Archive for the ‘Retooling Leadership’ Category

 

Educating Rabbis for Jews without Borders

Posted on: May 11th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

A Generous Community

 

[What goes into the making of a 21st Century rabbinical leader? In this latest series of essays to be published on eJP, we share thoughts from Rabbi David Teutsch, Ph.D., Rabbi Ellen Lewis, Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg and Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D. The first three essays originally appeared in, “Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Educartion,” Avenida Books, December 2014. This final essay is newly written for eJP and looks at how we may respond to the paradigm shift currently underway in the North American Jewish Community.]

*****

Writing an essay for a publication is a generous act, so thank you to the thirty-three contributors – rabbis, lay people and educators of rabbis – to the print volume of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education and the ten essayists whose essays appear online. With all of the changes occurring within the Jewish community, generosity has been a constant.

 

I had planned to write a chapter for our anthology, but Ellie Roscher, my co-editor, suggested that I wait and follow the conversation before doing so. Indeed, we came to appreciate how much our respective faith communities could benefit from more curiosity and less judgment about the correct “formula” for clergy education, and more shared conversations with those from other faith communities.[1]

 

Having listened to the conversation for about a year, I now offer what I believe is the most significant observation for rabbinical education: It is urgent to explicitly acknowledge that the paradigm of Jewish community that gave birth to how we educate rabbis has ended and respond accordingly. Several essayists alluded to a paradigm shift, and their actual and proposed curricular changes illustrated their keen awareness that it had already occurred. But the emergence of a new paradigm is not synonymous with an innovative curriculum, a new rabbinical program or a novel continuing education program. Rather, it is a map for reading, interpreting, responding to and shaping the community that we aspire to be.[2]

 

What is a Paradigm Shift and How Do You Know When a Paradigm Has Shifted?

 

What is a paradigm and how do you know it has shifted?[3] I think of a paradigm as a set of lenses through which I read my world of experiences. Without these lenses or core assumptions, I would be unable to sort, categorize, analyze and make meaning of my encounters with other individuals and interpret all of the information that I absorb through the media. Absent a paradigm, all actions, changes and behaviors are relatively equal to one another. With a paradigm, I have greater likelihood of living the life that I want and trying to positively shape my future.

 

Joel Barker, renowned for his work in applying the concept of paradigms to organizations, identifies how to recognize a paradigm shift in his definitive video on the topic, “The New Business of Paradigms” (updated 2013 edition): “No matter how tall your skyscrapers, or how big your market share, or how global your organization, when a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. Your past success guarantees nothing in your future.” Barker did not have the Jewish community in mind when he stated this, but he just as easily could have.

 

How Paradigms of Jewish Community Influence Rabbinical Education

 

The enduring paradigm of the modern Jewish community that gave birth to established and even most new rabbinical programs is disintegrating. It originated in Western Europe in approximately the mid-19th Century, was grafted and took root in the United States toward the end of the 19th Century and reigned through about the last decade of the 20th Century.[4] It rested upon certain givens that included defined boundaries of nations and communities, the subordination of the individual to nation and community, a belief in rational, planned, linear progress, stable bodies of knowledge that needed to be mastered to attain the status of an authority, a dynamic tension between requirements of Judaism and expectations of citizenship, and organizations as self-contained, closed systems.

 

During the early decades of this paradigm, even if Jews did not practice ritual, they established and joined congregations because it was a way of fitting into Protestant America. The informal names of their congregations (e.g., the “Hungarian shul”) reflected their immigrant roots even as they strove to rapidly acculturate their children to America, a process that accelerated as Jews later migrated to the suburbs. The reality of a modern State of Israel was added to the paradigm of Jewish community in the mid-20th Century, but Israel was a fragile entity that was usually portrayed in mythical terms. It was also dependent upon American Jews’ commitment to its survival, using their significant political and financial capital.[5]

 

In the recent past, there was a logical division of labor that grew from the paradigm of linear, self-contained, defined organizational boundaries. The Federation system and its “beneficiaries” were responsible for the secular welfare of local and global Jewish communities, and congregations and related denominational structures tended to the religious and educational needs of Jewish communities. The lines between the federation and congregational systems began to blur soon after Israel’s Six Day War, when federations gradually started to support formal and informal Jewish education, and congregations stepped up their public support for Israel.

