Posts Tagged ‘jews’


New Book Launch

Posted on: November 30th, 2016 by Hayim Herring

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


My colleague, Dr. Terri Elton, Associate Professor Leadership at Luther Seminary and I, are thrilled to announce that Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platform, People and Purpose, is now available. (Save 40% on all purchases for a limited time by using the code RL40LC16 when you order!) Are you curious about:

• How congregations and nonprofits are seeking to maintain community when it’s so fragile today?
• How spiritual and nonprofit communities can make decisions rapidly, thoughtfully and inclusively?
• How professional and volunteer leaders are navigating the tensions of being faithful stewards of their organizations’ traditions, and responsive leaders to the disruptive pace of innovation?

We were, too, so we researched fifteen Jewish and Lutheran congregations and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States (eleven congregations, four nonprofits). Some were established congregations and nonprofits that were becoming less hierarchical and more innovative. Others were start-ups that emerged at the dawn of social networks, are now adding more structure as they have grown, but don’t want to lose their entrepreneurial D.N.A. Whether old or new, they are navigating a paradigm shift in minimizing more cumbersome, hierarchical ways of working and fostering more fluid and creative networks to advance their missions.

We provide practical guidance to professional and volunteer leaders who view their organizations as platforms where people can find greater personal meaning by engaging with others who care about the same mission. We believe our book is unique as it:

• Bridges faith communities.
• Blends theory with tools, texts and hands-on resources.
• Combines research with lived stories of congregations and organizations.
• Addresses the desire of both established and newer organizations to deepen engagement with individuals, and transform their communities by redesigning how they are organized.


Several of our colleagues graciously shared their reactions to our book:

Allison Fine, co-author of, The Networked Nonprofit, and renowned expert on social networks and organizations noted, “One of the most pressing issues facing our society is the disruption of traditional organizations dedicated to our communal well-being; congregations and nonprofits. Herring and Elton have written a very important and practical book on a critical topic; how to restructure our most important institutions to match the urgency of working in a networked world.”

Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD, a national organization dedicated to growing Christian leaders, said that, “This book dares to link congregations and non-profit organizations in strategic conversations essential for thriving in a fast-changing world. This is a way forward.”

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder, executive director of Mechon Hadar, and author of Empowered Judaism added that, “This book artfully breaks down the barriers that often exist between new and old non-profits. By taking a critical eye to both, the authors present findings untold in other books on congregational change, facilitating a powerful experience for the reader looking to reflect on organizational success.” (You can click here for additional reviews.)

Two years ago, we didn’t know one another. But we took leaps of faith (one Protestant, one Jewish) to collaborate on a significant project. The value of learning from a member of the same human family, but a different spiritual tribe, has been immeasurable. We hope that you’ll take a leap of faith, too, and not only purchase Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose, but try some discussion and innovation with someone from a different faith background in your own community! The dynamics of disruption and leadership responses are similar in Jewish and Protestant communities, so stay tuned for more news about how you can participate in a network of leaders interested in these issues. You can do so by connecting with Hayim (options for social media of your choice, top right) or connecting with Terri (,, @TerriElton).

Thank you,

Hayim Herring and Terri Martinson Elton

Pew-ish and Religiously Jewish

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


Pew’s Portrait of American Jews and Ritual: A Troubling Landscape


One of Dr. Arnie Eisen’s first big ideas as Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary was “The Mitzvah Initiative.” The most recent Statement of Principles of the Reform Movement encourages individuals to reexamine the role of mitzvah (“sacred obligations”). And, who knows how much Chabad has invested over the decades trying to persuade people to add just “one more mitzvah” to their lives. But the vast majority of American Jews have rejected some core mitzvot/rituals that have defined the Jewish people throughout the ages (like keeping kosher, praying regularly in synagogue and observing a day of Shabbat—to name a few).


The most recent Pew Report reaffirms this reality (see especially chapters 3 and 4 of the report). This isn’t new, but it is a persistent puzzle despite the efforts of every religious stream, and especially the monumental efforts of Chabad. And here’s why we should be concerned about the lack of a wider adoption of consistent ritual practice and what the absence of it might mean for the long-term future of American Jewry.



According to the Pew study, when asked whether being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, ancestry or culture, six-in-ten cite either ancestry or culture (or a combination of the two).


