Sunday, September 25, 2016


It's pretty clear what will happen to you in organized Jewish life if you "get out of line." The organizational  overlords keep clear of all those who are not in their thrall.  Question them, and they tend to get touchy...or worse. Watching this "process" play out, actually experiencing it first-hand, I am reminded of the warning in Pirke Avot:
"Be ye guarded in your relations with the ruling power; for they who exercise it draw no man near to them except for their own interests; appearing as friends when it is to their own advantage, they stand not by a man in his hour of need."
All leaders should make Pirke Avot required reading -- my own beat up Hertz version still bears the inscription: "Presented to Richard Wexler On the Occasion of his Hebrew School Graduation."  (That was 1954 for the inquiring reader!!)

We learn so much from Hillel. 

"Hillel reminds us that learning is not a passive operation. To learn means to be an active participant, listening carefully, asking thoughtful questions, raising considered objections, suggesting creative answers. A passive person who wants his teachers to do the job of learning for him will never succeed as a student."
Too often, in today's communal world, Hillel's admonitions would end with "listening carefully" -- there is no room, in too many places, for "asking thoughtful questions;" no room for "considered objections;" and never room for "suggesting creative answers." In fact, your lay leadership career is in jeopardy too often if you do any of those things.

I am reminded of a JFNA Budget and Finance Committee several years ago where a venerated professional leader, now retired, apparently frustrated with the number of questions being raised by Committee members scolded the lay leadership telling them that the Committee meeting was neither the place nor the time to raise questions (?!). The then Committee Chair agreed and the questions -- all appropriate -- died on the lay leaders' lips.

How many of you have told me in our chats about the Jewish World of the waste of time you find our organizational meetings to be? How many of you have tried so damn hard to make those meetings more relevant, more open, more inclusive only to be frustrated at every turn by a leadership disinterested in those very things, ultimately surrendering the hope for substantive change. (I fondly remember one leader whose idea of change was to seat a Board at meetings around small circular tables -- hoping I guess for more intimacy and printed as real "change.") How many of us have participated in "table discussions" at large meetings, to be told that "we will compile the results and recommendations and incorporate them in our plans and programs" only to never hear anything about them again? And our leaders can't understand the general cynicism that emerges.

Often, I have used these many, many pages to reflect on the reality that if one pushes back too hard, or pushes back publicly on matters of principle, on matters l'shem shamayim, one must be willing to accept the consequences -- ostracism, lech l'azazel, and worse. But if one merely acquiesces on matters of principle because to do otherwise is just "too hard," trust me, it becomes harder and harder to look oneself in the mirror.

Or, may be it doesn't.



Anonymous said...

So is this happening because the professionals encouage it or because we lay leaders are too lazy, too naive or too polite to take the lead and fight for what is right?
The lay leadership should take their place and lead and the professional leadership should be put in their place and follow our elected lay leaders.

paul jeser said...

Anon 9:47: It is not 'OR' but both. An effective and successful Federation is led by a TEAM made up of donors/leaders AND professionals working together.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, 9:47 does not value professional leadership or understand successful communal structures. If anyone should be "put in their place"...

RWEX said...

Yes, the mere thought that professionals in our system anywhere "should be put in their place" is so reprehensible and unacceptable and shocking as it is shameful. All the more so because we have written so much about the need for mutual respect in the lay-professional partnership.

Anonymous said...

Richard, When did you become so polite and defensive of our professionals?
Mutual respect implies a two way street. As long as there are professionals out there - not all certainly, but too mamy - who believe that lay people should only by minimally and superficially involved, not ask questions, not make waves and basically just vote "aye" when needed, then yes, they need to be put in their place!
It is their lack of mutual respect and understanding of the essential role and responsibility of lay leadership that is wrecking the boat!
This is especially evident in our national organization.

Anonymous said...

We once had strong lay leaders who hired strong professionals to work with them to run our organizations.
Now the professionals recruit the lay leaders, often based not upon their ability to lead but rather on their willingness to be lead - by the professionals that recruit them of course!