Before I begin with my somewhat weekly reflection, I want to take the time to make sure that you are all aware of an important upcoming opportunity. This past June, our Federation organized and pulled off a stunning MEGA MISSION to Israel with 240 participants. I’m happy to share that there is another opportunity to visit Israel this April on the Federation’s Israel at 75 Mission. This much shorter trip with a smaller group will feature time in Jerusalem and our Partnership2Gether Region of Karmiel and Misgav. We are planning to meet with a true friend of our Pittsburgh region, Tali Levanon who serves as the head of the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC). ITC was on the ground in Pittsburgh in less than two days following the attack at the Tree of Life Building to help guide us with their vast background and expertise. We will experience Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) as it transitions into Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). We will participate in the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America which will feature some of the most important speakers on worldwide Jewish affairs and Israeli politics. For more information on this opportunity visit jewishpgh.org/mission/israel-at-75-mission.
Now that I have my commercial message out, I want to spend a moment to share some thoughts that occurred to me over these past weeks. While reading last week’s Torah portion, Shemot, I was struck when reading these few lines:
Now Joseph died, as well as all his brothers and all that generation. The children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong, and the land became filled with them. A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Joseph.
On the surface this seems an innocuous excerpt, but as a person who works within the non-profit world, it was striking. What is it that impacted me so profoundly? It is the fact that the Torah makes clear that, while on the one hand the Jewish people had grown and flourished as a group, the leadership to whom they were tied had transitioned and that this transition did not come “educated” or aware of the contributions or importance of that group. That language within the text stating that the new king didn’t know about Joseph and his role with the Jewish people foreshadows what is to come to the Jewish people in Egypt (Passover is coming in just a few months), but more importantly highlights the vital connection between understanding the history of an organization and successfully transitioning to that organization’s future. He lacked that context he needed while ruling the land and therefore the decisions he made without that knowledge would be inherently flawed. It is not that an organization must rely on the past to the exclusion of change or disruption, as that would prohibit advancement and growth. Rather, to move forward regardless of the past, to ignore institutional history, often leads to missteps and fumbles in the search for progress.
Jewish organizations today have similar challenges – how much should we remember the past and how much should we be changing for the future? Sometimes, when we remember the past too much, or perhaps, are stuck in the past, we lose relevance and effectiveness. Sometimes, when we make changes while ignoring the past, we make damaging decisions. This is the difficult thin line which we in the community try to walk as we strive towards adaptive change, evolutionary change that is bought into by the community. While studying with a group of colleagues last week, I learned something interesting about the concept of adaptive change, it rarely comes without angst. In fact, two Harvard professors, Heifetz and Linsky, the gurus of this field wrote that “Leadership is disappointing your people at a rate they can absorb.” For those who liked things as they were, change is unnecessary or too profound, and yet for those who wish to see things run differently, change is often seen as inadequate or too slow. Again, the need to strike a balance of remembering history while adjusting for the future is clear.
I continue to be impressed as our board and our staff work hard to maintain this balance while striving to remain not just relevant, but a true force in the future. As this is my first message in 2023, I hope this year that we can continue to disappoint our community members at a rate they can absorb as we strive to be the best Jewish community in the world.