Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

 

What Happens When Leaders Disconnect Goals from Values?

Posted on: May 4th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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.

Three Kinds of Stubborn and their Implications for Leaders

Posted on: January 30th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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.

Rabbis: Let’s Advocate for Mandatory Professional Therapy

Posted on: July 8th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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?

 

Leadership Succession or Secession?

Posted on: June 17th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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.

 

 

Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly

Posted on: May 19th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

Continuing a series of guest essays related to Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, this piece by Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar was almost like a meditation that relates beautifully to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. Her imagery and urgency for forming a loving relationship with God echo some of the themes of Shavuot, which metaphorically represents a loving marriage between God and the Jewish people.

 

Rabbi Elizabeth BaharBy Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar

 

My challenge as a rabbi is to keep Jews engaged when they are leaving and going somewhere else to find a connection with the Holy, whether it is to a yoga class, a meditation studio, or a Buddhist retreat.  My other challenge comes from my own congregants who graduated from our religious school and are now sending their children to our religious school out of a sense of obligation, yet wonder if there is something wrong with them because they missed how to connect with God. Somehow institutional Judaism has failed them.  We have failed to transmit the message of love, engagement, faith and community.  I was trained intellectually and what I have learned more than anything else from my congregants, who are my teachers, is that religion is the language of the heart reaching out for the Divine.  They have taught me this lesson repeatedly at their bedsides, meeting with them when faced with hardships, or even celebrating with them the joys in life.  I have thanked them and continue to thank them for sharing and teaching me about the language of the Divine.

 

My disconnect stems from my training.  I trained at an academic institution, which is very intellectual.  The more intellectual your work, the more respect you received from both the faculty and your fellow students.  Yet what was absent in that environment is both the questions and the answers around how to nourish our souls and listen to the message of love found in our Sacred Texts and emanating from the Holy.  Our seminary’s focus on the intellect, because it is easy to quantify comprehension, yet it is not what is needed at people’s bedsides.  What is needed there is LOVE.  We were not taught how to find God in our own life.

 

As we struggle with our own connection to God, how are we to lead others to find God in their lives?  It is not enough to find God in our individual lives, the real question is, how are we going to share this knowledge and create a sacred community? How can we build a sacred community when it may be something we never experienced.  When people bring into the board room of our congregations their way of running a business forgetting that running a sacred community is different?   We focus on programing because it is easier to see success or failure from it, than to focus on God and wonder about how to bring God back to the center of what we do. When we have an entire community of people who are religiously illiterate and are unclear about even what it is that is missing in their life.  The problem is twofold 1) we struggle to find God and 2) our communities and therefore our seminaries struggle and are not even sure how to still look for the Holy.

 

The answer to grow a community is to go deep into the heart of life: To be totally present to the mystery of creation by developing an awareness of the Holy. 

 

The longer I am out of seminary, the more I realize that our faith journey and belief is paramount to our ability to succeed at our task. Since finding a connection with the Holy, helps solve one of the problems, I would like to make a few suggestions coming from things that have worked for me on my own journey.

 

We must struggle to live life in the footsteps of God so that we experience the Eternal Truth. 

 

A truth that Rambam points out to us on the High Holidays:

 

“Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves, you slumberers, out of your slumber! Examine your deeds, and turn to God in repentance.  Remember your Creator, you who are caught up in your daily routine, losing sights of eternal truth; you who are wasting your years in pointless activities that neither profit nor save…”[1]

 

We need to wake up to this Eternal TruthThe Eternal Truth is that God is!

 

As we read in the Book of Exodus when Moses meets God at the burning bush and ask who are you, God responds: “I Am that I Am אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה .”  I came to understand my relationship with God is simply a mirror to my relationship with others in my life.  If I am in a right relationship with others, then I am in a right relationship with God.

 

I pray every day! We must practice regularly speaking to God.  To have a spiritual life means to have a spiritual practice, which means to set time aside to open one’s heart and mind to God.  I engage in hitbodedut – a practice first defined by the great Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who said that it is going out into nature, forgoing all of this world’s noise and distractions to become one with our Creator.  To speak out to God as our patriarchs and matriarchs did in the Bible.  Rabbi Nachman taught specifically that it is

 

“inner-directed, unstructured,

 

active self-expression before G-d—

 

is the highest path of all.

 

Take it.” [2]

 

I strive to have a personal spiritual life.  This is one example of the types of prayer I pray often:

 

Dear G-d, help me talk to You
About whatever is on my mind,
And especially about my desire to be close to You.

 

Give me time to be alone,
To speak in my own words and language.

