The other day, after moving to our brand-new renovated offices a few weeks ago (come visit!), we re-installed our wall of photos showcasing all the past JCRC presidents and executive directors, going back to our founding in 1944. I shared an image of the wall with our living past presidents and directors. The responses have been delightful, and prompted me to think about what it means to lead a legacy Jewish organization in a time of disruption and anxiety.
I look at that wall and think about all the changes along the way that have brought us to where we are today. I’m reminded of an essay that Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University delivered in 1994. “A Great Awakening” explored the American Jewish experience, our ongoing renaissance, and in particular, our own revival in the late 19th century. Informed by forces external and internal, this revival was driven by new leaders from a younger generation.
Sarna concluded that for the American Jewish community of our own time, “continuity may depend on discontinuity,” that it was the young and those on the periphery of Jewish life who were most often the drivers of creativity and innovation, and that “over and over again” we’ve “confounded doom and gloom,” often emerging even stronger from the challenges.
I look at that wall and am reminded that JCRC was created as a response to the challenges of an earlier time, as are so many of the legacy organizations of our community. Jewish federations, advocacy groups, human service partners – even some of our congregational denominations – would not exist but for the need to innovate and respond.
I look at that wall and think about the nearly 75 years of work that informs who we are at JCRC today, and the responsibility to look to the next 75.
One of my teachers told me long ago that the Jewish idea of self is one in which we act in the present, but always existing in deep conversation with our past and our future. “And you shall tell your children that we do this, for we were once slaves in Egypt.”
We carry memory of the past across thousands of years into the present. It informs our understanding of our world and our work in it. We also carry in the present our obligation to envision a hopeful future, with directives to ensure that ours is not the last generation. This is the most important mandate we carry through the ages.
At a recent JCRC Officers’ retreat I was asked about my priorities – the things I “lie awake at night” thinking about for JCRC. I told them that what I think about every day is how to make sure we have the tools we need to effectively advance our community’s priorities and values right now in Boston’s public square and civic debate, and equally important, how to ensure that we will be even stronger and continuously relevant for our next generation in 20 years and beyond.
I’m looking at that wall this week and looking ahead to the coming year while thinking about the sheer volume of leadership change that our Boston Jewish community is undergoing, with new directors starting this summer at some of our finest institutions. Several of our most respected and inspiring professionals have announced plans to leave their current roles and some of our most dedicated volunteer leaders are now conducting important searches for their successors.
I am excited by what’s coming next for our community as so many of our institutions individually, and our community collectively, will be building on our legacy while stepping forward to innovate and respond to the challenges ahead. I am looking back with pride for what the Boston Jewish community has become, and ahead with hope for where we will go, and I am honored that we at JCRC are a part of that journey.