Posts Tagged ‘UJC’


Memo to the (Federation) File: The New CEO’s Reading List

July 15, 2009

Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.” – E.P. Whipple

Notwithstanding their often harsh and withering expression of opinion, critics are often the most adoring supporters of substance, especially the written word.  E.P. Whipple, one of the 19th century’s finest literary critics knew this well;  even though he was well acquainted with numerous literary personalities, it was the books he held most dear.

I was recently reminded of Whipple and his famous quotation about books as lighthouses when a friend asked me my opinion of the news of the new CEO at UJC/Federations of North America.  I don’t know the new CEO, nor am I qualified to pass any opinion on the matter.  But I do know that the challenges he faces are great and the opportunities are even greater. And I know that he steps into his role in a time when there are many clouds and the waters are quite choppy.

In other words, no matter his skills as a captain, he could use a few good lighthouses to help guide his way.

So that got me thinking – rather than respond to my friends query with uninformed advice that would  be ephemeral and illuminate very little, I thought I might suggest a few books that could serve as lighthouses to the new CEO.  My list is as follows:

1.   Book of Joshua (Sefer Y’hoshua).  My friend Rabbi Joshua Heller recommended to me that I go back to Joshua (the book, not him) when I was experiencing my own leadership transition, and it was very sage advice. Wandering in the desert is one thing, crossing into the land is another. We are at an important moment of time in Jewish history where we are facing many of the parallels to the Book of Joshua;. a good reading of the book (and commentary) reveals those parallels and much more.

2.   The Roots of the Future by Rabbi Herbert Friedman. Everything old is new again, and this book makes the case that there is a compelling approach to our future that can be borne out of our past.  This book not only covers Herb’s amazing life, but speaks to the importance of the Federation movement and the power embodied in its ideals. Essential reading from an essential life.

3.   Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  I am fond of saying that I am a big fan of H&H, but not the bagels – Herb and Heschel. This book is a perfect compliment to Herb Friedman’s book, if Herb’s is about experience and action, these essay by Heschel are about vision and audacity. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the current state of the Federation movement is we have lost some of the audacity and amazement that were hallmarks of its earlier days. Reading a bit of Heschel can make you believe in the need to bring it back; and we need to believe before we can begin anew.

4.   Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal.  We use language about reimagning organizations, but often what we really need is to reorganize our imaginations. Bolman and Deal provide an important source of knowledge on how we can enhance our organizations and ourselves. Any good leader understands that success is based on choices, and choices that are not only his/her own. The leader of a national Jewish movement needs not only that understanding, but a guide to converting that understanding into action. This book helps.

5.   Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution by Geoffrey Moore. He helped us cross the chasm, and survive inside the tornado, but Moore’s best book is the one where he helps us understand the power of engaging innovation as part of an organizational culture. This book is not the only book the new CEO should read on innovation, but it is a good start (especially Chapter 7 on renewal innovation).

6.   Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Bedside reading for negotiators, this could be one of the handiest books on the list for the new CEO. There will be negotiations aplenty, with donors, local Federations, partners, and governance, and the answer always need to get to “yes.” Negotiations can be adversarial, but if properly constructed they can be incredibly empowering and enriching for both parties –  and we need more enrichment in our local and national discussions. Special attention should be paid to Chapter 4 “Invent Options for Mutual Gain.”

7.    Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson.  Contemporary Jewish America is complex – rooted in Jewish heritage but colored by streaks of frustrating ambivalence. We paint pictures on tapestries of our own design, often using our own colors in painting images found elsewhere in society. In many ways we are like we are a community of talented and challenging artists. So in order to get a better sense of our collective inner Jewish artistry, I suggest reading about Chagall, one of the greatest Jewish artists in history. He is an artist that embodies our times, and Wilson’s book is a wonderful place to start.

8.   Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational Life by Shifra Broznick.  I previously wrote that the next CEO of UJC/Federations of North America should be an outsider and should be a woman. So, although one out of two isn’t bad, we should make no mistake – we still need more women leadership in the senior professional ranks of our movement, and this should be a priority of the new CEO. This book is an important resource, but not nearly as important as the resource we would all have if we had more women CEOs in Jewish communal life.

