It’s Time to Talk about Leadership

758835By Jina Davidovich

We’ve all seen articles and had conversations about the leadership challenges of the Jewish not-for-profit sector. Yet, despite the prominence of this topic, few opportunities have been provided to ignite a conversation about what the future of the Jewish community requires of its institutions and professionals. Often silo-ed in their own fields, leaders of these organizations seldom have the opportunity to sit together, or with professionals at various levels, to meaningfully explore the critical issues facing the Jewish communal world and discuss their visions for the Jewish future. There is also limited room for this type of strategic thinking with lay leadership, who are significant stakeholders and partners in this enterprise, and who need to play a role in shaping the vision for executive leadership for the next phase of Jewish institutional life. For nascent and seasoned professionals and lay leaders these conversations are essential.

UJA-Federation of New York is addressing this gap. Through a generous contribution from the Himan Brown Charitable Trust, the Wiener Center of the Educational Resources and Organizational Development Department at UJA-Federation is hosting The Jewish Leadership Conference: Shape What’s Next on Wednesday, November 5, 2014. The goal of this full-day conference is, as the title suggests, to ask “what’s next” for the Jewish community and its leadership. How must the community’s leaders best prepare to ensure its continued success and address problems that may prevent it from flourishing? In order to do this, a team of professionals and lay leaders, in partnership with the conference team, curated an audience that represents a diverse cross-section of the Jewish community in New York. This group includes professionals, rabbis, and lay leadership from UJA-Federation’s network agencies, synagogues, day schools, established communal institutions, and “start-ups.” Every person in the room is valuable, and will contribute to the choir of voices that will catalyze at this conference, coming together for the advancement of the Jewish communal field. In addition to those in the room, the broader community will be invited to join the conversation through an interactive livestream which will run from 9:00 – 11:15 a.m.

In advance of the conference, UJA-Federation of New York, in partnership with JHub’s JDOV talks, hosted a taping of six Jewish Leadership Talks in order to explore what lies at the heart of leadership: passion and vision. These talks, which featured a diverse array of prominent leaders from the Jewish communal field – including Stosh Cotler of Bend the Arc, Deborah Joselow of UJA-Federation of New York, Michael Kay of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, Leonard Petlakh of the Kings Bay Y, Joy Sisisky of the Jewish Women’s Foundation, and Alan van Capelle of the Educational Alliance – asked leaders to “give the Jewish leadership talk of their lives.” And did they ever. From Joy Sisisky’s poignant exploration of social activism and global justice as a form of religious expression, to Alan van Capelle’s ode to the essential quality of happiness, both audience and speakers left the room feeling inspired and, as one audience member said, filled with pride in the leadership of her community. Wednesday’s conference will begin and end with two of the talks that have yet to be released.

The conference aims to build on these talks by addressing issues that face this professional field and broader community. Of course, these topics cannot be investigated only by insiders. Often, a different perspective, particularly one which challenges current models of leadership and leads institutions to critically examine their own practices, is necessary. Enter Ori Brafman, The New York Times bestselling author who will begin the conference with an engaging keynote presentation. In Brafman’s books – including The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations and the recently released The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success – he challenges organizations to think of themselves less as hierarchies and more as decentralized networks of individuals that are willing to embrace “contained chaos” in their decisions making processes. This keynote will help Jewish not-for-profit leaders consider these strategies for their own institutions.

Brafman’s keynote, which is sure to shake up current leadership assumptions, will be followed by a conversation facilitated by David Bryfman of the Jewish Education Project. Presenters Sheila Katz, Hindy Poupko, Dana Raucher, and Daniel Septimus will zero in on many of the issues that face the Jewish community and its institutions. The afternoon will provide opportunities for participants to choose from a number of master classes and leadership conversations. This list includes a conversation between Eric Goldstein, UJA-Federation of New York’s newly appointed CEO, and Rabbi Joshua Davidson of Temple Emanu-El on the “first 100 days” of assuming an executive leadership role.

The Jewish Leadership Talks and The Jewish Leadership Conference: Shape What’s Next are the first two programs of a year-long leadership initiative being launched by the Wiener Center. Other programs include the forthcoming Institute for Jewish Executive Leadership, the Ruskay Institute for Jewish Professional Leadership, and High Impact Strategies for Mid-level Management, among others.

Participants in these initiatives must constantly be asking themselves “what’s next” as they gain skills that will enable them to plan for the future of the Jewish community. So on Wednesday, November 5th, let’s come together to talk about leadership. Let’s think about what’s next. But let’s figure out how to be more than clairvoyants, let’s learn how to be builders. Let’s come together to think about what’s now, and shape what will be in the future.

Jina Davidovich is a Program Associate, Educational Resources and Organizational Development, at UJA-Federation of New York.