Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

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Dropped Calls and the Challenge of Jewish Discontinuity

October 11, 2009

Perhaps one of the greatest aggravations in this era of high tech communications is the scrooge of the dropped call. It is a ubiquitous experience regardless of your phone or your service provider, and it can happen in the densest of cities and most rural of areas. Dropped calls often result from gaps in cell coverage but are also increasingly the result of high usage at certain times and places.  Whatever the reason those conversations are lost and frustrations found, dropped calls impair the efficient communication we strive for, while also reminding us that our ability to continue to communicate with others is often dependent on resources and networks outside of our control.

Recently I have been thinking of the impact of “dropped calls” in the Jewish community.  As we have already advanced from Jewish life in the iPod era (as the folks at Reboot smartly discussed back in 2004) to Jewish engagement in the iPhone age, it is worth considering the community lessons we can learn from how dropped calls occur in our own community.  These lessons take on increased significance in the Jewish community telephone conversations, because once there is a disconnect relating to a sense of community, it may be harder to redial the connection that was made in the first place. Unfortunately though, just like the root causes for dropped calls in the telecommunications network, much of the reason for dropped calls in the Jewish community is lack of sufficient (or lack of sufficiently dynamic) infrastructure to maintain those connections.

Similar to the overly spaced mobile networks, our “cell towers” of Jewish connection leave gaps in service (often at the most inconvenient places and times). Just like the manner in which phone calls are maintained, the connectivity to the Jewish community is dependent on there being well placed conduits of communication and the right types of interconnection. While the Jewish community certainly has points of contact throughout the Jewish lifecycle, it is the time in-between those key life moments that that are often the place where the connections are week.  Therefore the more towers of Jewish connectivity, the fewer chances for conversations to get dropped. Additionally, we need to make sure that Jewish connections are not dropped because the system is insufficiently dynamic to maintain quality connections in high-use times. For example, even though the High Holidays put a strain on resources (too few seats for people, too few chances to experience true spiritual moments), our community infrastructure must be sufficiently dynamic to be sure that people don’t lose connections to the their community at those times either.

Like the iPhone, Jewish life has seemingly limitless ways to encourage, engage, and sustain individual connections.  Similar to the network that supports the iPhone, the network maintained by the Jewish community needs to be robust enough and of sufficient quality to make sure that there are no broken conversations when someone wants to dial-up a Jewish experience. Dropped calls on the cellular network are aggravating, but dropped calls in the Jewish community can me much more troubling and their disconnection can be much more long-lasting; or even permanent. So in the spirit of the old communications advertisement, lets make sure our Jewish community is not just focused on reaching out and touching someone, but also keeping in touch and avoiding those irksome (and perilous) dropped calls.

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I Hear a Symphony: The Sound of Jewish Social Entrepreneurship

September 7, 2009

As I continue to have discussions with members of my local and national Jewish community, I am constantly amazed at the diversity of ideas, opinions and attitudes related to Jewish social entrepreneurship. From the entrepreneurs that are ahead of the curve to the funders who are trying to financially support the curve (and in between,  the organizations who are wondering how to make sure the curve doesn’t curve right around them), there is a lot of conversation, a great deal of action and even a bit of confusion. The discussion is a beautiful musical arrangement performed by an orchestra of engaged Jews that perform their own parts with instruments and within music halls of their choosing. Yes, when I listen carefully to the community of Jewish social entrepreneurs and their supporters, I hear a symphony.

But of course, like any attentive listener, I strive to make sense of the sound – to understand what I am hearing and how to best embrace the grandness and complexity of the experience. I am not alone – there are community leaders, professionals and funders that also hear this new music and are endeavoring to better understand what to listen for.

There is no lack of resources to help guide the individuals in making sense of this brave new world of thoroughly modern social entrepreneurship. Whether it is resources provided by funding organizations that support the fellowship of entrepreneurs or thought leadership by online news aggregators and blogs like eJewishphilanthropy.com, one can generally find some assistance in determining how best to encourage, engage and evaluate Jewish social entrepreneurs. But even with all of these contemporary resources to aid me in my listening, I go back to a resource about as far from modern as you can get, Aaron Copland’s book “What to Listen For in Music” –  first published by the composer in 1939.