9.   Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.  The new CEO doesn’t need to Tweet or blog, but he needs to understand those that do. It is a different world than it was a few years ago, and it is constantly changing – our movement’s leadership needs to not only adapt to that change, but to anticipate it as well. Part Two of this book is essential reading for anyone facing and embracing the groundswell.

10.   Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End by Dr. Daniel Gordis. In North America we hold a deep passion for Israel but often struggle to find the right voice to express that passion. Fortunately we have Danny Gordis to help us, and he shares that voice in a serious book for serious times. Our Federation movement needs to continue to reinvorgate American passion for supporting Israel, and its leadership needs to be a bold voice in this effort. On page 216 of the book, Danny writes “the purpose of Israel is to transform the Jews.” I suggest that a primary purpose of the Federation movement is to help in that transformation, and this book is an important resource to aid in that effort.

11.    And one bedtime story…  The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band by Betty Stuchner (a PJ Library Selection for 5 year olds). Between reading books for my own pleasure, I read books we get from PJ Library to my children. This is one of my (and my daughter’s) favorites. Not only does it teach history, but it teaches the power of music and the poetry that is created when many instruments join together in harmony. After reading the stack of books suggested above, a short nighttime story for the CEO would be in order, and this is a perfect choice. Joy, music, song… they are not just the stuff of children’s books, or at least they shouldn’t be. This book is a simple reminder of the music we can all make together in our families and in our communities when we play, and work, together.

So that’s it – ten books and one bedtime story that I have on my (initial) suggested reading list for the new CEO.  I welcome others to join in  (in the comments) with their suggestions – not only for the CEO’s reading list, but our collective education as well.

Few things are more ambitious (or exhausting) than a good, long reading list; and while I hope the CEO spends more time listening and leading, there is no substitute for some good reading.  But lighthouses can only help so much, especially in rocky and choppy waters – so safe reading one and all.


(Not) Waiting for Godot: Five Steps Toward Federation 2.0

May 25, 2009

“ESTRAGON:  (giving up again).  Nothing to be done.

VLADIMIR: (advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.”

Any fan of Samuel Beckett (or individuals with a passing knowledge of theater) will know those lines as the opening lines of “Waiting for Godot,” one of the most intriguing (and debated) plays of the modern era.  Notwithstanding its acclaim and endurance, questions continue to be asked about the message Beckett was trying to convey. Who was Gadot? And in the event he arrived (which he never does), what would happen?

Over the past few weeks the “Godot” question has plagued me, but for a different reason. As the conventional Jewish communal calendar comes to its summer recess, there is still a substantial question raised by many (including me in my previous posts): what is the future of the Federation movement?  For much of the Jewish world, this is a marginal question (at best) and increasingly an irrelevant question (at its most dangerous); but for those who have busied themselves with wondering about this future aloud, there tends to be a recurring and Godot-esque response: “let’s wait and see what the next leadership does when she/he arrives.”

Here is my suggestion: let’s not wait for Godot.

If we are truly in the window of opportunity to reframe and renew one of our most central, enduring, and impactful modern Jewish movements, then we can’t rely merely on the arrival of a professional CEO or the engagement of new volunteer leadership. We need to take significant, broad-ranging and constructive actions (not just budget cuts) to bring Federation 2.0 into being.  And we need lots of participants in this endeavor, participants that are not satisfied waiting for change, but participants who want to create change.

We have not been at such a fundamental inflection point in the Federation movement for decades. Not to slight the many years of merging, restructuring and strategizing, but those were inflection points tied to reorganizing the Federation system. What I am writing of is reimagining the Federation movement. Once the movement is reimagined, we can then begin the process of converting our system to meet the vision of a renewed movement.

