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Posts Tagged ‘jewish’

 

Should Leaders be Held to a Higher Ethical Standard?

Posted on: January 15th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

If individuals lead entities in the for-profit, nonprofit or governmental sectors, should they be held to a higher standard of ethical accountability? This perennial question is worth examining,  especially when they lead powerful or influential entities that can have a direct positive or negative impact on our lives. For me, the answer is a clear, “Yes!” and there are others who have studied dimensions of leadership in some of these sectors who agree.

 

Jim Collins, a highly-respected leadership expert, implies that great leaders have an ethical compass. He explains in his book, Good to Great that a common trait of the rare individual who achieves “Level V Leadership,” is the executive who blends personal humility with extreme professional focus on achieving a corporate vision. A Level V leader shares credit with others, accepts blame and responsibility for mistakes and surrounds himself or herself with people who are equally committed to making whatever they do better. But in that quest, they never lose sight of humility, which is another way of saying that their pursuit of excellence embraces the demand to treat team members with dignity.

 

 

Another leadership framework is “the triple bottom line” (TBL). The TBL, developed by business consultant Andrew W. Savitz, measures three dimensions of performance: people, planet and profits. In other words, unlike traditional reporting frameworks which focus only on profits and shareholder value, the TBL “captures the essence of sustainability by measuring the impact of an organization’s activities on the world… Including both its profitability and shareholder values and its social, human and environmental capital” (Savitz, The Triple Bottom Line). While there is disagreement on how to calculate the TBL, it clearly includes ethical dimensions, because it strives to account for the impact on the environment and on improving people’s lives through measures like job growth, personal income and the cost of underemployment in creating sustainable companies.

 

Leaders in government should also be expected to be ethical individuals. Yes, they must make complex choices in which moral values are sometimes in conflict with one another. For example, taking military action, which will cause the loss of life, but preserves the freedoms that we enjoy, or creating jobs that lift people out of poverty while also considering the potential impact of environmental destruction, can make the needle on one’s inner ethical compass spin around opposite poles. But, but having an ethical compass is a minimal requirement that we have the right to expect from officials whom we elect.

 

Whether in government, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and in the spiritual realm, leaders have flaws. They also have and need egos–that is what enables them to pursue greatness. But whether their egos are directed to their own aggrandizement or to grand ideas that benefit others is what distinguishes an unethical leader from an ethical leader. And amoral leaders, those who do not take ethical considerations into account, ultimately become immoral leaders because the benchmark of their success is concluding a deal at any and all costs.

 

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen some mutual convergence of ideas around leadership in the for-profit and nonprofit communities. One of those ideas is that morality matters both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. For-profit leaders are being held to a higher standard-just look at what is happening with startups like Uber, or established corporations like Wells Fargo, that are now under fire for highly unethical business practices. And it’s no accident that Facebook and other global social media giants and Apple, a company that dominates the smartphone and tablet industry, are facing criticism about their passive, hands-off approach to how people use their products.

 

Religious leaders rightfully come under fire for cloaking themselves with a mantle of morality while engaging in sexual and financial predatory practices. Simply because a person is a religious leader is no longer a guarantee that he or she possesses a moral compass. We feel a special outrage when individuals who are supposed to embody the highest ethical dimensions of human behavior fail themselves and hurt others.

 

And for those who are familiar with the Bible, Moses, one of the great spiritual leaders of all times, learns that there are no privileged moral dispensations—without exception. (Memo to religious leaders: don’t forget daily Bible study, preferably with someone who has internalized relevant ethical teachings.) Despite his bravery in challenging the status quo by confronting Pharaoh, an act that continues to inspire moral leadership today, and Moses’s 40 years of leadership in harsh desert conditions with a generation of unruly people, he is punished for disparagingly referring to them as a group of “rebels” (Numbers 20:10).

