Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

In this Moment: The Affirmation of Jewish Leadership

As we approach the eighth month since the events of October 7th, we remain as a community in some measure paralyzed, distraught and uncertain by the unfolding story not only in Israel but also here in the Diaspora. In this setting, some of our institutional leaders are counseling us to move to the barricades as we face a hostile and unsafe environment.

I think that this is rather a re-imaging Jewish moment, as we require a new commitment on the part of our leaders in service to our community. Some within the ranks of our memberships are desperate for support and comfort, for others it will be the power of words and music, for many there are questions and conflicts to be resolved, and for still others a plan of action as they seek to advocate and articulate a way forward.

I would argue that this represents a pivotal opportunity for Jewish leaders! Our Jewish professionals, our rabbis, educators, cantors, and communal leaders, will need to model a new Jewish leadership paradigm, marked by courage and constructed around compassion, vision and action.

Engaged: In some measure, our institutions and we, as its professional representatives, symbolize stability and community. We all have a responsibility to be present for our students, clients, and members, answering their questions, acknowledging their pain, and embracing their fears and concerns. We each become important and essential resources in telling our shared story.

Prepared: Every Jewish professional must be equipped to help reframe the Israel/Jewish story and to deal with the dilemmas and questions concerning Israel, Zionism and anti-Semitism. We are now all partners in this retelling.

Equipped: This cohort of Jewish leaders must be in the public square listening to those with whom we disagree, while reaffirming the case for Israel. We are today on the front lines of our community as its defenders and advocates.

Connections: We need to encourage our community members to be reaching out to their Israeli family members, friends, and work partners, providing support and comfort. We are recommitting to building these core connections.

Shared EngagementEvery organization professional must now think collaboratively and focus on opportunities for collective action. We are entering a unique moment where we can demonstrate to our community our shared commitment in working together as we seek to model unity and purpose, provide direction and insight.

Open Doors: Every institution must be seen as a gateway for seekers. We acknowledge the many Jews who, often for the first time, are asking questions of us as they search for their space and voice in the community. Our leaders must now all be on the frontlines of our community!

Essential Answers:  We as a community must support those institutional leaders and educational partners who are working to create cutting edge materials designed to inform all of us but especially for those who are seeking new insights about Zionism, promoting innovative responses in promoting the case for Israel, and advancing arguments designed to push back against those who are critical of US support for Israel.

We will require the necessary language in responding to those alienated and disconnected from Israel, Zionism and Judaism. In this moment, we are seeking to create new strategies in working with those who are alienated and disaffected and to those who are seeking answers.

Security: We must ensure that all Jewish resources, including our camps-schools-synagogues-agencies-centers, will continue to operate as safe spaces. Our commitment to the welfare and safety of everyone is paramount.

Commitment as our Mantra:  At this time, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine how we deliver core services, manage our interpersonal relationships, and reach out and welcome new folks into our spaces. In transitional moments, professionals make a profound difference, employing their skills to connect, to listen and to embrace. This is our moment to engage and inspire those with whom we serve.

Framing the Liturgy for this Moment:

This is not the time for reactionary leadership rather our calling must reflect a sacred, inspiring expression of assertive and proactive action, modeling and conveying the essential character of what it means to be a Jewish leader in a transformative moment.

I had occasion to work with Rabbi Richard Levy (of Blessed Memory), some twenty years ago, to construct a prayer for Jewish communal leadership:

O God, grant honor to those who serve the household of Israel,
Give strength to these Your klei kodesh, Your sacred vessels.
Who seek to fulfill the mitzvot, by promoting tzedekah through the world.
Their work extends Your own. Their actions manifest Your loving kindness.
Since the days of the Levites, they have served our people in every age, in every place.
Even risking their lives to insure the wellbeing of the tents of Jacob.
They inspire us through their words and deeds, as they strive:
To protect the sanctity and welfare of each Jew
To care for those in need, for the poor and ill amongst old, the young, for those and us whose voices cannot be heard
To rescue those in danger
To speak and act against injustice
To inspire and lead our institutions
To build our communities
To help fulfill the promise of building the Jewish state.
Blessed are You, Eternal God, whose vision is fulfilled through the hands of Your servants.

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.