Posts Tagged ‘Rabbis’

 

The Leading Congregations – An Exchange with Hayim Herring & Shmuel Rosner

Posted on: March 16th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

In 2017, Hayim Herring & Shmuel Rosner engaged in a three part exchange

 

The Leading Congregations exchange, part 1: The challenges facing 21st century Jewish communities

The following exchange will focus on Rabbi Herring’s new book, Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purposes (co-written with Dr. Teri Elton).

Dear Rabbi Herring,

Your new book is entitled Leading Congregations in a Connected World. Our introductory question: What type of congregation and organization leaders did you have in mind when writing this book, and what would you like them to learn from it?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

My co-author, Dr. Terri Elton, and I wrote Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purposes, for two broad audiences: professional and volunteer leaders of congregations and nonprofits, and teachers of current and future leaders. We defined two categories of congregations and nonprofit organizations. We studied both “established and adapting” organizations, namely, those with at least 25 years of history, were structured primarily as top-down hierarchies, but were trying to adapt to a more decentralized, socially networked world where people co-create their own personal meaning and community. We labeled the second category, “emerging and maturing,” that is, those congregations and nonprofits that were at least five years old, were reaching the age of early organizational maturity, and recognizing that the socially networked DNA that gave birth to them was not going to be sufficient to keep them growing and sustainable.

We realized that existing studies on congregations and nonprofits took an “either/or” approach. They looked at “the new kids on the block,” those newer congregations and nonprofits that garnered a lot of attention for their creativity and freshness. Those stories were usually about growth and flourishing. The other side of the narrative was one of decline and decay, and focused on legacy congregations and nonprofits that were losing members and lacking in vibrancy.

We thought that both sides of the equation needed to be studied. While it’s true that many legacy congregations and nonprofits are struggling, we also knew of some that had pivoted to a 21st Century social engagement way of working. (That doesn’t mean just having cool social media tools, but knowing how to use them strategically to deepen community.) Second, even though many established organizations are having difficulty making that pivot, they still command a lot of attention and resources. Was there a way to accelerate their likelihood of becoming more responsive?

Conversely, while many of the startups rightfully gained a lot of attention, we were hearing stories of some that were now between five and ten years old that were struggling. How could they maintain their unique, organic and socially networked attributes now that they had to worry about a larger budget, more staff, and perhaps even a building? They certainly didn’t want to become like the more rigid congregations or nonprofits against which they had rebelled, but they also needed to support a broader base of people who held a shared vision. We wanted to test the commonly held assumption that hierarchies are dead, and that social networks are the only future way forward of organizing spiritual and nonprofit communities. Indeed, we found that both elements of hierarchies and social networks existed within old and new organizations and both are needed.

What was especially appealing to me was to conduct research and write together with a Protestant colleague. Jews are part of a dynamic religious landscape in America that’s undergoing a revolution. So why not contextualize our changes into the broader context of which we are a part? Terri and I are both committed to blending academic theory and empirical research with practical tools and resources for immediate use.

Here are five key takeaways, although I still hope that you and your readers will read the book and call me with your responses!

1. Authenticity and innovation are compatible, although challenging to achieve. Congregations and nonprofits that thrive in the 21st-Century will go back to their core mission, but then pick one of four different pathways that we identify to practice innovation, and make innovation a part of their new organizational DNA.

2. The values of a socially networked world, that include enabling people to co-create their own experiences and have maximum self-choice, are here to stay. These values need to show up digitally, in the synagogue or nonprofit’s bricks and mortar space, and wherever people gather under their auspices. That means leaders must learn to relinquish some control, but in return, gain the joy of watching participants grow as they own their Jewish experiences and purpose. By letting go and enabling others to share and enact their Jewish dream, leaders also expand the influence and impact of their congregational or organizational mission.

3. Disruption doesn’t discriminate by age. Today’s disruptors will be tomorrow’s disrupted, and today’s disrupted can easily become tomorrow’s disruptors. So it’s a good idea to redefine leadership not as having the ability to respond quickly to trends, but to anticipate and favorably shape them.

4. Engagement isn’t a goal or a checklist. It’s an orientation for congregations and nonprofits. That means engaging individuals with a significant mission, and then putting them into community with those who share the same passion for mission, a mission that must connect to the broader world.