 

These are blunt generalizations, as paradigms are more akin to glasses used to perceive the broad contours of the environment. But they also obscure gradual, significant changes that point to a possible paradigm shift. And by the time the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey was released, you could already see fractures in the paradigm of Jewish community: declining levels of Jewish identification, rising rates of intermarriage, disillusionment with the Jewish establishment, and the corresponding rise in “mega” donors and family foundations that challenged existing communal priorities.

 

In the 21st Century, we can now clearly see a new paradigm of a world characterized by human networks that can swell swiftly to upend governments or fund game-changing products; an unbounded start-it-yourself and share-it-with-others ethos; and, heightened influence of lone individuals, ephemeral crowds, and enduring social networks. Individuals have the ability to span cultures, geography and time, and relatively small groups have the means to violently shift national borders.

 

The American Jewish community has naturally been affected by this new zeitgeist. For many Jews today, the beliefs, behaviors and values that animated the Jewish community have lost their former power. Beliefs don’t hold people. Rather, people hold beliefs – and may discard them when they no longer “work,” customize “new traditions,” or design Jewish rituals drawn from multiple faith traditions. As a result, we might call the Jewish community of the United States, “Jews Without Borders.” Here are a few examples to illustrate the porous, fluid nature of much of the Jewish community in the United States:

 

Increasingly, well-established professional pipelines through which senior organizational leaders were hired are being bypassed. In fact, the 92nd St. Y hired a C.E.O. who is not Jewish.
Decades ago, Israel generally tended to galvanize more than polarize; today, it appears that the opposite is increasingly true.

 

Not long ago, intermarriage was perceived as a taboo; today, outside of the Orthodox community, speaking against intermarriage is often considered a taboo, and rabbinical school faculty and students debate the merits of admitting future students who are married/partnered to those who are not Jewish.

 

Organizations like federations and Jewish Community Centers may still describe themselves as the “central address” of the Jewish community, but in today’s highly decentralized Jewish community, “boutique” organizations compete with “legacy” institutions.

 

Eighty-one percent of Jewish Boomers identify as Jewish on the basis of religion, and 19% describe themselves as having no religion; among Millenials, 68% identify as Jewish on the basis of religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture (Pew Research, “A Portrait of American Jews,” October 2013).

 

Synagogue budgeting and programming implied that a “normal” Jewish family was a heterosexual married couple with children; today, LGBTQ families, individuals who are living with or married to non-Jews, have asserted an equal place in congregations and broadened the definition of a “Jewish” household.

 

It’s no longer possible to say, “Not in my lifetime” to prospects of female Orthodox rabbis. By title or by function, they are now a reality. Through the early 1990’s, the major funding stream for Jewish programs and infrastructure was the national federation system. In the early 1990’s, “mega” and family foundations began to provide a massive infusion of funds into new and established organizations that better reflected their interests. Crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and more recently, Jewish Giving Circles supported by Amplifier, may soon provide alternatives and challenges to these current primary options.

 

Money, power, knowledge, organizing, influencing, communications and inverted attitudes on major social and religious issues – these discrete changes have converged into a paradigm shift that has disrupted much of the old order of the Jewish community and ushered us into a new one. This new paradigm is characterized by instability, surprise sometimes bordering on chaos, improvisation, divergent thinking, emergent grassroots mobilization and ownership, irreverence and entrepreneurship. Who gets to decide what is authentically Jewish in this new paradigm? For Gen X’ers, Millenials and increasingly, Boomers, not Jewish authorities, but basically, anyone.[6]

 

The paradigm of Jewish community that existed until recently generated beliefs about the “right” kind of rabbinical student profile, fixed canons of knowledge that students needed to master (curricula), the structure of relationships between “lay people” and rabbis, the nature of religious authority and decision-making, and rabbinical career choices and trajectories. The in-print and online essayists in Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education have supplied us with ideas, questions and observations about the adequacy of rabbinical education and leadership. They point toward the issue of a paradigm shift that we need to make explicit. Without being explicit, we may convince ourselves that new strategies and tactics for rabbinical education are moving us into the future, while in reality they only affirm the old paradigm of Jewish community.

