Archive Page 2

Benefit Mindset: Yehudah as a Role Model

We live in extraordinary times. Everyone is facing complex challenges they haven’t faced before. From Covid to climate change, mental health to systemic injustice, what’s clear is that no individual or institution can transform these issues on their own. Our ability to respond – and break through to a world that works for all life – requires something more than everyone’s best personal efforts. Bringing about meaningful change requires us to get past the cult of “me” and build a sense of a “we.” We need to align a diversity of contributions and become partners in the wellbeing of all. And our ability to actualize this possibility requires a profound shift in mindset. We need to cultivate a benefit mindset.

Developed by Ash Buchanan in collaboration with a global community of contributors, benefit mindset is grounded in the understanding that fulfilling our potential is about more than how smart, driven or growth oriented we are. More completely, it is about how well we are able to transform how we come to understand our place in the world, compassionately attend to our individual and collective shadows, and become partners in the wellbeing of all people and all living beings. While a growth mindset has many advantages over a fixed mindset ( see Carol Dweck here), what truly makes us thrive is our capacity to realize our potential in a way that nurtures our uniqueness and serves the wellbeing, not only of humans, but the entire community of life.

A benefit mindset builds on a growth mindset, when we understand that our abilities can be developed – and we also understand we can transform towards a more caring, inclusive and interdependent perspective.

While there is more to explore around a Benefit Mindset, I wanted to share it this week as we read Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about Yehudah selflessly stepping forward to save his brother Benjamin. There we read:

Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.

Genesis 44:33

At this point he has no idea that he is standing in front of his brother Yosef who he and his brothers had sold into slavery.

A few week’s ago Yehudah stepped forward to save his brother from fratricide. While Yehudah did save his brother from death, his words are haunting. There we read:

Then Yehudah said to his brothers, “What is the benefit by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed.

Genesis 37: 26-27

Yehudah’s argument to save his brother is to make a buck. They stand to benefit by selling him. Yehudah and his brothers had lost their moral compass, integrity, and identity. This stands in sharp contrast to what we see here when he has the chance to save brother. It is clear that he has nothing to benefit himself stepping forward. Here he steps into leadership by exemplifying this Benefit Mindset. It is not hard to imagine Yehudah standing before Yosef with an open heart and a grounded sense of his identity. At this moment he knows exactly who he is, who they are, and why he must stand up for Benjamin. Yehudah steps forward as am authentically engaged global citizen. In many ways this Benefit Mindset is reciprocated by Yosef who also steps forward to relieve his hidden identity and save his family.

Yehudah is far from perfect, but that itself makes him an ideal role model for the Jewish people. We took his name as ours- Yehudim. We strive to be Benefit Mindset people.

-See other articles on Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset:

Stuck in Traffic: Rethinking Chanukah

What are we celebrating on Chanukah? At the most basic level we commemorate the  Hashmonaim defeating the Greeks and reclaiming the Temple. According to the Rabbis after these Maccabees beat their enemy and rededicated the Temple they found one cruse of pure oil for the Menorah. This oil was enough to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days, which was enough time for them to produce more pure oil. To the Maccabees this miracle was proof that God approved and sanctioned their military efforts. It seems that at its core Chanukah is a victory of Particularism over Universalism. But was it really a fight between the Greeks and Jews or between the Hellenized Jews and religious zealots? Many believe that this was truly a civil war. How might the celebration of Chanukah help us rethink reconciliation after a civil war?

In order to answer this question we should explore the when and where of the commandment to light the Chanukah candles. But before we get to that we need to explore the phenomena of traffic. I happened to have just read a great book on the topic of Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt. It is well worth the read. Vanderbilt points out many things, but one is that we all hate traffic. That is interesting that traffic has such a negative connotation today while it originally was a good thing. The word traffic comes from the Italian traffico (14c.) which comes from from trafficare “carry on trade”. It was only much later (1825) that traffic came to mean “people and vehicles coming and going”. As Vanderbilt writes

It originally referred (and still does) to trade and the movement of goods. That meaning slowly expanded to include the people engaging in that trade and the dealings among people themselves–Shakespeare’s prologue to Romeo and Juliet describes the “traffic of our stage.” It then came to signify the movement itself, as in the “traffic on this road.” At some point, people and things became interchangeable. The movement of goods and people were intertwined in a single enterprise; after all, if one was going somewhere, it was most likely in pursuit of commerce. This is still true today, as most traffic problems occur during the times we are all going to work, but we seem less likely to think of traffic in terms of motion and mobility, as a great river of opportunity, than as something that makes our lives miserable.