 

That punishment seems unduly harsh. Perhaps even more severe, his brother, Aaron, who at that moment is only standing silently by his side, is also disqualified as a leader. Though considered exceptionally humble, Moses’s singularly arrogant rebuke invalidates his leadership and it his successor, Joshua, who will lead the people into the promised land. Here is an exceptionally high standard of morality at work: great leaders cannot ridicule their communities. They may demonstrate contrition and make restitution where possible, but because they are expected to embody high ideals, once they behave unethically in such a public manner, their actions communicate that ethics don’t matter, a message that can potentially normalize unethical behavior throughout a community.

 

When you build yourself up by putting others down, you’ve lost your ability to lead. When you remain silent in the face of leaders who disparage others, you also forfeit the right to lead. And don’t give up in thinking that’s an impossible standard to which to hold leaders in any sector. Perfection from leaders? No– that’s an impossible standard. But we can and should expect them to struggle to be moral, compassionate and respectful of every person. Argue robustly over principles and beliefs, engage in debate about what is most beneficial to community and country, but set a tone that attacks the merits of ideas, and not the quality of the people who espouse different points of view.

 

 

De-Faced and Degraded: Hey Facebook, Are You Listening?

Posted on: January 3rd, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

About a week ago, I was looking at some comments on a blog post that I had written. I noticed on my Facebook page that my “rating” had dropped from a 4.9 to a 4.4. Why did that happen?

As background, I want to share that I really hate this striving for ratings. Self-promotion violates a strong belief that I have about values of modesty and humility. For me, these aren’t only desirable attributes, but binding religious values. Humility doesn’t mean that I pretend to lack expertise or dismiss any that I have acquired that can be helpful to others. But it does mean being self-aware of the number of people who have helped me over a lifetime to develop my abilities, being grateful for having these people in my life and acknowledging my debt to them. And at this stage, it’s more satisfying to strive to help nurture the talents of those who are younger and collaborate with peers, then to put energy into striving for higher ratings. But I’m realistic and know that ratings can affect my reputation and limit potential future business opportunities, and this incident upset me.

 

 

So here’s what I think happened. Facebook allowed a not-so-thinly veiled anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim tirade related to my blog post to be mistakenly posted on my review page, and the reviewer gave me a rating of “1 star.“ That’s already two strikes against Facebook: first, allowing that rant to appear, and second, having it appear on my overall review page and not the blog post to which the reader had reacted. There may be a third strike: it also had a “fake” feel to it. The grammar, the awkwardness of style, the stilted language and the coded and explicit hateful language suggested that this was the work of a troll.

Facebook does not make it simple to contact them about such incidents, despite some recent improvements in providing feedback. And I made the mistake of not taking a screenshot of the individual’s name and his comments immediately. To Facebook‘s credit, they removed the comments very quickly after I contacted them. I’ve now written a total of three times to Facebook (that’s another story of how difficult it is to contact Facebook after a first effort) asking for an explanation of why they didn’t remove the rating if they saw fit to remove the comment.

Hey Facebook, are you listening?

I like to promote curiosity, exciting ideas, wisdom, collaboration, innovation -and yes, I don’t mind periodically sharing some of my accomplishments. When I write a blog or speak, I expect that people will differ with me, and I’m accustomed to some pretty harsh comments both from the political and religious right and left. If you’re going to be public about your ideas, personal attacks, as opposed to critiques of ideas, have become normative. But this particular issue has really lit a fire under me. And personal dislike about self-promotion aside, it’s wrong.

I’d like to know if you’ve had this experience before, either on Facebook or some other social media site, where you didn’t have the ability to fight back in an unfair fight. If you have some advice or have the experience to share in this kind of matter, please do so here. And thanks for listening to my struggle.

Impact One Year Later

Posted on: November 13th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Impact One Year Later: A Conversation between Authors and Editor about Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose

 

Sarah Stanton, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Rowman and Littlefield for Religion, asked us to reflect on the impact of our book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose on its one-year anniversary. We invite you into this conversation by leaving your comments on our respective blogsites (Hayim –facebook.com/rabbihayimherring and www.hayimherring.com and Terri – https://terrielton.com), and by purchasing copies for you and your leadership at a generous discount of 40% (available only on Rowman and Littlefield’s website when you click on the book link.

 

Hayim Herring - Book

 

Sarah: How has the book been received over the past year?

