Posts Tagged ‘communication’


An Addenda to Yehuda Kurtzer’s “Minding the Gap: A Primer for Jewish Professionals and Philanthropy”

Posted on: July 24th, 2017 by Hayim Herring

Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy by Rabbi Hayim Herring

A few observations on Yehuda Kurtzer’s fresh rethinking of how to build a more mature 21st Century relationship between American and Israeli Jewry:

1. On the gap in understanding one another’s realities: ask Israelis living in Israel of a certain age (40-something’s and older) if they recognize their country today as the one in which they grew up or to which they emigrated, and ask American Jews in the same demographics if they recognize the America of today as the one in which they were raised. You’ll likely receive the same response: “No!” Internally, across our respective political spectra, we have experienced significant social, religious, economic, educational, racial and political upheavals that are difficult to absorb. If each of our respective communities are having difficulties in understanding shifts in our own primary environments, how can we possibly understand the other’s culture, even if we are frequent and fluent visitors in the other’s community?


This point can provide some restraint in immediate and deserved anger of American Jews toward the current and future Israeli governments, and help us think more strategically about how to advance remaining shared interests – of which there are still many. For example, I think that Israeli Knesset Members who support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s broken promises that affect American Jews should be invited to Jewish federations. Let them experience first-hand the anger and pain that they have caused, see the full diversity of the American Jewish community and understand that we are not stereotypes, to be used as pretty props when it’s convenient, and objects of ridicule when it’s not.

2. It’s useful to delineate distinct categories of “boundary-crossers” and “boundary-dwellers,” that is, individuals who spend most of their time in one location (America or Israel) but spend or have spent considerable time in the other. Some examples, and they are not intended as a comprehensive list, include:

  • “Jewish professionals” and “professional Jewish volunteers;” that is, paid professionals and volunteers who work in Jewish institutions that are focused on Israel
  • Philanthropists
  • Israeli journalists who cover American Jewry and American journalists who cover Israeli Jewry both in the Jewish and secular press
  • Individuals with close family and friendship ties in our respective communities, who visit one another frequently, and remain in touch digitally on a regular basis between visits
  • Jewish think tanks (and there are very few)
  • Alumni of grassroots communities, like ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation

The value in distinguishing categories of boundary-spanners is that if we want them to become more valuable assets in broadening our understanding of differing cultural realities and identifying shared work, we first must respect their diversity. Top-down, hierarchical meetings are appropriate in some cases, in many more, cultivating networks will be more successful, and sometimes, a hybrid model of hierarchy and network is needed.

3. While we don’t have to “privilege” a “failed” metaphor as American and Israeli Jews as “family,” we can explore other approaches in testing its value before completely discarding it. For example, “family” signified one tightly-defined, exclusive structure through the better part of the 20th Century, but today, “family” is a much more expansive and inclusive concept. Why hasn’t the concept of “family” vanished? Because many people still feel an emotional pull to be a part of a family, with all its complexities.

Families, in their varied, contemporary iterations, are still crucibles in which powerful bonds of love, empathy, embrace of difference and responsibility can sometimes be forged. Families have a cast of characters. Some generously take upon themselves the roles of “connectors,” and never forget a birthday, convene a family reunion and update “the family” with an annual newsletter; others move in and out of their roles as “family member” unpredictably; and still others never miss an occasion to snub “the family.” Some family members remain distant from one another for years but ultimately reconcile. Even if they have little time left to reset their relationships, they positively change the trajectory of the next generation of family relationships. But when family ties are permanently severed, and sometimes that is necessary, there can be deep wounds with unforeseen consequences that are transmitted across generations.

Kurtzer is correct – manufactured nostalgia for American and Israeli Jews as “family” won’t help strengthen the kinds of relationships that we need today and can even be alienating because people know a charade when they see it. But rethinking the metaphor of family more expansively and realistically on the collective level is a valuable endeavor worth the struggle. It’s another way of opening our eyes more widely to the massive transformations that we’re experiencing, identifying barriers that we might chose to live with for the time being for the sake of “family,” and distinguishing between the truly unbridgeable differences in our respective communities, and the ones that initially present themselves as unbridgeable divides but are only differing manifestations of shared essential changes on deeper reflection.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, consultant and nonprofit organizational futurist who holds a doctorate in Organization and Management. A “C-suite” leader, Hayim has worked with hundreds of congregations and nonprofits on issues including leadership, organizational foresight and entrepreneurship. His most recent publications are Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose, with Dr. Terri Elton (2016) and, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish (2012).

Be Entrepreneurial, Not Innovative

Posted on: January 16th, 2014 by Hayim Herring


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


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


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


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


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



New Findings About Pew Study

Posted on: November 19th, 2013 by Hayim Herring

Simplification, Complification or Obfuscation


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

What are my conclusions from this matrix?



