A few months ago I was contacted by the Professional Leaders Project about their Jewish leadership initiative, to not only help promote their Think Tank 3 and LiveNetworks program, but to also apply to attend. Knowing how so often leadership programs replicate leadership models I am less interested in propagating, I applied stating my values and interests, and was still accepted to attend. I say still because in some ways, it was a question for me.

I have decided to go, because, well, so rarely are people “like me” at the table, and damn if I’m not interested in hearing what folks say at these types of gatherings! So, I’m going! And damn if a year of coaching and mentorship isn’t something I’m into after so many years of not having deep, sustained and supportive mentorship at my paid working gigs.

Of course, I want to hear from all of you about the state of Jewish leadership, what your interests are in leadership and what, if any, specific strategic outcomes you’d find of interest from a gathering such as this one. Also feel free to share your skepticism, your critiques, your aspirations, your desires–any and every thought. I must admit I find these gatherings fascinating. After years of attending convenings, the goals are almost always difficult to reach, and at best, what they offer are some opportunities for networking, building new relationships, gaining some new skills and potentially learning new strategies. What I like about this is that the leadership isn’t only about the few days that we gather, but rather an investment in group and individual mentorship, tailoring to the specific goals and aspirations of the community and the individual.

In thinking through some of these ideas, I want to share with all of you two of my answers from the main part of the application. They offer some initial thoughts on this idea of leadership, and highlight some of my thoughts and questions about where we are today in terms of challenges and opportunities. Looking forward to reading your ideas as well.

What do you see as the primary challenge facing the Jewish community, and how would you address it?

One of the primary challenges facing Jewish communities is an old challenge–it’s a challenge of embracing the variance in Jewish life and a shift in generational leadership. The debates that continue to rage–debates on intermarriage, culture, family and religious affiliation–are not new debates. These debates have marked our people for generations. Trace a quick history tree and what you’ll find is that the emergence of so much of our rich history builds off of the riffs and changes, of the variance in political, social and religious ideology, from the Haskalah to Orthodoxy to the Bund. One of the major challenges we continue to face is how to embrace that variance, and in particular, how to engage in thoughtful conversation amongst our differences. I see this as our largest challenge, and most critical and divisive, in relation to Israel and Palestine. This has been a huge contention for young and old. My first experiences in publicly questioning Israel while attending my undergraduate college was to have members of Hillel state that I should be thrown out because I was against Israeli occupation, and supported groups that called for military divestment. I was told I wasn’t a Jew, that I should be ashamed and thrown out of Hillel all because I was unwilling to support a state which I knew was not speaking in my name. No more than the U.S., more often than not, does not speak in my name. So our challenges, our challenges are great. To address these challenges requires a leadership of faith, not just spiritually or semantically, but in practice of our collective wisdom and strength to work together not in spite of, but because of our differences. What we need is a leadership that does not silence the hard parts, but fosters our ability to have engaged, public, intelligent, earnest and passionate debates. That asks us to be our best selves, and also acknowledges that sometimes being our best selves means that sometimes we’ll also show our weaknesses and have to admit our mistakes. And that to be wrong is not bad, but to be wrong and unwilling to acknowledge our weaknesses is a true sign of our failure. What I would ask is what Rabbi Tarfon has asked, which is that it is not our duty to finish the task, nor is it our right to desist from it.

What do you hope to achieve as a leader of your generation in the Jewish community?

One of the key aspects I’d like to achieve is shifting cultural relationships to, and ideas of, what leadership means. In particular, as a Jew who knows what it is to experience being marginalized within Jewish communities because of difference, I am wary of how often what is called leadership is the lifting up of a few voices over the voices of the many. I am wary of how often one LGBT Jew is chosen to be the LGBT leader, or one working-class Jew is chosen to talk about class difference and lead our communities to a different moral terrain. I wholeheartedly and ideologically believe in a leadership that is representative of those who are most directly affected, and by those who are often left out of the debate, but I don’t believe in tokenizing a few at the expense of the many. Leadership to me is about shared power, shared interest, shared community, a sharing of voice, goals and understanding that our differences are part of our strengths. Leadership to me is about knowing when it is useful to step up and when it is important to step back and allow others to build our collective interest and strength. What I hope to achieve is a more in depth idea of leadership, one that begins to breakdown the model that is still quite prevalent, even in some social justice organizations, in which young Ashkenazi men, straight or gay for that matter (but most often straight) perpetuate a model of leadership of the “triumphant individual,” where they rise as if they have done their work alone, making invisible the work of the many around them who were critical to attaining wins and success. What I hope is to dispel this myth, this act of rising on the backs of the many, to instead lead with an honest acknowledgment and celebration of the larger community’s critical role in building and strengthening our work, together.