Now its interesting to note that back in 1939 the composer who eventually became one of America’s finest composers and recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal was already struggling with how to best describe contemporary music. In his book he wrote:

Over and over again the question arises as to why it is that so many music lovers feel disoriented when they listen to contemporary music.  They seem to accept with equanimity the notion that the work of the present day composer is not for them. Why?  ‘Because they just don’t understand it.’”

This quote, like so much of Copland’s book resonates with me as I listen carefully to the symphony of modern day Jewish social entrepreneurship. While so many of us are happy to get our groove on in the fluid and changing world of Jewish innovation, it is true that even some of the greatest lovers of the Jewish people have a sense of disorientation of where we are and were we may be going as a people. We need some guidance as to how to listen to the contemporary music of Jewish engagement being performed by the combination of ancient and modern instruments and orchestrations.

We should not only acknowledge the importance of listening actively and carefully to these diverse voices, I also believe we must challenge these innovators to help us understand their music.  The conventional wisdom has been that the entrepreneurs innovate and everyone else figures out (1) what elements of the composition are that which are essential to hear (so as to identify/satisfy the appropriate funding criteria) and  (2) how  to categorize the  communal and social impact of the  innovation on the broader Jewish community.  I believe that conventional wisdom is wrong.  I believe that it is these composers themselves that must help us understand their compositions, to help us make sense of how we should listen to their works and how we can best express the reaction they are hoping to generate.

These composers, our Jewish social entrepreneurs, must take a page from Aaron Copland, they too must help us understand how to listen to their music.

In his book, Copland even suggests as much. He wrote:

“To a composer, listening to music is a perfectly natural and simple process. That’s what is should be for others. If there is any explaining to be done, the composer naturally thinks that, since he knows what goes into a musical composition, none has a better right to say what the listener aught to get from it.

Perhaps the composer is wrong about that, perhaps the artist cannot be so objective in his approach to music as the detached music educator. But is seems to me the risk is worth taking. Fro the composer has something vital at stake. In helping the others listen to the music more intelligently, he is working toward the spread of a musical culture, which in the end will affect the understanding of his own creation.”

Following that line of thinking, Copland’s book is an attempt to do just that – to explain the importance of careful listening, as well as suggesting exactly that to which one should listen upon hearing a musical composition. He wrote not only the sheets of music, but the sheets of interpretation of that music.

That too is what I believe we should and must ask of our social entrepreneurs, as we write the next book of Jewish experience. We must, without hesitation or limitation, encourage these men and women to follow their passions in helping innovate new ways to strengthen the Jewish community and to demonstrate the impact of Jewish values.  But we should also not be shy in asking them to be engaged in helping the rest of us figure out how to best listen to their innovative approaches and respond with support. In other words, we must not only respond to requests to help guide the creators, but also request that the creators take responsibility for guiding us.

How can we do this? First and foremost we need to understand that not all social entrepreneurs are the same, and while we may categorize the movement broadly, we should understand that each innovator is unique and that our approach to engagement must be similarly diversified and customized. In our effort to build individually customized relationships, we not only can advise them, but they can help advise us. Whether it is customized peer-to-peer relationships, peer-to-predecessor relationships or peer-to-prospect relationships, these conversations should be bidirectional and mutually beneficial. But one-on-one relationships will not be enough to harness intelligence of our social entrepreneur community. We must also restructure some of our “organized” Jewish community institutions to be more receptive and welcoming to these entrepreneurs, but this restructuring should not be done “for” them, it must be done “with” them.  Certainly this will require a bit of sacrifice from the social entrepreneurs, just as the community is required to sacrifice some of its conventional attitudes and approaches.  But it is this type of mutual sacrifice that has defined the Jewish community since the Exodus, and it is the benefit of this mutual sacrifice that has sustained us as a Jewish people as each generation has joined with the generation before it and after it to encounter our collective challenges and transmit our shared values.

Yes, when I listen to the conversations of our local and national social entrepreneurship community I hear a symphony.  But for it to be more than a tender melody, we need everyone – the composers and listeners, to take ownership in both what we hear and how we hear it. If that is the case, a powerful, enchanting and sustaining symphony it certainly will be.