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


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


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


Make your sermon like a shofar blast

Posted on: September 22nd, 2011 by Hayim Herring
Shofar Blowing

From Joe King on flickr

Rosh Hashanah is less than a week away.  Synagogues are in crunch mode.  Rabbis are putting the finishing touches on their sermons. Congregational leaders will be working extra hard during the next several weeks and more congregants will engage with the synagogue than at any other time during the year.

People will be looking for a meaningful message that they can take away from their yamim noraim (High Holy Day) experience, and rabbis, other synagogue professionals and volunteer leaders should consider both the content of their messages and the most impactful way to communicate them. They need to think strategically about how they are communicating with their audiences—during the coming High Holy Days and in the long-term.

Strategic communication is not just about trying to get people more involved in your synagogue’s programming.  Everybody will be doing that in one way or another.  It is about being more intentional in how you share your synagogue’s message with others.

Strategic communication is also not the same as “marketing.”  Marketing focuses on getting different demographics of congregants interested in a specific program or service. Strategic communication, on the other hand, relates programs and projects to the overall mission and goals of the congregation.

Strategic communication does not happen overnight, of course.  Many organizations go through the process of creating a “strategic communications plan,” which is developed and used by all levels of the organization.

In other words, ideally your communications are not limited to your congregational newsletter or information on your website, but in every interaction that your staff and lay leadership have with congregants, potential members, or local media outlets.  It represents a consistency in your organizational message, driven by your mission. It is about telling your story in an effective way.  (The SPIN Project offers a free online template for creating a strategic communications plan that you may find useful, though it is targeted to organizations engaged in advocacy work.)

Even though this process does not happen overnight, you can use the High Holidays as an opportunity to begin thinking more strategically and proactively about how you communicate with your various audiences.  Once you start engaging in these critical conversations around communications, you will begin to see a meaningful transformation in the way your congregation’s message is communicated and how it is perceived.

The blast of the shofar during the High Holy Days calls us out of our complacency and inspires us to return.  With a little bit of planning, your communications can have a similar impact on your audience in the new year.

Please contact us to learn how we can help take your organization through a unique, engaging process of creating your own strategic communications plan.

L’shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Hayim Herring


Introducing Hayim’s Blog (Formerly “Tools for Shuls”) + Special Offer!

Posted on: July 25th, 2011 by Hayim Herring

Image courtesy of

I’m incredibly excited to launch my new blog!  I placed blogging on hold so that I could focus more attention on my book and building my business.  And, I came to recognize that my Tools for Shuls blog was now too narrowly focused.

So much has changed in the Jewish world since I first started blogging a couple of years ago! The economic recession’s impact on the Jewish community, the fractured relationship between parts of the American Jewish community and Israel, the level of civil discussion within our own Jewish community-just to name a few!  “Tools for Shuls” inaccurately suggested by its title that some quick fixes in synagogues could address these issues, so resetting my blog, while launching the new website for the Herring Consulting Network, seemed timely.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog, what can you expect to see that’s different? And for those who are new, what is this blog all about? The general focus is on developing leaders for the synagogue, Jewish communal and non-profit world who want to create the future that they hope to see, instead of waiting for the future to happen to them. For me, that’s a good working definition of leaders: people who dream big about tomorrow and create their tomorrows today.

You can expect two posts approximately every 10 days. One will relate to aspects of leadership. The other will ask you to comment on trends and issues related to your synagogue or organization. I envision the blog as a space for collaboration, where people can exchange ideas and experiences about leading organizations, and where they can pose questions to a diverse audience. So let’s start the conversation by asking:

Special limited offer:
All those who comment on this week’s question will be entered into a drawing for a free consulting session!*  There will be three different levels awarded:  One three-hour session, one two-hour session, and one one-hour session.  The drawing will take place on August 17, 2011, and winners will be notified via email.  So go ahead, share your responses by commenting below and you might win!

I look forward to resuming the conversation with you.


Rabbi Hayim Herring


*Consulting sessions will be given via conference call and will be scheduled according to Rabbi Herring’s availability.  Sessions are non-transferable and not redeemable for any cash value.

Don’t Forget the Personal in PC

Posted on: May 22nd, 2009 by Hayim Herring

The acronym PC originally meant personal computer. This represented a revolution, putting powerful computing tools once only used by corporations into the hands of individuals. But personal should have another dimension. We shouldn’t forget that technology must be a reflection of the personal touch that a church or synagogue aspires to provide.

In the prior post on technology, people noted that technology should be thought of as just another way to reach and teach members in the community. If you have people leading the technology team in your congregation who are easily attracted to the latest trends and toys in technology, take caution. Make sure you also have people who know less about technology, and more about building community. 

For example, many congregations have four generations of members.  Let’s assume that the majority of members at least access the congregation website, which you’ve just redesigned.  Did you ever think about the font size used for text? For some who are older, trying to read it is like trying to hear from an inadequate sound system in the sanctuary.  One of the ways you can help people into your “electronic front door” is to have a button which enlarges the size of the font.  This sounds like a small matter, but if older members have difficulty reading the website, what message are you sending to them? You’re implicitly saying that your congregation doesn’t understand their abilities—not the message we want to send to our elders, who have often been loyal supporters of the congregation!

