Archive for the ‘American Jews’ Category

 

After the Rules Changed

Posted on: November 15th, 2016 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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

On The Rebellions of 2016

Posted on: July 26th, 2016 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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.

 

 

Leading in Front, Beside and in the Middle

Posted on: January 13th, 2016 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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.

 

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

Posted on: January 22nd, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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

Hayim Herring-WordCloud

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

 

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

 

Thank you, Rabbi Hayim Herring

 

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

 

 

Be Entrepreneurial, Not Innovative

Posted on: January 16th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Call me Edgar

Posted on: December 24th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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

 

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

Edgar Bronfman
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Jewish Cultural Affirmation: Great Intent, Misguided Action

Posted on: December 16th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Pew-ish and Religiously Jewish

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Pew-Study-Hayim-Herring

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

New Findings About Pew Study

Posted on: November 19th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Simplification, Complification or Obfuscation

 
 

As an experiment, this morning I searched the terms, “Pew Jewish demographic study 2013 failure” and “Pew Jewish demographic study 2013 success” on a variety of online sites. Numbers in red reflect a larger number of results.

 

Hayim Hayim on Pew Study

What are my conclusions from this matrix?

 

 

So I’m taking my time digesting the implications of the findings from the Pew Report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans. We’re going to feel the impact of this report for a long time. While the some of the findings are unambiguous and elicit a strong emotional reaction, those reactions don’t always make for thoughtful policy debates and decisions.

 

Another reason for a little more time—sometimes, demographics and trends are destiny, and other times we can’t extrapolate the future from the present. A well-known example: if Jews in the year 1900 in America or Europe had been surveyed by a highly-respected research organization about the likelihood of creating an independent Jewish state, how many would have responded that there was a high likelihood anytime soon? Yet, here’s what Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary after the first Zionist Congress in 1897: “If I had to sum up the Basel Congress in one word—which I shall not do openly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I were to say this today, I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years, perhaps, and certainly in 50, everyone will see it.”

 

Survey findings in the Jewish community are notorious for generating anxiety without clear direction (more about that in a later post….). Careful sociologists, historians and demographers are incredibly valuable in providing us with information about the present and they can extrapolate possibilities about the future. We need to pay attention to them—in many cases, if we had, we might not be dealing with some tough issues in the Jewish community today. Yet, sometimes against the logic of the data, we have to strive mightily to create the future that we want because that’s what leaders do. So unlike what happened for a variety of reasons with the 1990 NJPS and the problematic NJPS 2000-2001, a little more time for analysis, interpretation and action will serve us better as a Jewish community.

 
 

Collaborate, Communicate, Connect

Posted on: November 7th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

New, Free, Hands-on Workbook for Synagogues

 

I’ve generally heard agreement among synagogue and federation leaders that congregational collaboration is a valuable endeavor. Collaboration can lead to elimination of redundant services, cost savings, better programs, etc. So, who would argue against it? If you’ve actually planned, implemented and helped sustain collaborative synagogue efforts, you know how beneficial they are—and also how much effort you have to invest and maintain in them order to make them work!

 

synergy - UJA Federation - Hayim HerringThat’s why I’m happy to introduce you to another resource that provides you with concrete, practical tools to support your efforts around collaboration, and strategies to increase communications, connections and meaning in your congregation. This free, download is titled, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: A Guide for Study and Action, and it’s a seven step implementation guide to some of the key ideas in my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life. In addition to collaboration, you’ll find six additional units, on topics ranging from becoming an entrepreneurial congregation to preparing for the future by better anticipating trends that may have an impact on your congregation.

 

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