Leading from the Heart

Shalom Chaverim (hello friends),

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership this week.

The week began for me at the Jewish Federations of North America office in New York City for an orientation for new federation CEOs from around the country. Together with 10 of my new colleagues, we received a crash course in the national Jewish federation system. Most meaningful, however, was the opportunity to reflect with one another about our leadership transitions. It was refreshing to be around a table where no one was posturing nor selling their success; it was open, honest, and real.

Yesterday morning, CJP had the pleasure of hosting more than 50 extraordinary Israeli Jewish and Arab leaders visiting Boston as part of the MAOZ fellowship for an intimate conversation with former Governor Deval Patrick.

MAOZ is a bold, visionary program launched by Boston-area philanthropists seeking to transform Israeli society by developing and creating networks of leaders. When I asked a MAOZ founder what I should share with them during my brief welcome to CJP, he answered, “Just speak to them ‘leader to leader.’ Tell them what you’re struggling with and some of the challenges you face.” What an authentic place to begin and to connect, and one that echoed my experience in New York.

And, I think the most meaningful part of this week was Wednesday night, at the last meeting of the 18th cohort of CJP’s signature leadership development program, the Cynthia and Leon Shulman Acharai Leadership Program.

For me, it was particularly emotional, as I have served as the scholar-in-residence for the last three cohorts and, for obvious reasons, this will be my last time in this role. I have cherished the opportunity to be part of this program and to learn with six incredible co-chairs and 60 of our community’s most passionate, curious, and highly engaged volunteer leaders.

Acharai has helped me understand the full power and potential impact of CJP, both of which I continually discover in new ways every day. We invest in people, grow leaders, build community, celebrate diversity, and foster deeper, meaningful connections — both to Jewish life and learning and to one another.

As our group reflected on the experience, it became clear that, while learning and transformational experiences are critical, our group bonded as quickly and deeply as it did because all of these talented, passionate, accomplished individuals were willing to push themselves out of their comfort zones and be vulnerable with one another.

Through their actions, speech, and ways of being, leaders shape the culture and character of the organizations and the communities they lead. To build communities that continually learn and improve, we need leaders who continually learn and improve themselves, and who do so in community with others. This starts by having the courage to be vulnerable, a common thread between my experiences this week.

There is a beautiful example in the opening of this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, of vulnerability leading to courageous leadership and deep human connection. In the dramatic and emotional climax of the story of Joseph, his brother Yehuda approaches him, but still does not recognize him. Yehuda, who once led the charge to throw Joseph into a pit and sell him into slavery, now retells his family’s tragic story and gives an impassioned plea to save the life of his youngest brother, Benjamin. Ultimately, Joseph is moved to reveal himself to his brothers and the family is reunited.

Our rabbis teach based on this incredibly moving moment and the power of Yehuda’s speech: “words that come from the heart (of the speaker) enter the heart (of the listener).” This act of courageous leadership was not, according to this teaching, about what Yehuda did or said. Rather, it was how he approached his brother — vulnerably and from the heart.

I feel blessed and proud to be connected to so many communities of vulnerable, heart leaders, and it certainly gives me hope for our future.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker

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Marc Baker

About the Author

CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.