Come Together for the Jewish Future: the Leadership Commons

By Mark S. Young

“Come together, right now, over me.”
The Beatles, “Come Together,” Abbey Road, 1969

The Beatles were at their most acrimonious point in the summer of 1969. John was finding a new path with Yoko Ono; Paul sought more control of the group, while the others resisted; George was fed up with only two tracks per record; and Ringo was sick of all the fighting.

But despite the anger and frustration, the Beatles came together to produce one more masterpiece: Abbey Road. The album leads with what you first assume is a pure “John” song: “Come Together.” The lyrics are cryptic, in part inspired by Yoko. But, like many Beatles hits, the original composer was far from the only key contributor. The track includes Paul’s incredibly blunt yet beautifully sung harmonies, the iconic drum introduction that only Ringo could create, and George’s loud yet audibly comforting guitar riffs. The fab four also engaged their favorite collaborators for the album, Billy Preston on piano, and George Martin, their producer, in creating their masterpiece.

The Beatles perhaps knew this would be their last time recording as a band for a while (sadly, as we now know, the last time ever). Yet, they put aside their disputes and differences to come together in their shared common space, the studio, for a common good, making incredible music that continues to inspire generations new and old every day.

There is a lesson here for all of us in Jewish life. Today our community feels fractured. Many scholars in fact state that there is no real unified Jewish community anymore. We are, rather, many different communities – separated by religious movements, organizational movements, geography, demography, and/or differing beliefs and feelings regarding Israel or intermarriage. The bifurcations could be infinite.

Perhaps we have become the Beatles in the summer of 1969. We have a common history and shared past experiences, and we have experienced many triumphs together. Yet we are no longer a functioning group, though the rest of the world sees us that way. We are merely the Pauls, Johns, Georges, and Ringos, heading in different directions. But we can’t afford to simply “break up the band” – it is incumbent upon us to come together to secure a strong and vibrant Jewish future.

It is for this reason that two years ago we launched the Leadership Commons at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of JTS. Our guiding philosophy is that in partnership and collaboration with others from across the spectrum of Jewish life under a common purpose and shared vision, we can overcome the greatest of challenges and make amazing things happen.

We have difficult issues to navigate today, among them:

  • How do we completely transform part-time Jewish education on this continent (congregational schools and other related educational enterprises) from a system of teaching our learners merely to learn how to be Jewish to one of using the richness of Judaism to thrive as human beings?
  • How do we make the Jewish community a model for the rest of society in promoting gender equity and justice, and altering our very concept of what leadership looks like to be more distributive, collaborative, and accessible?
  • How do we advance and sustain diversity and inclusion for all of our learners in Jewish life?
  • How do we sustain and strengthen the institution of Jewish day schools?
  • How do we advance the crucial role of Jewish early childhood education?

How might WE conquer problems that often feel so intractable?

By adhering to the lyric: come together.

The advancement of Jewish education and the achievements of our collective are like achievements in rock ‘n’ roll. One person, entity, or organization can achieve greatness, but none alone unleash the masterpieces that truly transform our society. Separately we are all Johns, Pauls, Georges, and Ringos. We can produce solo projects that are great, yet not as transforming. If we come together under a shared vision, our own studio of experimentation, innovation, and collaboration – and add contributors from outside our normal boundaries – the Billy Prestons as it were, then we truly have masterpieces in the making.

If we may, the Leadership Commons can be the George Martin of this analogy. We may be the occasional player in the band, but our aspiration is to be the producer who brings the band together, helps each band mate find his, her, or their voice and be sure each hears the others’ voices and strengths. We can then identify how we mix our various melodies, harmonies, front beats, and backbeats together to deliver the mind-blowing greatness that can heal divisions and create new systems that sustain our Jewish future and our common goals for generations to come.

Our pressing issues, especially in Jewish education, cannot be fully overcome on our own. While each Beatle did have a successful solo career, I am a Beatle purist. I would argue that any of their solo work isn’t as masterful as it could have been if made as a Beatles record, with true collaboration among all four lads.

When our independent ideas are harnessed with the creative energy of collaboration where diverse voices, skills, and perspectives come together in a common space for a common good, the true magic of innovation and transformative change occurs.

We really believe in this. The Beatles came together one more time in 1969 and then disbanded. If there is one way we can be different, we can come together under a shared vision to realize our common purpose and hopefully stay a band for many more generations.

John’s lyrics in the “Come Together” track include, “One and one and one is three.” I wonder if he got the math wrong. Perhaps one and one and one is much more then three. What we create together can deliver so much more then the sum of its parts.

So join us to come together, discover together, and lead together to make positive change and great things happen for the Jewish community and beyond, creating something truly special.

Mark S. Young is the managing director of the Leadership Commons at the William Davidson School of JTS. You can learn more about the Leadership Commons at www.jtsa.edu/jewish-leadership-training, and check out our new 90-second video.