1st Community Collaboration Forum Draws 140 Rabbis, Staff, Leaders, Community Members

A crowd of more than 140 professional and lay leaders representing St. Louis Jewish agencies, congregations, schools and organizations recently attended “Community Forum on Collaboration”, hosted by Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The purpose was to generate discussions about new opportunities for Jewish entities to work together and create partnerships that build trust and add value for everyone in order to insure a thriving Jewish community.

The keynote speaker was Rabbi Hayim Herring, a Ph. D. in organization and management. He began his address with a video depicting the way in which the world is changing exponentially – with technology as the driver. He said we are living in “the age of the Four A’s: anything, anyone, anytime and anywhere” and said because of this, “we’re on the threshold of a new era that will affect the quality of our thinking about the possibilities of Jewish life today.”

On one hand, our critical need for change reflects the impact of the economic crisis, he said. But on a more fundamental level, we may be able to do more good, more efficiently, through collaborations to advance our organizational missions. “Our leaders and our institutions and organizations must adapt in this environment of the 4As in order to thrive. To do so, organizations must focus on what they do best and collaborate with others for the rest.” First, he said, we should form strategic alliances and he posited a continuum from pooling resources, sharing or joint programming to collaborations, networking, mergers and even reinventions.

Along those lines, Rabbi Herring explained the importance of collaboration versus efficiency to add value. “It’s about downsizing our infrastructure and upsizing our thinking. Not everything,” he stressed, “is about money, however. It’s about how can we use funds better? Collaboration really means creating something better together than an organization can do on its own that over time can provide value. The winners,” he said, “will be those who get out ahead and start distributing information, create more opportunities for leaders to learn about one another, are transparent, use independent facilitation, continue conversations and move toward action.”

To reach this point, the Rabbi said, will require a huge cultural change and a move away from being competitive. “There must be respect. We cannot impose our solutions on the stakeholders and we must sit at the table as equals. We can’t be so fearful that we fail to see solutions. Communities with these desires are those with the best chance of thriving,” he added.

Two speakers from the Cincinnati Jewish Federation, Bob Brandt, vice president, and Sharon Stern, COO, then gave the audience a snapshot of the opportunities, challenges and advantages of successful community collaborations.

Michael Staenberg, chairman of the Jewish Community Center, spoke next about one very successful collaboration in our St. Louis community – the pooling of insurance for Jewish community groups. “This,” he said, “has resulted in cost savings, access to broader choices in benefits programs, more effective administration of plans, higher-quality benefits and no individual rating of employees.” It’s been a win-win for everyone, he added.

Participants broke into discussion groups to brainstorm ideas for new collaborative ideas. Groups included: Congregations, Jewish Learning, Informal Jewish Learning, Social Justice and Community Relations.

Jewish Federation hopes to offer follow up sessions featuring expert speakers. “Our goal is to stimulate formation of local working groups interested in moving forward to explore and create possibilities,” said Barry Rosenberg, Jewish Federation executive vice president.