Working to Ensure a Vibrant, Diverse Jewish Community

The Board of Na’aleh has been visiting different institutions across our Jewish community, in order to deepen its understanding of our community’s diversity and how might Na’aleh better support leadership.  Read about what we are discovering.

Working to Ensure a Vibrant, Diverse Jewish Community

Dr. Bill Robinson

As Ari Wallach says in Longpath, “There are moments when we need to think bigger than “right now: and think a few hours from now, a few days from now, a few years from now, a few generations from now.” 

When we look back 20 years from now, will our Jewish community still be as vibrant and vital to people’s lives?  Will it be (as Na’aleh’s vision fully found here states) “welcoming, inclusive, and safe… responsive to members’ needs… concerned with the vitality of the larger community of which it is a part … committed to building a just and healthy world…”?  And, will Na’aleh – through “developing and inspiring leaders to successfully lead our vibrant and vital Jewish community” fulfill its mission?  Will we feel proud of the work we did today for the sake of tomorrow?

In order to answer these questions, the Board of Na’aleh has been journeying this year across the breadth of the greater Baltimore Jewish community to Pearlstone/Adamah, the JCC in Owings Mills, Bolton Street Synagogue, Towson Hillel, and Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley.  At each stop along the journey, we have met and engaged in conversation with members of that (sub)community and talked about “what matters” to them and, thus, to all of us. 

Yet, this has not just been a journey around Baltimore; it has been a journey to the future.  At Pearlstone/Adamah, we confronted the challenges of climate change, and we explored ways to make our community more resilient in the future.  At the JCC in Owings Mills, we explored the interdependency of our Jewish community with that of the greater Baltimore community.   At Bolton Street Synagogue (where we also talked with the leadership of Repair the World) we deepened our understanding of what it takes to truly build communities of welcoming and belonging, where all Jews feel at home. 

While we are finding passion and prowess at each stop, we are also realizing that there is much work to be done to ensure a vibrant future for the greater Baltimore Jewish community.  We have two more visits to go and still more to learn.  In the meantime though, these visits have raised strategic questions for Na’aleh and the greater Baltimore Jewish community worth considering.   The “we” below refers to all of us.

Our visits to Pearlstone revealed not only the challenges but the opportunities to ensure the resiliency of our community in the face of increasing climate change.  First, we can work to strengthen social capital (strong relationships) across the diversity of our community, as research has shown this to be a vital factor in communal recovery.  Second, many people have undertaken innovative ways of addressing climate change in their own organizations, neighborhoods, and homes.  How might we share and spread these innovative approaches more broadly?

Our visit to the JCC in Owings Mills highlighted the interdependency of our Jewish community with the greater Baltimore community of which we are an integral part.  Not only do many of our organizations serve the non-Jewish community, but we benefit as well from their membership in our Jewish institutions and the support of county and city government.  Furthermore, we discussed the way that many Jews in our community live their Jewish values through their service in secular nonprofits in greater Baltimore.  This raised many questions, including:  How might we further enhance relationships among Jewish and non-Jewish leadership across Baltimore?  How might we better tap into the commitments and capabilities of the many Jews who serve beyond our Jewish institutions? 

Our visit to Bolton Street Synagogue made us aware of the challenges facing many Jews –especially Jews of Color and those who are LGBTQ, as well as those who simply did not grow up in Baltimore – in finding places where they truly belong.  The reality that many Jews do not feel at home in our institutions is supported by the Baltimore Jewish community study that reveals that the majority of Jews in Baltimore do not even attend Jewish programs and events.  How might we better support our institutional leaders in more fully becoming places where all Jews feel at home?  And, taking this further, how might we elevate the entrepreneurial efforts of Jews throughout Baltimore who are nurturing Jewish life beyond our local institutions? 

Thankfully, Na’aleh is not alone in addressing these questions.  Many of our sister agencies (notably, but not only, the new Jewish Connection Network), synagogues, and other organizations are thinking about and working on these challenges and the opportunities they offer us.

In taking this journey, the Board has engaged in what is called Generative Governance.  It involves thinking openly and deeply with the Executive Director about the changing landscape in which we operate, in light of our organizational mission and vision for the community.  Generative Governance asks us to begin by being open to new learnings, to question our assumptions, to see the world through the eyes of others, and to raise new questions … before we seek answers and make strategic recommendations.  It requires considerable curiosity, as we engage in dialogue with the leadership of different (sub)communities, and patience, as we do this over the course of many months.  I am thankful to my Board members for taking this journey with me and the rest of Na’aleh’s professional team. 

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