Years ago, a boss of mine assembled a large group of employees and challenged us with one sentence made up of 10 two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
To be sure, I fully appreciate the role and responsibility we have as individual contributors. But I never really have been an individualist. I much prefer playing on a team. My inspiration for leadership comes directly from our own Jewish tradition and is summed up best in three Hebrew words — chazak, chazak, v’nitchazaik.
I always have loved the image, which repeats five times a year in Ashkenazic synagogues all around the world. As we conclude the reading of each book of the Torah, the entire congregation rises and declares, chazak, chazak, v’nitchazaik. “Be strong. Be strong. And we will strengthen one another.”
This valuable lesson was reinforced for me recently, when I participated in the Tzimtzum Executive Forum, an annual convening by the Schusterman Foundation of the CEOs of some of its key grantee partners. Each organization embodies the Schustermans’ commitment to strengthening the leadership capacities of young Jews to ensure a more vibrant, diverse, inclusive and dynamic Jewish future.
The forum derives its name from the kabbalistic concept that God steps back — or contracts — to create space for a dynamic partnership and a thriving relationship with human beings in the work of creation. Tzimtzum connotes the powerful essence of collaborative work in every enterprise, beginning with the creation of the world and continuing to this day.
While each one of us has to be strong, our power as a Jewish community comes when we work together. We need Jewish camps, BBYO, other youth movements and teen experiences all to be strong if we are to inspire and motivate high school graduates as they depart for college campuses. And we need all those who work on college campuses to be strong to stimulate and empower those graduates as they pursue their own post-collegiate journeys.
By bringing us together each year, the Schusterman Foundation leads by example, with broad application for our entire Jewish community and far beyond. Just as we close one book and start anew, we strive for interconnectedness between all of our work.
As individuals and as leaders, we must work together to strengthen one another. We are all in this together. Chazak. Chazak. V’nitchazaik. May we strengthen one another.
Jeremy J. Fingerman is CEO for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. This article was adapted from a version that first appeared in the Jewish Standard in New Jersey.