Years ago, a boss of mine assembled a large group of employees and challenged us with one sentence made up of 10 two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
To be sure, I fully understand and appreciate the role and responsibility we have as individual contributors. Each of us can make an important contribution and a meaningful difference indeed.
But I never really have been an individualist. I much prefer playing on a team. My example and inspiration for leadership comes directly from our own Jewish tradition and perhaps is summed up best in the Hebrew recitation of “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazaik.”
I always have loved the image, which repeats five times a year in Ashkenazi synagogues all across the world. As we conclude the reading of each book of the Torah, the entire congregation rises and declares in unison, “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazaik.” The meaning: “Be strong. Be strong. And we will strengthen one another.”
This valuable lesson was reinforced for me recently, when I participated in the Tzimtzum Executive Forum, an annual convening by the Schusterman Foundation of the CEOs of some of its key grantee partners. Each organization embodies the Schustermans’ commitment to strengthening the identities and leadership capacities of young Jews to ensure a more vibrant, diverse, inclusive and dynamic Jewish future.
For example, in addition to Foundation for Jewish Camp, participants range from Hillel International to Birthright Israel, JDC Entwine to Repair the World, and BBYO to Moishe House, among others. We are all deeply connected to Israel and we are all committed to making the world a better place.
This Tzimtzum Forum derives its name from the kabbalistic concept that God steps back — or contracts — to create space for a dynamic partnership and a thriving relationship with human beings in the work of creation. Tzimtzum connotes the powerful essence of collaborative work in every enterprise, beginning with the creation of the world and continuing to this day.
Spending quality time with colleagues, removed from daily office pressures, provides space to share and compare, to consider and contemplate, and to be inspired and challenged. I highly value this opportunity each year to learn from each other and to grow stronger together.
This year in Philadelphia, the Schusterman team provided a stimulating theme — “Changing the Frame” — based on the challenges we all are confronting with communicating in today’s rapidly changing media landscape.
This theme served as an important reminder of our role as ambassadors and communicators. Much has been written in the last year about the echo chambers in which we operate. How can we effectively change this dynamic? As a community, how can we encourage serious and meaningful conversations, conducted in a civil and inclusive way? We engaged in highly interactive workshops to help each other consider these topics on an individual, organizational, and communal level.
While each one of us has to be strong, our power as a Jewish community comes when we work together. We need Jewish camps, BBYO, other youth movements and teen experiences all to be strong if we are to inspire and motivate high school graduates as they depart for college campuses. And we need all those who work on college campuses to be strong to stimulate and empower those graduates as they pursue their own post-collegiate journeys.
By bringing us together each year, the Schusterman Foundation leads by example, with broad application for our entire Jewish community and far beyond. Just as we close one book and start anew, we strive for interconnectedness between all of our work.
The theme, “Changing the Frame,” reminds us of our roles and responsibilities. As individuals and as leaders, we have to be open, welcoming and inclusive of ideas and diverse points of view, affiliations and backgrounds. None of us will ultimately be successful by working alone. We must work together to strengthen one another.
And so, back to the lesson from many moons ago, I would modify — slightly but materially — the sentence composed of 10 two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to we.”
We are all in this together. How much more we accomplish when we come together to work collaboratively to achieve our common communal goals.
Chazak. Chazak. V’nitchazaik. May we strengthen one another.
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO for the Foundation for Jewish Camp since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he worked in the consumer packaged goods industry, including Campbell Soup Co., where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. This article was adapted from a version that first appeared in the Jewish Standard in New Jersey.