Q&A with Cindy Janower, Chair of CJP’s Board of Directors

You are becoming the Chair of CJP’s Board of Directors at a pivotal time. What do you see as our greatest opportunity? What do you see as the greatest challenge for CJP to wrestle with this year?

Our greatest opportunities are twofold. First, we are able to catalyze bold change in our community when we partner with other organizations, donors, and volunteers to systemically solve difficult problems. Our Anti-Poverty Initiative is a great example of that. We funded a study to understand the dimensions of Jewish poverty; then we worked with five agencies to develop an integrated solution and metrics by which to measure our collective success. As a result, we’ve been able to help twice as many new families across our agencies and move clients farther along the continuum from crisis to stability and even to sustainability. In addition, our learnings have helped agencies like Jewish Vocational Service secure government funding to help people well beyond the Jewish community. We have many opportunities to collaborate with partners in a bold and integrated way across all parts of our agenda (Caring, Tzedek (social justice), Israel, and Jewish Learning and Engagement). Engaging young adults is on the forefront for me.

Secondly, in our community study, I was struck by the fact that only 24% of Jews felt part of the local Jewish community. As Sebastian Junger notes in his book Tribe, “modern society has perfected the art of making people feel unnecessary” and greatly weakened social bonds. I would aspire to have a place for everyone who wants to feel a part of the Jewish community, if they choose, in addition to whatever other communities bring them meaning.

In terms of our greatest challenge, I think we need to ensure that we remain a single community; we’re a diverse bunch, religiously, demographically, and politically, and we ought to view our diversity as a source of strength. Historically, the Jewish community has always encouraged constructive debate. Frankly, I believe this is an area where the Jewish community can lead in our fractured world: understanding how to disagree in ways that are thoughtful, constructive, and ultimately positive, while remaining a single community. Our challenge is to ensure that we don't splinter, and to appreciate the value of dialogue and discourse.

You’ve been a leader in both volunteer and professional roles. What is the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way, and how might you apply that learning to your new role as Chair of the Board at CJP?

I think the role of a leader is to maintain focus on what matters and to help get people to the table and engaged around that thing. In both non-profit and for-profit settings, I’ve been amazed repeatedly at the power of a collective to accomplish goals that sometimes seem unattainable. We're really blessed--the caliber of folks in our community is extraordinary. I feel honored and humbled to be serving them and believe that together we can really make an outsized difference in the Boston Jewish community and beyond.

What are some of your methods for maintaining focus?

I do strategic planning for a living, so I obviously believe in the importance of that discipline, which forces you to wrestle with tradeoffs in an objective way and arrive at consensus around a direction. When Shira Goodman, Jon Sandler, and I chaired CJP’s strategic planning effort two years ago, we asked pointedly “if CJP were to disappear tomorrow, why would it matter?” That process helped us to realize that CJP matters most when we make one plus one equal more than two…when we help partners, donors, and volunteers achieve more than they can on their own. We also recognized the importance of our role as the central address of the Boston Jewish community. Said differently, we’re about impact and people. Now we’re leaning into those roles and asking ourselves as an organization, as well as asking our partners, what does that mean we need to do better? What do we need to do less?

Why do you choose to invest your time and expertise with CJP?

My first exposure to CJP came when I chaired the strategic planning effort for the Rashi School, to comply with the requirement for the Peerless Excellence Grant for day school education. That process convinced me that CJP was bold, willing to invest $9.3M in each of three schools to ensure that they were ‘without peer’ in all facets of their operations; smart, having designed a grant process that required thoughtful planning and detailed follow through; and collaborative, as we met regularly to review progress and discuss roadblocks. That rigor and the high standards of excellence impressed me and persuaded me to get more involved over time.

What advice do you have for young adults who would like to follow in your footsteps and have an impact on their Jewish community?

I didn't grow up in Boston or in a federation family. I tried various ways of getting involved in different non-profit organizations in my 20’s and 30’s but never really found a place where I could make a difference. In truth, there’s a little bit of serendipity in my own story. I happened to have some bandwidth at a time when an organization needed my skill set. I will acknowledge that it can be very hard when you're in a demanding career to make time to do non-profit work, but it’s also extraordinarily rewarding – on a personal and even professional level. In addition to the psychological benefits of making a difference and doing meaningful work, it provides an opportunity to work with high-powered volunteers and staff and to supercharge your learning. I would encourage young adults to find a way to jump into the fray and apply their skill sets. We know there’s a growing number of young adults living in urban areas who are looking for new ways to engage in Judaism and we want to get more of them involved at CJP – so be persistent. We need you.

If there is one main message you could communicate in your role as Chair, what would that be?

We’re a community organization and we’ll be stronger for engaging a broader cross-section of our community in our work. My message to the community is to be engaged in whatever way makes sense to you; your voice makes a difference.

CJP has always been a national leader in pushing the envelope on what a federation can do. By partnering more effectively with our donors, we have consistently grown our campaign and our impact in the face of reverse trends elsewhere. By being more welcoming and inclusive, for example of interfaith families and young adults, we have built a stronger, more cohesive community in Boston. I believe we’re at a crossroads today where we have the opportunity to again make a step-function change in how we make a difference. I’m excited to partner with Marc and all of you in making that historic shift.


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