However, to look forward, we can use wisdom by looking to our past. At one of the our movement’s great moment of inflection, at the 1969 General Assembly, Rabbi Hillel Levine, then a student, spoke of being part of the “children of timelessness” who nevertheless want to “participate in building the vision of a great Jewish community.”
In what could easily pass as something being heard in 2009, Levine said in 1969 “we don’t want commissions to ‘explore the problems of youth.’”  Rather, he stated, “we do want to convert alienation into participation, acrimony into joy – the joy of being possessors of a great legacy – a legacy which has meaning for today.”

In similar spirit, it is time again to bring forward the great legacy of the Federation movement in America to have relevance today. And we don’t have time to wait. We need to act, and act swiftly.

In personal hindsight, eighteen months ago when I first started circulating the white paper titled Federation 2.0: Reimagining the Federation of Greater Atlanta, I made (at least) two mistakes. One, I relied on thoroughness over brevity, making the action plan too lengthy and detailed to make it actionable. And second, I encouraged talk rather than action. Learning from my experiences I now propose, in brief form, specific action steps for bringing Federation 2.0 into reality and helping us all take possession of the great legacy that awaits us.

1.   Refrain from placing blame about the status of Federation 1.0. There are many who would be quick to compose a laundry list  (privately and publicly) of all those who are to blame for the current state of the Federation system and constituent Federations. Where does that get us?  It is an empty endeavor that does not hasten the development of Federation 2.0, and traffics more in institutional memory than impassioned creativity.  The blame game is destructive and dividing, and our endeavor to move forward is weakened by both. Regardless of how our opinions may differ, our endeavors should be based on kavod and the language we should use with one another should be language worthy of our endeavor. Let’s leave the ‘I and thou’ to Buber and focus on the “we and us” While actions matter, language does as well.

2.    Engage our legacy. How many smart women and men have been engaged in the Federation movement only to eventually find their passion and engagement waning for one reason or another?  Locally and nationally we need to reach out to the disaffected and disenchanted, we need to harness their memory to help create a different future. And not only people, we need to remember some of our texts. Not just religious texts, but communal texts. Levine’s speech, Rabbi Herb Friedman’s book, Heschel’s essays on radical amazement – the history of our movement and the ideas of our people should inspire us to recall our mission even as we reimagine our approach.

3.    Open source our ideas. In the few short years I have been engaged in Jewish communal leadership I have been amazed at the insight and creativity inside of both career social workers and emerging social entrepreneurs. In reimaginging the Federation movement, we cannot engage only those that meet certain experience levels and donor status, we need to engage passionate Jews at in all stages and interests. We need to open up the discussion broadly, energetically, imaginatively, and audaciously. We need to use social media tools, virtual town halls and in-person listening tours we need to move swiftly, but not by being exclusive in our discussions. Yes, there is always a place for focused discussions of our most generous supporters, but as I discussed in the Federation 2.0 white paper, we need to make sure that we do not forget that the base is broader than the pinnacle and our movement is one of many, not few.

4.   Create a national Federation 2.0 working group. This is not just a New York City project, and with apologies, it is not just Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles’ project either. It is not just a “Big City” project and it is not jut an executive committee project. It is a national project. It will require input from Seattle and Savannah, Providence and Pittsburgh.  We will need engaged leaders from all over the nation to commit to a discussion where we frame a national agenda for the Federation movement. This working group is not inside out or outside in, but a true partnership between those inside the system and those outside of it.  An agenda should be set for discourse, but with a goal towards answers. This working group should be self identified immediately, and begin its work immediately, with substantial discussion having occurred by November.

5.    Utilize the 2009 General Assembly as a forum for the debate and adoption of a renewed agenda and approach for the national Federation movement. Forty years have passed since that 1969 GA, and it is time that we engage in a discussion and debate of the magnitude we had then.  UJC should reframe the GA in the context of a great national debate, and rather than recognizing ribbons we should look to rigorously debate a national agenda for our movement. Call it “GA 2009: Reframing, Reimagining, and Renewing our Movement.” Cut the attendance cost and bring people of all backgrounds and ages to be part of the discussion.  Create nationwide conversations during the same days for those that can’t come to Washington (and nationwide plenaries via national teleconferences and webcasts).  Then, at the conclusion of the GA, adopt an agenda and national approach that is bold and imaginative. Create working groups for that agenda to continue the national dialogue and to keep us accountable regarding our approach. And let our movement once again spread across the country energetically from the bottom up, not the top down.