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Response to Dr. Sarna: We have a mission; communal life must be about meaning

August 9, 2009

As a Jewish community volunteer and part-time critic, I often vacillate between hopefulness and concern. From the volunteer perspective, I experience moments of enrichment that sustain my belief that Jewish differences can be made and the promise of the Jewish people can be kept. As a critic, I find myself compelled to question not the merit of our Jewish communal efforts, but the quality of our Jewish communal experiences?

But while I may question many things, never have I questioned the mission of the Jewish people. Perhaps because it is too complex a question, and I am too simple to even ponder the answer? Perhaps because the mission is so inherent in what we learn from our faith and understand from our history that our mission as a people cannot be defined, it must be experienced?

It is that question, however, that Dr. Jonathan Sarna asked in his recent essay “Communal Life After the Recession” in London’s The Jewish Chronicle.  In his thoughtful essay, Sarna examines the state of the Jewish Diaspora in these challenging times and ask key questions about what the future looks like. In an era where the Diaspora is now concentrated, and where the protection and rescue of persecuted Jews is no longer an urgent focus of the Jewish people, Sarna asks “[w]ill the Jewish community be able to identify a mission compelling enough for young Jews to become passionate about?” In response, he closes his essay asserting “the goal of formulating a new and compelling mission for our Jewish community need to be high on our collective agenda.”

To his merit, Dr. Sarna presents both an interesting question and thought-provoking response. However, I believe both mischaracterize the nature of the challenge facing the Jewish people at this time in our history.  Quite simply, I do not believe it is about mission – it is about meaning.

In reading Dr. Sarna’s essay I am reminded of another great Jewish thinker, one of an earlier generation – Leo Baeck. In his seminal book (and testament to late German Jewish philosophy), This People Israel, Baeck wrote that “[o]nly as a people of meaning could, and can this people Israel be.” He further wrote “[t]his people’s constitution is founded in God’s commandment; it is a people to that is disposed to God, on that in all its development, its wandering, in all of the ebb and flow of history, must remain within  relationship toward the One-Who-Is.”

To Baeck’s point, we already have a timeless mission – to be a people of meaning.  It is a mission framed by and within the context of our relationship with God and is reinforced by the Jewish embodiment and experience of humanity.  The unfolding experiences that reflect our mission may change, and even the tactics and strategies that we as a people may choose to express that it may change, but the mission itself does not change.

So rather than question what our mission as a people should be, we need to question how we make that mission more meaningful and more relevant to generations of Jews to come.  Perhaps a cause can help us derive meaning, and perhaps an entrepreneurial approach can help shape relevance, but we should not mistake either for a reconfigured mission of the Jewish people; they are each tactics to bridge a timeless covenant with a timely need.  Rather, our immutable mission dictates that our priority, regardless of the era and economic environment, must be to explore and encourage new experiences that provide meaning to the covenantal relationship between the Jewish people and G-d.  Our mission, which we have already chosen to accept, is to fulfill our destiny of meaning through individual experiences of meaning.  That is our priority, that must be our goal.

When reading Dr. Sarna’s essay I was reminded of one other phrase used by Howell Baum in his book The Organization of Hope.  In describing two communities in Baltimore (one of which was Jewish), Baum writes that “[c]reating a community of hope depends on building a bridge of transcendence from a community of memory.”  Those powerful words are a gentle reminder that it is not just mission and meaning that are important, but memory matters also.

So with appreciation to Dr. Sarna for raising the question of “where do we go from here,” I respond differently.  Let us not question what our mission is; let us celebrate it by encouraging ways to find meaning within it.  And moreover, let us use those experiences of meaning to build bridges of memory, communities of hopefulness and a people of Israel that can, as Baeck wrote… be.

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Jewish Social Entrepreneurs and the “Right Stuff” – What Is It and Who Has It?

July 21, 2009

In marking the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, it has been hard not to get wrapped up in the nostalgia of America greatest space adventure to date, the Apollo missions and man’s first, and (so far) last steps on the moon. As we look back at that landmark of scientific and human achievement of a man walking on the moon, we cannot help but wonder when we will once again collectively experience a moment of such singular scientific and adventurous achievement. (Note: Just a thought, but maybe next time there is such a singular achievement it will be a woman rather than a man as the “first” of its kind?)