 

Those who have dedicated significant years in the Jewish community are entitled to linger and feel sad over what we have lost. By pausing, we may then be better able to perceive new opportunities that were unimaginable and lead with optimism. As we internalize a new paradigm of Jewish community, I conclude with several questions emanating from this new paradigm:

 

Even if seminaries retain denominational identity, could administrations make it easier for students to cross-register for some courses if they are living in the same city, or take one another’s online courses?

 

How much seminary real estate is actually necessary for rabbinical education? Do rabbis have to be in residence for a total of five years at two different locations (the States and Israel), amassing significant debt, or could more schools adopt a learner-centered approach, and customize educational requirements and programs around the knowledge and experience of the learner?
What role does Israel play in rabbinical education and expectations of rabbinical leadership? Many American Jews find meaning in Judaism’s call for social justice and perceive Israel to be the powerful Goliath against a pitiful Palestinian David. West Bank Palestinians lack sovereignty – an undignified reality for which Israeli and Palestinian leaders are responsible. What are the implications for the relationship between Jewish communities in Israel and the United States? In Keeping Faith in Rabbis, there was no discussion of Israel – not completely surprising but ominous.[7]

 

In the 21st Century, what is it that rabbinical education uniquely qualifies rabbis to do? Rabbinical chaplains seem to have a clear answer: provide spiritual care. With that exception, some of these essays reflected realities of role displacement and ambiguity. Are curricular options for rabbis who plan to operate outside of congregations and established organizations sufficient?
Many young Jews are now fourth and even fifth generation Americans and deeply assimilated. As a result, how should rabbis-in-formation think about Jewish peoplehood today?

 

In past epochs, periods of social and technological turmoil were followed by times of stability: for example, transitioning from agriculture to manufacturing. Today, with powerful technologies that are becoming universally accessible, stability is elusive and disruption is the norm. Can and should rabbis be trained as pioneers into an unknown Jewish future, yet still remain knowledgeable and caring guardians of Tradition?

 

Should theological education encompass mixed multi-faith clergy ordination programs that allow for shared experience and learning across different faiths for some courses, even as students focus intensively on the fundamentals of their own religious civilizations?

 

Many Millenials are experiencing downward economic mobility because of forces beyond their control. Combined with some of these other factors, from where will the financial and human capital come to support the array of old and new Jewish organizations that exist today?

 

The questions that I find the most fruitful don’t have immediate answers, require a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to incubating responses, and validation through research and practice. The contributors to Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education are well attuned to the need for change and continue to respond to it. Will we make a wider space for conversation together to explore these and other questions that emerge from a new paradigm of Jewish community?

 

[1] See Ellie Roscher, Keeping the Faith in Seminary (Minneapolis, MN: Avenida Books, 2012). The series of essays that she edited on Protestant theological education inspired Keeping Faith in Rabbis.
[2] The one program that seems to have acknowledged this is Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
[3] Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions published in 1962, originated the concept of paradigm in the scientific world. Joel Barker, a preeminent business process futurist, was the first to grasp that despite Kuhn’s claim to the contrary, it applied far beyond the world of science. But the concept of paradigms is not new and features prominently in learning theory and psychology already in the 1920’s, although it is more often labeled “schema,” “scripts” or “mental models.”
[4] See Windmueller, Steven (2007). “The Second American Jewish Revolution,” Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Volume 82 (No. 3), pp. 252-260, for a comprehensive review of the organizational paradigm and its value set from the last century.
[5] See Jonathan Woocher, Sacred Survival: The Civil Religion of American Jews. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986
[6] See, for example, Stephanie Grob Plante, “The Challenge of Planning an Interfaith Wedding,” November 13, 2014, http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/186563/challenge-interfaith-wedding
[7] See Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Jason Gitlin, “Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel Among American Rabbis,” A Report of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (October 8, 2013), http://www.jewishdatabank.org/studies/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=3075.

 

Cross-posted to eJewish Philanthropy and the Huffington Post

 

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, presenter and organizational futurist. He thanks Dr. Steven Windmueller for reviewing an earlier draft of this article.

