by Ariel Beery and Aharon Horwitz
It is told that in the Beginning, before creation, the Creator realized that for the world to exist, the Creator would have to constrict and provide room for the world to come unto its own. This constriction, or tzimtzum, offered the necessary space for that which was created to contribute to the ongoing well being of the world.
In its study marking its tenth anniversary, Bikkurim – the second-stage Jewish start-up incubator – invoked this concept of tzimtzum in relation to the challenges start-up organizations face and the opportunities available to them when their creators step away and new leaders step up.
Over the past year, PresenTense has also lived this organizational version of tzimtzum, as we, the two co-founders, have engaged in a process that will culminate in our stepping away from professionally leading what we have created. This process, which will involve each of us stepping away from day-to-day leadership and playing a more distant board role, is the most exciting milestone in our journey to date.
In 2007, we wrote in PresenTense’s first business plan:
“Our ultimate goal is to provide a framework for each and every Jew, regardless of their level of communal affiliation or disciplinary training, to contribute their unique spark of creativity to the Jewish People – and to therefore create a thriving and creative Jewish People who are acting as a light unto the nations in their export of inspiring solutions to human challenges.”
We built PresenTense not for us to lead an organization, but because we were inspired by a vision of Jewish people making meaning in a new era of human history.
What we’ve known from Day One, and what we believe others have grown to understand over the past few years, is that PresenTense is not about Ariel Beery and Aharon Horwitz. Rather, PresenTense is about unleashing the energy of thousands, and focusing those energies on upgrading our communities and using them as vehicles to fix the world.
In a few short years, PresenTense volunteers and fellows have worked or volunteered for over a hundred institutions in over two dozen cities around the world. We’ve had the greatest honor to work with 296 fellows, 282 startups, 500 steering committee members, tens of funding partners, board members and mentors, and thousands of other volunteers. The 296 PresenTense Fellows we’ve partnered with have touched hundreds of thousands of others. It is safe to say that PresenTense’s spirit now infuses the centers of Jewish life around the world, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, DC, Cleveland and Moscow. And next year that list will continue to grow.
As founders and individuals still inspired by the mission that began this journey, we remain dedicated to PresenTense’s next stage, even as we step away from professionally leading it. Over the past year Aharon’s responsibilities have been gradually transitioned with great success; while he will soon finish up his professional responsibilities he remains and plans to remain highly involved in teaching, strategy and especially PresenTense’s special work in Jerusalem. Ariel will remain at PresenTense as Global CEO while the hiring and transition period for the new North American leadership is completed. At the appropriate time, Ariel, too, will transition to the role of active board member. As we partner with the next generation of PresenTense’s leadership through the gift of tzimtzum, we thought we would share some of the critical lessons we take away from this process of founder transition:
- What gets you here doesn’t get you there. As anyone who works in business will tell you, the type of person who is able to get something off the ground may not be the right person to take a venture to the next phase. Entrepreneurship is rare, but solid management is no less, and perhaps more, important. PresenTense in 2007 needed leaders who could bootstrap, pivot and experiment until product-market fit. PresenTense in 2012 needs individuals who can innovate within a set of parameters, partnering with a wide range of Jewish organizations and foundations. PresenTense has an entrepreneurial DNA, but it now also needs the patience to sustain and grow what has been built.
- Lifelong leadership is very 20th century. As Mark Charendoff noted when he left JFN, term limits make sense and enable the nimbleness required in today’s rapidly changing world. We should welcome them.
- Community work is service, and service is best done in terms. Let’s not mince words: small to medium sized Jewish organizations are brutally difficult to maintain. Just play fly on the wall: when founders and directors are hanging out away from the conferences and funders, we’re all beaten up. It doesn’t get easier. We believe all startups need infusions of new energy and leadership to maintain momentum.
- Succession Leadership is Good. Legendary Jewish Community leader and mentor of ours, Ralph Goldman, told us the first thing he asks hires is “Who is your successor?” This always struck us as wise. Israel’s leadership, Nurit Tsur and Brachie Sprung, and Shelby Zitelman and Naomi Korb Weiss in North America, along with the rest of PT ’s amazing staff team around the globe are worthy of its mission, and, with the engagement of the ever-gowing PresenTense community, will doubtless take the organization to places its creators could never have dreamed.
We don’t yet have the words to faithfully sum up the years and lessons we’ve learned. Our eyes are forward-focused on where PresenTense is headed. To our friends, team, partners, supporters and community, we look forward to continuing this journey with you, and to experiencing the blossoming of creativity these first seeds have planted.
Ariel Beery and Aharon Horwitz, are the co-Founders of The PresenTense Group.