By Betsy Stone, Ph.D.
In December I attended the Jewish Futures Conference, an annual professional conference hosted by The Jewish Education Project. The topic last year was Power – and we were treated to a morning of thoughtful, exciting new ideas. Two speakers, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, authors of New Power, taught us to think of power differently.
Power has historically been vertical – the person at the top has most of the power, and can dispense power at (usually) his will. Power is transferred by birth, money, strength. Power, in the old model, is held tightly.
New power, according to Heimans and Timms, isn’t centralized. In our digital age, power can be acquired simply though effective use of technology and the crowd. People can create their own power. People are more likely to share power. On-line platforms create opportunities for power to move from the control of the few to the control of the many. Think of the impact of the tapes of Eric Garner’s death. “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry, a communal demand for equality and fairness. LeBron James wore it on a warm-up shirt, evidence of power rising from the have-nots to the haves.
Throughout the United States, we are seeing a dramatic drop off in religious affiliation. People just aren’t joining. Liberal Jews are likely to opt for “non-traditional” organizations, like Beloved Brooklyn. These welcoming communities are open to adaptation from within, with a culture that embraces change and shared leadership – or no leadership at all!
What does this mean for the training of clergy? While we have historically trained clergy to adopt a leadership style, is leadership still part of the job? Do Millennials want leaders, or do they expect to share both leadership and power with their clergy? How do we train Rabbis, Cantors, Educators and other Jewish Professionals to work with people who want and expect to have and wield power?
I think the answers to these questions imply a fork in the road for training clergy. Jews may not be looking for leaders who tell us what to do and how to practice. They may be searching for leaderless worship, worship that empowers rather than passive worship.
In my mid-size suburban synagogue, I can see two groups of worshippers: those who want to be led by Rabbi and Cantor, from the bima, and those who want to share in the creation of personal worship. Balancing these needs cannot be the job solely of a Rabbi or a centralized worship committee. For worship to “work” for liberal Millennials, it has to be open to their leadership, their power to create and change. This is the challenge of NEW POWER – are we willing to learn from others, to recognize the power of the crowd, to create the kinds of connection that may diminish the power of the few in deference to new models? Are we able to recognize that those without formal training may have great ideas? Instead of expecting new generations to fit into our older models, can we learn to adapt?
I believe this NEW POWER model may demand a radical shift in the training of Jewish Professionals. It’s time that we focus on the other 6 days – not simply of training Rabbis and Cantors to lead a set worship, but empowering them to follow, support and adapt to the changing needs of Jews and people everywhere. We need to teach these professionals to be nimble and creative, to collaborate and value the knowledge and skills of congregants. We need to help them make short-term connections, as these are the only pathways to lasting relationships. We need to value outreach and inreach – without overvaluing the wealthy and connected. We need to teach our clergy, both those in training and those in the field, how to share power, how to adapt quickly, how to create relationships.
Technology creates enormous cultural changes, changes that far transcend the direct impact of technology. Instead of bemoaning Millennials, let’s learn from them. We all have so much to gain.
Betsy Stone, Ph.D. is a psychologist and educator, living in Stamford CT. She teaches on varied topics, including Gen-Xers as parents, Teen Brains, Teaching for Character Development, and Moments of Change. She is a Grinspoon winner, and has taught at HUC-JIR since 2002, where her classes have included Pastoral Counseling, Spiritual Growth over the Lifespan and Liminal Moments in the lives of Families.