5. Community is fragile and trying to hold people with diverse views together is becoming increasingly challenging. Nonprofit CEO’s and clergy have the tremendous task of keeping people focused on mission and bringing people together in face-to-face contact where they can see that others who are not exactly like them are still partners for holy work.

6. Without dismissing the incredibly urgent work of social justice, congregations have another great, and I would say unique, opportunity. There are four generations and soon to be five generations of people alive in large numbers today. Where are the opportunities for people from so many different generations to develop sustained, meaningful, multi-generational relationships? Where are the opportunities where mutual mentoring can happen, if not at congregations? To the best of my knowledge, no other institution has potential access to so many generations over a lifetime. For congregations to claim that role, they’ll have to rethink congregational life, priorities, values, budgets, staffing – and I can’t think of anything more important today given the isolating challenges that each generation faces.

There’s more to say, and I look forward to the next parts of the exchange! Thank you for contributing to this conversation on the disruption and reconfiguration of our communities!


The Leading Congregations exchange, part 2: On Judaism, marketing and integrity

Dear Rabbi Herring,

In your first answer you stated that “authenticity and innovation are compatible, although challenging to achieve.” Generally, your answer, and your book, stress the importance of “innovation” and “engagement” – both very positive-sounding terms – for religious institutions.

But it seems there is a less positive way of describing what is being demanded of religious institutions today – one could say that in the age of Buzzfeed there is more and more pressure on community leaders to aggressively market their ‘product’ and to water-down religion in the attempt to compete with the never-ending stream of internet content. While authenticity and innovation might be compatible, what about holiness and Twitter, or marketing and religious depth?

My question: how can religious leaders maintain the integrity and uncompromising purity of the tradition when they constantly need to rebrand and woo the public to survive?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

You brought to light one of the core struggles of rabbis, clergy members of other faith traditions and nonprofit CEO’s. Almost all of the rabbis and nonprofit C.E.O.’s I know begin their service with a deep sense of calling and purpose. Some feel called by God, others by service to the Jewish people and still others to something transcendent that they may not be able to label. But they strive to live lives with religious integrity because they know that they are walking advertisements of the values of their traditions and organizations. Of course, we know that they’re also human and that they can fail big and fall hard like anyone else. Those who do, in my experience, are the exceptions and not the norms of legions of colleagues who take issues of honesty and authenticity seriously.

But that doesn’t diminish the serious implications of your question. Some colleagues burn out because they feel like they have to sell out their integrity in order to keep their congregants happy. And in trying to respond to “marketing” demands of members and donors, they may actually alienate them, because their members suddenly realize that they have higher expectations of their clergy leaders and nonprofit professionals. When rabbis or nonprofit C.E.O.’s experience that, it is an awful feeling, and this dynamic of maintaining integrity and authenticity, while trying to be responsive and relevant, is the basis for an urgent dialogue that needs to happen among rabbinic, seminary, denominational and volunteer leaders. That would take real national leadership and courage.

But I also think that you, like many in the congregational and nonprofit world, have a popular but mistaken understanding of marketing. Marketing is not selling, and it’s not advertising. Rather, marketing is building relationships based on an exchange of something of value. For example, a relationship that develops between a congregation and an individual through marketing would be when a congregation provides a volunteer opportunity to connect with elderly people, and a volunteer who seeks that opportunity now is able to develop a relationship with someone older under the auspices of the congregation or nonprofit. As you can see, marketing in this example is an exchange between a congregation that makes it easy for someone to do something good, and a person who wants to do something good. So marketing, when understood correctly as an exchange of value, has no effect on “watering down religion.”

One other clarification – you write that “innovation” and “engagement” are very positive-sounding terms, and they are greatly needed in congregations and nonprofits. However, we also emphasize the importance of mission in our book. Why? Because you want to have a marketing strategy that is built around mission, one in which belief in a shared mission becomes the social glue that makes people stick together in a community dedicated to the same kind of social, spiritual, or educational mission that can improve the world. Having a marketing strategy without a clear mission may get you some initial bump in program attendance. But honestly, people’s lives are so cluttered with excellent opportunities for programs, entertainment and socially valuable causes that unless a congregation or nonprofit has a mission that is so clear and so compelling that can cut through the clutter, marketing efforts are questionable.