But even more than the amazing stories and visuals of those moments that we store in our collective memory, so much of what we admire about the Apollo missions relates to those who made the missions possible, particularly those astronauts that had the ability to convert promise into action and achievement. Those men that walked on the moon not only had the technical qualifications to participate in one of mankind’s greatest scientific endeavors, but they also had the dedication, stamina and courage to encounter the unencountered, and to boldly experience that which had yet to be experienced.

Those astronauts met the objective and qualifying criteria to be part of their mission, but they also had the intangibles to make their mission a success. Just like the astronauts in the Mercury missions before them, these astronauts had the “right stuff.”

Notwithstanding all of this talk about the moon though, my thoughts have still been squarely about a different group of adventurers here on earth, the cadre of social entrepreneurs that exist and are developing in the broader national and international Jewish community.  To that end, I have had numerous recent conversations with friends and colleagues involved in social entrepreneurship, and it seems that at one point or another we end up debating the “right stuff” in the context of two fundamental questions:

1.    What are the important qualities that social entrepreneurs need to possesses (or alternatively, need to have developed, supported and reinforced) in order to be successful?

2.    What are best strategies to identify and encourage social entrepreneurs who have those desired qualities to actively engage within the Jewish community (however small or large we choose to define that community)?

In other words: when it comes to Jewish social entrepreneurship, what is the “right stuff” and who has it?

Now I didn’t just fall off a lunar lander, and I know that there is substantial dialogue and resources in the Jewish community focused on these very issues. But notwithstanding the increasing number and volume of voices speaking on the topic, much of the organizational infrastructure and literature have not yet caught up with the rapidly changing face of Jewish (and general) social entrepreneurship. For example, we presume to know what skills are needed to successful serve on a board, but what about creating one for an emerging organization?  We presume to know what skills are needed to leverage volunteer leadership to perform conventional volunteer roles, but what about leveraging unconventional partnerships among leaders, professionals and organizations?

We think we know what the right stuff is – but do we? We might think we know who has it – but are we so sure?

Our confidence in our answers to these questions is important because we are making decisions in the Jewish community that require us to have boldness as well as confidence.  Case in point, even while facing increased needs for human services and support of educational infrastructure, the Jewish community is investing, with some risk, in the next (or “now”) generations of social entrepreneurs. This investment is aligned with, not contrary to, our collective focus on addressing broad community needs. But make no mistake, as a community we are more frequently redirecting funds from maintaining tried and true organizations to funding new and unproved entrepreneurs.  In doing so we are rightfully making small and large bets on individuals and organizations, bets that we hope will pay off in ways we can anticipate as well as in ways we can’t yet imagine.

As we make those bets we need to keep in mind a clear (although not uniform) understanding of what the right stuff is, who has it, and how we continue to cultivate it. But we shouldn’t hesitate to bet on the bold and the big ideas, even those longshot ideas that aim for the moon. Because you know what?

With the right stuff, I bet we can get there.

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Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow: Key Questions on Jewish Innovation, Interruption, and Sustainability

June 14, 2009

In preparing for a recent flight to New York for some meetings that included discussions regarding the state of Jewish social innovation, I compiled a stack of recent ‘want to read, but haven’t yet read’ materials on the topic. But much like the rest of life, my best-laid plans were interrupted when I stopped at a newsstand in the airport to pick up the day’s newspaper. There on the shelf was a BusinessWeek headline too hard to ignore: “Innovation, Interrupted: How America’s failure to capitalize on innovation hurt the economy – and what happens next.”

How’s that for serendipity?

So rather than methodically review the stack I compiled, I boarded the plane and dove right into the BusinessWeek article with fascination.  It raises some key observations and questions regarding the last decade of commercial innovation and how the slowdown (or an evening out) of the nation’s innovation curve may have contributed to the current economic environment.  Focusing on the technology and biotech sectors, the article raises the question of whether innovative development really slowed down at all, or whether the barriers to the commercialization of those developments were the true culprits of stymieing innovation.  Certainly these are questions that are equally applicable to social entrepreneurs as well as those in the for-profit sectors.

