Rabbi CampI am writing to you from Warwick, NY – about an hour driving time from Harrison, but a world away given the space and time here at “Rabbi Camp” to think, plan and dream for us as a congregation. I am here at the URJ Kutz Camp and Retreat Center for a kick-off three-day orientation to my 18-month UJA Federation Rabbinic Fellowship for Visionary Leaders.

Together with nine other Rabbinic colleagues – male and female, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform-affiliated – I have been invited to participate in this Fellowship to assist mid-career rabbis (that’s me now, I suppose) in giving voice to our rabbinic visions. The Fellowship will help me expand my Rabbinic “toolkit” as I partner with all of you to keep our thriving congregation strong and growing amidst serious challenges to synagogues in general in 2016 – and challenges to Conservative synagogues in particular. I feel fortunate to be a part of this dynamic group of rabbinic peers, accessing the best professional training available via UJA Federation.

The Fellowship consists of two of these immersive overnight retreats, monthly in-person full-day workshops at UJA’s NYC offices and professional coaching. UJA explains the rationale for this Fellowship as follows: One of the key attributes of thriving synagogues is visionary rabbinic leadership. In order to be visionary leaders, rabbis must possess a voice deeply rooted in Jewish wisdom, values and learning; the ability to lead with authentic vision; leadership and management skills appropriate to the complexity of synagogue life, a strong peer network and a sense of connectedness to the broader landscape of both synagogue and Jewish communal life in their local community. In the coming months, I will benefit from Executive level leadership training, self-assessment tools, and individualized coaching.

A few highlights from “Rabbi Camp” thus far: Our session on Leadership and Team Building helped me first and foremost, to get to know my Rabbinic Peers in a deeper way. We shared some group dynamics exercises that you just might see at a synagogue gathering in the near future. We refined our Storytelling skills with the assistance of master storyteller Matt Dicks, who performs regularly at The Moth. We shared our own rabbinic stories around a campfire – you wouldn’t believe the crazy things that happen to some rabbis! Not this rabbi, of course… We had the good fortune to study Vision, Strategy and Strategic Perches with UJA’s former CEO, John
Ruskay. Rabbi Shai Held led a Beit Midrash program that offered Rabbinic notions of fear, particularly relevant in a challenging post-election period. I had the chance to speak one-on-one and at length with one of my Rabbinic peers who recently engaged in a Cantorial Search at his synagogue. I’m coming home with a number of useful tips for all of us. We had a session called “Taking Care of YOU!: Workshop on Self Care” – giving us advice on taking the best care of ourselves, so that we can be strong for our communities.

All in all, it was an excellent start to what should be a fantastic learning opportunity for me. This Fellowship will undoubtedly translate from vision into action items for me and for all of us at the JCCH. Thank you for joining me for the ride!