Chicago: My Kind of Town
Jan 16th 2015

Last month, Rav Baruch and I spent four glorious(read—FREEZING) days at the ReNEWed Jewish Leaders Conference. Seventy-three executive directors and rabbis representing nearly 250,000 Jews affiliated through our synagogues were invited to learn, share practice issues and problem-solve with academics and business leaders. In its fifth year, the program has presented professional Jewish leadership with tools to help facilitate and manage change in their kehillot.

What did we learn? In the opening session, Values Based Action Through Leadership, Harry Kraemer Jr.,former head of Baxter International, a multi-billion dollar global leader in bio-science and medical products, emphasized the importance of understanding ourselves and developing the confidence to accept what we know and what we do not. For leaders and members alike, we must possess sound values as the driver for making good decisions leading to achievable actions. Most important, as we make decisions that affect our communities, is to listen and understand all sides of every story. Harry offered us ways to improve how we parse and see “the forest, the trees and the roots”.

Professor Mohanbir Sawhney, a marketing and digital communications consultant, spoke about Social Media and the Power of the People. In our fast-paced world, marketing is all about quick creation and transmission of the message. Haven’t we all seen how easy it is for a cute home video of a pet cat to “go viral”? He encouraged us to hear what members are thinking about, what makes them happy as well as what we as rabbis and directors can do to enhance the synagogue and Jewish life experience. I welcome you to share your Beth Tzedec experiences with me and with others, either personally or through social media.

Marian Powers, accounting professor from the University of Illinois, ran a session on Financial Management and understanding planning through budgeting. Boy, was it fun to watch a bunch of very smart rabbis scratching their heads! As this has been one of my priorities, I was proud to see that our rabbinic and programing team understands responsible planning and budgeting. At Beth Tzedec, the financial support of our members along with the guidance of the Budget and Finance Committee and the oversight of the Board ensure excellent fiscal accountability.

Professor Bob Duncan, an expert in organizational management, examined Managing Change. We all know how hard it is to change, yet change is inevitable, and for our congregations to succeed, we must do it thoughtfully every day. The synagogue is not only a business; it is a spiritual and family-centred second home. Leadership must be keenly aware of these sensitivities as we plan our future direction. Bob presented his dynamic Strategic Change Cycle model and demonstrated how change demands people constantly and thoroughly communicate, use what they hear to drive planning, create a shared commitment to change, and for all to “pull in the same direction”. He reminded us that a fair and open process has the greatest chance for support and success.

Professor Dipak Jain, from the Institute of Business Administration at the University of Bangkok, discussed Marketing Strategy. As synagogue leaders, we must constantly provide our members with opportunities to create relationships and connections that appeal to their emotional needs—the soul, to offer diverse and high quality programs that appeal to their desires and needs—the body, and to provide programs and services at manageable and defendable prices to appeal to economic needs—the mind. In everything we do, we must constantly listen to what you, the member, wants and find ways to meet your needs.

We used case studies to learn Conflict Resolution and on our last day, Professor Brian Uzzi from the Kellogg School of Management taught about Persuasion and Communication. Having recently spent nearly three weeks on jury duty, I was enthralled as he dissected the movie 12 Angry Men, demonstrating how we can problem-solve by looking through the eyes of others and squeeze out knowledge by understanding their perspective. Professor Uzzi emphasized that especially for values-driven organizations like ours, it is critically important to help people make the right—and not just the most popular—decisions.

Anyone is welcome to drop in to review the resources we received. It was an honour for me and Beth Tzedec to be a part of this impressive group. Thank you for the opportunity.

To make a gift that will strengthen our Synagogue, please contact me at 416-781-3514 ext. 211.