At his final Board meeting as the President of TRT, Brion Feinberg gave a short speech. This blog attempts to capture what he said (or intended to say).
In these final weeks, I have received lots of wonderful, positive feedback. Thank you all for all the kind words and encouragement – they are truly appreciated.
I think that a lot has gone well over these past 3 years. But to really get the most benefit from everything I’ve learned, and to reinforce some of the ideas that I think worked well, I realized that I needed to capture these thoughts for others to use or at least consider.
One of the attitudes I tried to embrace was: Be fair but human. As a temple, we are a very “human” organization, focused on delivering experiences and services for our membership. Rules are good, but we have to be open to considering unique circumstances. It easier to say “the rules are the rules”, but we need to consider exceptions. Life is complicated and messy and sometimes needs custom solutions. We have good systems to do this, including Special Circumstances – a small, confidential group specifically appointed to hear requests for unique situations.
It may sound corny, but I approached my presidency as an act with love. Love for Judaism. Love for congregants and friends. I made a conscious decision to “love” Judaism by participating more. Actions lead to attitude, not always the other way around. So by personally participating more and getting more out of being a member myself, my love for this place only grew, and I think that was apparent in much of what I did.
I always try to assume first that people are good. Act that way whenever possible and only infer negative incentives as a last resort. Whenever possible, I try to understand the other person’s perspective, before assuming that they are just trying to work around the system or request something that isn’t fair.
Whenever possible, I’d try to say “yes” to new ideas and try to find a way to make things work. Its too easy to kill good ideas when they are young and just forming. I’d only say “no” when I become convinced later that something won’t work, and I’d only do that as a last resort. Several of the best things we did, including the Cemetery project and the Taste of NJ event, seemed to me like bad ideas when I first heard them, but I forced myself to say “yes, let’s explore this” and I let others prove my initial reaction wrong.
A key aspect to how I’ve managed things has been recognizing that our clergy aren’t just employees. It’s a special relationship and can’t just be viewed as employee/employer. But we also have to act in the best interest of the congregation, not the clergy.
I found that, by removing administrative distractions from our clergy, they can be incredibly creative. I tried hard to work with the office and others to let Don and Joanna focus on what they do well, and try to remove from them the unimportant parts of their jobs and the result has been fantastic. A lot of people give me credit for all the new, exciting programs and services that we’ve started over these past 3 years. But honestly, it’s 99% Don and Joanna – I just made sure to give them the time and freedom to try new things.
As President and as Board members, it’s essential to support committees. We shouldn’t overrule their decisions unless we are certain we can’t live with their recommendations. If we take away their authority or start doing their jobs for them, they won’t continue to work effectively. And then everything will come back on us, and we can’t handle that load of responsibilities.
Our volunteers are the key and an enormous part of the job of being President is relentlessly growing and fostering volunteers, and then letting them do great things. Managing volunteers is not like managing employees and certainly not like commanding military troops. We incent them with understanding and appreciation, give them important tasks and make them proud to help. As Board members and as President, we need to continue to focus on giving credit and saying thanks as much as humanly possible. But we also need to listen to our volunteers, encourage them to try new things, and continue to be their friends and care about their lives.
Wherever possible, try to learn from others., Don’t reinvent the wheel. We need to leverage the URJ – almost no issue we face hasn’t already been faced by one of the 900+ other synagogues in our union. And we also need to leverage standard business approaches, such as running effective meetings with pre-set agendas and meeting minutes. These approaches work. Although we aren’t just a business, there is so much we can bring over from standard, efficient business practices.
Throughout my presidency, I’d always remind myself and other volunteers that organization and administrative work is “holy” work. We couldn’t have a temple without this work. And as mundane as some of the work may feel, we are doing this for a holy purpose and we should recognize the holiness in all that we do. I’d suggest that everyone read the Hoffman book (The Sacred Strategies – Transforming Synagogues … see: https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Strategies-Transforming-Synagogues-Functional/dp/1566994012).
I am prouder of what I have done as TRT President than anything else in my life. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I recommend it highly. It’s been lots of work, but so very much worth it.