But first, a couple of pre-emptive clarifications. This post is not about whether someone who performs mitzvot is a “better Jew” than someone who doesn’t. That’s a pointless and insulting debate because we’ve all met ritually observant scoundrels and ethical people who don’t care much for core Jewish rituals.


Second—this post is not another call to “adopt a mitzvah” or make “halakha” (Jewish law) relevant. Rather, it’s a challenge that I’m putting forth to those who value ritual to speak more broadly and openly about the nexus between personal ritual practice and ethical behavior, and to help others hear the music underneath the ritual that moves us to do more and be more than we think we’re capable of.


As noted in the Pew Report, the majority of American Jews hold that belief in God, being ethical and moral people and working for social justice are essential attributes of being Jewish—something rightfully to feel quite proud about! So why be concerned about the lack of a greater widespread adoption of a rich, ritual life? Because without it, we risk losing the very values that make us proud of who we are.


So here’s how I understand ritual….Ritual is an imperfect, evolving yet organized system that helps me develop into a more decent human being. With ongoing practice, ritual reminds me to become a more empathetic, thoughtful and generous human being. If I value social justice in my heart, then my ritual reflex must be to pay employees a decent wage and give them a day of rest. If I know that I should be grateful for the many blessings in my life that I didn’t work for, then prayer, with its many expressions of gratitude, helps me remember to express appreciation to others. Ideally, ritual transforms what are often ephemeral moral feelings into immediate ethical actions.


And ritual has other relevance today. We live in a hyper-changing present, saturated with expanding choices that clamor for immediate attention. Personally, Jewish ritual has increasingly felt like the rest notes in a score of music that help me pause, and then regain perspective on which relationships and activities are ultimately important and which only feel so at the moment. And when I’m a part of a community that practices some of the same rituals that I do, I gain the strength that I need to keep practicing, which isn’t always easy.


And that’s what leads me to my concern—for how long will Jews continue to be passionate about social justice, morality and ethics without the reinforcement of ritual? For how long can a set of today’s values be transmitted to future generations without the language of ritual? So far, so good—many American Jews are living exemplary moral lives without the fuel that ritual can provide. But let’s affirm what we know from experience: today’s “givens” can become tomorrow’s “goners” and we know that just because something is, it’s no guarantee that it always will be.


So a call to action to professional and volunteer religious leaders of all stripes: let’s make a stronger case by living example about how ritual and values are inextricably linked. Let’s make the values that underlie our personal religious practice explicit, not in order to guilt or coerce others to behave a certain way, but to stimulate conversation and inspire change. Why? Because we have no examples of sustainable secular or cultural Jewish communities. (Historians, please correct me if I am wrong. But, before you point to yesterday’s Bund or even better, today’s secular Zionism, take a look at how a reclamation project of religious texts, tunes and traditions is occurring among “secular” Israelis today.) And a call to funders: even if you personally don’t like the ritual side of Judaism, understand that it has contributed to your values and priorities, that it has a role to play in perpetuating them and that initiatives that foster practice and appreciation of ritual are worthy of your support.



Volunteers: A Great Treasure

Posted on: June 18th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

While I can’t remember the source, there’s a beautiful story that describes how a man sets out on a worldwide quest to find the greatest treasure in the world. After wandering the world, he returns home and digs underneath his own kitchen floor and—finds that the treasure had been there all along. The treasure has been there all along….

This story makes me think about the hidden treasures that are right in the middle of congregations: namely, volunteers. Why?

Let’s look at some basic demographic characteristics of American Jews, relative to other ethnic and religious groups:

Members of congregations are amazing underutilized assets! 

In 2004, Dr. Amy Sales, noted Jewish researcher at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Life at Brandeis University, published a study entitled The Congregations of Westchester in which she provided rich data on congregational life from 16 congregations. She asked participants to respond to the statement, the “synagogue makes good use of my skills and abilities.” A mere 34% of respondents agreed with that statement. In a related vein, 66% of the “rank and file” membership reported that they were “not at all active” in their congregation.

Imagine what congregational life could be like if these statistics were reversed, so that 66% of congregational members reported that the synagogue makes good use of their skills and abilities and 33% of the members reported that they were not at all active in their congregation!

So, here are two questions I’d like you to respond to:

  1. How can synagogues make more members feel that they make good use of their members’ skills and abilities?
  2. How can synagogues increase the number of “rank and file” members who want to volunteer their time for some aspect of synagogue life? 

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Photo from  MoBikeFed

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