Our Sacred Partnerships

by John Lewsen, April 30, 2023

Four Days of Jewish Leaders Talking about Jewish Thingsā€¦

Last week, I had the privilege and extraordinary one-time life-learning experience of attending the URJ Scheidt Seminar in Dallas, Texas together with 95 new and incoming Reform congregation presidents from across Canada and the United States.

The generous seminar founders and benefactors, Rudi and Honey Scheidt, sadly both passed away in 2020. Rudi, a former prominent cotton industry executive and arts philanthropist felt the need for the program. As an experienced leader, he came to this realization in 1996 after becoming President of Temple Israel in Memphis, TN. Thanks to his foresight and generosity, more than 1700 congregational presidents have now participated in the Scheidt Seminar since its inception in 1998. Rudi was always an integral part of the organizations he supported, and true to form, he and Honey loved coming to the Scheidt Seminar to see participants at work in sessions and learning together. They also loved sitting at meals and just hearing participants tell them about their congregations.

The aims of the program include ensuring that participants appreciate their role as sacred partnerships with fellow congregational leaders while becoming effective leaders and change agents. Past Solel presidents have often talked about how they benefited from attending this annual conference. Over the four days, our group participated in sessions on a range of topics. These included: conducting relational conversations, the meaning and importance of Jewish identity, power mapping as a tool for analyzing problems, current societal and religious trends, creating a culture of philanthropy, building trust, and how to set up relational conversations as a means of getting to know our communities and understand what they value.

Using newly learned appreciative enquiry techniques, we had one conversation with fellow leaders about our challenges and experiences. In addition to the formal learning, we had wonderful networking opportunities. We also got to celebrate beautiful and meaningful Shabbat services led by the participating clergy including URJ president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Cantor Rosalie Will. The setting for the erev Shabbat service, outdoors overlooking the golf course, was particularly memorable and a reminder of how we can create sacred Jewish moments in many different environments, including the outdoors.

My takeaway from the experience is that: the role of the congregational president is inevitably complex and demanding. It requires time for reflection. It also requires the ability to make space for the experience of the Jewish community and belonging outside of our leadership roles. Interacting at Scheidt with fellow leaders in reform Judaism together with the URJ faculty and clergy was immensely valuable to me — and is an opportunity that future Solel presidents can look forward to.



Be my sacred partner

Filed under: President's Message

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