Structures as if People Matter: A Quick Response to Steven Windmueller

By Bob Hyfler

What ails the structures of the Jewish world is not a question of mission, division of labor or form, nor the absence of leadership. It is the absence of an informed, sustained, multi-generation conversation among the many on our collective challenges and directions. To his credit, Steve Windmueller catalogues many of the right issues but perhaps marginalizes others I think to be of equal or greater importance.

We are too prone to see our future only from the top down and by doing so are in the process to simply recreating a failed system where hasbaraism has replaced a truly honest 21st century engagement with Israel and where our domestic agenda is focused not on the many and diverse hopes and dreams of real Jews as they are but is overwhelmed by foundation funded outreach and continuity initiatives predicated on the thoroughly insulting notion that Diaspora Jews neither care for nor understand what it means to be Jewish.

We therefore must not gloss over the great disparities in income, wealth and life opportunities that mark societies worldwide, and, as it pertains to the Jewish conversation, America and Israel in particular. Nor should we accept as given the legitimacy of great wealth as a requirement of leadership.

How we create local structures responsive to the grass roots and imbued with a radical notion of ideological, gender, generational and class inclusiveness is therefore a primary goal and task that goes beyond the question of who our next generation of gurus might be or who is anointed with what professional or lay title. The structural conversation is one that must aspire to “structures as if people not leaders matter.”

Lastly, It is empirically simplistic to say we live in an age of rampant individualism. The individualistic “sovereign self” idea is, in my mind, rather limited if not outdated. I think we now live in an age of decentralized collectivism, multiple communities, tribes, movements and networks either based virtually or locally and sometimes globally.

Likewise, Jewish identities are not so much idiosyncratic as they are multi faceted. I, for example, am comfortable defining myself as a Zionist Jew, a localist Jew, a globalist Jew, a diasporist Jew and a textualist Jew all at the same time (even before I get into issues of theology and observance) and I can identify communities of Jews that I can connect with in each of these above arenas… It may not be a consultant’s definition of efficiency but it increasingly meets my Jewish needs.

Bob Hyfler has held senior executive and management positions in four communities and one national Jewish agency. He now resides in Livingston, New Jersey. He can be reached at bobhyfler@comcast.net