Exploring Challenges Facing the Development of Jewish Leaders

As part of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s investment in Leadership Development through ten grants following an open request for proposals, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is conducting a cross-portfolio research study to understand common outcomes, themes, and strategies in developing Jewish leaders. The Foundation is pleased to share CCL’s literature review exploring this space, excerpted below. Over the next month, leaders in the fields of Jewish education and engagement will share their reflections on this initial research and the questions and challenges related to leadership development.

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On behalf of the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Center for Creative Leadership is conducting a cross-portfolio research study of leadership development in the American Jewish community to support Jewish learning experiences. The Foundation defines Jewish learning experiences broadly as “experiences that draw upon Jewish wisdom, values, practices, culture, traditions and history to engage people in activities that guide them towards living more connected, meaningful and purpose-filled lives.” The primary research questions guiding this study can be paraphrased as follows:

  1. How have Jewish leaders developed through opportunities and learning experiences?
  2. What are best practices for leadership development in the Jewish community?
  3. How can understanding the learning journeys of Jewish leaders and state of the art practices in leadership development inform strategies to achieve greater impact through investment in leadership development in the Jewish community?

This literature review represents our first step to exploring these complex questions by researching the distinguishing features of Jewish leadership and highlighting the current day challenges faced by Jewish leaders.

How to read this literature review

This summarized literature review addresses the first stage of our broader cross-portfolio research study on leadership development in the Jewish community. In this stage, we explore how Jewish leadership discourse developed through works published within the last several decades. This allows us to ground our research in knowledge established by earlier experts. Naturally, this results in the literature review including some content that may seem outdated to contemporary readers; however, there is value in reflecting on how the discourse has changed over time and on how our current historical moment influences our reading of earlier sources. As we revise this literature review through the research process, we intend to include more perspectives by expanding the focus of our review to contemporary media beyond academic and other formally published works. Readers should approach this summary as a brief presentation of what we have seen so far as significant trends in the literature on Jewish leadership, and not necessarily as indicative of what directions our research may take us as we move forward to the next stages.

Our literature review has helped us to ground our research and identify some key themes. In the next stage of our research, we will explore those themes – and discover new ones – through interviews with a diverse range of Jewish leaders. We will also observe several different Jewish leadership development programs and review the latest research and practices in the field of leadership development. Finally, we will explore connections and interrelationships within the Jewish nonprofit sector through network research and analysis. Our literature review was mostly directed toward understanding the past, but the research that follows will seek to understand the present and look toward the possibilities of the future.

Literature Review Summary and Themes

Our literature review identified several themes about the nature of Jewish leadership and the leadership needs of the contemporary Jewish community. It is clear even from classical literature that the heritage of Jewish tradition includes a robust vision for a distinctly Jewish style of leadership.

Although it may not always have been the historical reality, the model of Jewish leadership idealized in the literature is collaborative by design and intentional about circumscribing the authority and power of individuals in order to hold space for a plurality of views. This does not mean that all opinions are met with acceptance or that one opinion will never be elevated to the exclusion of others, nevertheless, the process of learning communally through debate is a cherished Jewish tradition. Furthermore, political or worldly authorities are not necessarily the voices of intellectual or spiritual authority in the eyes of various communities, therefore diversity of thought and practice can naturally be expected.

The competencies for effective Jewish leadership are similar to those needed for leadership anywhere; however, the contemporary contexts and circumstances of Jewish communities are unique, and the most critical leadership needs at this moment are those that will enable Jewish leaders to address the challenges of the day and prepare for the future. The literature and contemporary discourse point to five categories of challenges as highly significant.

You can read the full executive summary about the literature review and themes identified in Jewish leadership development here.