Over the last number of years in the Jewish professional world you will often hear the term ‘silos’ come up at meetings. It is a word used to refer to the sometimes territorial nature of the Jewish community – the so called “turf wars.”
Different agencies and organizations fight over funding, over leadership, and often over a vision of what the community’s priorities should be. In many communities, the Federation wants to focus on their programs; the synagogues want funding and leadership for the shuls; the JCCs want to make sure their centers are sufficiently funded. In those meetings the old adage “two Jews, three opinions” is often proven true.
Which is one of the reasons why I feel so blessed to be a rabbi in Baltimore. For many years our community has had a reputation for being collegial and cooperative. The rabbis regularly reach out to one another and work together respectfully on issues and programs (our community’s terrific Introduction to Judaism program is just one example.)
There is regular contact between the leadership of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, both professional and lay, and the synagogues. The JCC director often checks in with the rabbinic community, genuinely asking for input and feedback about various and sundry issues and program.
This is not necessarily Jewish business as usual. But I can tell you it is a very nice way to do business!
This spirit of cooperation has begun to take a more formal form over the last year, as The Associated and synagogue leadership has engaged in a series of meetings, getting rabbis, top lay leaders and top federation staff all into one room.
The purpose of these get togethers is not only to share concerns and ideas, but also to work together to create a communal agenda. What are the pressing concerns of Baltimore’s Jewish community? How can the synagogues and the Associated work together to combat anti-Semitism, or to make sure our aging population is cared for with dignity, or to keep our young people connected to Jewish life?
Slowly but surely, particular challenges are being identified and prioritized. Bit by bit, strategies are being discussed, and before long will be implemented.
Not every conversation is easy and not everyone agrees on each and every issue. But the conversations have been healthy, respectful and increasingly productive. The leaders of our community are working together to make Jewish Baltimore a stronger and better place for all.
Maybe it is not a coincidence that Baltimore has one of the country’s strongest, most engaged and committed Jewish communities. And Baltimore has one of the highest synagogue affiliation rates anywhere.
We’ve long known that when we all work together, we can truly go from strength to strength. May it be so for many years!
Rabbi Steven Schwartz is senior rabbi at Beth El Congregation in Baltimore. Rabbi Schwartz is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies and is the community-at-large member of the Johns Hopkins University Internal Review Board. He is also a past president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis.