat on the deal. Either way it will have the bomb….” That is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said two days ago in a webcast to American Jewish leaders. By his own logic, it therefore makes no sense to lobby Congress against the Iranian accord. The terms of the agreement are vital to the security of Israel and the broader Middle East—in theory. But if you don’t trust the Iranian clerics who run the country, and you believe that they will acquire nuclear weapons at any cost, then a dead deal will likely be worse than no deal for the American-Israeli relationship and for Israel.

 

Switzerland Nuclear Iran

 

If you assume, as I do, that Iran’s clerics will “cheat on the deal,” here are four additional reasons why going toe-to-toe with President Obama is a risky gambit:

 

1. Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently bet on the strength of support from the Republican Party. He publicly displayed his preference for Republican candidate Mitt Romney over President Obama during the last election, and broke protocol in accepting an invitation from the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to address Congress, who had not consulted the White House. This Republican bet has not exactly created a warm, fuzzy feeling between Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. And the odds of a Republican presidency in the next election are questionable: Republicans have lost five of the six last popular votes for the presidency, and the demographics of the United States voting population present challenges for a Republican presidency.

 

2. Generally, American support for Israel has been bipartisan. This latest push by Israel into American politics has the potential to significantly intensify the partisan nature of support for Israel. Additionally, while Israel has not enjoyed total support from the American Jewish community in recent years, a majority of American Jews has been able to rally behind Israel in times of need. Overt Israeli lobbying in American foreign politics has driven a wedge internally between American Jews of different political viewpoints. In politics, ill will has a long shelf life. Regardless of who occupies the White House after the next election, why leave it tainted with negative feelings when it comes to support for Israel? And as the BDS movement heats up on college campuses, and European displeasure with Israel is resulting in increasingly tense trade relations and cultural exchanges, can we really afford more internal fractures?

 

3. “Increase the sanctions, increase the pressure”—another request from Prime Minister Netanyahu. How many deals with some European nations, China and Russia do you think are already under discussion? One can argue about the wisdom of promising to ease economic sanctions already about a year ago, but even our European allies, let alone China and Russia, have abandoned the notion of more economic sanctions.

 

4. On a related note, let’s also remember that Pime Minister Netanyahu has been rolling back legislation requiring more Charedi (religious right wing) young men to serve in the army. If there is another war, it could require American ground troops. How will the optics look when a historic democratic ally, Israel, exempts a significant number of young men from its own military service, if U.S. troops fight in a war that many will claim Israel is responsible for? (I’ve already heard some people raise this issue.)

 

At this point in the game, as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, the reality is that Iran will find a way to develop nuclear arms. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, that were expected to protest, have accepted this reality. I doubt that they have any more trust in this accord than the Israeli government and public. But their relatively quiet stance indicates that they are thinking further into the future about maintaining good relations with United States in order to combat immediate threats like ISIL and the disintegration of Syria.

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu was elected several times on his promise to do everything that he could to keep Iran from going nuclear. President Obama, already in his first run at the presidency, set forth a goal of re-integrating Iran into the “family of nations” (and perhaps also recalibrating the balance of power between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East). Two sovereign nations, located in different parts of the world, one a super power and the other an embattled regional power, are entitled to see the world differently. Despite vigorous efforts, the time when it might have been possible to exercise other options and bring about a different kind of agreement has passed. I believe that it’s strategically smarter to put efforts now into planning for a reality of a stronger, regional and likely nuclear power that Iran will become, and the implications of that reality both for the United Sates and Israel.

 
 

 

 

Rabbis: Let’s Advocate for Mandatory Professional Therapy

 

 

Only a relatively few rabbis exploit emotionally vulnerable people but their impact is devastating: to individual victims, their families and friends, and the Jewish and broader public. Whether employed by congregations, Jewish camps and day schools, youth and college outreach or other organizations, rabbis who have ongoing access to people, funds, or sensitive information about their constituents should have mandatory, regularly scheduled professional therapy.

 

The Jewish Week, in cooperation with Temple Emanu-El– Skirball Center, recently sponsored a public program titled, “Training Rabbis. Who Will Lead Us Tomorrow?” (It was inspired by Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, a collection of essays that I co-edited with Ellie Roscher and was published a few months ago.) The forum, which I moderated, included Rabbis David Ellenson, Josh Davidson, Joy Levitt and Dr. Erin Leib Smokler—an exceptionally thoughtful panel. I turned to The Jewish Week first about the possibility of a public program because I trusted that, under its auspices, sensitive issues would not be sensationalized.

 

One of the questions that panelists debated was, “Who is responsible for putting more safeguards in place to prevent rabbis from engaging in unethical behavior? Can rabbinical organizations be trusted to police their own members?” Panelists offered a range of responses. Some were equivocal, others definitive (soon you’ll be able to watch a video archive of the discussion-information to follow later). In the short time since the program, we’ve read yet more allegations, court cases and convictions around rabbinical behavior. On a corresponding note closer to home, the systematic effort by the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul to cover up years of clergy sexual abuse continues to send shockwaves throughout all communities of faith.

 

In light of these incidents, I now believe that rabbis who work under Jewish auspices need professional therapy. It’s one collective way that we can do teshuvah for the damage to our community and calling that a few members of our rabbinical family have caused.

