Innovating In Our Congregations

by Barry Camson

In Talmud study we learn the idea of a hiddush which to me means putting a new spin on an old idea. I thought of this with regard to innovating in our Jewish congregations. If we held a congregation up to the light and turned it slightly, perhaps like a prism a whole new aspect of it would appear yet it would still be a congregation. This is a hiddush.

It seems to me that this is what much of our current commentary is about with regard to our congregations. At a recent UJA-Federation of New York Conference, one of the presenters spoke about the youngest new generation as the “Plurals” and described them as having multiple concurrent identities. How can a monolithic, homogeneous congregation meet the needs of such people? How can we have the same old concept of a congregation yet have it be a many-faceted congregation. Someone else spoke about “meeting the Jews where they are.” Meeting the Plurals where they are could get one’s head spinning. Imagine us turning and turning this old congregation that we are holding up to the light.

What are we seeing in this congregation now held up to the light? Can something be so many different things to so many different people and still maintain a stable identity that can help us non-Plurals feel secure.

In a previous post I spoke about the 70 Faces of a Congregation based on the 70 Faces of Torah in which “every word, indeed, every letter has seventy aspects, or literally, faces.” This perspective gives me great comfort as well as hope. In my ongoing conversations with rabbis from different congregations across the country, I am beginning to learn more and more of these different faces. Each is a hiddush on an old theme. In hearing about each congregation, I imagine our proverbial congregation of old still held up to the light with new worlds opening up as we gaze upon the reflection of light and the insights and beauty that it affords us.

In my work with networks, I speak of the need for a network to breathe in order to be innovative. There must be a cycle just as in breathing. One part of this cycle is a contracting. It is focusing on what is, building harmony in the kehillah, developing skills of caring and relating and trust. It is building a core identity. The other part of this cycle is reaching out, opening our lungs and hearts to learn from many distant types of knowledge: social media, new business models, new marking approaches, countless ways of being together. There is a process of imagination and experimentation as we work to integrate these various worlds in what becomes a particular hiddush. The one constant in all of this is God. I read recently that God is the constant part of all of our networks in a way that provides ongoing stability as we experiment with organizing and relating in many different ways.

Barry Camson helps organizations and people utilize network approaches as a means of achieving their desired purposes in effective and humane ways. He can be reached at BCamson@aol.com