Traffic

Traffic jam as a phrase is first recorded much later in 1908, ousting earlier traffic block (1895).

Vanderbilt goes on to define this traffic problem:

We say there is “too much traffic” without exactly knowing what we mean. Are we saying there are too many people? Or that there are not enough roads for the people who are there? Or that there is too much affluence, which has enabled too many people to own cars? One routinely hears of “traffic problems.” But what is a traffic problem? To a traffic engineer, a “traffic problem” might mean that a street is running below capacity. For a parent living on that street, the “traffic problem” could be too many cars, or cars going too fast. For the store owner on that same street, a “traffic problem” might mean there is not enough traffic.

Traffic

At its core the traffic problem is the tension between meeting all of our needs on the road while trying to meet each of our needs. How does the system work best at the same time of me getting mine? This is not easy. Vanderbilt points out that this is not a new issue. He writes:

Blaise Pascal, the renowned seventeenth-century French scientist and philosopher, had perhaps the only foolproof remedy for traffic: Stay home. “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact,” he wrote. “That they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”

Traffic

As Vanderbilt shows, driving is a provocatively revealing prism for examining how our minds work and the ways in which we interact with one another. Ultimately, Traffic is about more than driving: it is about human nature.

With this in mind we turn our mind to Chanukah and more specifically when and where we light the candles. In terms of where? We put them in a way so they can be seen from our windows. In terms of when we learn in the Gemara:

Its observance is from sunset ad sh’tichle regel min a shukuntil there is no wayfarer in the marketplace. Does that not mean that if it goes out [within that period] it must be relit?-No: if one has not yet lit, he must light it; or, in respect of the statutory period.

Shabbat 21a

We take take this to mean that we are trying publicize the miracle of Chanukah. To this ends we put them in the public view at the time when people are passing by our homes.

With Vanderbilt’s insight on Traffic in mind we might come to a deeper understanding of this. We light the candles at the time and in the place where the candles will be seen by and you can see the traffic of people passing by our homes. The way we negotiate traffic is akin to how we might think about reconciliation of civil strife and disagreement. How does the system of roads work best for everyone at the same time of helping me get where I want to go? This is a profound tension in a society between the needs of individuals, small groups, and the majority. Coming to a solution to meet everyone’s needs and desires is never easy. Traffic and Chanukah are about more than driving or miracles: they both give us insight into human nature. We are not just our imaginations of our best selves at home with our families, we are also the same people who are going about along on the road of life. May the light of Chanukah light our path so we can all get along without getting stuck in traffic.

ReDedicated: Chanukah and Culture of Infinite Browsing

Most of us have had this experience: browsing through countless options online, unable to commit to making a choice—and losing so much time skimming reviews and considering trailers that it’s too late to watch anything at all. In his book Dedicated Pete Davis argues that this is the defining characteristic of the moment: keeping our options open. We are stuck in “Infinite Browsing Mode”—swiping through endless dating profiles without committing to a single partner, jumping from place to place searching for the next big thing, and refusing to make any decision that might close us off from an even better choice we imagine is just around the corner. This culture of restlessness and indecision, Davis argues, is causing tension in the lives of young people today: We want to keep our options open, and yet we yearn for the purpose, community, and depth that can only come from making deep commitments.

In Dedicated, Davis examines this quagmire, as well as the counterculture of committers who have made it to the other side. He shares what we can learn from the “long-haul heroes” who courageously commit themselves to particular places, professions, and causes—who relinquish the false freedom of an open future in exchange for the deep fulfillment of true dedication. Weaving together examples from history, personal stories, and applied psychology, Davis’s “insightful without being preachy…guide to commitment should be on everyone’s reading list”

While there are many elements of his book that are interesting to me personally and professionally, I am writing about it today in that this notion of being dedicated is central to the holiday of Chanukah. At the most basic level we commemorate the  Hashmonaim defeating the Greeks and reclaiming the Temple. According to the Rabbis after these Maccabees beat their enemy and rededicated the Temple they found one cruse of pure oil for the Menorah. This oil was enough to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days, which was enough time for them to produce more pure oil. To the Maccabees this miracle was proof that God approved and sanctioned their military efforts. It seems that at its core Chanukah is a victory of their and now our dedication to a common cause.