The second article was the recent white paper titled The Innovation Ecosystem: Emergence of a New Jewish Landscape. The paper, based on the 2008 Survey of New Jewish Organizations, undertaken by Jumpstart, The Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, raises several key findings and recommendations, several of which are precise observations that require much deeper consideration.  In reviewing a landscape of over 300 Jewish start-ups then in operation, the paper provides some compelling statistical information supporting a belief that the Jewish innovation is on a growth curve that reflects the underlying changes in 21st century Jewish life and that leverages developing social media and communications technologies.

Finishing the Jumpstart paper, I couldn’t help but think back to the BusinessWeek article I just read and wondered – Jewish innovation is important and seemingly fast-growing, but how do we ensure that this very important Jewish innovation isn’t interrupted?

Certainly we need to make sure that the question of sustainability is considered and anticipated thoughtfully, and not just by those who are active participants in the innovation ecosystem (or what I have previously referred to as the Zera’im movement).  But even more importantly, we need to make sure that the discussion is substantially outweighed by action. Action in developing Jewish innovators, developing models of financial sustainability, encouraging innovation in underrepresented areas of need (i.e. the Jumpstart survey finds that only 2.9% of Jewish start-ups self-identified as primarily social service organizations; a very small percentage given the size of the need), and reducing barriers for success.

Action should trump discussion, for sure. However, for the action to be meaningful, there needs to be some consideration of key questions raised (in my mind at least) by both by the BusinessWeek article and the Jumpstart paper. I don’t have answers to these questions (and I certainly welcome input from those that do), but I list them below as helpful suggestions for you to talk amongst yourselves. They fall into the categories of What, Who, Where, Why and How?

1.     What? First, we need to ask the tricky question of whether we are investing in true innovation that can have a sustainable impact on Jewish life, or are we investing in very niche areas of Jewish interest that are fashionable but not forward-thinking? Is there a difference?  How we answer these questions may very well determine how well we can develop even greater amounts of investment in Jewish innovation in the coming years.

2.     Who? The Jumpstart paper focuses on the ratio that many innovative efforts are independent entities (80%) as opposed to independently operating subsidiaries of larger organizations (20%).  But the question remains, by motivating innovation outside of established organizations, are we dooming those established organizations to an innovation deficit?  Rather than creating an accretive aspect of Jewish communal life, are we inadvertently creating an abscess that may actually damage it?  How can we balance the locus of innovation so that we get maximum benefit with minimum harm?

3.    Where? Are our existing community-based funding organizations  (as opposed to national foundations) sufficiently focused on funding regional and micro-regional Jewish innovation? The Jumpstart survey reinforces the belief that Jewish innovation  (on a percentage basis of surveyed organizations) is greatest in New York and California (57% of surveyed organizations are located in those two states).  Certainly those states have some of the largest population centers, but how do we create a broader national environment of Jewish innovation in places like St. Louis? Charlotte? Houston?

4.     Why? If so few organizations in the innovation ecosystem are focused on human services, how will we balance the legacy needs of existing infrastructure that primarily focus on servicing those needs; especially when those needs will be rapidly escalating as the baby boom generation shifts into an age where they may more frequently need those services?

5.    How? Assuming we believe that greater investment in Jewish innovation is essential to continuing the maintenance of a strong Jewish community, how do we inspire entrepreneurs to innovate in areas of greatest need?  Is that a fair question?  And if we succeed in motivating a shift of substantial regional and micro-regional investment in innovation (i.e. Federations invest more in innovative initiatives and start-ups as opposed to legacy areas of funding) what are the metrics by which we measure the impact of innovation against the cost? Is it the number of entities? Web-clicks? Participants? Or are there more general longitudinal metrics we need to identify and begin to measure?

As the BusinessWeek article suggests, experiencing a few years of innovation does not necessarily forestall great crisis.  We may all be quick to praise the current state of Jewish innovation (and rightfully so), but not without critically assessing what comes next. Also, pointing to characteristics of previous eras of commercial innovation, the BusinessWeek article notes that “no industrial revolution in the past has been based on a single technology” and points to the combination of railroads, electricity, telephone and telegraph as the fuel of the Industrial Revolution, and the confluence of several technologies in the era of innovation that seemed so dramatic in the 1990s.  Accordingly, innovation in one particular area of Jewish life may not be enough, we may need innovation in lots of areas, including inside existing centers of Jewish life. Otherwise, we may find that our innovation is interrupted and – for a people concerned with its survival –  we need innovation that is sustainable.

