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Silence and Conversation

intentional.094307At the closing of a session at the recent CCAR Convention, Rabbi Elaine Zecher led us in a session of intentional silence and meditation, as a way for each of us to begin to process our learning so far, as well as consider how and in what we might root ourselves as we move forward after the convention’s close.

I found the exercise powerful.  I want to express personal gratitude to and for Elaine and her skillful transformation of an enormous, chair-filled, artificially-lit/ cooled hotel ballroom into a warm, inclusive space where real, intentional, mindful thought could happen.  She is an exquisite and inspirational role model.

The silence enabled my own intentional and grounded thought around the conference’s provocative topics. Throughout this exciting conference, ideas have been coursing through my brain, seemingly on overdrive: independence, interdependence, competition, collaboration, our rapidly flattening and interconnecting world from the most micro and macro views, declaration versus conversation, leading and listening,  the marketplace of ideas in which everyone regardless of title has a share, the charge to inform and transform, and the list goes on and on.  But yesterday I was able to siphon all of it down to what seems to be the key issue at play in these shifts we are here to address.

Implicit in all the conversations, large and small, is understanding that navigating the shifts, or to throw out the scarier word, “surviving” the shifts will require both broad and specific platform changes for us as individuals and our communities, if we have not begun this work already.  These changes offer us great opportunity to think of our world, our roles, our people, and our places differently, more fluidly, more collaboratively.  And whether we find that exciting, terrifying, or both, the resonating question for all of us remains: who will pay for it?  I don’t mean that in an idiomatic sense, as in who will suffer the consequences, although there are those who do see it that way.  But rather, most literally, who will fund these changes and shifts?

I believe great ideas, innovations and/or approaches will get funded (from our own constituents, foundations, etc). But, and here is the real elephant in the room, they won’t fund all of us.  The real question is not who will fund these changes, but rather who will fund us, pay our salary, enable us to support our family, pay our bills, etc?  And that is indeed a terrifying question.  Because as much as it is about our institution’s risk taking and survival, on a more fundamental level, is there any real way to extricate that from talking about our own?

Ironically, a refusal to adapt, evolve, risk to surf the shifting waves significantly ups the odds against us.   Ironically, the success that we all seek seems only possible with a willingness to shift our  “survive” model  (how we’ve always done it) to a “thrive” model.  And that necessitates risk. Or does it?  Because the truth is, a certain freedom comes in the realization that many of our established, risk-averse systems and assumptions don’t work well anymore.  The real risk comes in hoping these “old” ways will somehow work well again; the real opportunity comes in seeking out new models of connection, leading, learning, and being.  And this isn’t just about the internet and social media.  To assert that Facebook and Twitter will somehow save us all is to truly to miss the larger point.  There is so much that we can learn, offer, converse about, and grow with when we open ourselves to the possibility that our world and work and selves might learn and grow from what others outside of our traditional go-to sources have to offer.  We cannot let our fears of what bad things might happen when we loosen our tight grip of control paralyze us in the face of the great opportunities that await.  Nor can we let this cause us to forget the power that our deep wisdom tradition has to offer, that we can offer, to the constituents both within and without our walls, no less to the world.

If you weren’t at the closing program yesterday, here are the questions Elaine offered each of us the opportunity to consider:

1) What of what we’ve heard or learned has caused you to worry?

2) What has inspired you?

3) What are the emerging questions that come up for you?

4) What personal commitments will you make around these ideas moving forward?

One of the key lessons of this conference is the importance of creating collaborative, intentional conversations that enable listening, sharing, and learning so we can thrive in the shifting or shifted world. I am up for the conversation, and if you are too, maybe we can talk.  I am not a big power leader in the CCAR or URJ, but I am a rabbi, like you, who thinks, worries, gets excited about and makes action commitments too.

Rabbi Wendi Geffen has served as one of North Shore Congregation Israel’s rabbis since 2002. She can be found on twitter @wendigeffen and blogs at www.rabbigeffen.blogspot.com

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