Even with my clarifications, I want to acknowledge the tensions that you raise because they arise from real world pressures that colleagues face. Unfortunately, some of them are going to intensify, and some colleagues, with the best of intentions, will wind up selling themselves out and selling their congregations and nonprofits short.

Now a question for you – what do you mean when you ask, “…how can religious leaders maintain the integrity and uncompromising purity of the tradition when they constantly need to rebrand and woo the public to survive?” How are you defining “purity of religion?” Are you referring to Jewish Haredi sects whose male members held an anti-Internet rally at Citi Field in New York City in 2012, which was live streamed and where men took pictures on their cell phones and texted about it?

I’m curious to know what underlying mental picture you have of “uncompromising purity of the tradition ” and how rebranding risks tainting that assumed purity. After all, religious traditions like ours have always rebranded and, I would add, thank God we have had the wisdom to do so! We had to rebrand from a land-based, Temple-bound religion to a diaspora, prayer-focused community. We rebranded from Temple Judaism to Rabbinic Judaism. And we rebranded from a rationalistic, pilpulistic tradition to a mystical religion centered on developing personal virtue. And that’s before we begin exploring how the creation of the modern State of Israel has caused major rebrandings of Judaism both within and outside of Israel. I don’t think that trying to maintain a nostalgic memory of a static “purity of tradition” is accurate or helpful. In fact, rebranding can be holy work and hard work. And that’s one of the reasons that we’ve included several essays about finding God in social networks and in their sacred relational power.


The Leading Congregations exchange, part 3: ‘Today, a congregation with a bland mission is at risk of going out of business’

Dear Rabbi Herring,

Near the end of your last answer, you wanted some clarifications about what I meant when I asked you if thinking in marketing terms doesn’t hurt the purity of the tradition.

Now, of course I didn’t mean that all modern synagogues should strive to promote a “Haredi sect” vision of Judaism (if I believed that, I would never have hosted you and dozens of other progressive rabbis in my Torah talks)… What I was referring to is the idea that, for many people, the notion of treating faith and religion as a product, as something that needs to be “marketed” or “rebranded,” can be quite off-putting. I assume most people would like their shul to be a place free from everyday corporate lingo and wouldn’t like to imagine their Rabbi as having marketing in mind when he or she preaches from the pulpit, supports community members in times of need, or advances communal initiatives.

For my third-round question I’d like to ask you to elaborate some more on the idea of mission. In your previous answer you stated that: “people’s lives are so cluttered with excellent opportunities for programs, entertainment and socially valuable causes that unless a congregation or nonprofit has a mission that is so clear and so compelling that can cut through the clutter, marketing efforts are questionable.”

Now, your book tries to address issues facing both congregations and nonprofits. But while in the case of nonprofits the need to state a mission and set goals is understandable, what does having “a clear and compelling” mission mean in the context of a synagogue? What kind of missions can synagogues have besides just being a place of worship, Jewish learning, and community life (as in the days of yore)?

Thank you again for participating in this exchange.

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

Thanks for pushing the discussion about congregations and nonprofits with increasingly difficult questions. Following up on our debate about “marketing,” you clarify: “I assume most people would like their shul to be a place free from everyday corporate lingo and wouldn’t like to imagine their Rabbi as having marketing in mind when he or she preaches from the pulpit, supports community members in times of need, or advances communal initiatives.”

True-and that’s a great segue into today’s question: “What does having a clear and compelling’ mission mean in the context of a synagogue? What kind of missions can synagogues have besides just being a place of worship, Jewish learning, and community life (as in the days of yore)?”

Spoiler alert: a congregation with a bland mission in today’s hyper-connected world of unlimited choice is at risk of going out of business. But congregations with differentiated, focused and compelling missions, that allow people to express and explore themselves Jewishly within those missions, have a better chance of thriving.

“Marketing” and “mission” are dual engines of congregational and nonprofit vibrancy. Marketing is about building relationships with people for whom you care based on causes which you share. That means that leaders of congregations and nonprofits have to define what their primary purposes are. As you suggest, the broad mission of every congregation is to engage its community in “Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim” (Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness expressed by and for members of the community). Not too long ago, most congregational mission statements were indistinguishable from one another. A typical mission statement might have read: Synagogue XXXX is a welcoming congregation devoted to creating a sacred community expressed through study of Torah, worship and acts of kindness.

