A few weeks ago, Hal Lewis served as moderator of a Q and A presentation with Steve Nasatir at the JPro Conference. Here is how he opened that session:
Hal is too much the gentleman to criticize any individual; and anyone who would suggest that he was criticizing, let's say, Jerry Silverman, who may have been in the audience that day (and wouldn't have even given Hal's admonition a thought), would be wrong. But Hal should have been critical -- as the spearhead of those amateurs who have been promoted over all reason to the highest positions in what was a noble profession; one to which so many legitimate, qualified professionals might aspire.
"But let us be clear, simply having a part to play in the Jewish future is no guarantee that we will do it well. Too many of our colleagues simply back in to the field of Jewish organizational work without any sense that ours is a profession in which excellence matters. It is not enough to care deeply or to be passionate about your work. To excel in Jewish organizational life today means to affirm both a communal and a deeply personal commitment to productivity, high performance, self-growth, and professional development. In contrast to so many well-regarded professions across this country, ours lacks: a system-wide credential, a commitment to accreditation, a shared body of literature, and a cross-the-board insistence upon continuing education. And so, while I would never excuse, and in fact, I recoil every time I hear someone speak derisively about Jewish communal professionals, we must acknowledge, if only in this room, that there is much we could and should be doing to enhance our profession’s standards and stature in ways that parallel those found in the legal, financial, medical and educational fields."
JFNA sinks under the weight of its own incompetency; and yet its lay leaders seem quite happy. Being invited to speak to the Knesset or reading the script at a Board or Committeemeeting -- that's enough. Yet, we should take this admonition from Hal Lewis to heart: "We want someone who by training, by experience, by vision, by passion has demonstrated a readiness to accept the challenge to make the Jewish community, the Jewish world, a better place."
Or, perhaps, we don't.