Knowing and Using our Rich Jewish Tradition

By Cindy Goldstein, Executive Director
The Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development

The visionaries of 45 years ago in both the social work and Jewish communal field, such as Daniel Thursz, brought together secular learning with Jewish learning. Whether the technique was to learn them in distinct settings or integrate one with the other, either way, they recognized then that Jewish communal professionals needed Jewish learning to inform their work in the Jewish community. After all, what would be the difference between a Jewish nonprofit and any other nonprofit organization? Jewish tradition, text and values inform our work and make it holy.

All of us working or volunteering in the Jewish community are doing holy work.  We are making a difference in people’s lives within a Jewish context. In order to do that, we should not be afraid of learning, but let the values and the teachings of the past give us the foundation to be strong leaders. This foundation helps us make decisions, teaches us how we treat others reminds us of the importance of tzedakah and, most of all, inspires us as leaders.

As leaders, both professional and lay, we are the emissaries. If we are knowledgeable about text, tradition, ritual, values, and Israel – and can then in turn teach others around us –  what a blessing. Looking to the past inspires us and helps us to innovate. The Bible, Talmud and related texts have determined meaning and identity for the Jews for centuries. Dr. Erica Brown, scholar and educator, uses text to show us what inspired Biblical leaders to take on a mission or act on a calling and then to look into our own psyche. She teaches us that “inspiration does not just help us recharge our batteries but it is critical in expanding the membership of our organizations, retaining those who are burning out and keeping active members joined to an institution’s core values.”

Our tradition is rich. Look at the and how we use it to “bring the past into the now. In order to fully learn from and appreciate that which went before us, we must bring that past into the present and search for the relevance to our now,” comments Orlee Turitz, Director of the Jewish Leadership Institute of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Professional skill sets and competencies in the Jewish communal field include Jewish literacy. This may entail teaching officers about Jewish history such as DFI’s current Jewish Heritage program , or bringing text study into an organization’s business, or teaching Judaism 101. Part of our responsibility as Jewish leaders, lay and staff, should be to increase our commitment to Jewish literacy.

To take it a step further, Hal Lewis, President and CEO of Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, contends that Jewish leadership is something different. Jewish literacy is not sufficient to guarantee Jewish leadership. True leadership development involves transmission of skills such as coping with change, visioning, motivating people, fostering teamwork, mentoring and risk taking. In teaching all of these skills there is much to be learned from our tradition and it is incumbent upon us to follow in the footsteps of a Daniel Thursz and continue to find ways to meld the “skill” with the “Jewish” and therefore to work “better.”. Our ancestors have so much to teach us, and only when we learn their lessons can we continue our holy work and perpetuate a strong Jewish community for centuries to come.

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Filed under Jewish Learning, Leadership Development

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