That typical 20th Century mission above reflects hierarchical organizations. The missional proposition was, “join our community and here is what we, the more involved/elite group of insiders, pledge to provide to those of you who are not nearly as informed.” But when individuals sought deeper involvement, they often found a disconnect between what these standard missions professed and how they were actually expressed. There was Torah study – but it wasn’t not particularly challenging or inspiring. There was prayer – but the words of the book/siddur didn’t speak to their hearts. And these places that claimed to be “welcoming” didn’t always seem to behave that way. Congregations still work for some, but if you look at their increasing financial and membership pressures, they aren’t working for many.

Adapting the thinking of, Peter Drucker, a founder of modern nonprofit management, we suggest that the mission of a congregation or nonprofit is measured in:

– Changed Jewish lives.

– Changed Jewish communities.

– A changed world.

That’s why mission is critical and some congregations are really beginning to differentiate themselves with a focus on mission. These congregations and nonprofits are making hard choices. They have accepted the reality that trying to be all things to all people and do everything well guarantees mediocrity. Using their missions as filters, they decide where they want to focus their talent, time and funds to have the greatest likely impact on changing lives and communities, pursue those several goals with relentless excellence, and collaborate with other organizations in areas where they decide to place fewer resources so that members and potential joiners can have their other Jewish needs met through congregational partnerships.

A few examples of parts of contemporary mission statements (and I’m using both Jewish and Protestant examples from my book, as Protestants are also recognizing the need to focus less on programs, and more on purpose or mission):

Lab/Shul: Welcome to Lab/Shul, an artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional, pop up, experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC and reaching the world.

Jacob’s Well Church (Minneapolis): If church is boring, something’s broken. Instead of being a once a week obligation, we want our time together to awaken who you are – you know, your real selves. Honest, thinking, relevant and casual gatherings impact the lives we live.

Romemu (New York City): Romemu seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. Unabashedly eclectic, we engage in body practices like yoga, infuse traditional liturgy with the energy of ecstatic chant, and ground our practice with meditation and contemplation. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit…

GPS Faith Community (Machesney Park, IL): (Our mission is) Finding direction by loving God and serving others. We do this by joining together for worship and fellowship and then going out into our lives and into the community to love and serve others.

These mission statements:

– Invite an individual’s involvement on personal and not institutional terms, and also make their institutional parameters and expectations clear.

– Point individuals toward becoming part of a community of greater impact.

– Assume that most of a person’s time is spent outside of the walls or websites of the congregations, and that one must live out the mission even when not in services.

A Talmudic legal principle, “if you grasp too much, you wind up holding nothing,” applies to congregational and nonprofit missions. For many reasons, it’s not possible for congregations to excel at everything, although members have that expectation. My advice based on what we have learned: better to go deep in a few areas of Jewish life and build partnerships with others who can provide excellence in others.

When that happens, I think that you’ll find more people participating in congregational and Jewish nonprofit life because their individual and communal experiences will provide them with personal, enduring and powerful purpose as they live out their communities’ missions. I know that you have much to write about, but hope that others will be stimulated to purchase Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. Platforms, People and Purpose and delve further into your provocative questions!

Thank you,

Hayim

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.

Fragile Communities

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

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

40% Hanukkah and Christmas Discount Still Available 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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2015: The Art of Selectively Remembering and Forgetting

Posted on: December 29th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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

 

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

 

This-Way-or-That

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What A Judge Can Teach Us About Rabbinic and Executive Searches

Posted on: October 7th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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

 

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

rabbi-hiring-process

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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.

 

 

Rabbinic Education at a Crossroads?

Posted on: June 8th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

I’m pleased to present another guest blog post as a part of the Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinic Education series. It’s written by Rabbi David Evan Markus, who addresses the increase in part-time, trans-denominational and low-residency Jewish clergy ordination programs. The author advocates acceleration of these trends to diversify the Jewish pulpit and meet the unique pastoral needs of 21st century Jews in the current era of weakening institutional affiliation. He also urges universal adoption of mandatory spiritual direction for all Jewish seminary students and instructors. While this is the last scheduled guest essay, I’ve already written an essay with my initial response to this rich national conversation on rabbinical education and leadership, and several more are in the works—so stay tuned!

