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A Values-Based Approach to Jewish Communal Leadership and Congregational Governance

In contrast to a traditional definition of a leader as someone who influences a community to follow his/her vision, a Reconstructionist definition includes how a leader helps a community to grow, face their own problems, and develop solutions. In other words, they help elicit and manage a community's vision (from a talk by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling).

The process of decision-making, administration and leadership. Synagogue officers, board members, committee chairpersons, and other involved members fulfill vital organizational roles. Leaders also serve as role models and teachers within these structures (Adapted from the JRF's "Boundaries and Opportunities" report, 1998, Reconstructionist Press).

It is important to overcome the various stigmas in our society concerning authority and organized structure, while at the same time being willing to enter a process that is open to exploring what styles and functions of leadership, and accompanying governance structures serve us today. First, we need to create a trusting and comfortable environment for such a discussion. It can be challenging, because issues of leadership and governance can be tied to issues of self-worth, and personal values and choices. These can become magnified when attached to conversations about power, decision-making, Jewish identity, and building faith communities. However, through study, effective listening and open discussion of our attitudes and expectations, we can turn a potentially challenging subject into a profound opportunity for building relationships and community.

Ideally, Reconstructionist Jews and congregations are committed to looking at the ways they run themselves as the very processes that make for building sacred community. In this way, leadership and the structures by which a community governs itself are expressions of values and a commitment to Godly action in the world. Boards, committees, policies and practices become a reflection of our priorities, which in turn reflect the values articulated by a communal mission statement supported by the entire community. We have to learn to recognize that methods of leadership and articulated forms of congregational governance are components of living our lives in holy ways.

There has never been any organized religion without a need for skilled and visionary leaders, and forms of organization to support their faith communities and religious cultures at large. What we are trying to develop is a workable system where leadership and congregational governance are managed in a fair and just manner that both reflects our values and inspires deepened Jewish living and responsible membership in our global community.

We have provided these resources to help you educate yourselves around issues of leadership and the ways and structures by which you govern yourselves. This is a profoundly Reconstructionist educational process, as we will be looking at our own attitudes on a given subject, studying traditional and contemporary Jewish sources, examining global approaches, sharing resources, information and insight with each other, and exploring ways to educate and inspire our home communities to incorporate these ideas.

We hope that these resources help you discover your own Jewishly rooted approaches to communal leadership and congregational governance, and enable you to build your own community based on values that deepen your relationships, Jewish identity and spiritual life. In this way, we can continue to create and develop holy and whole communities.
Type: Glossary

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