So there you have it, five actionable steps for the development of Federation 2.0. Yes, we still need leadership to arrive and yes, we should have high expectations of her/him.  But we cannot wait for Godot.  As that play ends…

“VLADIMIR: Well, shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, Let’s Go.”

We too must go – go forward.  Who’s ready?


The Federation Movement is Dead; Long Live the Federation Movement

April 20, 2009

Perhaps one of the most frequently heard refrains regarding any existing organization, initiative or program is that “if it didn’t exist, we would need to create it.”  It is spoken in boardrooms and parking lots, by professionals and volunteers alike. It is often said in moments of frustration and defense, and rarely in times of admiration. It is a refrain that often is much more true than false, but is often used falsely in the defense of ideas that have grown stale in a tin breadbox of conviction.

We often say this about our local Federations, the Federation system and United Jewish Communities.  We say, with firm conviction, “if they didn’t exist, we would need to create them.”  We say that the current model of Federations may need to change, but that the need for Federations has not changed. We say that if we can only fix what is broken we can preserve what is of value.

But what if we are wrong?

What if our current model of the Federation system is of a nature that is fundamentally past its prime? What if the effort to adapt our Federation system and reengineer United Jewish Communities exhausts us from using those same energies and intellect to create anew?

We must have the strength to come to a fundamental realization about the state of the Federation Movement as embodied by our current Federation system –

it is dead.

But in its death, it presents an opportunity for it to be reborn.

While the basis of its need still exists, we have long ago outgrown the humble origins of the Federation system. The history of its birth, its growth, and its decline is a great chapter in American Jewry. But it is only a chapter… there must be another.

Now there are those reading this essay that will immediately start defensively listing all of the successes and the triumphs of the last century of federated Jewry. Make no mistake, all of those successes and triumphs are due recognition for their displays of strength and appreciation for their magnificent results. There is no question that this Movement has achieved more that we could have imagined…

but we need to imagine more.

We now, at this moment of unparalleled economic challenge, find ourselves looking at a Movement that has shed much of its “move” and is hand wringing too much about what it has “meant.”  It is a Movement that has been transformed into an establishment that has lost its flexibility to adapt to the times in which it exists. Federation infrastructure has remained a tool that is highly responsive during times of crisis, but is adrift when the crisis abates. The Federation system, no matter how innovative and forward thinking some of its leadership is, nevertheless does not present itself as the vanguard of Jewish innovation.

So in retrospect, as the Movement matured, and in its effort to harness wealth and achieve outcomes, it failed to ignite imaginations.  It turned from organizations created by need into organizations maintained by inertia. The Movement no longer was shaped by visionaries like Herb Friedman, but by committees and quorums.  As the Movement matured, (notwithstanding its financial success), what was once communal became further professionalized and what was once dynamic slowly ossified.

And as the Movement matured, it could not help but begin to grow tired from carrying its own legacy on its back. Even in its age, it was resilient  – the Israel Emergency campaigns proved that – but it nevertheless began to die. Our praise turned to platitudes, our exhortations turned to excuses. And like a modern day Council of the Four Lands, our Movement became more of a spectacle than a success, a gathering of individuals rather than a gathering of ideas.  In the face of ever surmounting challenges, it became a Movement much more focused on reengineering than reimagining.

So now, with Federation after Federation retrenching, reformulating and reducing, the Movement is gasping its last breaths – smothered by a system gasping for air and dollars. Community institutions of philanthropic engagement are morphing into professional centers of philanthropic management.  They have taken the 80/20 rule to its logical and most dangerous extreme and, as a result, engineered the narrowing, not the expansion of the Federation Movement. In many ways, the Federation Movement as we once knew it is dead.