 

 

The Old Jewish Neighborhood – Daniel Cotzin Burg

Posted on: May 4th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

rabbi-daniel-cotzin-burgBy Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg

 

The Old Jewish Neighborhood

 

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

 

The New Jewish Neighborhood

 

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

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Disrupting the Rabbinate (Guest Post: Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu)

Posted on: February 6th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

This week’s guest blog post on Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education is about disruption and rabbinical leadership. Some are troubled with the pairing of “disruption” and “rabbis,” but every professional practice is being upended, and the rabbinate is no exception. As our guest, Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, illustrates, rabbis have the power to disrupt how American Jews experience Jewish life. Disruption is the not the end goal, but the means to blow open accessibility to Jewish life and community, as she illustrates below.

 

Disrupting the Rabbinate

 Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu

 

Rabbi_Rebecca_SirbuThe rabbinate is being disrupted. Like many other fields, journalism and healthcare among them, technological and societal changes are disrupting the traditional role of a rabbi. In Hayim Herring’s new book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, Barak Richman and Daniel Libenson compare changes in the healthcare field to changes in the rabbinate. They argue that in both professions there is a mismatch between the education the professionals receive and the real needs of the people they are being trained to serve. Both professions need to reorganize or “disrupt” their delivery methods in order to be accessible and useful to the populations they serve.

 

“Disruptive innovation” is a term coined by Clay Christensen. According to Wikipedia, “a disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.” Wikipedia is itself a disruptive innovation. The creation of a print encyclopedia like The Encyclopedia Britannica is a costly and time consuming endeavor. Thinking that volunteers could create content on the web which can be continually updated for free and available to anyone with an internet hook up at no cost to them disrupted the entire encyclopedia printing industry. Blogs and Twitter feeds are disrupting journalism. WedMD and patient support sites are disrupting the healthcare industry.

 

The easy accessibility of information on the internet about religion, combined with shifting societal and demographic changes are also disrupting the rabbinate. Fewer people are joining congregations which in turn have less money to spend on a highly educated rabbi. Richman and Libenson argue that that the rabbinic profession should embrace the pursuit of “right skilling,” meaning that rabbis should be used only when their particular expertise is necessary. Rabbinic expertise is necessary in certain situations, but in other situations less expensive Jewish educators or professionals should be used, thus saving the user money. In addition, they advocate that rabbis specialize in certain areas, pastoral care or Jewish education for example, and be used when those specific skills are called for. They float a model where rabbis could join in a group practice where each rabbi has his or her own area of expertise. This practice could then contract with a handful of synagogues providing the right rabbi for the right need at any given time. It is an intriguing idea. Instead of one rabbi trying to serve a variety of needs and while trying to be a jack of all trades, a rabbi who is particularly talented in one area could serve in that area. The right skills could be used at the right time. This model would certainly upend the traditional one rabbi per synagogue model that currently exists.

 

Many other disruptive ideas are currently being tried out in the Jewish marketplace. Rabbis Without Borders is a network of creative rabbis who are constantly challenging each other to find innovations in the way we serve the Jewish community. Rabbis representing every denomination, including non-denominational rabbis, join a one year fellowship program which pushes them to go beyond the borders of their rabbinates. By creating a space where rabbis representing the cross section of the American rabbinate from different movements, geographic areas and experiences come together to open their minds to new ideas, we are transforming the rabbinate from the inside. Bringing together diverse groups of people and viewpoints causes creativity to flourish. After the fellowship, the rabbis join the ongoing Rabbis Without Borders network where they continue to support each other in their work. Many new innovations are arising. In fact, ten percent of the organizations featured in the Slingshot Guide to America’s most innovative Jewish programs are staffed by Rabbis Without Borders Fellows.

 

Disruptions are occurring to the delivery system of Jewish experiences, to the content of those experiences, and to the very essence of what it means to be a community. Rabbi Andrew Jacobs has created Chai Tech to revolutionize the Bar and Bat Mitzvah Experience. “With an internet connection and a computer, tablet or smartphone, bar/bat mitzvah students can prepare for their big day wherever they are, whenever they can. No more schlepping to the synagogue or the tutor. Once you go Chai Tech, bar/bat mitzvah preparation works easily into your busy schedule. Everything is online – including a teacher who monitors your child’s progress and keeps you informed using an advanced, online learning management system.” This new model certainly makes bar mitzvah study accessible to everyone.