 

In an essay from Keeping Faith in Rabbis, Rabbi Ellen Lewis writes, “In my experience as a rabbi and therapist who works with clergy, clergy are no different from other abusers in motive, just in opportunity. … we possess all the same human weaknesses as everyone else.” She offers a minyan of reasons for the value of rabbis having regular therapy. Among these ten reasons, she writes that it’s important for the rabbi “to get the view from the other side of the couch. It makes you more aware of how your congregants or clients experience coming to you for help”. More importantly, she notes that, “We (rabbis) are surrounded everyday by people who love us for no apparent reason and who hate us for no apparent reason.…talking and supervision and therapy makes people less likely to act out” (pp.205-207).

 

“Awe of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).” Almost all of the rabbis that I know strive to stand in awe of God, and carefully and caringly help others. But we should be wise by now to appreciate the value of therapy. And budgetary constraints can’t be an excuse for inaction. Rabbis and their employers should share the financial cost for regularly scheduled therapy. Otherwise, we collectively continue to risk inflicting incalculable emotional pain to others and injecting generalized doubt about whether rabbis can be trusted. Why wait anymore for rabbinical organizations or seminaries to require action when rabbis and Jewish organizations can take the immediate local lead?

 

 

Disorderly Democracy or Tyrannical Terror: Thoughts About July 4th

 

 

If you’ve ever visited a country with an oppressive government, you know how precious the meaning of July 4th is. Even if you haven’t been in a cruel country, but have watched the news of this past week, you can deeply sense the impact of the absence or presence of freedom.

 

This week in America, we saw the incredibly positive culmination of spirited debate, years of litigation and uncommon compassion from everyday people: racism, homophobia, and economic inequality reflected in overpriced healthcare were big losers. Admittedly imperfect and slow, significant progress was made on these key issues. Many challenges that still lie ahead, but this upcoming American holiday gives us a timely opportunity to celebrate these achievements.

 

4th of july jewish

 

But abroad during this week, in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and France to name only a few places, loathsome terrorists killed hundreds of people by using brute lethal force. These individuals are pretenders. They aren’t brave for they are deathly afraid of powerful ideas about what it means to be human that are contrary to their beliefs.

 

Events here and there are connected. The same forces in Western democracies that hearten us here frighten fundamentalists of all stripes and in all places.  Battling over ideas and values leaves a much less certain and often-ambiguous outcome then battling with weaponry.

 

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain moderate political and religious views for a variety of reasons. The value of moderation is that it can bridge views at opposite ends of the spectrum. But, speaking personally, when I watch the utter ugliness of fundamentalists in action, I begin to wonder if moderation is an unintentional friend to extremists. It is incomprehensible to me, as a religious moderate, how “religious ” individuals can torture, brutalize, torment and persecute anyone in the name of religion in this day and age. Sometimes it feels like the numbers are reversed and that we’re living in the 12th Century and not the 21st.

 

So while July 4th is not a holiday found on the Jewish calendar, it still feels very Jewish and especially universal this year. Maybe it’s time for moderates to advocate more vigorously for the right to hold different viewpoints and remain in caring conversations with one another. Holding on to dissent and empathy isn’t easy, but that’s what people who are truly free can do. For a week like this suggests that we are not debating just one particular issue or idea. Rather, the essential argument is about human freedom and how to best augment it in the face of legitimate differences. And that is an ecumenical issue that I’ll be thinking about this July 4th.
 

 

Leadership Succession or Secession?

 

 

Less than a week ago, billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced that he is handing the reins of control to his two sons. Will the transfer of power lead to succession or to secession? Handing over control to a new generation can be messy business, especially when family is involved. Sometimes it goes well, but often it is painful.

 

Some leaders transfer power in name only, but just can’t let go. As a result, they risk bringing themselves down in disgrace. Other times, the next generation loses patience and repeatedly chips away at a leader’s ability to govern. These repeated challenges to authority eventually create an atmosphere of mistrust, where constituents begin to second-guess a leader’s judgment. When this occurs, a kind of community paralysis sets in and it takes a new leader to catalyze forward momentum.

 

Leadership Change Rupert Murdoch

 

The Biblical Book of Numbers is certainly a case study in the complexities of succession. While Moses ultimately passes the torch of leadership to a new generation, there are many acts of attempted secession. First, Moses’s siblings challenge his authority (Numbers 12), then the spies, who are leaders of twelve tribes, seek to undermine his credibility (Numbers 13) and in this week’s Torah reading (Numbers 16), Moses’s cousins mount an insurrection. The first challenge to Moses’s leadership cascades into a chain of additional trials, suggesting that there was general fatigue between the people and their leader. I wonder if either could see the warning signs as they unfolded, or only in retrospect.

 

So here are a few questions for senior and volunteer leaders to consider as they look to the future:

 

• If you are senior clergy of a congregation or a CEO of a nonprofit, what is your exit strategy if your constituents pose a serious leadership challenge? Do you have a plan to put into effect if that happens?
• If you have played a senior professional leadership role for a long time, are you working with board members on a succession plan?
• If you are a senior volunteer leader, and you feel it is time for a professional leadership change, do you have a proactive strategy or will it take a disgruntled community to move you to action?
• Finally, for both senior professional and volunteer leaders: how are you cultivating leadership for upcoming generations? And, given the vast numbers of Boomers who might be interested in volunteer roles, do you also have a plan to engage them?

 

Given the dynamics of any change of leadership, there certainly are no guarantees about how smooth a transition will be. But, there are ways to try and mitigate the risk of clumsy and potentially destructive transitions and limit the likelihood that that succession does not turn into secession.

 

 

 
 
 
 

©2016 Hayim Herring
 
Designed by Access Computer Technology