So now we must face the question squarely – if it doesn’t exist, do we need to create it anew?

I think the answer is yes.  And the time to do it is now.


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.


On Jewish Innovation: Social Entrepreneurs and the Framing of the Zera’im Movement

September 9, 2008

On my flight this morning from New York to Atlanta an interesting article in the New York Times caught my attention.  The article, authored by Carl Zimmer, examines the recent scientific debate regarding the impact of the introduction of exotic natural species into existing ecosystems.  Whereas much of the dominant scientific thinking on this topic has been that exotic introductions cause mass extinctions of species that might not have otherwise faced extinction, recent research published by Dov Sax, an ecologist at Brown University, and Steven Gaines, a marine biologist at University of California – Santa Barbara, assert a different conclusion. Summarizing this debate, Zimmer writes:

“Exotic species receive lots of attention and create lots of worry. Some scientists consider biological invasions among the top two or three forces driving species into extinction.  But Dr. Sax, Dr. Gaines and several other researchers argues that attitudes about exotic species are too simplistic. While some invasions are indeed devastating, the often do not set off extinctions. They can even spur the evolution of new diversity.”

Interesting – but what does this have to do with Jewish innovation?

Well, back to why I was on a plane in the first place.  The reason I was up in New York was to attend a daylong consultation on Jewish social entrepreneurship co-hosted by the Lippman Kanfer Institute at JESNA in partnership with United Jewish Communities.  The consult brought together a substantial number of social entrepreneurs, funders (in both the federation and foundation communities) and other individuals who work with, support or encourage social entrepreneurship in the Jewish community.  Filling the large auditorium on the first floor of the Kraft Center at Columbia University and spreading out throughout the building for break-out sessions and side-conversations, the attendees generated the type of energy that is typical when a group of like-minded, passionate Jewish professionals and volunteers come together to frame common questions and seek common solutions. While not everyone involved in the world of Jewish innovation was in the room, a critical mass was there, and it symbolized an important step in the continued development of the Jewish innovation movement.

I choose the word “movement” carefully, and not without thoughtful consideration.  In concurrence with some of the remarks made by the hosts of the consult, I too think it is time we frame not only critical questions about Jewish social entrepreneurship (some of those questions were ably identified by the attendees of the consult’s wrap-up session), but we also need to frame its language as well.  And most importantly we need to thoughtfully consider the movement’s place in the continued evolution of the global Jewish community.  But we should not be limited in the framing what lies ahead, we also need to recognize what is already in front of us – a movement in Jewish life that crosses generations, denominations, languages and nationalities. It is a movement that, like other movements in Jewish history is responding not only to a world of Jewish needs, but is also emblematic of a world of Jewish desires. In its nascent stage, it is a movement that benefits from energy and sometimes suffers from excessive self-importance.  But even with its subtle growing pains, this movement is nonetheless growing rapidly, substantially and importantly.

What do we call this movement of social entrepreneurial diversity?  I admit that I find the term “social entrepreneur” to be one that belies the Jewish essence we need to ascribe to it. And I think that, like other Jewish movements in the past, we must find a name that begins to communicate what its fundamental Jewish conception is about.  Because in naming, we begin to create a common understanding of the Jewish act of creation of which we are collectively partaking.

In the search for a name, we seek the essence of that which we will name – that which it is “really about.”  When I think about the essence of Jewish social entrepreneurship, I think it in terms of a manifestation of the planting of seeds of Jewish innovation in our communities.  Seeds that can be planted inside the framework of existing organizations or in new formal and informal organizations.  Seeds that help grow into the Jewish fruits that nourish our communities, help provide shade for those who need a form of Jewish sheltering and provide the important resources and materials of which our communities are built.  These seed sometimes are planted deliberately in one place, or are planted in another place that is more hospitable than all others. Sometimes those seeds are blown across landscapes, finally rooting in the most unexpected or out-of-the-way places.  Some seeds are nurtured and succeed in their natural form of growth, where as others, because of the adversity of the conditions are not destined to grow much at all, instead yielding to the consequences of natural (or contrived) selection.