Terri and Hayim: As co-authors, we naturally want to say, “the reception has been fantastic,” and we think that’s accurate. We had hoped that clergy, professional and volunteer leaders of congregations and nonprofits would purchase the book and invite us to present our insights. But what we didn’t expect is volunteer leaders whose day jobs are running a business wanting to purchase copies of the book for their businesses. We realized through them that some aspects of our book, which is about 21st century leadership, had broader application. We’ve also heard clergy from both of our respective faith traditions say the blend of theory, story about churches, synagogues and nonprofits, and practical tools and resources enabled them to turn concepts into actionable steps for their organizations. Thankfully, our presentation schedules have been quite full, and we’re gratified that we can support clergy, professional and volunteer leaders who are facing some unprecedented challenges around transparency, engagement with the broader world and innovation–all while trying to deepen involvement of existing constituents.

 

Sarah: What is the question you wish more people would ask about the book?

Hayim and Terri: One of our key findings was that both established and startup organizational leaders lacked any kind of formal process for planning beyond a year at a time. They all engaged in planning, ranging from what we might call “adhocracy” – planning when needed – to strategic planning on a regular cycle. However, we would like to hear much more interest from them in using existing tools that that they can adapt for congregations and nonprofits to distinguish “the trendy” from trends that they can anticipate and shape to further the impact of their work. Even agility isn’t enough because that still implies a mindset of reactivity albeit at a quicker rate. Learning to anticipate trends is not a luxury but a necessity because of the velocity of relentless change that we’re experiencing.

 

Sarah: What is the question you’re most frequently ask about the book?

Terri and Hayim: Not surprisingly, questions about membership and dues or finances frequently arise in discussions. However, we try to reframe that question to one of openness and engagement, that is, how open is your congregation or nonprofit to the world, and how does your mission engage people’s hearts and souls with a diverse but like-minded group of individuals? We don’t dismiss the real financial concerns that congregations have, but if that’s their first question, they have already indicated that they are thinking as an Organization 2.0, from the top down, about institutional survival, instead of what we describe as Organization 3.0, which is structured as a mission-focused platform where people can pursue and express purpose and communal meaning.

 

Sarah: What part of the book have readers reacted to most strongly?

Terri and Hayim: Innovation and entrepreneurship resonate with leaders right away. We believe that is because today’s organizations know they need to grow these capacities and the four pathways to innovation that we identified helps leaders find their way through innovation and entrepreneurship in tangible ways. The concept that surprised us the most was engagement. Often invited to help organizations think differently about “growing membership,” our work reframes questions about membership into questions of engagement and we think innovation and engagement work together. Engaging the talents and gifts of individuals within congregations and nonprofits is a great strategy for innovation, as it creates shared ownership and produces better results. Using the resources and worksheets in the book, leaders can practice some of the ideas during presentations and bring them home to use with their staff, board, or constituents.

 

Sarah: Have any questions surprised you over the past year?

Hayim and Terri: Just last week, when presenting a to group of ministers, a participant asked if there was an innovation and entrepreneurship self-assessment tool for congregational and nonprofit leaders. The two academics who invited us to teach were also present, and are very knowledgeable about innovation. But none of us were able to immediately think of a tool that was specifically targeted toward those issues. Certainly, there are some excellent tools that assess personality types and attributes that relate to innovation and entrepreneurship, and corporations and international consulting companies have developed their own instruments, but we invite those reading this blog to let us know if they’re aware of one that would fit a nonprofit or congregational context.

 

Sarah: Is there something you had to leave out of the book you wish you’d been able to include?

Terri and Hayim: What we couldn’t include in the book were the stories of individual members and constituents of participating nonprofit and congregations. Our groundbreaking research methodology invited members and participants of organizations in our study to directly contribute their insights. A central theme of the book was about engagement, and we realized that we had to engage directly with members and constituents of organizations participating in our research. And we credit the nonprofit leaders for enabling us to find ways to do so. However, we promised confidentiality, so we can only generally say that the work of the congregations and nonprofits in our study is filling those who are involved in their communities with deep purpose.