 

New Jewish spiritual experiences are being created by Rabbi Shefa Gold who takes phrases from the liturgy and Torah and sets them to music as a chant practice. The texts are not new to Jews, nor is the idea of a chant practice, after all the Torah is chanted. Yet, she creates an innovative spiritual experience that allows the user to enter the tradition in a new way by chanting a single verse over and over.

 

Even the idea of what makes a synagogue community is being rethought. It used to be that a synagogue community was defined by its number of “membership units” who paid “dues” to the synagogues. Rabbi Elan Babchuck among others is rethinking this model. People now join the synagogue “family” and make a “voluntary financial contribution.” No one is turned away for lack of ability to pay dues. The language encourages a model where people will want to support their family. This is turning the traditional membership and dues structure on its head. Under this new structure this synagogue is thriving and others are adopting similar models.

 

This is just a small sample of the many ideas are now being experimented with in the Jewish world. Rabbis must innovate to serve the needs of a changing and more diverse population. We have an amazing resource in the deep wisdom and traditions of our religion. Clinging to old ways of doing things will not make this wisdom accessible to the millions of people who are looking for spiritual guidance and fulfillment. Let’s keep experimenting to find what works for the real needs of people today.

 


Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu is the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

 

 

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

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

 

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

Hayim Herring-WordCloud

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

 

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

 

Thank you, Rabbi Hayim Herring

 

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

 

 

Collaborate, Communicate, Connect

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

 

New, Free, Hands-on Workbook for Synagogues

 

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

 

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

 

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The Collaboration Continuum: Re-Igniting the Conversation for Congregations

Posted on: July 3rd, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Cross-posted to eJewish Philanthropy

by Debra Brosan and Rabbi Hayim Herring

 

Recently, we conducted thirteen informal phone interviews with federation directors, rabbis and lay leaders from around the country to learn first hand about the landscape of synagogue collaborations and potential mergers.

 

We spoke with leaders primarily along the East Coast and in the Midwest. Some had experienced population decline by snowbirds who had permanently moved to warmer parts of the country or had lost a significant percentage of the Jewish population because of the economic recession. We also spoke with a few other community leaders in areas that we suspected were potentially ripe for collaboration because it’s just good business to partner, collaborate and consolidate.

 

We weren’t interested in conducting a rigorous scientific study, but simply wanted to gain an impressionistic view of the level of discussion and activity around collaboration. We had read several recent stories in the Jewish press about creative congregational collaborations and were also aware of consolidations happening in the broader nonprofit community. Collaboration is one of our deep interests, and we have helped shepherd a number of congregations, Jewish organizations and nonprofit organizations through fruitful partnerships. We know that there is ample room for more collaboration, but we wanted to conduct some due diligence before drawing conclusions.

 

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Resetting the Rabbinate

Posted on: May 20th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

In the past few months, I’ve read at least six articles or blogs about rabbis and the contemporary rabbinate. (Just search sites like eJewishPhilanthropy, The Jewish Week, the JTA and the Jewish Daily Forward for a sampling of results.) Any rabbi will tell you that there’s structural change occurring and the media now seems to have picked up this story. Some of the stories suggest new roles that rabbis are fulfilling, others are about gender and the rabbinate, or prognostications about the future of the rabbinate and the rabbinical seminaries’ challenge in keeping up with what they perceive as new skills that rabbis require.

 

(Disclaimer: I’ve written about the rabbinate over the years as well in publications like Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life and “The Rabbi as Moreh Derekh Chayim: Reconceptualizing Today’s Rabbinate”. But why so many articles in such a short time?

 

Rabbis are experiencing significant role ambiguity and the 20th Century paradigm of what defines a rabbi is clearly inadequate for this century. A few examples will suffice:

Rabbis used to have primary or heavy involvement in the examples above but now, much less so.

 

And it isn’t just that functions are changing. Relationships are changing as well. In speaking with colleagues, they sense that they are increasingly being treated more as employees and less as individuals with a sacred profession. As one colleague wryly commented, he felt that “evaluations” had become “devaluations.”