 

Seminary and Soul:  Spiritual Education for the 21st Century

 

Rabbi David Evan MarkusWhile this guest blog post is the last scheduled in the online dimension of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinic Education, there’s so much yet to say about how best to uplift Jewish spiritual leaders, starting with the proposition that this conversation must never end.  That is why I am heartened to know that Rabbi Hayim Herring and Ellie Roscher, co-editors of this series, will help ensure that it never does.

 

This year’s inquiry about rabbinic education has underscored the truth that professional education is organic and thus must continuously evolve.  Experience hones best practices in pedagogy, and the needs of students and professions are in constant flux.  Legal educators learned this lesson the hard way.  The legal education “case method” that Christopher Columbus Langdell developed in late 1800s birthed generations of lawyers able to refine abstruse points of law for adversarial litigations and transactions, making Langdell a towering figure in the history of professional education.  In the 2000s, however, legal educators awoke to discover that many of Langdell’s innovations – once reforms in their day – had become shackles that bind lawyers to formal conflict (and bad lawyer jokes), poorly preparing them for the creative problem-solving and public-service contexts of a 21st century legal profession.  To realign with the new legal profession now emerging, legal education has needed to change accordingly – and this process is now sweeping across the nation’s law schools.

 

This proposition holds all the more for spiritual leaders: clergy education must serve the evolving needs of the profession that clergy will enter.  As change sweeps across Jewish life, rabbinic education must change with it.  The 2013 Pew Study depicts a Jewish polity becoming more diverse, resisting affiliation labels, and striving for relevance both within and beyond traditional Jewish structures of synagogue and school – and rabbinic education must evolve likewise.  Even more, rabbinic education must leap ahead of the change unfolding across Jewish life, so that new cohorts of Jewish leaders can wisely shape change rather than merely respond or race to catch up after falling behind.  Change in rabbinic education mustn’t be for its own sake, but to prepare each generation of Jewish leaders to heed their moment’s call to spiritual service.

 

 

So the question is, what is this moment’s call to spiritual service?  What is the leap that rabbinic education must make?  This year of introspection about rabbinic education has begun to envision a rabbinate called to become more pastoral, entrepreneurial and communitarian.  The implications for forward-thinking rabbinic education are provocative and transformative:

 

The pastoral rabbinate.  An effective rabbi navigates the heart and soul, journeying with (not above) congregation and community as an authentic seeker, equipped with a range of finely honed pastoral tools suitable for the breadth of Jewish spiritual life.  Pastoral skills are mimetic and experiential: no amount of book learning alone can teach them.  At minimum, they require expert-guided consistent dialogue within a student’s own spiritual life so that the student, in turn, can become a guide for others: after all, where a guide hasn’t gone, the guide can’t lead anyone.  This kind of authentic spiritual formation requires a seminary environment of exquisite trust and safety – where life’s inevitable triumphs and tumbles, intellectual doubts and emotional detritus, all are fodder for spiritual growth – so that clergy can become adept (and unafraid) at traversing these landscapes.  To that end, and to help teach how to discern the flow of holiness through the totality of life, all rabbinical students – and all seminary educators, as models – must be in mandatory, monthly, confidential and expert hashpa’ah (spiritual direction).  Seminaries also must integrate an applied pastoral focus into all other elements of the rabbinic curriculum – from liturgy to codes and everything in between.  Because an effective pastoral rabbinate depends on a wise heart, admissions criteria must privilege experience and capacity for applied spiritual leadership – not just proven love for Jewish tradition, intellectual capacity for scholarship and commitment to service.  If so, then seminaries must better welcome and even preference second-career and part-time students, who bring a wealth of emotional and spiritual intelligence to their studies – as ALEPH and Academy for Jewish Religion have done.  In turn, seminary schedules and teaching styles must better match adult schedules and learning skills, compatibly with the needs of rigorous seminary education, and better integrate online learning while maintaining effective mimetic environments.  In short, a pastoral rabbinate for the 21st century asks us to rethink the seminary itself – educational models, delivery systems, admissions criteria, curricula and all the rest – all to put spiritual transformation first.

