The Tent: Helping Jewish Leaders Look Through New Prisms



Leading a congregation can be a daunting task. Whether you lead your congregation as clergy, professional staff, or lay leadership, we all do our sacred work through different prisms.

We work through the prism of spirituality. The Torah and other teachings of our ancestors guide our communities with holiness and wisdom.

We work through the prism of the history of our congregations. Every congregation has experienced its own victories and challenges, and those experiences often inform how the congregation is led today.

We work through the prism of expertise and best practices. We bring information from our “day jobs,” and we learn from others who do the same work we do. What fresh ideas do they have? What do they do that has worked or failed?

These are all prisms I have looked through repeatedly, first as a synagogue youth group advisor for 10 years, and then an executive director for another 10 years. They are vitally important prisms, and they lend color and perspective to everything we do. Ideally – and hopefully – they result in robust, vibrant temple communities.

Yet with all these prisms, with all of this information to help us in our sacred work, we often fall into the trap of insular behavior. We sincerely believe we know our communities, and we know what will work and will not work. We know the messages of Torah that will resonate with our members, and we know what will be misunderstood or ignored. We know what has worked at our congregation in the past, and we know what has not. We’ve all said, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.”

But since the introduction of The Tent, the Reform Movement’s new communication and collaboration platform website, we’ve seen these prisms expand. We’ve seen light touch all corners of our movement as Jewish leaders go beyond the insular world of their congregations and communities to connect with leaders throughout the entire North American Movement.

The user experience of The Tent feels familiar to the experience of using sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, but unlike those sites, The Tent is dedicated only to the work of leading our sacred communities. Lay and professional leaders can connect and have conversations with each other, sharing valuable resources and forging vital connections. Through a simple search, users can find the exact people and information that will help them the most.

In The Tent, assistance can come from unexpected places – and new information can help change long-held beliefs and practices. The president of a small congregation in Georgia and the president of a large congregation in Toronto face similar struggles. A new congregational finance chair in Chicago has information from her professional career that will help a youth group advisor in Houston. In The Tent, these leaders can find one another and have conversations that transform their sacred work. Being connected to the larger Reform community reminds us that we are not alone in the work we do and that there is comfort, strength, and support to be found in the experience and expertise of others.

Already, we see that conversations in The Tent are changing the way our congregational leaders do their work. Consider the following examples:

  • The audit chair of a small Midwestern congregation asked if anyone had experience with creating an endowment fund foundation, separate from their board of trustees. In less than a day, he heard back from temple administrators and URJ staff offering direction, support, and insight regarding his question.
  • A temple educator wanted to know if any congregations live-stream High Holidays worship with sign language. She was able to connect with congregational leaders across North America who are already engaging in this inclusive practice and who may be able to guide her congregation in doing the same.
  • With an hour, a URJ resource posted to The Tent about the legalities surrounding video streaming and copyright clearance was viewed and downloaded by dozens of leaders at congregations both large and small.
  • A woman who will be the next president of her congregation wanted to know whether other congregations encourage their members to wear nametags to services. More than a dozen leaders responded to share insights and experiences from their own congregations – and even pictures of how their nametags look.

We hold our prisms in our hands. As we turn them over and over, the light bends and changes, and we see new colors and realize new possibilities. However, sometimes we would be well served to look up from the prisms to which we have become so accustomed. When we do so, we may learn that there are other ways to do things. What has worked in other communities? How can we learn from the experience of others? How can we avoid repeating mistakes? How can we grow and succeed together?

“The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;”
Ecclesiastes 1:9

Please visit www.yammer.com/thetent to see what others have seen, and to hear what others have heard. Join your Reform Movement in The Tent as we all work to support our sacred communities.

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Larry Glickman

About Larry Glickman

Larry Glickman, FTA, is the director of Network Engagement and Collaboration for the Union for Reform Judaism. Prior to joining the URJ in April 2013, Larry worked as a synagogue executive director for 10 years, most recently at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL, and served as a board member and officer for the National Association for Temple Administration. Before working in the Jewish community full time, Larry served as the youth group advisor at Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, IL, for 9 years while working full time in the publishing industry. Larry lives and works in Buffalo Grove, IL, with his wife Lynn, and they have two daughters, Eliana and Sophie.

2 Responses to “The Tent: Helping Jewish Leaders Look Through New Prisms”

  1. avatar

    Fantastic Blog. I recently went back to executive director work and I all I hear is “We have alway done it this way”. Proud to always reply, “I understand but we are going to try some new ways along with what we have done in the past, moving forward” Luckily it’s a group of lay leaders willing to make the change.

    Thanks again to my friend Larry. Well written.

    • Larry Glickman

      Thank you Michael. It sounds like you are working with visionary lay leaders who are open ideas about how to grow their community.

      It is not enough to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Alternatively, it is also not enough to say “If it ain’t broke, break it.” The situations we are facing in our congregations are complex, sometimes difficult, and always important.

      It is always a good idea to look at existing programs, policies and procedures with an eye towards improvement, no matter how well they may be working now. Keep up the good work, my friend!

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