So for my own purposes, I have started to refer to the movement of Jewish social innovation as the Zera’im movement.  In my own, admittedly more simplistic understanding, it is representative of the way the seeds of Jewish innovation are spreading and developing and the manner in which they are cultivated and understood.

And like the debate referenced in the New York Times article about the impact of human influence on bio-diversity, I think as the Zera’im movement further develops we will need to struggle with its implications, both positive and negative. Will the diversity of innovation and cross-pollinating strengthen us (presumably) or bring about the death knell for certain longstanding institutions (preferably not)?  We need to recognize that early in this movement’s history, data maybe inconclusive and anecdotal evidence will suffer from a certain degree of personal bias.

Rather than posit my own reasoning on these implications (in order to defer to those with more experienced minds on this topic), I pose five key questions that the members, framers, and students of the Zera’im movement will need to encounter as it expands in size, influence and impact in the Jewish world.

1.    As social entrepreneurs and instigators of Jewish social innovation are more frequently recognized and encouraged in the ‘organized’ Jewish world (and correspondingly receiving a larger share of community resources), how do we make sure the migration of attention, energy and resources don’t result in the diminishment or extinction of existing (and critical) Jewish infrastructure?

2.    While we continue to look outside the Jewish community for comparable community and business models for supporting social innovation, how do we continue to frame and focus the concept of social innovation “in a Jewish context” that grounds the movement in Jewish history, knowledge and ethics?

3.    In recognizing the way social innovators view themselves within their communities, how do we create positive patterns and approaches to community engagement that foster the development of new cadres of innovators who choose to innovate in the Jewish world (whether outside or inside existing institutions)?

4.    Recognizing that we need to recruit a greater number of social innovators to hold volunteer/lay leadership roles within larger institutionalized Jewish organizations, how can we simultaneously educate and train our existing lay leadership (who admittedly do not perceive themselves as social innovators) to engage and embrace these agents of innovation and change?

5.    Without erring on the side of over-institutionalizing the systems of Jewish innovation, how will we nonetheless develop a common set of language, practices and understandings that not only support the expansion of the movement, but also inculcate younger generations of Jews to sustain the Zeraim movement in the future?

Those are some heavy questions, and require some heavy consideration. Bt like any movement, we need to continue to focus on the “move” while keeping an eye on what is “me(a)nt” by it. And events like the JESNA/UJC consult in New York help do both – creating networks in which movement is initiated, while also creating dialogue that helps frame greater understanding of the movement itself.

Similar to the understanding of the challenges of biodiversity (higlighted in the NYT article referenced above), as the seeds of Jewish innovation and the Zera’im movement continue to flourish, we need to continue to marvel at their diversity, while guarding against their unintended negative implications in the Jewish world. Because these seeds are not just the seeds of social entrepreneurs, but also the seeds of our collective belief in a Jewish future… a Jewish future that transcends any one innovator, entrepreneur or movement, but is enriched by them all.


The Search and the Searchers

August 4, 2008

As an involved volunteer in a major-city Federation, the news of the succession planning for next year’s departure of Howard Rieger as CEO of UJC reached me almost as soon as the news was publicly announced. And with that announcement came the simultaneous news that a search committee would be promptly convened to create a seamless transition. Now for much of the Jewish world, this wasn’t news. Howard Rieger was likely not even a name they were familiar with. But for those who are involved with UJC or otherwise pay attention to these sorts of things, this was big news.

The search is on.

The search for what you may ask?  Well, not necessarily the search for a strategic vision – that is already in process.  And not the search for more dollars, for that search is always in process.  This is the search for a new leader that will be able to invigorate both of the aforementioned searches and the organization that houses them. With new leadership comes new opportunities.  Mr. Rieger brought his own brand of each, and the next leader will bring his/her own opportunistic vision.  And given the state of UJC, this is an important time and an important search.