 

Sarah: How has the book’s message informed your own work?

Terri: I am different today because of this work. Learning from and with the congregations and nonprofits we studied has convicted me to boldly lean into this new paradigm in my own leadership. One year later the path forward is not clear, but the rewards along the way have been rich. In the past year I have named and reflected on the assumptions I bring into leadership and opened myself to other possibilities. Teaching future congregational and nonprofits leaders I am introducing new ideas and experimenting with new teaching methods and assignments, and these efforts are making a difference in the church. Most importantly, I am widening my circle of learning partners. As Hayim states below, working on this project he and I developed an unlikely friendship. Today we have expanded our relationship by introducing each other to colleagues and friends, all during a time when society was becoming more wary of “the other.” I am convinced that a core capacity of future leadership is the ability to leave one’s comfort zone and create spaces for genuinely encountering strangers. While that work was not the central message of this book, it is trajectory of it. If leaders of congregations and nonprofits live out these principles, that is where they will find themselves. And for that, I am grateful.

 

Hayim: Before we started researching and writing, Dr. Terri Elton was a complete stranger to me. But we went from potential co-authors, to colleagues and now to family friends. Why? Call it serendipity or providence, but my original co-author realized that he was unable to work on the book, so I decided to look across the Mississippi, to scholars at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, instead of reaching out to familiar colleagues. Our book was published immediately before the 2016 presidential election, when we were already feeling the toxic effects of political messages that warned us of the dangers of trusting “the other” (and I heard these messages from the extremes in both parties). By refusing to believe those messages, our reciprocity of trust in an “other” not only helped to better inform the congregational and nonprofit world about leadership, but transformed me personally. And, thanks to the encouragement of some great professionals at Rowman and Littlefield, I’m well into researching and writing a book on an issue that will be relevant to congregations and nonprofits, but transcends those sectors and reach into our broader communities. That’s part of my ongoing transformational journey that began with Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose.

Wanted: Greater Innovation, More Entrepreneurship

Posted on: January 5th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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

Are innovation and entrepreneurship the same?

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

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

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

Can Denominations Innovate?

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

What About Nonprofits and Congregations on the Local Level?

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

Should Congregations and Jewish Nonprofits Be More Innovative and Entrepreneurial?

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

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

Fragile Communities

Posted on: December 16th, 2016 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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

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My colleague, Dr. Terri Elton, Associate Professor Leadership at Luther Seminary and I, have been highlighting key findings from our recent publication, Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platform, People and Purpose. (In our last post, we explained the link between organizational structure and impact.) Our issue in this post: congregational and nonprofit communities are very fragile these days! Can congregations be places where people who hold diverse views continue to join together in prayer? Can nonprofits continue to mobilize volunteers around causes that are directly related to their missions? Or, has the toxic effect of social media seeped into physical spaces so that people who used to worship and work together can no longer do so when they meet face-to-face?

Dr Terri EltonWhen we asked congregational and nonprofit leaders profiled in our book about pressing challenges, they consistently responded with one word: “Community!” We could feel their anxieties around this issue and, from our perspective, for good reason. Congregations are at their best when they are inclusive. Diversity is not its own goal, but a value that enables people to engage with the “other” – a person from another generation, a different background, a spiritual orientation or political view. In that encounter with an “other,” both people have an opportunity to grow by experiencing difference. They grow more deeply in who they are because the encounter affirms a belief or value, or they grow because they modify a part of themselves.

We conducted our research a good year prior to the nastiness of the 2016 presidential campaign. But already then, the issue of community preoccupied the minds of clergy and chief executive officers. Think for a moment—aside from congregations, what other institution is designed to take people at all stages of life and grow with them over time? Congregations, and to a slightly lesser extent, faith-based nonprofits, are inherently lifelong centers for creating and sustaining communities with a wide mix of people.