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Memo to the (Federation) File: It is time for the “He” to be a “She”

December 15, 2008

This past week I had the unusual opportunity to participate in breakfast briefings with two outstanding professionals that head two important international Jewish organizations. First, I attended a small breakfast with Robert Singer, Director General of World ORT.  Then two days later I was invited to the home of our local Federation president for a breakfast briefing by Moshe Vigdor, the Directory General of the Jewish Agency. Both men are impressive and both men projected skill and confidence even when discussing the immense challenges their respective organizations face in these uncertain economic times.  Reflecting back on both meetings, both educated me about the issues facing international Jewry, and both reminded me of the importance of organizational excellence.  Two meetings, two outstanding men.

But as I look back at the similarities of the meetings, here’s the question that is most on my mind…

What about the women?

I have thought a great deal about this question recently, in part because of my two daughters, but also in part because the absence of women professional leadership in Jewish organizations is conspicuous to those of us who spend a great deal of time in Jewish communal affairs. When I look around my own community in Atlanta I see a substantial number of women in volunteer leadership roles, presidents of federation, schools, the JCC, synagogues and so on.  And I see women in numerous professional roles in those same organizations.  In fact, I see Jewish women in all aspects of Jewish life except in one place…

… at the very top.

I know that I am not the first to notice (or bemoan) this fact, and I have found several resources that have been instructive on shaping my perspective on the matter.  Most substantially, I have found the report “Creating Gender Equity and Organizational Effectiveness in the Jewish Federation System: A Research-and-Action Project” prepared on behalf of Advancing Woman Professionals and the Jewish Community and United Jewish Communities to be a helpful (albeit four-year old) point of reference in my statistical understanding of the issue.

There is a significant amount of research on the question of where women are at in professional Federation leadership, and there even has been some action.  But clearly not enough.

So here is one piece of advice on how to take action, substantial and meaningful action, in addressing the woman deficit in CEO roles at international and national Jewish organizations:

Make sure the next CEO of United Jewish Communities is a woman.

I suggest this knowing full well that some critics might assert that I am proposing status outweigh merit.  That is not the case at all. Especially since I believe that there are several qualified candidates that would have both status AND merit. Focused searches are frequently used to find CEOs that have key attributes that an organization needs, and this case would be no different.  If UJC is serious about taking action to put women leaders in top positions throughout the Federation system (a clear and important need), then the best place to start is at the very top.  That would be action that is well overdue.

Much has been made of the nature and power of women’s philanthropy and the annual Lion of Judah conference held recently in Israel amply showcased way women personify such power and generosity.  But women have more to offer the Federation system than just their dollars and their wisdom in leadership of our volunteer and lay organizations. They also offer skill, perspective and judgment that can lead our professional organizations as well.

The UJC website notes that “Jewish women are setting the standard for creative philanthropic giving and commitment to future generations.”  I could not agree more. But it is time to change website rhetoric into organizational action.  If UJC wants to take a bold step in demonstrating its commitment to future generations of women in the field it will make sure that it sets the standard by selecting a woman as its next professional leader.

It’s time for the “he” to be a “she” – and with all due respect to Robert and Moshe, I look forward to seeing “her” at a breakfast briefing in Atlanta sometime soon.

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(Jewish) Community Organizing: Lessons from the Obama Campaign

December 12, 2008

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the recent election of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States is a momentous event to consider. In a time of dramatic concern by so many, the Obama campaign has given an equal number of people in the world a moment of radical amazement.  There are certainly many lessons to be learned with respect to the Obama campaign in the political context, but the strategies and tactics deployed by the Obama campaign also hold numerous lessons of how we can better organize our Jewish communities.

1.    Positive messages create positive results.  Certainly in 2008 there were numerous negative topics to be discussed, including a war in the Middle East, and a troubled economy at home.  But Obama, while voicing concern about those several topics, nevertheless focused on a message of hope and change. So too must our Jewish community focus on positive messages.  While so much of our Jewish message is framed in the context of “never again,” too little of it is framed in the context of “Yes we can.”  True, there are great challenges facing our community – slowing affiliation, a nuclear Iran and Jewish apathy.  But much is going right as well – and we need a positive message if we expect people to join a positive Jewish campaign for change.