As the search commences, I am reminded of one of my favorite lines in the 1956 John Wayne movie “The Searchers.” In that movie, when getting ready to lead the charge into the Comanche camp, Reverend Clayton (Ward Bond) yells ”Brethern, we must go among them!”

And go among “them” is exactly what the UJC search committee must do.

Who is the “them” I reference? I mean the Jews of North America.  I mean the national and international Jewish leadership. I mean the next generation of professional staff as much as I mean the large-city executive directors. I mean the campaign workers, the donors, the rabbis, the social entrepreneurs, the students, the bloggers and the artists. I mean the highly engaged and the relatively unengaged. The “them” is as broad as the constituencies of our Jewish communities. The “them” is all of us.

But that isn’t the only suggestion I have for the UJC search committee. So in my own small and not so influential way, I have a few suggestions to UJC leadership comprising the search committee.

1.    Look outside the system. I never cease to be amazed by the wealth of excellent community professionals we have in our local and national Jewish communities. And we have some true luminaries. I don’t know most of them, but I read what they right or hear what they say, and they are impressive. Not so impressive that they shouldn’t be challenged or otherwise questioned by volunteer leadership, but nonetheless impressive. They run Federations in large cities and small and they are also the foot soldiers in those communities as well. They have a lot to offer, and like Stephen Hoffman and now Howard Rieger, they bring an insider’s view to an organization rife with insiders.

Butt here’s the rub. When you only look at insiders, you risk the perpetuation of an insider mentality. Such an insider CEO, while adding their own unique vision of a new CEO, never can fully break out of the perspective they gained from the system they rose up in. How many Federation executives started in Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore or Pittsburgh?  How many have passed through those cities on their way to more senior jobs? And how much of the vision of all of these professionals have been developed by similar experiences, challenges and successes?

That’s why we need to look outside. We need to look to executives in the Jewish world (profit and non-profit) who can bring a critical view to the state of UJC and its professional structure, its partnership arrangements and its national brand.  We need to find those visionary leaders that shift paradigms, and I don’t think they are all in the proximate circles of influence at in the UJC network. That is not to say they aren’t in there – they are. But they are outside that network as well. And we need to search for them.

2.    Find a visionary with help from the visionaries. When I was dreaming up my list of dream UJC search committee member it would include innovative business people like Sergey Brin at Google, Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Susan Decker at Yahoo. I would include people like David Lonner at William Morris and Steve Koonin at Turner, each who bring a creative and Jewish perspective to the table (and understands how to manage talent).  I would bring some wonderful rabbinic talent to the table like Robert Wexlerm David Stern, David Saperstein, Sharon Brous at IKAR and Mark Charendoff.   I would bring in some Jewish artists and writers as well – I mean, think about the perspective Michael Chabon and Matisyahu might lend when discussing the creative attributes the CEO of UJC must possess?

Now I don’t know any of those people, but I must believe that somebody somewhere in the UJC system knows each of those individuals. And while UJC might not be able to get them on a search committee, they should at least have the search committee spend some time with those individuals (or those types of individuals) to understand their perspective on leadership and vision, so that the search and be infused with those perspectives. That’s what this search should be about, not just a search for a CEO, a search for a visionary. And if seeking a visionary, doesn’t it make sense to seek help from visionaries?

3.    Transparency. Lastly, the search process should be inclusive, and most importantly, transparent to key stakeholders in the UJC system and the broader Jewish community Any hiring process needs to have elements that are confidential, but UJC is not a private company, so the process need not be too secretive. There needs to be a level of openness in the search process that allows stakeholders in the system (and aren’t we all stakeholders) to understand what UJC is seeking in its CEO and why. Just as the strategic vision of UJC needs to be open and transparent, so should the hiring of its chief visionary. Anything less would reinforce the view some have that UJC is clubby, insular and close-mined.

So let’s hope that the searchers go out among their brethren, seek the visionary leadership we need and be transparent about both.

Then they may truly find what they are searching for – a strong future for UJC, and an equally if not stronger future for our Jewish community.