But if we explore it further would we say that Chanukah was between the Greeks and Jews or between the Hellenized Jews and religious zealots? Many believe that this was truly a civil war. How might the celebration of Chanukah help us rethink reconciliation post civil war?

In our own context we must all acknowledge that there are elements of our lives in which we are dedicated long-haul heroes like the Maccabees and others that we are infinite Brows like the Hellenized Jews. How do we make peace with ourselves, our communities, and our civilization?

I believe there is incredible depth to his observation about this generation as it pertains to one generations fear that the new generation is “anti-Zionist”. Or a younger generation’s anger that we have lost our moral compass. The two generations have pitted themselves against each other seeing themselves as the true Maccabees dedicated to the truth and the others generation missing the point. In Davis’s critique of the Infinite Browsing Mode he discussed three fears: 1) fear of regret 2) fear of association 3) fear of missing out. If we do not deals with these fears we will never get anywhere. This year for Chanukah I rededicate myself to understanding these fears.

Pied Piper: Yosef and Our Children

In 1283, while the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation, a pied piper appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the mayor a solution to their problem with the rats. The mayor, in turn, promised to pay him for the removal of the rats (according to some versions of the story, the promised sum was 1,000 guilders). The piper accepted and played his pipe to lure the rats into the Weser River, where they all drowned.

Despite the piper’s success, the mayor reneged on his promise and refused to pay him the full sum (reputedly reduced to a sum of 50 guilders) even going so far as to blame the piper for bringing the rats himself in an extortion attempt. Enraged, the piper stormed out of the town, vowing to return later to take revenge. On Saint John and Paul‘s day, while the adults were in church, the piper returned dressed in green like a hunter and playing his pipe. In so doing, he attracted the town’s children. One hundred and thirty children followed him out of town and into a cave, killing them. Depending on the version, at most three children remained behind: one was lame and could not follow quickly enough, the second was deaf and therefore could not hear the music, and the last was blind and therefore unable to see where he was going. These three informed the villagers of what had happened when they came out from church.

Other versions relate that the Pied Piper led the children to the top of Koppelberg Hill, where he took them to a beautiful land,or a place called Koppenberg Mountain, or Transylvania, or that he made them walk into the Weser as he did with the rats, and they all drowned. Some versions state that the Piper returned the children after payment, or that he returned the children after the villagers paid several times the original amount of gold. (All taken from Wikipedia)

The notion of the “pied piper” comes from this legend called “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Colloquially when we say Pied Piper we mean someone who is gifted at leading children. It is interesting that something so negative could become so positive. From this story we also have the expression that it is “time to pay the piper”- to mean we have to pay our debts.

Various iterations of this tale appeared in the writings of The Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning. What is most interesting to me how we all ignore the meaning of the piper being pied. He came wearing a multicolored (pied) coat.

I was thinking about this in the context of Vayashev, this week’s Torah portion. There we read of Yakov giving Yosef, his chosen son, a pied jacket. We also see the brother’s discussing the benefit of selling their brother into captivity. Ultimately they need to pay Yosef his due. Yosef, like the pied piper, leads the children of Israel away to Egypt.

I Am Lonely: Mental Health and Covid

Rereading the opening of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik‘s The Lonely Man of Faith is haunting. There we read:

The nature of the dilemma can be stated in a three-word sentence. I am lonely. Let me emphasize, however, that by stating “I am lonely” I do not intend to convey to you the impression that I am alone. I, thank God, do enjoy the love and friendship of many. I meet people, talk, preach, argue, reason; I am surrounded by comrades and acquaintances. And yet, companionship and friendship do not alleviate the passional experience of loneliness which trails me constantly. I am lonely because at times I feel rejected and thrust away by everybody, not excluding my most intimate friends, and the words of the Psalmist, “My father and my mother have forsaken me,” ring quite often in my ears like the plaintive cooing of the turtledove. It is a strange, alas, absurd experience engendering sharp, enervating pain as well as a stimulating, cathartic feeling. I despair because I am lonely and, hence, feel frustrated.

The Lonely Man of Faith

In the rest of his book the Rav goes on to explore the problem of sustaining faith in a predominately secular world. The Rav interprets this disparity as a purposeful paradox essential to human nature. We are perennially torn between powerful secular concerns and the need, no less real, for spiritual fulfillment. True faith, therefore, is not easy, nor was it ever meant to be. All the philosophy not withstanding, his opening words seem prescient to our current experiences.

