The Courageous Leader
“Al Chet” Confession List

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By Erica Brown

Last year at this season, I published a confessional for Jewish leaders. This year, in light of Shalom Hartman Institute’s white paper, “Courageous Leadership: The Challenges Facing Jewish Leadership in a Partisan Age,” I’ve created a new list with a few repeats. Feel free to add to the list, circle the issues that you struggle with or share with your board and staff. We create our cultures, and we can do better in the year to come.

A Lay Leadership Confessional

  • For the sin of being overly critical of a Jewish organization or a Jewish leader.
  • For the sin of using social media to attack a policy, speaker or Jewish leader instead of engaging in private conversations.
  • For the sin of not thanking rabbis/Jewish communal leaders/educators enough.
  • For the sin or treating those who serve us as Jewish communal servants rather than professionals.
  • For the sin of being on the phone, texting and posting instead of being fully focused on the sacred work at hand.
  • For the sin of not advocating for an issue because of fear of what others think.
  • For the sin of serving on boards and not showing up, preparing or doing the work.
  • For the sin of not financially supporting Jewish organizations at the heart and soul of a community.
  • For the sin of reducing Jewish communal professionals or organizations to the last mistake they made.
  • For the sin of not believing that organizations can also do teshuva: change leadership, evolve structures and re-shape their missions.
  • For the sin of not forgiving and moving on when disagreeing with an opinion.
  • For the sin of hearing but not listening.
  • For the sin of undermining teachers and administrators in Jewish schools rather than trusting them.
  • For the sin of manufacturing unnecessary drama that will hurt a Jewish organization or its employees.
  • For the sin of engaging in harsh and unremitting political discourse that makes meetings and gatherings partisan and unsafe.
  • For the sin of creating climates in Jewish organizations that discourage Jewish communal professionals from applying for or staying in leadership positions.
  • For the sin of alienating those whose political views on Israel are different.
  • For the sin of believing that big gifts entitle someone to make all the big decisions.
  • For the sin of being too certain.

A Jewish Communal Professional Confessional

  • For the sin of not being courageous about one’s convictions.
  • For the sin of making politics more important than people.
  • For the sin of trash talking donors and volunteers to other employees.
  • For the sin of texting at meetings while pretending to be present.
  • For the sin of caring about Israel too little.
  • For the sin of caring about Israel so much that it prevents the legitimization of other points of view.
  • For the sin of not communicating often enough with lay leaders so they feel valued and informed.
  • For the sin of complimenting only those with power and money and not investing meaningfully in those without power and money.
  • For the sin of not standing up for a colleague attacked or undermined by other colleagues or lay leaders.
  • For the sin of seeing fellow human beings as donors first and people second.
  • For the sin of coasting at work.
  • For the sin of allowing lay leaders with money to have too much decision-making power.
  • For the sin of being overly judgmental.
  • For the sin of forgetting the sacred mission of our work.
  • For the sin of talking about tikkun olam but doing little to advance it.
  • For the sin of not promoting enough women to leadership positions.
  • For the sin of inequity where the top organizational salaries are multiples of the lowest.
  • For the sin of not being grateful enough about a career where meaning matters.
  • For the sin of not knowing enough about Jewish texts, values and traditions to represent a Jewish organization well.
  • For the sin of turning the other cheek when someone complains about harassment.
  • For the sin of office gossip that makes our workplaces toxic.
  • For the sin of too much kvetching.
  • For the sin of being too certain.

These are challenges we can overcome when we think hard about who we want to be and what we want our organizational cultures to be. Reflection helps us fight the urge to ask our leaders to be charismatic saviors instead of taking more accountability for problems. Let this be the year we have great leaders because we have great followers, that we strengthen our leadership pipelines and return the nobility to serving our community. May we all be sealed for good in the Book of Jewish Communal Life.

Dr. Erica Brown is an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at The George Washington University and director of its Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership.