Building Jewish Community

First cohort of Millstone Fellows (13 of the 23 participants)

Building Jewish Community – from professional association to broad-based Jewish leadership development
by Marci Mayer Eisen

Imagine the possibilities… when professionals join together, align resources and work collaboratively toward shared goals.

The vision for local Jewish professional associations is, in fact, a model for the way Jewish communities can effectively support the professionals at Jewish Federation agencies, national and local organizations, congregations and schools. It provides a model for how to work together for the good of the community. Its mission: to offer resources, training and networking opportunities so that the staff from these diverse groups can connect and form relationships. After all, they pursue a common goal: to serve the best interests of their organizations and the community.

Stephen Donshik writes about the three Cs – Coordination, Cooperation and Collaboration, and we can see these buzzwords of today’s nonprofits actually working in our own Jewish community.

When I became project manager of the Professional Excellence Project at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis five years ago, I conducted one-on-one interviews with professionals throughout the Jewish community. Consistent feedback showed the majority of professionals in Jewish organizations felt passionate about their jobs and good about their organizations. They were, however, concerned about collaborations. I recognized the critical component of camaraderie – relationships built on trust and mutual respect. Staff needed to know each other, care about each other and sincerely believe that their own organizations and the community as a whole would benefit from professionals forging stronger bonds with one another.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip Heath & Dan Heath write, “For individuals’ behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds.”

I gained insight on professional development from Brenda Gevertz of JCSA (Jewish Communal Service Assn. of North America), Cindy Goldstein of the Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center (Baltimore), and Lyn Light Geller and June Fortress of the Weiner Educational Center, UJA-Federation of NY. Their perspectives, coupled with my longtime experience as a Jewish community organizer, spurred me to focus on the JPro St. Louis board and utilize the professionals as the leaders for change.

Clearly, the emphasis on engaging and empowering professionals at all levels of the community is what makes the St. Louis program unique. The JProStl board comprises representatives from a broad spectrum of the Jewish community. A board of six representatives in 2008 has grown to one with 18 members in 2012, including officers, committee chairmen and at-large members who work at agencies, organizations, day schools and congregations.

For the past three years, the JProStl annual recognition luncheon, with an original attendance of 65, has drawn more than 300 professionals and lay leaders. JProStl training programs have featured such national trainers as Deborah Grayson Riegel of MyJewishCoach.com, Sarah Gershman of Green Room Speakers, Lisa Colton of Darim Online and Rob Goldberg of Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

In 2011, JProStl and JCSA hosted a conference attended by 180 local participants and 35 attendants from other cities. The conference included a keynote by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of CLAL. A number of local professionals also have been engaged to share their own expertise in communications, collaborations, marketing and strategic planning.

With Jewish learning a priority, JProStl includes high-level study on Jewish ethics in the workplace and holiday lunch & learns for a growing number of staff from other faiths. JProStl provides a yearly new staff orientation and welcome bags for all new staff.

As important as high-level training is, JProStl places equal emphasis on networking and facilitating relationships among professionals. An annual year-end event honors the JProStl board and features interactive games and creative themes.

In 2011, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, in alignment with its strategic plan, extended its investment in leadership development by creating the Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership. While JProStl has created a model for ongoing communication and trust among professionals, it also critically serves as the foundation for expansion into a community-wide effort to cultivate Jewish leadership. In addition to the Millstone Fellows, a diverse group tapped for future leadership, the Millstone Institute’s experimental approach to leadership initiatives focuses on young adults, mid-career women and includes seminars and workshops geared to board members and other community leaders.

As a representative of Jewish community leadership and guided by an active advisory committee, the Millstone Institute seeks outreach and partnership opportunities. We believe that it is important to be engaged with the general St. Louis community. Senior Program Associate Karen Sher and I actively reach out to leaders who are Jewish but not necessarily actively involved with the Jewish community. We have developed formal and informal partnerships with universities and secular leadership programs throughout St. Louis. Our strategy of partnering extends to ongoing communication and idea sharing with national and local Jewish organizations across the country.

We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in just two years through the Millstone Institute. We recognize that our work with volunteer (lay) leaders is only possible because of the energy and shared commitments we have from the professionals at our 50 plus not-for-profit Jewish organizations. Many communities and organizations offer leadership development but fall short in their long-term strategy. Our strategy, a broad-based approach to strengthening the Jewish community through building relationships while providing extensive and wide-ranging training opportunities for staff and volunteers, is working. By investing in local Jewish professionals, the direct “return on investment” yields increased cooperation, coordination and collaboration.

That investment is paying off. We see it when 75 community leaders in St. Louis gather for the new Presidents’ Circle – board presidents, executives and senior clergy, many of whom might not otherwise have considered such interactions. We notice it when 300 professional and lay leaders attend the JProStl recognition event. And, we’re encouraged when the first group of Millstone Fellows complete an eight-month leadership experience, with interest significantly up for the second year.

Both JProStl and the Millstone Institute are the result of a long-term commitment made years ago to unite and support professionals in Jewish organizations. More than a decade ago, then-Jewish Federation CEO Barry Rosenberg secured a significant investment in professional excellence from the Lubin-Green Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Today, that support is the foundation of a community-wide initiative that focuses on professional and volunteer leadership training for long-term impact. As we’ve seen in St. Louis, it’s an investment worth making.

Marci Mayer Eisen is Director of the Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership and staff for JProStl, community-wide initiatives of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.