Laymen Teaching Laymen to Teach Laymen

by Dave Mandell

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According to the American Society of Training and Development, US businesses spent more than $160 billion dollars on employee training and development in 2012 because organizations with effective leaders are able to achieve greater success.

Training has long been integral to the FJMC culture. From its early years the model of laymen teaching laymen has been used. For two generations, incoming regional presidents were instructed by our leadership on the nuts and bolts of leading a region.

From the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, FJMC training took several giant steps forward. While training continued in the nuts and bolts of running the organization, additional skills and techniques were developed and utilized, including skits, case studies and problem solving sessions. Participants examined a topic from multiple perspectives and worked together on solutions. Instead of a one- to two-day orientation session, regional presidents spent a weekend of training and interaction.

Another 1990’s innovation was preparing a corps of men as consultants, armed with both information and skills so that they could provide support directly to regions and clubs.

FJMC’s spiritual advisor, Rabbi Joel S. Geffen (z”l), who retired in 1985 after 40 years, was appointed by the Jewish Theological Seminary to expand the influence of the seminary and to build future synagogue leadership. Under his guidance the relationship between FJMC and rabbis serving communities expanded. An endowment was created in his name, and in 1997, the Rabbi Joel S. Geffen Leadership Development Institute (LDI), was dedicated to training lay leaders.

The Geffen Leadership Development Institute assumed the annual training for FJMC leadership and regional presidents, so that they could guide the organization’s growth effectively. Innovations continued, and in addition to the lay leaders who were professional educators, who were now conducting much of the organization training, more men were brought in to learn how to train others. With slight variations each year, the essential aspects of the training have remained constant, where laymen train other laymen. Dr. Stephen Davidoff, FJMC president from 1997–1999, and a career educator, went through the FJMC training during the mid-1980s, and recently remarked, “The organization’s evolution since that time has been significantly enhanced due to the innovations in training and development.”

Dr. Burton Fischman, who was a professor of communications at Bryant University, has served as the dean of the Geffen LDI for most of its existence. Referred to as “Captain Ruach” for his spirited leading of Birkat Hamazon, Fischman is known for his ability to identify strengths and weaknesses in a presentation, and share them in a way that encourages the recipient to want to improve. Fischman has personally prepared hundreds of FJMC men as leaders over the past 20 years.

Each LDI features experienced trainers training others in a variety of subjects, from best practices for administering regions to the seven habits of successful consultants. First-time attendees are paired with experienced consultants who assist them in making their presentations. Regional officers have an opportunity to interact with FJMC leadership, maintaining the organization’s grass roots nature.

LDI has proved to be more successful than ever imagined. Norm Kurtz, who served as FJMC president from 2007 through 2009, has been involved in FJMC training for more than 20 years. He has described a vision in which the FJMC would educate future leaders in a retreat setting, to benefit both the FJMC and the Conservative movement. Over the past 30 years, the event has grown from a small group of incoming region presidents to hundreds of region presidents and officers, club and synagogue leaders, future leaders, and FJMC officers, so much of this vision has been realized. Those who attend participate in passionate prayer services, discuss critical issues, and learn from outstanding educators. Moreover, in this day when men are feeling isolated from other men, they develop meaningful connections with other men.

Planning for the annual Geffen LDI is a year round activity. The continuous process forces FJMC to constantly reevaluate what and how we do things to address the changing priorities of both the organization and the Conservative movement.

Dave Mandell served as the 2014 LDI Chair. He is a member of the FJMC Executive Committee and a past president of the New Jersey Region.