Another example: how easy is it to use the automated voicemail system. Is there a long message before an option to get information? Is the staff directory accurate? (I often find that trying to locate the extension of a Rabbi after hours is especially difficult because some directories consider “rabbi” a part of the name!) If you get caught in the equivalent of voicemail devil’s triangle, you’re again sending the unintentional message that you’re not attentive to your congregants.

So here’s a suggestion. If you have an adult education committee meeting, invite people to come in 15 minutes earlier to give feedback on the adult learning section of your website.  You can do the same if you have a sisterhood or brotherhood meeting—ask members to review their activities page and the website in general. You can follow a similar process for getting feedback on your voicemail system.

As you review your technologies, try to keep the following questions in front of you:

  1. Do your communications technologies serve your members’ needs, and how do you know that’s  true?
  2. Are they consistent with each other so that key information is easily accessible and accurate?

If you do try to solicit feedback from committee members please share what you’ve learned.  Additionally, let our readers know what simple changes you have made to help better connect members to you’re congregation.

Thanks—and looking forward to your responses and experiences!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

photo from, Kaptain Kobold

Are You Sleeping? Rabbis and the Art of Public Speaking

Posted on: February 20th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

When I was a congregational rabbi, after a few years, I started adhering to one rule rigorously when giving sermons: never speak long enough for people to fall asleep! There were a few other rules which I followed, too.  Giving a brilliant sermon every week was mission impossible for me.  However, it was always possible to find some new dimension of Torah in the broadest sense that would engage people with a new idea, a new way of framing an issue, advocating for a cause which was significant or helping people find personal relevance in Jewish practice. 

Equally important, regardless of the topic, I had the extremely good fortune of having several models of outstanding communicators from whom I learned the art of public speaking and a good friend in the congregation who generously volunteered his time to shred my words and reconstitute them in a way that would grab and hold people’s attention. In a prior life, he had been a journalist and helped me realize that communicating big ideas simply was essential to my rabbinate.

The Talmud (AZ 35b) asks, “To what is a scholar to be compared? To a vial of fragrant ointment. When its cover is removed, the fragrance of its ointment is diffused. When it is covered, its fragrance is concealed.” My experience with many rabbis when it comes to public speaking has been that they are like “the vial with the cover on.” They do have a lot of wisdom to share, but the way they publicly communicate gets in the way of their ideas. They develop bad speaking habits in rabbinical school and often don’t receive help once they are in the congregation.

This is really inexcusable.  People in the congregation, whether members or guests, will form opinions about Judaism based on what they hear during a rabbi’s sermon. Rabbis are given a unique opportunity: they can inspire involvement in Jewish life, or discourage it, by how they communicate their messages.

I’m going to recommend one book which I recently finished reading, entitled Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They offer a six-point formula communicating ideas that can be extremely helpful for public speaking:

You’ll note that if you look at the first letter of each of these six points, they almost spell the word, success. There are many additional ways in which rabbis and become successful communicators of Jewish wisdom and tradition.  What I’d like to hear from you is your recommendations on how rabbis can communicate with greater impact, especially in an age when attention spans seem to have shortened.  And, if you are a rabbi and have your own story about how you learn to become a better communicator, please be sure to share that as well!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

The Challenge of Innovation and Communication!

Posted on: January 30th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Here’s one of my favorite stories about the challenges of communicating:

A lawyer was interviewing a man regarding his decision to divorce his wife, and asked, “What are the grounds for your divorce?”
He replied, “I have about 5 acres.”
“No,” he said, “I mean, what’s the foundation of this case?”
“It is made of concrete” he responded.
He said, “Do you have a grudge?”
“Yes,” he replied, “it can hold two cars.”
“Sir, does your wife beat you up?”
“Yes,” he said “several times a week she gets up earlier than I do.”
Finally, in frustration, the lawyer asked, “Why do you want a divorce?”
Looking perplexed, he answered, “My wife says I don’t communicate well.”

According to the Jewish tradition, God did not communicate with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai only once. Rather, the classical rabbis teach that every day God’s voice still emanates from Mount Sinai. (Pirkei Avot 6:2)

Without stretching this analogy, there is something important to learn from this rabbinic teaching: communicating once about critical matters is not enough. No matter how many times you think you have clearly explained a change-related matter, you probably need to continue working at it.

Often, there is a small cadre of people directly assigned with implementing a change and they’ve probably been working at it for some time. They are close to it and understand from the inside out. But, it probably took this group some time to gain clarity on their mandate for change. So if even those who are most intimately associated with the change require time to digest it, consider how much effort is really required to communicate on a broader level.

There are a few strategies that can help you communicate effectively:

When I Googled “communications strategies,” I received 36,800,000 hits—a sign of the challenge of communicating in a multi-media, information-saturated age. So here’s my question: what are the most effective means you’ve found to communicate a change?

Rabbi Hayim Herring