Being a Jewish Leader in Tumultuous Times
I heard all the jokes after receiving our congregation’s nomination for the Presidency. Sufficiency of marbles, who hates you, etcetera etcetera.
It’s such an honor, and every now and then, I feel like I was the right person at the right time. That is, on the days where I’m not questioning why the heck I said, “yes” to the nominating committee.
We ask a good deal of our rabbis in times like these, and often, because they are thrust by default into a role of organizational leadership, they rise to that occasion. But many are not equipped to be organizational leaders. They know halachah, they know ritual, they know liturgy…but we cannot demand of anyone that they possess a skill set that is not cultivated. My congregation is very lucky, we do have a rabbi who is capable of leading from the front, but I would feel terrible in my role leaving the broad scope of pastoral care entirely on his shoulders.
This year, synagogues are facing unprecedented challenges. We’re all having to adopt newer and better security models. We’re now having to deal with crisis decision-making over COVID-19. Many Jewish institutions are facing budgetary challenges, and given the demographics of who attends synagogue and who does not, we have membership challenges as well.
I struggled with leadership when it was first thrust upon me, as a 20-year-old, command-appointed corporal in an airborne rifle company. I learned very quickly what it meant to be a trusted delegate, and what it meant to be accountable for the actions of others. There’s an escalating set of responsibilities that are largely contingent on what the person above you; my squad leader didn’t have time to ensure that my fire team had all their equipment prepped.
It’s much the same now. I’m striving to maintain a culture of transparency, and to ensure every congregant’s voice is heard. We’re trying to implement a variety of strategic changes, and I’m very keen on ensuring there’s a balance between the distinctive traditions of our community and the need to look forward.
Frankly, my biggest problem has nothing to do with the people who attend regularly, but trying to convince those who don’t that we need them. There is so much I want to be doing, and only a handful of trusted delegates who aren’t themselves worn out after years of throwing themselves at the same tasks.
I make it a point to almost never quote Rabbi Tarfon, but here it is:
The day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.