New program focuses on leadership through a Jewish lens

Amy Hirshberg Lederman (Courtesy Lederman)

A group of leaders from the local Jewish community recently received a unique opportunity to study 21st-century leadership issues from a Jewish perspective.

The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona sponsored the flagship LEAD 2017 leadership program, held Jan. 4-March 22 at Tucson Hebrew Academy and the Jewish Federation. A group of 20 men and women with leadership experience, representing diverse ages and levels of religious observance, were invited to participate. The program was fully funded by the Saul Tobin Continuity Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation.

The curriculum was developed by Erica Brown, Ph.D., author of “Inspired Jewish Leadership,” through the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. Amy Hirshberg Lederman, educator, author, attorney and former national director of North American Melton, led the program. “I thought it would be fantastic for our community,” she says. “We’re inspiring and empowering participants to take their own strengths and talents and bring them back to enhance and enrich the Jewish community in positive new ways.”

“The overwhelming opinion of Federation leadership and Lederman was that this was a great community investment,” says LEAD co-chair Barry Baker.

LEAD 2017 comprised eight two-hour evening sessions, preceded by dinner to allow the group to connect more closely. Each themed session began with group reading and study of selected sacred Jewish texts.

“One topic was ‘Effective Communications,’” says Lederman. “We’d study a text in the Torah about communication — for instance, between Moses and G-d.”

After small-group discussions, the group explored ways to apply Jewish wisdom to modern leadership situations through contemporary case studies.

“Our Jewish wisdom can be highly relevant in guiding us when we’re in leadership situations, such as on boards or committees,” says Lederman. “It’s pragmatic as well as philosophical and spiritual — it’s a winning combination that touches the mind, spirit and heart.”

Josh Hurand, MA, LCSW, a behavioral health therapist in the Southern Arizona Veterans Health Care System, and a member of Congregation Anshei Israel, participated in LEAD 2017. As a co-chair of the JFSA Ben-Gurion Society, he is involved in young leadership, and he is a member of the development council at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

The LEAD program “provided a safe space for diverse voices,” he says. “It demonstrated the importance of listening and discussing deeply, even when people disagree. Part of Amy’s skill as a teacher is her flexibility with the class dynamic. It’s not easy handling a roomful of Jews with different opinions. I think we all ended up valuing each other and the community more.

“The curriculum was fresh, blending text from the Talmud and Torah and applying the texts to current issues in leadership and management. The first text was Moses being chosen by G-d as leader, and despite his initial reluctance to serve, with G-d’s help, he stepped up for the Jewish people. I was inspired by Moses’ humility, and appreciated the program’s commitment to the value of listening. The texts we reviewed about King David demonstrated that he was a much different leader than Moses – but they both served important leadership roles in our history.”

“LEAD did not meet my expectations — it exceeded them,” says LEAD 2017 participant Jeremy Lite. A partner in the energy and environmental law group at Quarles & Brady LLP, Lite is vice president/secretary of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and president of Congregation Young Israel of Tucson. “I was especially happy that the course was taught as a discussion and not as a lecture. Participants were able to express unique views and strategies for effective leadership. The course helped me to refine my approach to leadership, with an emphasis on effective communication. My most valuable takeaway was to be reminded of the incredible strength we have in terms of young leaders in this community.”

The LEAD program aims to create enduring contacts among local Jewish leaders, says Baker. “The participants were provided new tools to improve communications with others, tackle difficult problems, and empower others. The biggest benefit to the Jewish community is the connections that were made between this group of people and the resources we now provide to each other to tackle challenges we face within our Jewish community.”

Making LEAD available to Jewish community leaders, including millennials, reflects one of the curriculum topics,  succession planning, says Lederman. “Every good leader tries to create leaders to follow in their footsteps. We can’t rely on the past; we have to develop a succession plan. We’re trying to constantly enhance our community, and this will definitely have a ripple effect in personal lives and the Jewish community for the future.”

Kaye Patchett is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.