When I began as the new CEO of the University of Florida (UF) Hillel almost a year ago, on July 7, 2014 to be exact, the entire team was brand new. In setting up to begin this new position, a conscious decision was made to start from scratch. A staff of eight was overhauled to an entire new team of only four. On the first day, the team met each other for the first time. We began with a weeklong lockdown (starting at 9 a.m. and ending 11 p.m. each day except Friday) to reimagine the impact UF Hillel could make on students and communities. To begin, I laid down these two remote controls on the table and asked how do these reflect who we are and who we what we want to be:
On the left is the Apple TV remote. With three simple buttons, one can do almost anything within the limits of home entertainment. Movies, television shows, and sports can be easily accessed while volume levels, pause, fast-forward, rewind, and play functions can, without difficulty, be adjusted from the comforts of our homes. Without the need for directions or complex diagrams, its simplicity has made Apple one of the most successful and followed companies of our time.
Next to this ingenious tool is a cable remote. While similar to the Apple product in overall purpose, there are major differences. This particular one has over 40 separate buttons, most of which are never used. Included with the controller are directions to program it and to explain each button’s function. Just in case one has any difficulty with these instructions or the remote’s functionality, there is a cable channel dedicated to answering frequently asked questions.
How do these two seemingly random household items relate to UF Hillel or for that matter Jewish organizations as a whole? Most Jewish organizations are a cable remote. We function and have value, yet we spread ourselves out over too many responsibilities. This division of focus to many, mostly non-essential, “buttons,” makes our purpose complex and often misunderstood. It causes us to lose sight of our target market, to move away from our organizational strengths, and to spend time on unnecessary missions. Thus, our role is to determine our three primary “buttons” in order to become the Apple remote and with it thrive.
The idea to simplify in order to maximize is not original to Apple. In fact, Jewish literature showcases the simplicity of three elements in many instances. Three “buttons” guide a child at a Brit/Bat ceremony to enter into Torah, the wedding canopy, and deeds of loving-kindness. During the Unetaneh Tokef at the High Holy Days, we are reminded that repentance, prayer, and righteousness prevent severe decree. And found within the Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of our Fathers, there are many three-button prompts to engage with Jewish living such as Rabbi Shimon, the son of Gamliel, expressing that the world is supporting by law, truth, and peace.
As we work to build more sustainable Jewish communities by connecting Jews to Judaism, it is crucial for organizations to find their three “buttons.” By focusing on the three things we do well, Jewish organizations can eliminate the redundancies, complexities, and challenges that affect the inspiration of Jews with Jewish living, enhance the connection of Jews to Israel, and extend the prosperity of Jewish communities well beyond tomorrow.
Rabbi Adam Grossman is the CEO of the University of Florida Hillel, who is a past Slingshot Guide Award recipient and part of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders network.