 

The entrepreneurial rabbinate.  An effective rabbi not only surfs the tide but also steers the boat.  Many of this year’s contributors wisely reflected on social networking, collaborative management and disruptive innovation as important tools for the 21st century rabbinate.  What few seminaries do well, however, is teach rabbis how to innovate.  Rabbis who for centuries understood themselves as purveyors and guardians of tradition now also must mindfully cultivate innovation and the fertile conditions for innovation.  Innovation, however, is risky – and few rabbis (especially ones with contracts to keep or renew) were reared with inclination or skill to take effective risks in their spiritual roles.  At the same time, innovation must balance with continuity: change must connect smoothly to what came before, lest innovations be too much more revolution than evolution.  We must learn again to see all of Jewish tradition and halachah as developmental – always changing, backwards compatible with what came before, but leaning into present and future socioeconomic and psycho-spiritual experience.  In turn, seminaries must learn to teach halachah and tradition in ways that inculcate mastery of this evolutionary process, so that rabbis can steer through the tides of change rather than swim behind or get carried away in the current.  It follows that we must teach rabbis not less halachah but more – and more deeply, taught through this evolutionary lens.  Only then can tomorrow’s rabbis have the skill, knowledge and temperament to direct the flow of Jewish life compatibly with our enduring values.

 

 

The community rabbinate.  An effective rabbi in the 21st century is not limited to full-time jobs in synagogue, school or seminary.  Today we see rabbis serving in community centers, social justice advocacy, client services and industry – reflecting a yawning need for rabbinic tools in diverse social contexts, and thus a broadening of rabbinic roles to serve those needs.  Some of these roles are full-time with salaries comparable to synagogue compensation, but many are not.  At the same time, the 2013 Pew study shows quickening disaffiliation from Judaism’s non-Orthodox branches but simultaneous deepening of the private market for rabbinical services. These market shifts challenge today’s socioeconomics of becoming and serving as a rabbi.  The economic truth is that an increasing number of rabbis either want to serve part-time or need to serve part-time.  Thus, if rabbinic education is to remain sustainable for this growing cohort of rabbis, we must find ways not to shackle rabbis to educational debts too large to repay on the salaries they will earn.  The rabbinic path of student debt is all seminary and little soul, and is unsustainable for a profession already shifting on its foundations.  In this moment, we’d do well to remember that “rabbi” is first a calling, not a career: only in the 14th century did the rabbinic “career” begin to emerge.  In their day, Hillel was a woodchopper, Yochanan ben Zakkai was a businessman, Huna was a farmer who raised cattle, Chisda and Pappa were brewers, and Rambam was a physician.  When Talmud’s rabbis told us to “go out and see how the people are accustomed to act” (B.T. Berakhot 45a; Eruvin 14b), it was because they immersed themselves in the daily routines of community, having regular jobs and often struggling to make ends meet.  It may be time to go back to the future: we must not only make a fundraising priority of reducing the cost of rabbinic education, but also use technology and build inter-seminary alliances to scale teaching and cut costs.  These steps will not be easy, and they are not without risk, but the market will not allow seminaries to cling to the economic status quo for long.

 

 

Rabbinic education has reached a crossroads.  If we’re deeply honest, rabbis and seminarians must admit that we don’t really know where any path will lead.  Our future is so uncertain: Jewish and rabbinic life is changing under our feet.  The question is not whether we’ll do different: of course we will, because ultimately Jews always have.  Rather, the question is how we’ll do different.  We can either do different early, with enthusiasm and experimentation, leaping ahead of today’s shifts to vision tomorrow’s opportunities.  Or, we can do different late, kicking and screaming, dragged by the market and Jews voting with their feet, following rather than leading.  Let’s choose wisely – and soon – lest the choice be made for us.

 

Rabbi David Evan Markus is co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, co-rabbi of Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York, New York), and member of the Rabbinics and Spiritual Direction faculties of the ALEPH Ordination Programs.  He is a longtime public servant and serves on the faculties of Fordham and Pace Universities. He presently presides as Judicial Referee in New York Supreme Court, Ninth Judicial District.  He received dual smicha (ordination) as rabbi and mashpia ruchani (spiritual director) from ALEPH, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.P.P. from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a B.A. from Williams College.  Contact David at davidevanmarkus@gmail.com.

This post excerpts the author’s longer writing, “Seminary and Soul,” available here.

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