 

This lack of role clarity is a symptom of a paradigm change. As renowned futurist, Joel Barker, says: “When a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. Your past success guarantees nothing in your future.” And all of these conversations about rabbis’ roles certainly have the feel of “going back to zero,” that is, accepting that the assumptions that undergird last centuries’ rabbinate will not support today’s rabbinate.

 

I believe that rabbis have significant roles to play. Some will be the same as the last generation of rabbis, and others haven’t even yet been imagined. But I’d like to hear your thoughts about the unique roles that rabbis can play. By unique, I mean what is it by virtue of their training that they alone can do, or that they can do with greater ability than others with Judaic knowledge and experience? All are invited to respectfully weigh in and thanks!

 

 

A Question for Leaders: What’s Your Liberation Moment?

Posted on: March 28th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

This year, my wife, Terri and I, were once again privileged to celebrate Pesach in Jerusalem. We had family and friends at our table who had made aliyah (moved to Israel) decades ago and relatively new olim (immigrants), friends from Minneapolis and St. Paul and some friends of friends in both categories. Our youngest guest was 16 months old; our oldest, about eighty!

Grigory Mikheev. Exodus. acrylic, oil on canvas, 82?95, 2000.

"Exodus" by Grigory Mikheev (Wiki Commons)

Our eclectic group of strangers became an extended family by the end of the evening. Why? Aside from great food and a story about individual, communal and universal liberation that never gets old, I incorporated a suggestion from Ayeka. (Ayeka is an organization that understands that Torah study is not just about the acquisition of knowledge but the transformation of character.) The suggestion was to use a series of provocative questions to trigger personal discussion, and these are the four from Ayeka that I found, that deepened the conversation among our guests:

Terach, Abraham’s father was stuck-that’s why he only started his journey to Canaan but didn’t complete it. Abraham got unstuck and look what happened! Ruth, the Biblical character about whom we read on Shavuot, got unstuck and risked returning to Israel with her mother-in-law under difficult circumstances, while Orpah, her sister-in-law, got stuck and returned to her family. And, as I write this post from Israel, politically, the Israeli electorate got the system unstuck from politics-as-usual and elected two new leaders who seem to determined to make substantive social change.

The point: if you want to be a leader, you’ve got to recognize your “liberation moment” and then embrace it. It requires faith-if not in God, than at least in yourself. Leaders take action on their commitments and that can definitely be frightening. But by making this kind of total commitment, they get the status quo get unstuck. I’ll be sharing my “unstuck” moments in the next few weeks when I officially re-launch my business focus. And if you’re in a position of leadership, or aspire to be in one, I invite you to answer the question, “What will your liberation moment be post-Pesach?”

If I Had a Pulpit… (And You’re Invited to a Webinar!)

Posted on: August 2nd, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

hayim’s new book

Hayim’s New book: Tomorrow Synagogue Today

 

 

Imagine that it’s Rosh ha-Shanah and you’re about to give your sermon. You and your board have been working hard on fundamentally rethinking what it means to be a congregational community in the 21st century. And, now you have the ideal opportunity to share it.

You look confidently at the congregation, and in a tone that reflects your excitement (but masks your nervousness), speak from your heart and say:

I don’t need to spend much time outlining the issues confronting our society. They are many and serious. And one of the most frustrating challenges is that people on one side of an issue always seems more interested in proving that the other side is wrong than finding common ground. Maybe we can’t heal the world, but we can start with our congregational community and learn how to work together and make progress on some of these issues. And after much work, as professional staff and board members, here’s our vision for our congregational community:

Our community aspires to become a model of a perfected world. Drawing upon the Jewish tradition’s optimistic belief in the power of individuals and communities to change the world, every member of our congregation is invited to participate on his or her own terms with others who want to turn this aspiration into a reality. Our congregation is always open to ways to involve young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and secular, learned and just learning, committed and seeking to use their unique gifts to make our community and our world more perfect. By engaging in this work, always guided by our Jewish tradition, we create rewarding, purposeful relationships that remind us why the power of many is so much greater than the power of any one of us alone.

