By Larry Glickman
Leading a Jewish community can be a daunting task. Whether you lead your community as clergy, professional staff, or lay leadership, we all do our sacred work through different prisms.
We work through the prism of spirituality. The Torah and other teachings of our ancestors guide our communities with holiness and wisdom.
We work through the prism of the history of our community. Every community has experienced its own victories and challenges, and those experiences often inform how the community is led today.
We work through the prism of expertise and best practices. We bring information from our “day jobs,” and we learn from others who do the same work we do. What fresh ideas do they have? What do they do that has worked or failed?
These are all prisms I have looked through repeatedly, first as a synagogue youth group advisor for 10 years, and then an executive director for another 10 years. They are vitally important prisms, and they lend color and perspective to everything we do. Ideally – and hopefully – they result in robust, vibrant temple communities.
Yet with all these prisms, with all of this information to help us in our sacred work, we often fall into the trap of insular behavior. We sincerely believe we know our communities, and we know what will work and will not work. We know the messages of Torah that will resonate with our members, and we know what will be misunderstood or ignored. We know what has worked at our congregation in the past, and we know what has not. We’ve all said, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.”
But since the introduction of The Tent, the Reform Movement’s new communication and collaboration platform website, we’ve seen these prisms expand. We’ve seen light touch all corners of our movement as Jewish leaders go beyond the insular world of their congregations and communities to connect with leaders throughout the entire North American Movement.
The user experience of The Tent feels familiar to the experience of using sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, but unlike those sites, The Tent is dedicated only to the work of leading our sacred communities. Lay and professional leaders can connect and have conversations with each other. Valuable resources can be shared, and vital connections can be made. Through a simple search, users can find the exact people and information that will help them the most.
In The Tent, assistance can come from unexpected places – and new information can help change long-held beliefs and practices. The president of a small congregation in Georgia and the president of a large congregation in Toronto face similar struggles. A new congregational finance chair in Chicago has information from her professional career that will help a youth group advisor in Houston. In The Tent, these leaders can find one another and have conversations that transform their sacred work. Being connected to the larger Jewish community reminds us that we are not alone in the work we do and that there is comfort, strength, and support to be found in the experience and expertise of others.
Already we see that conversations in The Tent are changing the way our congregational leaders do their work. Consider the following examples:
- The audit chair of a small Midwestern congregation asked if anyone had experience with creating an endowment fund foundation, separate from their board of trustees. In less than a day, he heard back from temple administrators and URJ staff offering direction support and insight regarding his question.
- A temple educator wanted to know if any congregations live-stream High Holidays worship with sign language. She was able to connect with congregational leaders across North America who are already engaging in this inclusive practice and who may be able to guide her congregation in doing the same.
- A URJ resource was posted to The Tent about the legalities surrounding video streaming and copyright clearance. With an hour, the resource had been viewed and downloaded by dozens of leaders at congregations both large and small.
- A woman who will be the next president of her congregation wanted to know whether other congregations encourage their members to wear nametags to services. More than a dozen leaders responded to share insights and experiences from their own congregations – and even pictures of how their nametags look.
Leaders throughout the Reform Jewish world are becoming connected to each other in The Tent. They are connecting to new expertise. They are connecting to new people. They are reminding themselves that what they may be experiencing for the first time now has likely been experienced by another leader before. This is not the first time. We are not the only ones.
We hold our prisms in our hands. As we turn them over and over, the light bends and changes, and we see new colors and realize new possibilities. However, sometimes we would be well served to look up from the prisms to which we have become so accustomed. When we do so, we may learn that there are other ways to do things. There may be other ways to lead our sacred communities.
Larry Glickman, FTA, is the director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Knowledge Network.