Adaptive Measures

Six years ago I was fortunate to have been selected to participate in the Jewish Federations of North America Mandel Executive Development Program. Twenty-four Federation professionals from across North America were selected for the program to help train the “next generation” of Federation CEOs. Our educator/facilitator during the two-year program was Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government faculty member, Marty Linsky. Marty and his colleague, Ron Heifetz, developed the concept of “adaptive leadership” and wrote the book, Leadership on the Line.

Linsky and Heifetz define two types of leadership: “technical leadership” and “adaptive leadership.” Technical leadership is straightforward. You simply use your organization's resources and procedures to make change and to solve current problems. Technical problems are the ones for which the organization already has the answer. Adaptive leadership is having the guts and heart to learn new ways to bring needed deep transformation in an organization. It is about getting people to change what they do, and the way they do things -- the opportunity to dream as never before!

What happens when one begins to create adaptive change? There is resistance…there are naysayers…there are those who hunker down to protect their own personal interests and the status quo…and anecdotal information outweighs hard data. I understand this natural tendency -- people push back when the “familiar” is challenged. It is a threat to what author James O'Toole calls "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom"(one of my favorite quotes). Trust me, I hear it and see it all the time when new/different (some would say heretical) ideas are shared about the Jewish community. Let me say it outright -- I want to challenge our current community’s habits, beliefs and values. Because, right now, our Jewish community is growing, yet I do not believe we are seeing an increase in people engaging in Jewish life.

Now is the time for our Jewish community -- individuals and institutions -- to have the desire and willpower to participate in a process of genuine transformation. An opportunity for us to challenge our assumptions and move beyond the status quo. A process where “everything” is on the table for discussion.

We must focus on why people do and do not participate in Jewish life. We must understand how best to provide safety net services to our most vulnerable. We must enhance both formal and informal Jewish education experiences. We must develop closer relations with Israel and our global Jewish family. We must expand opportunities and create new space for observance and Jewish spirituality. We must evaluate whether our current communal system is sustainable for the long term. And we must be able to answer the questions “Why be Jewish? Why be a part of the Jewish community and the Jewish people? And why does it even matter?”

On Wednesday of this week, the Jewish Federation professional team (an incredible group of 14 professionals committed to excellence and strengthening our Jewish future) began this process at our annual retreat. We discussed a multitude of technical challenges facing the organization, yet focused our attention and energy on the potential adaptive changes for our community. As a team we truly challenged the status quo – our community’s programs, services, loyalties, and ways of thinking.

Tomorrow is my second anniversary (time flies) as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. You have heard me talk about change before. We have “tinkered around the edges.” No longer can we look at our Jewish community through the lens of technical challenges. The time is now for courageous, adaptive leadership and leaders.

I believe it is Federation’s role to lead a communal conversation that will create a Jewish Portland for tomorrow. We will. And YOU will be a part of that process. Together, we will explore opportunities to reimagine Jewish Portland!

You will be reading and hearing more about this in the weeks and months ahead.


Best wishes to Amos Meron, our Israel Shaliach for the past year, who is returning home to Israel. The position was funded through our Community Impact Grant program and Amos was the first Shaliach in Portland in 30 years. His wit, charm, and love for Israel truly enriched the Portland Jewish community. We wish Amos only great success as he returns home to begin law school.

At the same time, please welcome our new Shlicha, Natalie Nahome, who just arrived from Israel on Tuesday. Natalie joined us at our retreat and brought many “outside thoughts” to our discussion. I promise you will enjoy meeting her and we are lucky to have her in Portland for the next year.

Congratulations to our Hood to Coast Relay team. Following the race, I received this email from one of the participants: As one of the Hood to Coast team members, I wanted to express my gratitude for the generous sponsorship from Federation. I have never run the Hood to Coast relay before and found it to be a most amazing experience. It is truly a gift to be able to push yourself to the limits of your physical and psychological endurance.

It was also, on many levels, a very Jewish experience. We said blessings over the candles, homemade challah and wine on Friday evening at Lauren Goldstein’s home. In one of the many hours spent in the van (and there were many), Steven Kahn discussed the week’s Torah portion that centered on themes of justice. I explained our team name (L’chaim – 2 Life – there were 36 legs to the race) to a fellow non-Jewish runner on the Springwater Corridor. Glen Coblens, our fearless leader/coach, demonstrated immense patience and kindness, attributes that I have always considered to be very Jewish.

Thank you again for making this a possibility for our team. I can’t wait to do it again.

Knowing that B’nai B’rith Camp just completed another successful Men’s Camp weekend, I wanted to pass on the following video someone shared with me – a 1976 NBC News report about Men’s Camp, which is truly fun to watch. 

Have a safe and wonderful Labor Day weekend and Shabbat shalom.



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