In order to work seriously on this mission, you and the board have concluded that the typical descriptions that apply to a congregation’s missions are inadequate. Worship, study, acts of kindness–tefilah, avodah and gemilut chasadim–these are all essential functions that will happen. After all, you are a synagogue! It’s just that they need to be reinterpreted and refocused in a way that aligns with what is both meaningful for people and still authentic to the Jewish tradition.

You lay out four centers around which your congregation will be reorganized:

  1. Healthy Living, which includes issues like diet, exercise, sustainable food production and cultivating a spiritual dimension to life;
  2. Rich Interpersonal Relationships, which includes teaching people to rediscover the difference between a Facebook connection and a face-to-face friendship, and engaging in learning and work that help deepen relationships with family, friends and fellow congregants;
  3. My Relationship to My Local Community, which focuses on working together to ameliorate significant local issues through the congregation; and,
  4. My Relationship to My Global Community, which encourages a cross-fertilization of learning on how Jewish communities in Israel and across the globe deal with a range of issues like care for the elderly, social justice and Jewish education. These are the kinds of issues that lend themselves to shared learning exchanges and potential joint action.

Without going into great detail, you also explain how, over time, board members, committee and staff will be reorganizing the congregation around these four centers of life. But, you emphasize that everyone has a role and a stake in this new enterprise, because it takes everyone’s talents and time to create a just, compassionate, caring world.

The work that you and the board have done is a bold effort to create a model for re-conceptualizing the purpose of a congregation today. And you, as the rabbi, have shaped the vision from your own theology. God gave us a world that was inherently good and that goodness is now at risk. But you believe in your core self that we have the power and responsibility to act as a community to begin restoring and investing in positive action in the world. We are charged as a Jewish community to use our influence for good and it’s time to step up and act more intentionally on this commandment.

You’ve concluded your sermon and one thing is clear – no one is napping during the sermon. You can almost visualize the thought bubbles above different congregants’ heads. One says, “What’s Jewish about this?” Then there was another one floating nearby that says, “Well, this makes me want to be Jewish so much!” Another one says, “Time to send the rabbi on a permanent vacation,” while the one next to it says, “Better extend the rabbi’s contract for a long time. We can’t afford to lose her!”

At this point, you’re unsure if you should discuss how this re-envisioning the community will affect how the work of the congregation is done. You decide to leave that for another time, but provide a hint: the congregation is no longer just a building. It’s a platform that supports the rapid mobilization of people to organize, explore and express how to claim their Jewish selves within these four centers of Jewish life.

Register for “Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today” Webinar

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Reminder to Leaders: Self-Deception is Dangerous

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments
Smashed Ten Commandments

Image courtesy of davidwesterfield.net

I recall the saying that truly righteous people are not those who don’t deceive others, but who don’t deceive themselves (and if anyone can help me with a citation, I would appreciate it!). If you’ve ever been in a position of leadership, you’ve probably encountered a situation where you haven’t been completely honest with yourself about a leadership decision. You had a tough choice to make and instead of making the hard choice, you rationalized an easier one. These are difficult situations, where we struggle with our integrity. But experience shows that despite the difficulty, it’s better to be honest with the people who have entrusted you with leadership than to rationalize making an easier decision and engage in self-deception in the process.

The classic example is in this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tissa (Exodus 30:11-34:35). Moses is up on Mount Sinai preparing to bring the Ten Commandments to the people. But the people believe that he will not return and worry that they will be bereft of a leader. In a state of panic, they turn to Aaron, the brother Moses temporarily placed in charge, and persuade him to fashion a god. (According to some Biblical scholars, a possible reason for a calf or young bull is that it was used as a pedestal on which a god stood.) Aaron capitulates with the justification that they will be used as part of a festival offering to God, while the people, who as slaves to Egyptians witnessed a cult of idolatry, worship them as gods.

You can almost reconstruct Aaron’s rationalization. “Moses is delayed, so I’m going to buy time. I’ll collect gold from the people and create these divine symbols.” But the people interpreted the symbols as actual gods, which Aaron should have anticipated. Aaron did have another option. He could have refused the people, despite the potential danger of facing an angry mob if he did so. And if he had, he would have saved himself and the people a heavy punishment.

If you are in a leadership position, you know that it’s simply not possible to make the right choice every single time. But whenever you feel that you’re risking your integrity by rationalizing a decision, it’s best to pause and think again.