Rabbi’s Review – June 2017

Leadership Transition

Rabbi Charles K. Briskin


Every few years we participate in a significant leadership transition. We conclude one chapter and begin the next in the book written by the presidents of our congregation.

The Book of Deuteronomy describes a stable leadership transition. When Moses cedes his leadership of the Israelites to Joshua at the end of the book, Joshua is entrusted to finish the journey that Moses began and lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

The transition from Moses to Joshua was transparent and well executed. Moses said to Joshua in front of the entire community of Israel, “Hazak v’amatz—be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the Land…” This declaration, to be strong and resolute is a common charge to new leaders as they rise to the challenges and opportunities that inevitably lie ahead.

Each new leader offers a distinct style. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks believes that, “In order for [the Israelites] to grow, Joshua would have to engage in participative leadership, encouraging diverse views and listening to them, even if that meant going more slowly … leadership is not simple. It is complex because it involves people and people are complex. You have to listen, and you have to lead.”

Every Temple president with whom I have had the privilege to lead collaboratively has brought their own talents and perspectives to the position. Each one learns what Rabbi Sacks teaches, leadership is complex. People are complex; our institution is complex; leading paid professionals and unpaid volunteers is complex. Leading a temple is not the same as leading a business. However, our presidents rise to the occasion, face our complexities and lead us through momentous changes.

This month, Marc Kaiser will conclude his term as TBE President and will add the two most coveted words to his current title: “Immediate Past” President. We will honor Marc on Friday June 9, during a special Shabbat service marking the installation of the Boards of Sisterhood and TBE. And most importantly, we will transition to new leadership that will be exciting and different.

Marc has been a remarkable partner. He has been steady and patient; he is a calming presence; he has navigated complex situations and complex people while making it look easy (even when we know it wasn’t). He has been generous beyond measure and has been a great leader with whom to dream and build.

To all who will lead, my charge to you is the same as Moses’ to Joshua: Be strong and resolute in all you do, but do it with gentleness and menschlichkeit, modeling Marc Kaiser and those who have come before him.