What does it mean today to say, “I am lonely”? His writing, ” It takes on new meaning in the context of the mental health crises that have come to the surface during Covid 19. We need to mediate on those three words.

According to an New York Times article a few years ago it appears that loneliness is more deadly that smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  We are living during a pandemic of loneliness. It is worth reading that article. While the Rav might have been thinking about philosophy, we need to deal with stark reality that we are lonely and it is hurting us. What can we do?

I was thinking about this this week when reading Vayishlach, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions. Yaakov was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Yaakov’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Yaakov.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Israel, for you have striven with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”

Genesis 32: 24-30

There is much for us to learn in this story. For one, we have to see the experience of being alone and loneliness are real. This story shows that this experience which could easily be dismissed as a psychological state of being is not only real, but that it can easily manifest in physical damage. Only when we realize the gravity of the state of feeling alone can we wrestle with that fact. And finally, for now, even if we prevail in this struggle it does not mean that we are done being alone. There is a problem in our society and there is no quick fix. We all just need to continue to wrestle with it.

Original Pods

As we emerge from Covid I have been thinking about the long term psychological impact of what did to survive this medical ordeal. One of the more interesting thing we did was to pod. The practice of podding involves one or more households getting together in-person regularly at each other’s homes for small educational groups with agreed-upon measures to try and manage COVID-19 exposure risks. Pods are mostly considered for elementary-age children to preserve social benefits and mitigate risk.

I was thinking about podding this week when reading the end of Vayeitzei, this week’s Torah portion. Yaakov is on his way to reconnect with his estranged brother Esav. There we read: When he saw them, Yaakov said, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Machanayim.”  (Genesis 32:2)

The commentators note that the correct grammatical form of multiple camps is machanot, rather than machanayim, and wonder what we can learn from this differing conjugation in the text. Rashi explains that Yaakov uses the word machanayim to signify two different types of camps, one outside the land of Israel and one within it. Others believe it references a “pair of connected camps.”

This foreshadows what we will see in next week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Yaakov was greatly frightened; in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, the other camp may yet escape.

Genesis 32:8-9

So why two camps? In many ways Yaakov was trying to move forward and mitigate his exposure to risk in confronting his brother. In the end his fear of Esav was misguided. It turned out there was no physical risks. It is interesting to see how this division into two camps might have seeded the division between his children and eventually the tribes. Similar to the long term impact of Covid- while podding might save us physically, we need to keep our eye on the our psychological wellbeing.

Limits of Time: Kislev and Happiness

With advent of Kislev I am more aware that winter is coming. It is getting darker and darker earlier and earlier. This reminded me of an extraordinary Gemara. there we read:

When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer. Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

Avodah Zarah 8a
Nautical Dusk by Vitling on Amazon Music - Amazon.com

What would it mean to live a life in which you really believed that the entire world and the sun in sky revolved around your actions? While it seems to be the definition of being omphalocentric, it also makes you live with profound sense of purpose.

While none of us could think that the entire world was there to respond to our good deeds or our sins, many of us approach the world with a profound sense of entitlement. Why do we think that we deserve more sun light? To quote Oliver Twist, what do we deserve “MORE?”.

Ben Zoma taught:

Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is said: “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper” (Psalms 128:2) “You shall be happy” in this world, “and you shall prosper” in the world to come.

Avot 4:1

If we always want more we will never be happy. In many ways we are all in the dark regarding what would actually bring us joy. Maybe we only enjoy what we have when we think we might not keep it for ever. The limits of time seems to be a punishment, but might actually be a blessing.

Equally Good Time

At the beginning of Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion, we learn of Sarah’s passing away. We read:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.( Genesis 23:1-2)

It seems strange that the text does not just say that Sarah was 127 when she died. On this Rashi quotes the Midrash which says:

The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty. (Genesis Rabbah 58:1)

Reaching the end of life makes one reflect about all of life’s stages.

