August 26, 2013
Core Values for Strong 21st-Century Jewish Leadership
There are many different kinds of leaders, different leadership traits, and different processes of leadership. Ultimately, one must be authentic to their values, personality, and social change philosophy. These core principles outlined here helped to motivate me and help me navigate difficult issues where I yearn for better realities.
“[Hillel] used to say… in a place where there are no people, try to be a person of courage” (Pirke Avot 2:5).
Do not always go after the prestigious and cushy position that already has 20 other candidates. Instead, raise your hand to volunteer and lead for the needs that no one else sees or embraces. To lead, one ideally should exist in 4 cognitive and affective realms (empathy, analysis, vision, and action). One must see the big picture emotionally, intellectually, morally, and strategically. Then one must help others see and feel this reality and gently guide them to become part of the solution.
2. Be willing and able to stand alone but also to build a base
“As long as one is but an ordinary scholar, he has no concern with the congregation and is not punished [for its lapses], but as soon as he is appointed head and dons the cloak [of leadership], he must no longer say, ‘I live for my own benefit, I care not about the congregation,’ but the whole burden of the community is on his shoulders. If he sees a man causing suffering to another, or transgressing, and does not prevent him, then he is held punishable” (Shemot Rabbah 27:9).
Be ready to stand up (even alone) for the needs of the other. Ultimately to succeed though, one generally needs a strong base of committed “followers” who are also prepared to sacrifice to create real change.
3. Be prepared to sacrifice some level of personal comfort for the greater good
Jewish leadership in the 21st century requires commitment to a handful of values and Jewish core competencies. There is a lot at stake as we work to improve our communities, support the vulnerable, and create more just societies. We must raise the bar holding ourselves to higher standards in our leadership to ensure we move from good intentions to effective moral consequences. The process of our leadership should unite more than alienate and inspire more than burn out.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”