Jewish Organizations as Covenant

By Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

The recent pieces in this publication penned respectively by Doctors Windmueller and Hyfler both help us understand Jewish organizational structures and the taxonomy of the Jewish community as we know it in the latter half of the 20th and early part of the 21st-century.

Windmueller focuses on what kind of changes might take place based on changes in the sociology and demography of our community. Hyfler provides us with the perspective that ordinary people, not leaders, must be key in shaping future forms of Jewish organizational life given the multiple and overlapping identities of Jews today.

I appreciate the catalog provided by Windmueller and the neshama of Hyfler.

The first question to be asked is why have Jewish organizations at all? What is the underlying reason to have this Jewish community? For me, and I think for many, the answer lies in the idea and reality of a covenant. Some may say it is with God… ‘I shall be your God and you shall be my people…’ Others believe it is the mutual covenant of … ‘All Jews are responsible for one another.’

The covenant that we have as Jews with each other is to first serve the needs of the Jewish people. Our mandate also includes using our tradition to repair and advance the world.

We are suffering today in our organizational world, from the cracks in the relationship of American Jews to Israel and Israelis to American Jewry, and contributing to these divisions, is a very long continuum, of ritual observance or non-observance.

Today, as I see it, Jews have too often forgotten that we must love all Jews, with no exception, even if we do not like them or their ways. Without such an underlying covenantal relationship of connection and love, a Brit Kodesh (Holy Covenant) if you will, Jewish organizational forms have meaning only within narrow boundaries.

We know all too well that the world in general views all Jews in the same way when it comes crunch time. We know that our rabbis taught us that our Temples were destroyed because of internal Jewish strife. In our own era we know that the formation of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations was at the impetus of the Eisenhower White House so that they could sort out with which of many Jewish organizations to speak.

I propose that there are covenantal questions to be asked when considering re-organizing segments of the American Jewish community:

1. How do I frame my organization’s mission to respect all Jews, even those with whom I disagree? There used to be something called the Synagogue Council of America where almost all denominations met and worked together. What happened to that spirit?

2. Is the leadership ladder open and inclusive?

Classically our organizational leadership was is built on a model of people being do-ers, donors and door openers. If one exhibited two out of the three they could rise in leadership of the organization.

3. How do I ensure civility in my organization?

In order to create a culture of civility I would suggest the following needs to be in place:

  • Equality of wages by job description.
  • Policies on discrimination and harassment for both staff and leadership.
  • Understanding that successful organizations are a team effort and that there is no “I” in team.

Our covenant commands us to be an “Or l’goyim” a light unto the nations. We need Jewish organizations to help fulfill this promise and to fully activate our responsibility to ourselves and to the world. This is the best time to be living as a Jew which allows each of us realize the full potential of our covenant.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is the Executive Vice Chairman Emeritus of the United Israel Appeal and Past President of the Association of Jewish Communal Organizational Professionals now part of JPro.