2.    Small contributions count as much as big ones.  Much has been made of the Obama campaign’s record-shattering fundraising.  But what has been remarkable about that effort is how many of the contributors were first-time political contributors and how many made small, but repeated, contributions. Also remarkable was the way Obama’s campaign tapped into the financial power of the netroots community.  Our Jewish community would be wise to quickly learn these fundraising lessons and apply them to our own efforts.  We are missing a tremendous opportunity to engage community members philanthropically in new and different ways – ways successfully deployed by the Obama campaign.

3.    Investment in field operations and social networks matter.   The Obama campaign redefined the power of the ground game in the recent election. Whereas Hillary Clinton focused on the big states with large primaries, Obama also focused on the states that had caucuses, understanding the power of small collections of passionate individuals. By engaging in places big and small, Obama created a network that engaged voters where they were in ways they wanted to be engaged, where in person or online. Sounds like something we would be wise to do with American Jews – meeting Jews where they are, and leveraging emerging social technologies to make those meetings happen.  We need to improve our Jewish ground game, before that game becomes too difficult to win.

4.    Agents of change still need voices of experience. Obama knew that one of his greatest weaknesses was the perception of his inexperience. So what did he do to counter that criticism? He found one of the most experienced senators to serve as his running mate. Rather than fear the influence of a more experienced leader, Obama embraced it. We should apply the same lessons in our Jewish communities.  While we need to embrace the fresh ideas that come from inexperienced Jewish innovators, we need to make sure those innovators embrace the experience and wisdom of our more seasoned leaders.

5.    Words matter. Perhaps the one critical mistake of the Obama campaign was when he commented that voters in Pennsylvania were bitter and cling to their guns and religion.  The Obama campaign credits that moment as a defining one in the campaign – after that episode Obama took a greater role in the campaign and worked to more carefully craft his message.  The care we need to use in choosing words in the Jewish community is no less important. When we refer to the “problem” of intermarriage we would be wiser to describe it as a “challenge.” Just like voters don’t like to be considered bitter, spouses don’t like to consider their marriages problems. If we want to be successful in our campaign for the engagement of more Jews, we should mind our words carefully.

6.    Create multiple paths to success.  Early in the campaign the Obama campaign said they were going to create multiple paths victory, including campaigning in states long ceded to the Republicans. And that is exactly what they did, so that on election night there were multiple ways for the electoral votes to add up in Obama’s favor. If we are wise, the Jewish community will learn from this experience and also focus on strengthening multiple paths to engagement.  If we want the numbers to add up, we need to create new and novel ways of Jewish engagement.

7.   Embrace the complexities of identity.  Obama has a complex racial background, one he embraced and transcended during the campaign. The Jewish people also have a complex background, filled with nuanced and conflicting identities.  Rather than getting mired in identity conflicts, like Obama we need to find common threads that help us transcend our individual insecurities about our identity.  Jewish identity has become a word we struggle to define and often endeavor to avoid. We should embrace the complexities of Jewish identity and perhaps we may find that there will be many more of us to embrace.

8.    Believe.  Obama believed he could win the presidency, and defying all expectations, he did.  People believed in his potential to effect change because it encouraged a belief that change could occur. Perhaps no greater lesson to be learned the Jewish community is the power of belief – belief in one another and belief in our collective ability to make our Jewish community stronger.

So there you have it, eight lessons from the ’08 Obama campaign. Even with these lessons in hand, it is fair to wonder if can we change the way our Jewish community engage individuals with the same level of success the Obama campaign achieved.  The parallels are remarkable – just like the current state of our nation, the current state of American Jewry gives us much for concern, but much more for pride. And while even the greatest challenges may still lie ahead of us, the strength of our Jewish past and the resilience of our Jewish spirit give us much to aspire for our collective Jewish future.

As a Jewish people, can we too achieve our goals?  The answer must be no different that the one boldly spoken by our new president on a clear, and clearly victorious night  – yes we can.

And we must.