Barry's Assessment

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I always enjoy learning from others. Thus, I recently watched a video from the annual Jewish Community Centers Association (umbrella organization for JCCs across the country) Annual Meeting in San Diego. During the conference they held a series of JTalks modeled after the popular TED Talks. One of the presenters, Barry Finestone, caught my attention.

Barry Finestone is currently the Executive Director (since 2010) of the wildly successful Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. He did, however, just announce that he will be leaving the JCC this summer to become the Executive Director of the Bay-area Lisa and John Pritzker Family Foundation.

During his 12 minute talk, Barry shared his perspectives from a 20+-year career in Jewish communal leadership and what he sees as the current changes in the Jewish community. I want to share his “pearls of wisdom” with you.

  • Take a leap of faith. Too often people/organizations want “every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed” before moving forward. We are just too afraid to take risks. We focus so much attention on making the “right” decision that we fall into the trap of paralysis. Organizations should understand that we may not always make the “right” decision, but we can certainly work to make every decision right.

  • Meet people where they are. Although this is an often-used social work term, to Barry it was more about physical space. Hillels across the country, for example, understand that it is not about people coming into their building, it is about going to where the students are (dorms, fraternities/sororities, etc.). Barry (and this is coming from a JCC Director) suggests developing “outposts” (I like to call them “connection hubs”) everywhere to engage and connect with people throughout the Jewish community. (One prime example of this model are the multiple Chabad centers in Oregon.)

  • People do not buy what you do – they buy why you do it. This comes straight from Simon Sinek’s TED Talk  (2nd most watched TED Talk of all-time) about truly expressing the “why” of what you do. He created his “Golden Circle” -- three concentric circles – starting from inside out – Why…How…What.

Sinek explains that all organizations know what they do (make a product, serve a need). Most know how they do it (processes, programs, services). But few can fully articulate why (purpose, cause belief, mission) they do it.

Simon shared an example of Apple. Apple makes computers, phones, and music players. Making a product is not very inspiring. Using Simon’s “Golden Circle” you learn that at Apple they believe in challenging the status quo and thinking different (the why). They do this by making beautifully designed products that are easy to use (the how). And, yes, Apple does make computers, phones and music players (the what).

How do we utilize the “Golden Circle” to better explain the “why” in Jewish life and community? Cedar Sinai Park, as one example, makes it so simple – “Observe the 5th Commandment – Honor thy mother and father.” Organizational mission statements read nicely on paper, yet do we do enough to articulate them clearly?

  • In the past, the focus was turning Jews into Americans. Today’s challenge is turning Americans into Jews. Think Pew Study.

  • Talk to the millennials…listen to them…and act upon what they say. The young people of today have important messages for us, yet too often we do not hear (they are not involved nor sitting around decision-making tables) or listen (they are so young, what do they know). We must change that paradigm if we are to plan for the future.

  • In our Jewish organizations…the “Jewish” must be infused in everything we do.

  • People are not disengaged – people are disinterested in what you have to offer. This comment threw me for a loop. Jewish communal jargon often talks in terms of engagement. But, perhaps, Barry is right – many members of our Jewish community have little to no interest in our institutions, programs and services. Do we care? Do we reach out to them? Or just focus on those with interest? A difficult decision due to finite resources.

In the end, his concluding message – Jewish institutions are not in the business of making “better Jews.” We need to get out of the “good Jew/bad Jew business.” Labeling is not helpful. Instead, let’s empower individuals to explore their own Jewish journey and to enhance their Jewish knowledge, connections, and feelings.

What do you think about Barry’s assessment? What are you seeing? And where should we be heading?

Later this month, I will be meeting with a group of CEOs from a variety of Jewish Federations. We have invited Barry to join our group and to participate in a discussion about the Jewish future. I look forward to sharing your thoughts with them and learning more.

While we are all looking forward to our three-day holiday weekend, let’s not forget what the holiday is all about. We salute our fallen American heroes and their families on Memorial Day and thank them for their sacrifices and service to our great country. And thank you to all the service men and women currently serving in the armed forces.

Shabbat Shalom.



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