My Years with Hillel

Where are the Jewish models, best practices, and inspiring stories of social change?

by Tzvi Raviv

Recently, I found myself reading the works of two very different managers, Alfred Sloan and Rick Warren. Alfred Sloan was the head of General Motors from 1937 to 1956. Towards the end of his career, Mr. Sloan published a memoir, My Years with General Motors. In his memoir Sloan presents his views on management and the corporate structure. Even today My Years with General Motors is considered one of the best business books ever written.

The other book I read doesn’t immediately seem like a fit for someone working at a Jewish communal organization. The book is The Purpose Driven Church by Pastor Rick Warren. Mr. Warren is the head of a megachurch in southern California. The book is a how-to guide for how to create a successful congregation. Although Mr. Warren writes for a Christian audience, his lessons are valuable to all mission-driven organizations, regardless of faith and culture.

What drives these two very different men to share their passion and successes with the world? One source of motivation might be altruism, providing others with tools to be as successful as the authors. In the case of Mr. Warren the motivation might also be to promote Christian Evangelicalism.

The bigger question I have is why not enough Jewish professionals take the time to write about their work. Where are the Jewish models, best practices, and inspiring stories of social change? Yes, some of us blog and use social media, but why aren’t Jewish communal servants writing in more formal ways? I am sure that the lack of written work is not because of a shortage of success stories.

It is disappointing for me as a Jewish professional that I must look outside the Jewish world for professional knowledge. I’d much rather learn from senior Jewish leaders’ first-hand accounts of their experiences serving in the Jewish communal sector. Those written works will serve as the foundation for the training of current and future Jewish professionals, writing a roadmap to organizational success for Jewish executives.

As a Hillel professional I will first ask that question of the organization I work for. Some Hillel professionals work on campus for decades, and I imagine those professionals have a story to share. Therefore, I want to raise the question: where is the book My Years with Hillel? Or even the bigger question: where are the books by the iconic leaders of the Jewish community about their work serving the Jewish community? Certainly, there’s no dearth of scholarship coming from Jewish thinkers. But there’s very little written about transformational change and, the examples that do exist are rarely written by the people in the case study. For example, the story of Ralph Goldman’s leadership at the Joint Distribution Committee is told by others. Some write practical books about the work of others without having practical experience themselves.

Maybe the lack of extensive written work may be explained by Thomas Kuhn’s theory about The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Thomas Kuhn wrote that textbooks are rewritten only after a paradigm shift. There are no textbooks on Jewish communal leadership written from the first-hand account of a seasoned Jewish leader, leaving no books to be rewritten. I hope that the world of Jewish communal service is on the verge of a paradigm shift, a shift that will lead to knowledge sharing through case studies and first-hand accounts.

If senior leaders don’t share their successes and failures, we are destined to make the same mistakes over and over again. Finally, Rabbi Tarfon would say, “the day is short, the work is significant.” I believe that my work in the Jewish community is significant and the reward is great, making the world a better place. This task can be better accomplished through learning from each other.

Tzvi Raviv is Director of Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement.