Getting to Yes

The new president wants to find ways to navigate through disruptive times to shape the future of Conservative Judaism.

by Margo Gold

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As the new International President of United Synagogue, I am excited to help lead USCJ on its continuing course to be the responsive, innovative and visionary organization needed to support our congregations in what are so often referred to as disruptive times.

To me, disruptive times can be the impetus to explore innovation, embrace change and follow paths that lead in crucial new directions. To that end, our USCJ of?cers, board members and senior staff took part in a massive open online course (otherwise known as a MOOC), taught by Dr. Otto Scharmer of MIT, devoted to a concept he calls Theory U, a framework for how to sense and lead from an emerging future. It is all about leading in disruptive times.

We took this class in order to explore how best to position USCJ to meet the needs not only of its kehillot, but the changing religious landscape that surrounds them. Though many speak of change, it is hard to know how to achieve it, let alone bring others along with you.

In his work, Dr. Scharmer and his colleagues present a path to help institutions, individuals and groups navigate toward a vision of the future that is not necessarily a direct line from the present. What does one need to let go of, they ask, in order to let other things emerge? For the Jewish community, this includes challenges such as engaging millennials who don’t necessarily see themselves within the institutional structures that currently exist. It is about dwindling resources, ?nancial health, and most of all, embracing change while being true to the connection to Torah, to Israel, to one another and to living a life of value, rooted in mitzvot that are the hallmark of Conservative Judaism.

Everyone likes to get to an answer of “yes.” When we apply for a job, when we propose marriage. Getting to “yes” is the goal for USCJ. Do we create learning communities that bring together like-sized congregations to explore timely needs with each other and with expert consultants? Yes. Do we have action communities that help congregations become more inclusive in meaningful ways to those with disabilities? To explore the means to synagogue ?nancial sustainability? To be prepared for and to navigate a congregational strategic planning process? Yes, yes and yes. Do we have an intensive program that helps kehillot engage and deepen relation-ships with and among emerging congregational leaders? Yes. Do we recognize the Shechinah, the divine presence, within everyone in our community and provide an opportunity for young adults with autism to spend a gap year in Israel on our Nativ program? Yes, we do.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. It is our commitment and responsibility to listen, to respond and to be a resource of excellence for service, innovation and vision for our kehillot, for the Conservative movement and for the Jewish world. We seek to get to “yes.”

And speaking of yes, will you join me in November at the USCJ 2015 Convention in Schaumberg, Illinois, outside Chicago? Our Centennial celebration two years ago began the conversation and this convention will dig even deeper. You and your kehilla team are invited to help us shape the center, with emphasis on the action verb “shape.”

As part of our work on Theory U, the of?cers and staff spent a morning shaping two sculptures. One represented what USCJ looks like today, and the other depicted our ideal vision. It was ultimately a powerful and inspiring exercise. Come to convention, bring your perspective (I know you have one) and be part of collectively shaping the sculpture that is our emerging future.

Please say “yes”.

Margo Gold is international president of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.