This Midrash reminds me of 7 Years Old by Lukas Graham. Check out the video:

It is worth a reading all the lyrics of this song with the Midrash in mind. But for now I wanted to focus on:

Soon I’ll be 60 years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
Soon I’ll be 60 years old

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
Once I was seven years old

With the passing of time we cycle through our ages, stages, wishes, and aspirations. The wisdom of our elders is that they see the lives that they have lived in hindsight. The beauty of our youth is that we do not know how much we will mess up along the way. It is noteworthy in the song that at the beginning and end of life we are motivated to not be alone. We should approach life with the childlike curiosity of a 7 year-old, the energy and purpose of a 20 year-old, and the well-tempered discipline and wisdom of an 100 year-old. Rashi also comments on the years of the life of Sarah, “All of them equally good.” We should all be blessed to live every stage of life equally full of good deeds and better company.

Tent of Understanding and Patience

How do we respond to existential crisis? I would assume that no two people would respond exactly the same way to the same situation. And I would also assume that the same person would respond differently to different crises.

I was thinking about this question when reading the start of Vayera, this week’s Torah portion. Avraham and Sarah were promised a great nation, and there she finds herself old, menopausal, and childless. We see God looking after Avraham in his tent. Avraham sees three strangers traveling in the desert. He runs to invite them in and host them. Avraham and Sarah meet their needs and go way beyond that. I can only imagine the anguish of Sarah’s life. She thought her life was about having and caring for a child and now she is schvitching getting food ready for these strangers. As it turns out, these travelers were actually angels sent to bring messages. One of these messages is that Sarah was going to have a child. Her response is to laugh. There we read:

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?”

Genesis 18:12

She laughs because it seems absurd that she should be able to have a child. The humor of the situation reveals her patience in light of God’s tardiness in delivering on God’s promise.

It is fascinating to compare Sarah’s response to Lot’s daughters behavior at the end of the Torah portion. Like Sarah they are faced with what they perceive as existential crisis. Their town had been destroyed, mother turned to a pillar of salt, and they find shelter in a cave. There we read:

Lot went up from Zoar and settled in the hill country with his two daughters, for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar; and he and his two daughters lived in a cave. And the older one said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to consort with us in the way of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him, that we may maintain life through our father.” That night they made their father drink wine, and the older one went in and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. The next day the older one said to the younger, “See, I lay with Father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go and lie with him, that we may maintain life through our father.” That night also they made their father drink wine, and the younger one went and lay with him; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. Thus the two daughters of Lot came to be with child by their father.

Genesis 19:18-36

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman wrote, “We are prone to blame decision makers for good decisions that worked out badly and to give them too little credit for successful moves that appear obvious only after the fact.” Lot’s daughters do something horrible, but from their perspective you could appreciate their motivations. They assume that the entire world has been destroyed and they want to save it. How should we judge them for their actions?

Even if I am understanding of their perception, I would say it was horrible. Not only because it was unethical and gross, but because their stance toward time. It seems that no time passes and they are working on a solution to the problem of populating the world. While their issues and Sarah’s are similar, their perception of time is very different. Sarah is patient and Lot’s daughters are impatient and impetuous. It is particularly fascinating to visualize the juxtaposition between Sarah’s tent and Lot’s Daughter cave. How to we react to crises? Do we run to caves or take our time in tents? Do we jump to the wrong conclusion or do we wait too long?

Arabian Desert Tent Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” How do we get out of the case and position ourselves in tents of understanding?

Lessons from the Second City: Rethinking Rebuilding

-written with Stefan Teodosic

On October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s barn on the southwest side of Chicago, Illinois. It soon spread to envelop the entire city. Lasting until the 10th, the fire burned through the heart of Chicago, killing 300 people, and leaving one-third of the city’s population homeless. 150 years ago, while the embers were still smoldering, they started the process of rebuilding Chicago. The destruction was devastating, but it’s the rebuilding of the city that has drawn our attention today. While some rushed to rebuild Chicago the way it had been, others set out to realize a new vision for what Chicago could become. The “Great Rebuilding” was a bold effort to construct a new urban center. 

Michigan Avenue bridge relief in Chicago. The relief called Regeneration depicts workers rebuilding Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; Shutterstock.

Their vision for a new Chicago would include new architecture. The Windy City built skyscrapers with steel and terra cotta. They changed major systems including laying the city out in a grid and making trash alleys to improve their waste removal. They also took care to protect themselves against future fires. To this end, they passed new laws requiring new buildings to be constructed with fireproof masonry and sprinkler systems and people to purchase fire insurance. They also opened an academy to train firemen. 

Accomplishing these things required alignment amongst organizations and partnerships between government, companies, investors and philanthropists. In short order, boosters needed to communicate this opportunity with all stakeholders, including citizens, to move forward on these fresh, transformational ideas for a safer, nicer and more resilient Second City. This new metropolis would become the home to big businesses, innovative buildings and a new style of architecture. 

