The president of Yeshiva University urged local Jewish leaders to listen to their constituents and develop ways to measure the effectiveness of change.
“I don’t believe in change for the sake of change; I believe in change for God’s sake,” said Richard Joel, speaking Sept. 7 at Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro.
Joel appeared at the first in a series of Jewish community leadership forums planned by Jewish Federation of Monmouth County. The timing, just 18 days before Rosh Hashana, struck Joel as particularly appropriate. “A new year is an invitation to tomorrow,” he said.
Joel urged the audience of more than 100 clergy and lay leaders from Monmouth and Middlesex counties to “organize, galvanize, and inspire” their communities.
In order to do this well, he said, leaders must learn to honor the past, but not to the point where the word “continuity” becomes synonymous with “repetition.”
Acknowledging the recent Pew study that showed declining percentages of young people becoming actively involved in Jewish institutions, Joel suggested that Jewish identification was easier for past generations than it is today.
“Many of us were the children of immigrants,” he said. “We lived through all three of the major forces that helped bind us together: anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and formation of the State of Israel.”
Younger Jews face fewer barriers to assimilation. “For them, the Holocaust is history, not memory,” he said.
Joel, as president and international director of Hillel from 1989 to 2003, was credited with spurring a renaissance of Jewish life on college campuses.
The goal for Jewish leaders, he said, should be to find a balance between a “homogenized message” that includes Jews within the larger body, but motivates them to recognize their destiny as a light to the nations.
Jewish institutions are vital to keeping this light alive, said Joel, and the key role of Jewish federations is to form bridges that span gaps between one institution and another, and one denomination and another.
Joel urged his listeners to define their mission as clearly as possible and to constantly monitor the results among such target groups.
“We must accept and use technology effectively,” he said.
Plans call for Jewish Community Leadership Forums to be held two or three times a year, said Monmouth federation executive director Keith Krivitzky. “Our goal is to provide an environment in which collaboration can flourish and people with different missions and different backgrounds can come together to share ideas,” he said.
The event also included an update on the pending merger of the Monmouth and Middlesex federations by Mitch Frumkin, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, and a report on Jewish education by Maxine Macnow, board chair of Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County.
Other speakers included Miriam Tennenbaum, the Monmouth federation’s director of community impact, who announced expansion of the PJ Library program; Rabbi Bennett Miller of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, who presented a brief overview of the response to the Israel Emergency Campaign; and Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun of Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst, who expressed optimism about the community’s ability to rally quickly in answer to a crisis like the war in Gaza.