Cultivating the future of Jewish leadership — through music

In Short

Judaism Alive will support and place 500 young leaders in North American Jewish communities by 2027 through its leadership pipeline.

In the course of visiting countless synagogues, camps and communities throughout North America, I have seen first-hand the growing need for Jewish leadership. I hear story after story from people who have served on their congregational board or clergy search committee lamenting that they couldn’t get an applicant or had to beg someone to come out of retirement to help out the congregation. Camps and synagogues from all over the country regularly call our office asking us to recommend prayer leaders and song leaders so they can continue the sacred tradition of infusing their communities with meaningful prayer and song. In 10 to 15 years, who will be leading us, inspiring us, and informing our spiritual journeys? 

And as the Jewish world reels from the impact of the war in Israel and rapidly rising antisemitism, effective and inspiring Jewish leadership has become more important than ever. Communities across North America are desperately searching for clergy, educators and other Jewish professionals who will lead them now and in the future — and the well is running dry.

Dozens of rabbinical and cantorial positions in North America remain unfilled, and mainstream movement seminaries are graduating fewer and fewer clergy. These traditional routes of leadership placement for Jewish communities are simply unable to meet the demand for high-quality Jewish leadership, putting the sustainability and growth of North American Jewish life at risk. 

To counter this national shortage of inspiring Jewish leaders, Judaism Alive, which oversees the operations of Jewish Star Leadership Initiative, Jewish Rock Radio (JRR), JKids Radio and Songleader Boot Camp national leadership conference, has set an ambitious goal to train and place 500 young leaders throughout North America by 2027.

Judaism Alive provides free leadership training to support teenagers and young adults on their Jewish journeys with hope they will choose to use their talent to impact the Jewish world — as clergy, educators, camp and youth group professionals, song leaders, Israel advocates or lay leaders. 

For philanthropist Michael Staenberg, founder of the Staenberg Family Foundation and a major  supporter of Judaism Alive, Jewish leadership development is an essential goal. “Our community invests a great deal of philanthropy in peak Jewish experiences like Israel trips and Jewish summer camp, which are incredible, but also episodic in that they only last few a few days or a few weeks,” Staenberg says. “The Judaism Alive leadership pipeline provides multi-year support and proven, one-of-a kind mentorship and training methods to keep these young leaders on track to realizing their full potential and committing their talent and energy to our Jewish communities and organizations. We badly need organizations and people that are committed to helping solve the leadership crisis and cultivate the future of Jewish leadership.” 

Judaism Alive’s leadership pipeline consists of four stages. The first stage, the Jewish Star leadership initiative, recruits musically talented teens and young adults, identified by their synagogues, camps, or other communities, and provides them with core leadership skills-training in the form of webinars and small-group mentorship led by nationally renowned Jewish artists and educators.

The second stage of the pipeline is SLBC National Conference, the largest Jewish leadership conference in North America, which provides hands-on training for Jewish leaders of all ages and experience levels. SLBC provides participants of all ages with opportunities to learn strategies and best practices with the top Jewish thought-leaders, educators, and music artists.

The third stage of the pipeline is the promotion of participants through Jewish Rock Radio and JKids Radio, the only 24/7 international Jewish music networks that broadcast Jewish music to tens of thousands of synagogues and households worldwide. JRR and JKids Radio promotional channels ensure an audience for these young leaders. 

The final stage of the pipeline uses Music Leader Match, a free online job hub, to place Judaism Alive program participants in Jewish organizations where they can make an immediate impact. Jewish organizations searching for songleaders, prayer leaders, touring artists for concerts and residencies, and High Holiday leaders post jobs and connect with hundreds of leaders. 

For teens and young adults, Jewish music is the soundtrack of their most profound Jewish experiences and the key ingredient in the formation of their Jewish identities. Jewish music can provide a vital point of entry for young Jews to consider investing their talents in the Jewish world. 

“Through music, we are not only leading our most talented and promising young leaders to the door, but also opening it and giving them the tools, support, and encouragement to walk through and choose to be Jewish leaders,” says Chava Mirel, a nationally touring artist and Jewish Star mentor.

During webinars and mentoring sessions led by successful artists and educators — including Chava and myself, Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, Cantor Abbie Strauss, Joe Buchanan, Eliana Light, Jacob Spike Kraus, Naomi Less, Eric Hunker and Charlie Kramer — participants are taught core leadership skills with applications well beyond music, such as public presentation, marketing, and self-care, as well disability inclusion, gender inclusion and how Israel factors into their leadership.  

As the Jewish world faces unprecedented existential challenges, a perfect storm has formed in part because the Jewish world has not allocated appropriate long-term resources to support thriving leadership development. It’s time we not only recognize the wealth of talented young adults in the Jewish world, but shoulder-tap them early in their trajectories and provide them with multi-year, in-depth leadership training with hopes they will dedicate their talent to become our desperately needed next generation of great Jewish leaders. 

Rick Recht is a 20-year veteran of the contemporary Jewish music scene and the founder and executive director of Judaism Alive, the nonprofit company overseeing the operations of Jewish Star Leadership initiative, Jewish Rock Radio, JKids Radio, MusicLeaderMatch.com and Songleader Boot Camp national leadership training conference.