I am proud to call Dr. Hal Lewis a friend. Hal was installed as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's Spertus Institute on February 7 after serving as a Professor there. Hal has taught and lectured widely on Jewish leadership. Among his own roles in Jewish communal leadership, Hal served as the CEO of the Columbus Jewish Federation at a time of change there. At Spertus, Hal, after creating critical programs for communal leaders on leadership, has been called upon to lead a massive, almost revolutionary effort to effect the changes required to revive a vital communal, national and continental institution. He is doing so with the energy of a person half his age and with a vision steeped in Torah and history and...experience. He has accepted a daunting challenge at an age when he could just as easily be sitting with his grandchildren telling them stories of our People. But, that isn't Hal Lewis.
In his Inaugural Address on Super Bowl Sunday 2010 there were so many allusions to our history and inspiring passages. I want to quote Hal, who was speaking about Spertus, but whose references should be bullet points for those charged with leading our communities and the Jewish Federations of North America. Read on:
"...the examples of Yochanan ben Zakkai and those Yavneh sages have much to teach us...It is no secret that we gather here this afternoon, at a time of great uncertainty for this institution. The economy has not been kind to us and the future is fraught with challenge. But we take our from the scholars of Yavneh who understood that times of great upheaval demand a willingness to change, lest we condemn ourselves to obsolescence. Like them, we begin the recognition that, as leadership expert Peter Drucker used to say, 'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.' Today I affirm our intention to invent a new future for Spertus, a future in which the hopes and dreams of yesterday morph into the promise of tomorrow."
Quoting the poet Leonard Cohen, Lewis concluded: "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack, in everything. That's how the light gets in. That's how the light gets in."
My own conclusion is that leaders who try to block the light condemn our communal institutions and JFNA to darkness. As the African proverb says, "When the music changes, so must the dance." Hal Lewis understands that...so I believe does Jerry Silverman -- but if the laity does not...there will only darkness and the music becomes a dirge.