 

Let me pour out my heart to You
Sincerely and truthfully,
And build up my spiritual strength
Through my great longing for You.[3]

 

Religion started because someone had an experience with God on a mountain top and came back down the mountain to encourage other people to have a similar experience.  Ritual developed to force us to take a break from the external mindset of everything we have to do and get into the mindset of the Holy without having to trek into the desert and up the mountain to experience God.  Our religious experiences reveal an ultimate eternal truth which we understand deeply: We are enough even in our brokenness.

 

Instead of seeing what is broken with the Jewish community, our congregations or even ourselves, let’s be grateful for what we have.  Let’s take a moment to say thank you to God.

 

Remember the story of Gideon and the winepress.  In the time of Gideon, as described in the book of Judges, the Jewish people would have to thrash their wheat on the floor of a cave out of fear that their enemies would overcome them and steal their food.  While in the cave, Gideon encountered an Angel.  The Angel told him that he would go onto lead the Jewish people out from the hands of the Middianites.  Gideon asked God for a sign.  The sign that Gideon had, was fire that ate up the sacrifice that Gideon placed upon the rock.  Gideon then went out to battle knowing God was with him he had faith and then won.  Additionally that faith was what brought the people with him.

 

Let’s not run into the cave because we are afraid, and cling to our old institutions and isolate ourselves.  We need to have faith in God and trust our communities to share with them our doubts. We need to have an active spiritual life, a life outside the rabbinate, a life with family and friends.

 

By letting people enter the world of the spirit and sharing with them what it means to be emotionally and spiritually present for someone or a community we can share our burden.  By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we are exposing ourselves like Gideon did.  Not only do we need to share this world with our congregants, we need to change the business of the rabbinate starting at seminary and in our congregations.

 

In seminary we need to both write the academic papers and explore the true nature of God in our lives.  True education begins with where the student is, not where the teacher wants them to be. Our congregants don’t want to hear from us what Soloveitchik said on faith unless we can connect it directly back to their lives.  We need to discuss why Judaism is relevant to our lives and be able to make it relevant to the lives of our congregants.  We need to know and love our sacred texts and be able to share that love with our communities. We need to be like Gideon going out and leading the people and not hiding from them.

 

Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar has served as the congregational rabbi at Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville Alabama since being ordained from HUC in 2009. In that time she has received the Rabbi Jeffery L.  Ballon Interfaith Leadership award from Interfaith Mission Service in 2011. And was named by the Forward was one of the most inspiring Rabbis in 2015. She is also on the boards of the South East Region of the CCAR, Interfaith Mission Service and Southeast Clergy Association.

 

[1] Maimonides, Hilkhot Teshuvah III.4

[2] The Empty Chair, p. 91

[3] Between me and You, p. 342

 

 

The Old Jewish Neighborhood – Daniel Cotzin Burg

Posted on: May 4th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

rabbi-daniel-cotzin-burgBy Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg

 

The Old Jewish Neighborhood

 

I live in a Jewish neighborhood called Reservoir Hill. It used to be two communities: Eutaw Place, the grand boulevard with its elegant town homes and Lake Drive, which included several blocks east of Eutaw with still beautiful, but more modest row houses. For a number of reasons, Jews moved away from Reservoir Hill toward Baltimore County. By the 1970’s, the neighborhood was now predominantly African American and increasingly poor. By the 80’s, crime had become endemic and sidewalks abutting the former Jewish shops played host to open-air drug markets. By the 90’s, the entire commercial center of the neighborhood was demolished. Reservoir Hill resembled a bagel with a gaping hole in the middle.

 

The New Jewish Neighborhood

 

In recent years, Reservoir Hill has enjoyed a general resurgence and modest Jewish renaissance: young Jewish singles, couples and families have begun to move back. Crime is down, and vacant properties are at their lowest numbers in decades. A team of 350 volunteers built a new playground in 2011 – the community’s first clean, safe play space in years. Whitelock boasts an urban farm and farm stand, a community garden and a new park – the community’s core, empty lots now an emerging as green space. The school, remembered fondly by numerous congregants, is again on the upswing and slated for a total redesign next year. Druid Hill Park across the street, Baltimore’s grand Central Park, once filled with shul-goers from dozens of nearby synagogues on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, boasts a refurbished zoo and conservatory, a new playground and swimming pool, a farmers market and weekend festivals from art fairs to dog-walkers and various ethnic celebrations.

(more…)

When Does Debate Cross a Line from Health to Pathology?

Posted on: May 13th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

hayim-herring-great-divide

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.

 

 

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.