It has been 150 years, but where is the Jewish community today? We have been dealing with COVID-19 and its variants for over 19 months. Having just finished the holidays, we look forward to the work ahead of us in 5782. In many ways the embers are still smoldering. Are we going to rebuild our community the way it was, or are we going to set out a grand revision for our communities’ “Great Rebuilding”? What lessons can we learn from Chicago?

Just as they did, we have to rise up and meet the moment, make sustainable change and lay the foundation for the future. We must co-create an intentional process to assess the damage, see what should be salvaged, and bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to do an intentional, thoughtful, transformational visioning process. We need to see the blessing in the crisis and not just recreate what we had. Like the boosters that led the rebuilding after the Chicago fire, we need to tell a new story. We need to move beyond the trappings of tradition for its own sake, embrace this opportunity together to identify shared outcomes, and figure out our priorities, strategies and the resources we will need to achieve this vision. We need to create ownership and buy-in at all levels of the community and create partnerships within and across sectors. This coalition of the willing will have to align and seize the opportunity with passion and a unified sense of purpose. 

Just saying it does not make it easy. To do this we will need to be courageous, vulnerable, open and trust divergent perspectives. We will need to explore possibilities for our future with childlike curiosity along with well-tempered discipline to pursue this new venture. And even when we can articulate a shared vision, we will need to follow a methodical change management process. We will need to continue to measure our success and failures against agreed upon outputs and outcomes. And like the fire academy, we must teach the next generation so they are prepared for the next trauma no matter what it might be. We need resiliency in this chaotic world where the only constant is instability. 

While Chicago focused on its buildings, we need to evolve our organizational architecture. How will we rethink our finances, human resources, technology, marketing and communications, governance and training of our professionals and board members? How will we rebuild our communities while prioritizing the mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of individuals? Just as Chicago redrew the lines of how the city was organized, we too need to open up lines of communication and collaboration between different sectors of engagement and education (overnight and day camps, youth groups, schools, congregations etc ), critical mass builders (JFNA, Movements, North American intermediaries like FJC, Prizmah, Hillel, Moishe House etc), funders (philanthropists and local Federations), government and other partners in the Jewish communal ecosystem in North America, Israel and around the world.

We happen to be two Jewish camp guys at heart. While we are always working to add value in our own spaces, we know we each have a limited perspective. If there ever was a time to look beyond ourselves, our assumptions, our individual communities and our own sector – to listen to a diversity of ideas, priorities, experiences and perspectives and share how our work and vision may intersect and impact each other in the broader communal field – it’s now. It is imperative that we lean in and listen to the needs of the Jewish people, not just Jewish institutions. We need to adopt a truly inclusive approach, based in a posture of abundance. We will not be successful if we start with scarcity and judge people based on a current or past level of participation or engagement. All of our voices and our data have to be in this process. If not we could build something thoughtful and intentional, that flat out misses the mark. 

This past Shabbat we read Lech Lecha, in which Avraham and Sarah strike out to innovate and build a new nation. Similarly, this is our chance to do a grand re-envisioning and to imagine a new way to organize and explore Jewish life. Survival is not enough. Rebuilding the way it was or just adapting it is not enough. As we emerge from COVID, we have the opportunity to learn from the Second City, disrupt the status quo, and build a better, more resilient community for the future. What will our community look like in a year? In 10? In 150? 

The two of us may be starting this conversation, but we are hoping that you will continue it. Whether you show up as a Jewish communal professional, an individual community member or a lay leader, your unique voice is integral to weaving the rich tapestry of the Jewish life of tomorrow. If you are interested, please add your voice to this conversation. How might we rebuild Jewish life anew? Introduce yourself, share your thoughts, and identify how you’d like to take part in this process here. We would love to be in conversation. 

Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow (he,him) is the vice president of innovation and education at Foundation for Jewish Camp. He can be reached at avi@jewishcamp.org 

Stefan Teodosic (he,him) was a longtime Jewish camp director/executive director and is the founder of Maverick Soul Consulting, based in Chicago. Maverick Soul provides a trusted, collaborative teammate with corporate experience and a nonprofit soul in the areas of vision, strategic planning and change management. He can be reached at Stefan@mavericksoulconsulting.com  

Reposted from eJp


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 230 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: