Foster the Relationships

Fostering meaningful relationships among professionals within the work place and throughout the field with a focus on Oneness and empathy will nurture a strong, supportive community, and each professional will feel part of something bigger, and thus motivated to thrive.

Many Jewish community professionals I have engaged with are not solely in this work to feel autonomous and competent. After all, we serve the Jewish community, with its core function to bring everyone who wishes to engage in our community space to do so. In his recent book The New American Judaism, Dr. Jack Wertheimer, Professor of American Jewish History at JTS, confirms today’s reality especially in non-Orthodox Jewish communities: a primary driver of engaging in Jewish life, whether it be attending a synagogue, community function, or social action event, is to be around friends.

Ron Wolfson, Professor of Education at American Jewish University, in his book Relational Judaism confirms this as well. Wolfson implores us to focus on the relational aspects of our community in order to make it both more appealing to the unengaged and strengthen the ties among those already active. For our purposes, we can learn from Wertheimer’s and Wolfson’s research and apply the relational motivations for becoming an engaged Jew to the desire to become and remain a Jewish community professional.

How We Foster Relationships

If we know that a happy worker is a productive worker, one way to ensure strong productivity is to make them feel that they are surrounded by those who care about them, support them, and give them the sense of family that makes them feel loved and, thus, personally satisfied.

To be in relationship with others is not only a source of motivation; it is also a matter of Jewish tradition and, to many, an obligation. We are commanded not only to pray, but to pray as a people, a congregation, and a community with each other.

The Rabbis of the Talmud require us to chant Torah and sing our liturgical prayers in a minyan (a minimum group of ten worshippers). Our relationships with each other, an obligation or not, foster a deep sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves which fuels us and our work deeply.

Plan of Action

  1. Allow staff to engage in relational work: personal interaction, debate, decision, and policy making
  2. Assign meaningful work that requires talent to connect to others
  3. Provide opportunities for employees to be spiritually nourished through relationships

One Might Begin By Asking Staff the Following Prompts:

  1. How does being in relationship with others at work influence my motivations?
  2. In what ways am I motivated to do my work understanding how my efforts support a better, more just, or more prosperous world?
  3. How, if at all, does my work nurture me spiritually and may connect me to a more sacred holy presence (either God or another conceptualization of the divine)?

Our Portrait: Ezra Shanken

Ezra loves to be around people.  It drives him, fills his emotional reservoir, and keeps him focused and balanced. The relationships he has cultivated in the Jewish community have been both the source and the result of his success. There is a lesson then for us to deeply understand how, for our Jewish professionals, relationships fuel their motivations so we can best foster relationships to advance a Jewish professional’s commitment to our organizations and this work.

Ezra’s journey exemplifies much of the wisdom reflected not only in our ancient tradition, but also in the modern musings of today’s scholars and academics. Earlier this decade, Relational Judaism took the Jewish world by storm by re-focusing our synagogues, JCCs, and other loci of Jewish community away from the quality or content of programs a sense of connection to everyone in the room as well as those who might eventually enter the room.

How we engage them in Jewish life so they feel welcomed and invited into the community space is critical. Not only in non-Orthodox circles, but even in many Orthodox  communities, it is the people that keep Jews coming back.  We can apply the same wisdom and guidance to motivating and valuing our Jewish professionals. For it is also true that it is the incredible people, our professional talent, that keeps us coming back too.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. From above, how might we bring these 3 questions to each of your staff, and have a discussion about their response?
  2. How might we use team meetings as an opportunity for everyone to share one relationship from their past that motivates them today? Each can then dedicate their current work to this person. This activity alone will further strengthen the relationships among your team and connect them to those who inspire them, creating further value for their work today.
  3. How might we seek to build empathy for those around us? Consider having everyone on your team share something that they care about or have experienced outside of work, and begin to make connections with other staff members who have had similar experiences.