Question Authority

I thought the world was about to come to an end. Russia was moving missiles into Cuba and President Kennedy was exercising his leadership, demanding the removal of this very tangible threat to our nation. Meanwhile, I was anxiously making the final preparations for my impending Bar Mitzvah. The fear of nuclear war weighed heavily on all of us. Yet - as only a nervous Jewish 12-year-old can understand - there were moments when I secretly hoped for war.

Thank goodness, President Kennedy was successful and I went on to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah on this very Shabbat more than 50 years ago. It is somewhat prophetic given the trajectory of my life that this week's Torah portion, Korach, is all about leadership. We read of Korach and his followers, who brazenly challenged the leadership style and authority of Moses and paid the awful price of being buried alive. For those of us who grew up at a time when we were encouraged to "question authority," this penalty seems severe. But it also pushes us to more closely examine the contrasting faces of leadership and the impact different leadership styles can have on the community. Leaders tend to be most successful when there is a good match between their individual skills, style and personality and the needs of the community or organization.

Locally and nationally, both Jewish and non-Jewish communities are struggling to recruit, train, and match individuals who are able and motivated to lead with organizations that need them. That's one reason why Federation is excited to announce that we have been awarded a three-year grant from the Jewish Community Foundation to establish the Jewish Leadership Academy of Greater Hartford. The Academy isn't just another training program. We'll work with each participant to develop an Individualized Leadership Plan that builds on his or her individual strengths and interests to create a unique leadership journey, supported by a network of experts and mentors. We will be preparing leaders to fill existing roles in Greater Hartford's synagogues, schools and organizations - but we will also be preparing them to envision, launch and manage initiatives that do not yet exist. In short, we'll be preparing our community to build the Jewish Greater Hartford of tomorrow.

In many ways, Korach was a "disrupter," someone who challenged the status quo. While his was not the most positive form of disruption, it does offer us some important lessons. We can and should critically analyze our current practices and approaches and consider positive, respectful ways to improve them. There are times when we should question the status quo, challenging our leaders to be more responsive, embracing innovation and perhaps changing direction. We hope to bring this kind of positive disruption to our community through the Jewish Leadership Academy. Please contact me directly for more information.

Shabbat Shalom.


Howard Sovronsky
President and CEO


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