By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman
It is actually possible not just to be part of history but to make history happen. That, indeed, is the Jewish mandate in a nutshell (“partners with God in creation,” tikkun olam, and so forth); and if you are reading this article, you surely take that mandate seriously. Why, I ask myself, do I insist on remaining so deeply involved in the Wexner vision, if not because that vision is the insistence on making history happen.
I mean that claim with all due seriousness. What Les Wexner gave us some thirty years ago was more than a Jewish education for adults, more than leadership training and more than just a network of friends and a life-changing experience personally. He offered a vision of a better community, a better country, a better world and a chance to matter by wedding our Jewish identity to the task of bringing all that betterment about. He then created a foundation to make that vision a reality.
Just last year, some 1,500 of us attended a gala celebration of the Foundation’s anniversary, to say “Thank you.” But even as we celebrated the past, we looked to the future and to launch it, we present More Than Managing – a set of short but representative essays from the entire gamut of the Wexner experiment thus far. Read it as a manifesto for the future: an announcement that we can be the makers of a better human destiny.
Jewish organizational life is awash with publications on organizational change and effective leadership, but from mutually exclusive sources: Business and Organizational Studies, on one hand, and Jewish Studies on the other. The former addresses leadership, but not the religious soul. The latter speak from their Jewish soul, but are only secondarily engaged in the academic study of leadership. More than Managing combines the two – and it does so with accessibility as its guiding principle. Essays are short and to the point; carefully edited to provide impact and understanding.
It is, therefore, a unique contribution to the literature on leadership for our time: whether in Israel or in North America – and, for that matter, everywhere else that Jews seek to combine the wisdom of Jewish tradition with insights on leadership in general. From North America, we get titles like, “The Quietly Insistent Jewish Entrepreneur,” “Moral Leadership in Jewish Day Schools” and “Model-Driven or Market Driven: A Lesson From Birthright Israel”; Israeli authors write about “Battling Corruption in a Diverse Democracy,” “The Enduring Leadership of Ben Gurion” and “Gender in the IDF: Promoting Women in a Male Organization.” More general topics include, “Three Eras of Jewish History and Their Leaders” “The Moral Mandate of Community,” “First Plant the Sapling: Beyond Messianic Leadership” and “Purpose, People and Principle: Leadership for the Unnatural Leader.” Leslie Wexner himself weighs in with concluding thoughts on how a business genius, an ardent humanitarian and a committed Jew sees business and religion working in happy collaboration toward a better world for all.
Let me speak personally (I do, after all, know so many of you: I was privileged to have many of you in my classes). I have written and edited more than 40 books by now. But this one stands out, for the breadth of its scope and the depth of its contributors. My own teachers are there – people like Rabbi “Yitz” Greenberg, who pioneered the field of Jewish education for laypeople so many years ago. Then too, I had never before worked so closely with such a diversity of experts: internationally renowned professors of leadership and business, largely at Harvard’s Kennedy School; up-and-coming Israelis who studied here as Wexner Fellows and now lead change in Israel’s complex democracy; Wexner’s Judaic faculty from around the globe; and graduates of its programs who have much to say about realizing the vision in their own remarkable ways.
History happens all the time, but some eras are ripe for more trenchant and far-reaching change; it takes no great genius to see that ours is such a time. Jews need not be objects of history (all too often its victims); we can be history’s molders, its visionaries and its makers. I treasure the Wexner vision because I want nothing less. I am sure you do too. I am proud to offer this book as an invitation to the future.
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, has served for more than three decades as professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He is a world-renowned liturgist and holder of the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair in Liturgy, Worship and Ritual.
His work combines research in Jewish ritual, worship and spirituality with a passion for the spiritual renewal of contemporary Judaism. Rabbi Hoffman co-founded and developed Synagogue 2/3000, a transdenominational project designed to envision and implement the ideal synagogue of the spirit for the twenty-first century.