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Pinchus: July 7, 2018

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom


There is a story told by Stephen Covey about a battleship making its way in dense fog out on the ocean. A lookout has been posted on the bow of the ship to make sure that the way is clear. Suddenly the lookout calls, “There is a light ahead!” This means that they are in danger of a collision. “Where is the light?” asks the captain. “Dead ahead” cries the lookout. The danger now is a head on collision. The captain moves quickly to the signal officer, “Signal that light and tell them to turn 45 degrees starboard.” The signal man sends the message and gets a reply, “YOU turn 45 degrees starboard”. The Captain gets angry, “Tell them I am a captain and I order them to turn 45 degrees starboard.” Back comes the reply, “I am only a seaman, but you better turn 45 degrees.” The captain is white hot angry, “Tell them we are a battleship, turn to the starboard”. Back comes the reply, “I am a lighthouse”. The battleship turns. The moral of the story is that a captain/a leader must know when to command change and when to accept a paradigm shift.

One of the biggest issues in Jewish communal work today is about leadership. Jewish leaders, including Rabbis, spend a great deal of time over the course of a year updating our training and preparing us for issues and trends that soon will be arising in our communities. The best way for a leader to confront change, is to prepare for the inevitable day when change will come.

Some of the changes we are preparing for are well known throughout the Jewish community. One such change is that the next generation of Jews is not really into making long term commitments. This has repercussions in synagogue membership and in marriage trends for our community. The next generation does not like paying dues to get services that they are not sure they need. They don’t sign up for cable television because they only want to pay for the channels they use. The next generation of Jews wants to only pay for the services they need from the Jewish community. But can the community survive on a pay as you go platform?

Another vast change is in the marketing of our community. Newspaper advertising is no longer useful. Online marketing, especially on social media is important but to really get in front of people thinking about the community, you need to be producing short videos not just static pictures. And you have to know who you are trying to reach. 60 years ago, synagogues wanted young married couples with children; this meant couples in their twenties with small children. Today there are almost no couples in their twenties with children. The average age for marriage is in the mid thirties and pre-school children all have 40-year-old parents. Any synagogue who is looking for Jews in their 20’s, needs to pitch their programming to young Jewish singles, Jews living together, and Jews still living with their parents. If we don’t have inclusive programming for LGBTQ Jews, then we are missing out on a vital part of the next generation of Jews.

Of course, we can’t talk about the next generation of Jews without having to confront intermarriage. How can we be welcoming to all those who have connections with the Jewish community other than by birth or even by conversion? If we push such families away, then the Jews of that family will be lost to our community forever. But how can we include those in a family who choose not to formally connect to Judaism? How can we adjust our programming to make these non-Jews connected by family ties, feel welcome in our community? How can we introduce them to the Judaism we know and love without driving them away?

There are lots of other issues that keep Jewish leaders up at night. How people give to Jewish institutions is changing. Many families don’t just give to an organization, but they start family philanthropic funds with a purpose that can be quite narrowly defined. How can we build communal Jewish spaces that are flexible enough to be used every day and not just on Shabbat? How do we teach Judaism to entire families, not just children because Judaism should be done at home and everyone needs to learn how to best practice Judaism; and then how can this Jewish practice be personalized for individual families? How can we balance the need for communal prayer with the need for individualized praying? How can we get modern families to have a Shabbat dinner when they no longer have time to cook on Friday a three or four course meal?

In our Parsha this week, Moses confronts a problem that is very much like the issues Jewish Leaders face today. The people of Israel are standing on the very edge of the Promised Land, and they will need a very different type of leadership than Moses has been able to provide. The people love Moses and they treasure the almost impossibly close connection to God that he provides. But the needs of the future are going to be very different. There is a land that needs to be conquered. There is a strategy that has to be developed and executed if the tribes are to inherit their proper lands. Will there be a central leader like Moses who will coordinate the needs of the tribes when they must work together? Who will be the general to plan the campaign to conquer the land of the Canaanites? Who will judge the cases of land ownership and inheritance once the people are in their permanent homes?

In our Parsha, the daughters of Zelophehad ask Moses to figure out how they can inherit their father’s portion in the Promised Land since their father had no sons. Do daughters have any rights of inheritance from their father? Moses does not know the answer to their questions and has to go and consult God. He is unprepared for this new type of legal reasoning. It is another indication that his time for leadership is drawing to a close. A few weeks ago, when told to speak to a rock to bring water to the people, he loses his temper and strikes the rock. It is becoming harder to be patient with the Israelite people. It is another sign that Moses needs to appoint a successor.

In our Parsha, Joshua becomes the leader elect for the people. Moses lays his hands on Joshua, showing that the power that Moses had is being transferred. Joshua has battle experience, he knows how to lead the soldiers in a successful campaign. Joshua has stood beside Moses when Moses entered the tent of meeting. Joshua accompanied Moses part of the way up Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments and Joshua understands how they must be interpreted so that the people will know how to observe Jewish law. Joshua is the perfect leader to follow Moses. He will not BE another Moses, he will have different challenges to face, but he will be the leader that Israel will need to face the trials and tribulations of the near future.

Our congregation has, over the past two years, had its own transition in leadership. Rabbi Plavin lead this congregation successfully for over thirty years. I came to this community to offer a different kind of leadership to help the congregation deal with the new problems of this generation. Cantor Bolts is not like any other cantor our congregation has had before because the nature of music, even liturgical music has changed. People are not amazed at the vocal variety of a cantor anymore, but rather they look for a service leader who will help them find the spirituality of the service for themselves. Our office staff must understand the technologies of the future. Our office can’t be open twenty-four hours a day, but our website can. Can we provide for the needs of our membership even when the office is closed? Can we make sure that anytime a Jew, anywhere in the world, wants to know where to find us and what time our services will be held, can find that information easily on their smartphones? Can we make the process of making a donation so easy that people will be happy to give in support of our mission? We now have an office manager and programming associate that are ready to move us in new directions to meet the future.

In a comparable way we need to find good leaders for all the organizations on the world Jewish stage. It is one thing to have leaders who know how to raise the money needed to fund the important projects of Judaism as it faces the middle of the twenty-first century. But it is even more important to have leaders who are prepared to creatively meet the challenges of today: between the fundamentalists in Judaism and those who are not fundamentalists; between those who love Israel no matter what she may do, and those who demand more justice from the Jewish State; and the strange rift between Israelis and Diaspora Jews over how Israel is to be governed. Being a leader in the Jewish world has never been easy and today is no exception.

What we do know is that the paradigm of Jewish life is shifting and so the leaders we have must adapt to the changes. Their duty is not just to keep the status quo, but to use our faith, our way of living and our way of learning to find innovative solutions to the challenges of tomorrow. So, I ask everyone to keep your eyes open for the next generation of leaders. Let us work together to help them make the command decisions to help us to build a better world for Judaism and for all people, as we say ….

Amen and Shabbat Shalom

Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, July 7, 2018.

Fri, May 24 2019 19 Iyyar 5779