Hayim Herring - BookWe see a significant role for congregations and nonprofits around the issue of community. But given how fragile and complex community is today, we believe that congregations will benefit by learning from one another. One opportunity for shared learning is in gaining greater understanding about the limits of digital space in engaging members and participants. What kinds of “conversations” are effective on digital platforms and which are best held in a physical space? What happens when a professional or volunteer publishes information about an issue that is unintentionally misleading or inaccurate—or simply false? One of clergy leader in our study framed the issue this way. He said that for now, he’ll take an old-fashioned town hall meeting about an important issue over a digital discussion because “there’s an accountability piece missing” online. When people don’t have to make eye contact with one another, they have to grapple with the impact of their words.

Meeting an “other” can be positively disorienting. Stereotypes that people carry inside of their heads often don’t resemble that “other” who stands beside them, engaged in sacred, mission-driven work. We invite you to share your suggestions about how congregations and nonprofits can continue to be places where diversity brings out the collective best in a community. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spontaneous Kindness

Posted on: October 31st, 2016 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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?

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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Rosh Ha-Shana Circa 2015

Posted on: August 13th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

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…)

From Generation to Degeneration: Declining American Jewish Kinship with Israel?

Posted on: April 22nd, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

Over the past five years, my wife and I have spent about six weeks each year in Israel. We’re clearly not Israeli citizens, but we’re more than occasional visitors. Like many, we have family and close friends in Israel, and are intentionally deepening those relationships and making new ones. Whenever we return from a visit, we’re asked, “What did you see this time?” While we enjoy museums, concerts, new wineries, restaurants and archaeological findings, we most enjoy being with family and friends and, for me, getting my spiritual fix.

 

With more frequent visits, I’ve become more aware of the differences between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. Yom ha’Atzmaut felt like the right time to share some reflections… and to ask you for your opinions.

 

The modern state of Israel is only 67 years old. Although Israel is the indisputable historic homeland of the Jewish people, in its current iteration, it is young. In fact, my parents are older than the modern State of Israel. Israel is only about 10 years older than my wife and me, over 40 years older than my children, and well over 60 years older for some of my friends who have grandchildren.

 

israel-rabbi-hayim-herring

 

 

Doing this simple, personal math clearly reminds me that within the American Jewish community, there are two generations that can remember the fragility of the State of Israel, and two generations (going on three) that think that Israel is an outsized global powerhouse. Because of such a significant divide, I wonder to what extent the words “from generation to generation,” that imply continuity of values and kinship, apply to the majority of American Jews who are third generation and beyond. They do not have personal living memories of Israel’s vulnerability but are routinely reminded of Israel’s deficiencies. In daily doses of media images and text, they absorb a one-sided, distorted view of Israel, where Israel almost always does wrong and rarely can do right.

 

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Adding Context to the Diminishing Rabbinical School Enrollment Numbers

Posted on: February 25th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

By Rabbi Hayim Herring and Rabbi Jason Miller

 
 

In Josh Nathan-Kazis’s recent article in the Jewish Daily Forward, “Where Are All the Non-Orthodox Rabbis?”, he presents the current enrollment trends of the non-Orthodox rabbinical schools. These numbers, showing decline in both the incoming and graduating classes appear to be shocking. What Nathan-Kazis is clearly missing is context.

 
 

While it is true that Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School have all noticed declined enrollment in the past decade, much of the reason for this is a more crowded, and therefore competitive, landscape. More options mean aspiring rabbis no longer feel compelled to matriculate in denominational-specific seminaries. The newly created liberal non-denominational rabbinical program at Hebrew College has experienced increased student enrollment in the past few years and that certainly has impacted the enrollment numbers at the more established seminaries. Yeshivat Chovevi Torah, while Orthodox, has also presented competition to JTS since it opened in the late 1990s.

 
 

Jewish Theological Seminary

The more crowded landscape, which Nathan-Kazis alludes to doesn’t tell the entire story. One might be led to presume that the declining enrollment numbers at these denominational-specific institutions is analogous to a decline in the enrollment at VCR repair classes at a technology school. VCRs might be obsolete in the 21st century, but liberal Judaism is still alive and well and very much in need of rabbis. So, what’s the rest of the story?

 
 

Here are some thoughts that aptly put Nathan-Kazis’s piece in context and provide for what would be a more thoughtful discussion about the future of rabbinical school.

 
 

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