Went to a banquet a couple of nights ago to welcome a new rabbi. He and the rebbetzin are lovely, well-educated, enthusiastic, hard-working and determined to build community. This will be a tough job. The congregation has been demographically challenged for several years.
What changed? How did we find this dynamic couple? It’s all due to the president of the Kehillah, Hebrew for Jewish community. When this president arrived more than five years ago, the Kehillah was in dire straits.
Former presidents had given their all, many serving multiple terms. The new president was young, energetic, cheerful and popular. Pre-banquet speakers told us much about his leadership style, which IFO thinks carries lessons for all of us who wish to accomplish a great goal despite daunting barriers.
A little history: As leading members of the congregation discussed the difficulties of obtaining the right rabbi, the president said, “Nothing happens without action.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
But Mr. Pres. followed up his words with action – very simple ones, but each one fitting into a larger vision he was painting for everyone. Step number one: Fix up the building. Paint. Repair. Clean. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
“He led by example,” the speaker said.
Step Two. Raise the profile of the congregation. Many people in the city thought the home of the Kehillah was no longer used and the congregation no longer existed. So, they began to show foreign films featuring themes from the lives of the congregation’s ancestors, who came from Turkey, Rhodes, Morocco and Israel, as well as Seattle.
Each show included a brief description of the congregation at the beginning and a talk-back and fabulous desserts afterward. Films were well- advertised and audiences grew every year. People recognized their friends and felt at home.
Step Three. Interview candidates for the position of rabbi. Very stressful. One interview was conducted over Skype! Finally, they settled on the right man and his wife. What did everyone like about the young family? That they were enthusiastic about moving to this city and that they wanted to make a difference in the entire community.
The job of rebuilding isn’t over, but the trajectory is right.