Servant Leadership

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, November 3, 2017 / 14 Cheshvan 5778

There is still room to join us this Sunday at the Turkish community center for dinner and conversation starting at 6 pm. Please send an email to Marina before the office closes tomorrow and cc me on it so I can make sure you are included and receive the address.

If that’s not up your alley, at 4 pm the Feldstein Library and Israel360 are screening a rather interesting movie, Dimona Twist. This documentary recounts the experience of seven Sephardic and Ashkenazic female immigrants who were resettled by the Israeli government in Dimona. 

Dimona is a desert city known best now for housing Israel’s nuclear power plant (and original site for it’s semi-secret never-declared nuclear weapon program). Yet when these women were deposited there, it was little more than a place of sand and a handful of buildings. They made due with little water and no electricity and fought against racism and their status as second-class citizens. This well-received film tells a lesser-known and compelling story.

Servant Leadership

Just yesterday, on Thursday, November 2nd, marked the Rabbi Joshua Stampfer Community Enrichment Award Dinner. Each year, the planning committee celebrates and honors youths and adults who have made substantive contributions to our city. We can all take pride in Anna Shapiro, who received well-deserved recognition for her many contributions to the life of Neveh Shalom. Please congratulate her when you see her.

This was my third time in attendance and I was deeply moved by the adult awardees. Each of the three adult honorees this year, Dr. Jill Ginsberg, Tracy Oseran and Sharon Straus are working in the trenches. Dr. Jill Ginsberg is Medical Director and the founding physician partner of the North by Northeast Community Health Center, which is the only medical clinic in Oregon whose focus is on the health of African Americans. Both Sharon Straus (Sunshine Pantry) and Tracy Oseran (Urban Gleaners) are working to provide meals and foods to families, children and individuals so that they can better themselves. It was a genuine pleasure to discover these women and their worthwhile endeavors. They all were marvelous exemplars of servant leaders. For those not familiar with the term, there are many different approaches and theories to leadership.

The servant leadership model proposes that leaders whose first impulse is to serve–the institution, society or humanity–will engender loyalty and motivation in those around them and thereby move their institution’s mission forward. While we might tend to think of the military as possessing a top-down structure, for example, its leadership is often motivated by the notion of service to others and empowering and granting responsibility to those who are lower down in the organization. That is, servant leaders gravitate into positions of leadership so that they can better serve others, not to accrue power for themselves.

Moses is a case-study for an ideal form of Jewish leadership. From the outset, it is clear that he is not desirous of power. After all, he flees Egypt and his place in the royal palace. Then when God tries to induct him, he refuses out of his sense of humility. Once he reluctantly accepts the mantle of leader-redeemer, we can see how he is open to learning from those around him. His father-in-law, Jethro, famously teaches Moses how to be a better servant leader. If you remember, Moses at first is trying to do everything himself, something that some young (and not-so-young) leaders mistakenly attempt.

Jethro notes that Moshe’s approach to his work is not sustainable and instructs Moses how to delegate his work settling disputes by establishing a system of lower courts. Yet if we look at the form of delegation that ensues, he’s not simply handing work off to others. Rather, he empowers each judge to resolve problems. Only in those cases where they don’t feel competent to reach a good decision do they refer the problem back to him. And by setting up this cascading system of smaller courts, he ensures that the largest practical number of people each has the opportunity to grow and exercise authority.

Sitting there last night, I was reminded yet again of the importance of institutions–how they perpetuate important civic values and nurture empathy. That thought was followed by a less cheery one. Ours is a time when increasingly Americans distrust the basic institutions that preserve our society. Observing how that trust is failing, I confess to moments of despair. How can a country endure when its people spurn its foundational structures?

That is precisely why last night was such a moving evening. Against our nation’s rampant cynicism, three remarkable women have built–and motivated those around them to build–a handful of servant leader organizations. If we want a better future, we will require more such servant leaders–and more organizations dedicated to serving the larger cause.

As we move toward Neveh Shalom’s 150th anniversary, I am grateful for how we all are working to strengthen her foundations for the next one hundred and fifty. What we do here matters, and what’s more, it keeps rippling out.


Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

When have you been most successful in a leadership position? What was your worst effort at leadership? Can you explain why you were successful and why you were not? What were the differences?

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